As most people who know me well can probably attest, I’ve always been an elections nerd: I’ve covered three U.S. presidential elections, two sets of midterms, a German federal election and an Austrian presidential election. I’ve also always loved to travel and am always planning my next international adventure.
Starting this April, I’ll be combining those two passions in a year-long reporting project covering elections and the rise of populism abroad.
More than just being compelling stories with fascinating characters, elections have an immense and sometimes immediate impact on a country’s citizens—which is why I like covering them so much, and why they’re such important stories to tell. And those stories are especially important in 2017, as the rise of populism in Europe and elsewhere threatens to upend the liberal world order that’s been in place since the end of the Cold War. In summer of 2015, when I first began thinking about the idea of a round-the-world elections project, we had no idea that less than a year later the United Kingdom would vote to leave the European Union, or that the candidate I was then covering — Hillary Clinton — would eventually lose the 2016 election to Donald Trump.
The rise of right-wing populism, both in the United States and in Europe, has become arguably the most important political story in the world. In the last two years, far-right populist parties and leaders have gained momentum in France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and elsewhere. While these trends are concentrated in the Western world, it’s not the only place populism has prevailed at the ballot box in the last year: the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines last year, a Trump-esque leader who has allegedly supported thousands of extrajudicial killings in the name of fighting a war against drugs, is proof that today’s populism takes multiple forms.
The big-picture story about the success or failure of these movements is still being written, which is why I’m so eager to be there to see it firsthand. When it comes to far-right populist parties and leaders in Europe, they’ve had a mixed record: Brexit and Trump were two major victories for this populist, nationalist worldview, but in December, the far-right Freedom Party made it to the final round of Austria’s presidential election only to be defeated. And in March, the Dutch election provided a mixed message about the Dutch Freedom Party’s Geert Wilders, who gained seats in the parliament but came in a far second to the ruling center-right party (and never would have been able to form a government anyway).
So at a time when reporters and political leaders alike are trying to make sense of the seemingly new world in which we’re operating, I’ll be spending the next year covering these major political trends: hitting the global campaign trail, if you will. What will happen in France, where Marine Le Pen looks like a lock to make it to the second round of voting — and where her strongest opponent, Emmanuel Macron, also hails from outside the two major traditional political parties? And will German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has become the sort of de facto leader of the liberal world order, win a fourth term in office in September?
I’ll have more details to share about my itinerary and plans later this spring — and in the meantime, I’ll post dispatches and reflections from France in this space. Thanks for reading!