Global Populisms and their International Diffusion

Protestors in Connecticut

Global Populisms and their International Diffusion

March 1-2, 2019 Conference | Stanford University
Conference Overview
  • Conference Overview
  • Conference Program
  • Conference Memos
  • Conference Logistics

Conference Overview

This conference aims to examine the international aspects of the rise of populism across the globe: the role of international alliances, disinformation and propaganda campaigns, and the use of hacking, international institutions, and ideology as ways of building the new "illiberal international."

At this conference we will examine: 

  • Conceptualizing the threat: Are we observing diffusion—or homophily? Do these actors actively build linkages and support each other, or do simply we see the imitation of successful patterns? How and when does international outreach build domestic support for populist parties?  
  • Populist alliances: Do these “allied” movements share a common ideology, or are their affinities superficial and ephemeral? What are the tradeoffs inherent in these alliances—what do the partners gain, and what do they stand to lose, given the nativist attitudes of some of their supporters? What is the role of the European Union here, and its selective targeting of some countries but not others for the erosion of liberal democratic formal institutions?
  • Russia’s “soft” efforts: A main vector of international influence has been via disinformation and propaganda efforts. What is the impact of these efforts, such as Russia Today and other broadcasting outlets, social media campaigns, and the spread of fake news? Do these and other investments pay off? Which disinformation campaigns work, when and how? Who are the most successful “useful idiots”: the domestic actors who transmit and amplify these efforts?  
  • Cybersecurity: The spate of successful efforts to compromise electoral systems, hack email accounts, and breach security systems has so far benefitted chiefly populist and populist authoritarian political parties and politicians. What weapons are at the disposal of both democratic and authoritarian actors—and what form would deterrence take? What are the politics of identifying targets and punishing them?  
  • What is to be done? What are successful strategies that curtail international interference (cf the 2016 French presidential elections)? How do we protect the highly diverse and often inadequately documented voting systems administered by individual states? How do democracies and liberal democratic political parties win the information war? How do they build resilience in the future?

Conference Program


FRIDAY, March 1

8:15-8:45 Breakfast

8:45-10:30 Panel 1: How is Democracy Threatened? 
Chaired by Anna Grzymala-Busse

  • Henry Farrell, George Washington University, “The Democracy’s Dilemma,” co-author: Bruce Schneier
  • Seva Gunitsky, University of Toronto, “Great Powers and Autocratic Diffusion”
  • Kate Starbird, University of Washington, “Disentangling the organic and the orchestrated? Online disinformation as collaborative work,” co-authors: Ahmer Arif (University of Washington) and Tom Wilson (University of Washington)
  • Herb Lin, Stanford University, “Cyber Threats to Election Integrity”

— 10:30-10:45: Coffee break —

10:45-12:30 Panel 2: Russia’s Global Efforts
Chaired by Frank Fukuyama

  • Laura Rosenberger, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, “Russia’s Promotion of Illiberal Populism: Tools, Tactics, Networks,” co-author: Tom Morley (The German Marshall Fund of the United States)
  • Josh Tucker, New York University, “Heads Will Troll: An analysis of links shared by IRA Twitter accounts”
  • Julia Davis, Russian Media Monitor, “The Two-Sided Sword of Russian Propaganda”
  • Lucan Way, University of Toronto, "How Can We Know if Russia is a Threat to Western Democracy? Understanding the Impact of Russia's Second Wave of Election Interference," co-author: Adam E. Casey (University of Toronto)

— 12:30-1:30: Lunch —

1:30-3:00 Panel 3: Comparative Perspectives on International Diffusion
Chaired by Larry Diamond

  • R. Daniel Kelemen, Rutgers University, “The European Union’s Authoritarian Equilibrium”
  • Abraham Newman, Georgetown University, “The Nationalist International”
  • Alina Polyakova, Brookings Institution, “Responding to the Illiberal Toolkit: From Turkey to Central Europe”

— 3:00-3:15: Coffee break —

3:15-4:45 Panel 4: Coming Attractions: The Changing Nature of the Threats
Chaired by Margaret Levi

  • Amy Zegart, Stanford University, “The Dark Arts of Deception: What’s Old? What’s New? What’s Next?”
  • Martin Schallbruch, Stanford University, “Doxing Political Leaders: The German ‘Advent Calendar’ Case and the Role of Cybersecurity”
  • Andrew Grotto, Stanford University, “Deepfakes and the U.S. Political Process: Risks and Recommendations”

6pm: Dinner for Conference Participants



8:45-9:15 Breakfast

9:15-11:30 Panel 5:  The war at home? Domestic aspects of global diffusion
Chaired by Didi Kuo

  • Mike McFaul, Stanford University, “Putinism: Exportable Ideology or Disruptive Virus?”
  • Markos Kounalakis, Hoover Institution, “The Fourth Estate and the Fifth Column”
  • Steven Wilson, University of Nevada, “The World Social Media Survey (WSMS),” co-authors: Valeriya Mechkova (University of Gothenburg), Daniel Pemstein (North Dakota State University), and Brigitte Seim (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

— 11:30-12:45 pm Lunch and concluding discussion—

Conference Logistics

  • Venue: 

Seawell Family Boardroom
Bass Center
Knight Management Center (Graduate School of Business)

Street Address:
655 Knight Way

  • Conference contact for participants:  for questions regarding conference logistics, please contact Karen Haley at




 Contact the Global Populisms Project at:"