More voters voted for Trump in the U.S. presidential election this month than four years ago. Some Trump's supporters voted for his program or were simply loyal to Republicans, but for many, Trump's behavior seems attractive – a macho who turns against the political elite, discredits existing institutions and order, rattles up conspiracies, attacks the media, promises grandiose things, and ignores experts in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump has no shortage of supporters in Latvia, but there are few politicians like him here, although the so-called “anti-establishment” mood is prevalent.
“There are very good preconditions in Latvia – and this has been true for years – that those who are sometimes called populists could get power,” said Arnis Kaktiņš, director of the research center SKDS.
Latvia has very low confidence in the Saeima, government, parties and politicians. 70% of those surveyed by SKDS, prior to the previous Saeima elections, expressed the view that those who have never been in politics should come to power.
And indeed, in the 13th Saeima elections, most deputies were replaced. By offering to solve complex situations quickly and easily, the former actor Artuss Kaimiņš' founded “KPV LV” party entered the Saeima loudly. However, it split at once, part of the party joined the government, and the tone subsided.
Kaktiņš said it shouldn't be taken for granted that new parties with flamboyant leaders, whom some call populists, will always remain “peaceful, white, fluffy kittens.”
“It can be so, and it may not be so,” said the sociologist.
Against the backdrop of other world leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump stood out with ignoring expert opinions.
It appears that in Latvia, such tactics – to do everything completely against the government in order to draw attention to the audience – have been chosen by the Saeima deputy Aldis Gobzems. He is currently trying to form a new party.
For example, if the government and experts don't make masks a rule, then Gobzems demands it. In spring, he wrote on Facebook: “Everyone must wear masks outside. No mask, don't go out.” If the masks are made a rule like they are now, then Gobzems equates it to slavery and appears in a shop without it.
One of Trump's characteristics, both during the campaigns and in power, was the offending of traditional media in the production of fake news. That spoke to his voters. According to several international studies in recent years, the populism-oriented electorate in Western European countries is already fundamentally less trusting in the media.
After Trump's victory four years ago, politicians in Latvia began to accuse unflattering content of being false news. It was encountered by commercial and public media alike.
For example, Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, Justice Minister Janis Bordans and Deputy Krišjānis Feldmans of the New Conservative Party have blamed Latvian Television for spreading lies.
“The overall result in this noise of calls not to trust the media that relies on professional journalism, it creates soil for cynical sentiment that nothing can be trusted,” said University of Latvia Philosophy and sociology researcher Mārtiņs Kaprāns.
It is true that in Latvia the media, especially radio and television, is trusted by relatively many people. And against the background of other countries in the region, Latvia has a lower rate of believing in conspiracy theories – one in four residents. In Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, one in three or even every other resident believes in them, a fresh study by the international think tank GLOBSEC shows. It also concludes that those who are not satisfied with their lives and systems as a whole are more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories.
The experts agree that support for radical ideas of populism and a protest vote in Latvia in the near future depends on how the parties in power will cope with the COVID-19 crisis, which has already affected many people economically.