Opinion & Analysis

The geography of discontent and the rise of far-right politics in Portugal

Portugal stands on the brink of commemorating 50 years since its transformative “Carnation” revolution, which ushered in democracy. However, as João Almeida and Andrés Rodríguez-Poseexplain, the current political climate casts a shadow over this milestone. The country’s recent general election spotlighted a disturbing trend: the rise of the far right. This surge is driven by the grievances of people living in overlooked regions of Portugal, people who after 50 years of democracy – in a move reminiscent of the “revenge of the places that don’t matter” elsewhere – seem to have given up on mainstream parties.

On 25 April this year, Portugal will celebrate 50 years since its democratic revolution – a revolution that ended 42 years of a far-right dictatorship and delivered democracy and far greater prosperity for the country. But this month, the general election in Portugal has marked a significant departure from the political status quo.

Chega (Enough), an extreme right-wing populist party, has made a massive breakthrough. The party has been catapulted from a single seat in 2019 to 12 seats in 2022 and now to a staggering 50 seats in 2024, in a parliament of 230 seats. The exponential rise of Chega has fractured the long-standing duopoly of the Socialist Party (PS) and the Social Democratic Party (PSD).

This seismic shift in Portuguese politics was not unexpected. It reflects a broader phenomenon observed across Europe, the United States and other parts of the world, where populism has gained momentum amidst social and economic turmoil. Recent rapid rises in populist support in Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and, to a lesser extent, Spain mirror developments in Portugal.

The rise of Chega can be attributed to a confluence of factors, including a sense of nostalgia for the country’s authoritarian past, disillusionment with corruption scandals plaguing the national and local governments, and a strategic and skilled use of social media to amplify their message and mobilise people who in previous elections felt disenfranchised by the political options on offer. However, perhaps most crucially, this phenomenon is deeply rooted in what scholars have termed the “geography of discontent”.

About the Authors

João Almeida is a PhD Candidate in Business and Economics and a Research Fellow of the Research Unit on Governance, Public Policies and Competitiveness (University of Aveiro).

Andrés Rodríguez-Pose is the Princesa de Asturias Chair and a Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics. He is the Director of the Cañada Blanch Centre LSE.

Access the original publication here