The underlying ideology of populists can be left, right, or center. Its goal is uniting the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated “little man” against the corrupt dominant elites (usually established politicians) and their camp of followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals). It is guided by the belief that political and social goals are best achieved by the direct actions of the masses. Although it chiefly comes into being where mainstream political institutions are perceived to have failed to deliver, there is no identifiable economic or social set of conditions that give rise to it, and it is not confined to any particular social class.
Political parties and politicians often use the terms populist and populism as pejoratives against their opponents. Such a view sees populism as demagogy, merely appearing to empathize with the public through rhetoric or unrealistic proposals in order to increase appeal across the political spectrum.
Populism is most common in democratic nations. Political scientist Cas Mudde wrote that, “Many observers have noted that populism is inherent to representative democracy; after all, do populists not juxtapose ‘the pure people’ against ‘the corrupt elite’?”