A populist is a person who subscribes to the political philosophy of populism, which is in favor of supporting the rights of the masses and giving power to the people in the struggle against the privileged upper class. The general philosophies of populism theoretically fall somewhere in the center of the political spectrum, as opposed to left or right, but one will rarely have the same beliefs as another. Typically, this person is liberal on economic and national security issues, but conservative on social issues. Examining the populist movement in America from its inception to the present day will give a general understanding of the belief system.
Although some scholars argue that populism has been a worldwide common political phenomenon dating back to the time of Spartacus, the beginning of the movement in America usually refers to the organization of farmers and laborers who disapproved of the inequalities in America during the “Guilded Age” of the late 19th century. From 1865 to 1901, the United States saw unprecedented economic and industrial growth and an eruption of an elite class of incredibly wealthy leaders of finance and industry. With the belief that the country’s farmers and working class citizens created the nation’s wealth, they collectively joined together to create the People’s Party of the U.S.A., also known as the Populist Party.
In order to protect the working class from big business, obtain a voice in government, and level the playing field for all Americans, the People’s Party platform included an expanded national currency, a graduated income tax, and government ownership of transportation routes and communication lines. Party members had success in gaining a few seats in Congress and a presidential candidate in the 1892 election, but they were never able to present themselves as a feasible third party in a dominating two-party system. This lead to the party's formal endorsement of the Democratic presidential candidate in the 1896 election.
After the Populist Party fell apart in 1896, there really hasn’t been any significant formal organization. It was briefly revived, possibly in its most severe form, in the 1980s when David Duke, a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan, ran for president with a white supremacist platform, exploiting the native-born, Protestant populists in the early years. In the 1990s, Texas business tycoon Ross Perot ran for president with his self-funded Reform Party campaign, which was also arguably populist. In the 2000s, a few smaller parties were formed, but none with any viable political candidates. Politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, continually exhibit tendencies toward this political philosophy.