Populism is a political philosophy which focuses on standing up for the rights and positions of the common people as opposed to the elite and the government. Several political movements around the world have promoted populist ideals. When used to describe political rhetoric, an individual or a political party, the term often carries pejorative connotations, and “populism” has become a loaded word to many people.
For the Common Man
The key ideal behind populism is that the common man should have a chance in society and an active role in government. Populist movements generally divide society into "the people" and "the elite," with individuals who have limited power being considered the people and individuals who have clout being among the elite. The elite typically are wealthy and often use their wealth to influence the political system while accruing more wealth. Populists typically feel that the government protects the interests of the elite, not the needs of the common people, and they want that to change.
In Support of Democracy
People who espouse populism generally support democratic systems and believe that democracy is the best way for the people to play a role in the government. Although they promote the welfare of the common man, populists tend to shy away from socialism and extreme liberalism. Politicians from various political parties or viewpoints can be involved in populism, and politicians might accuse each other of pandering or playing to populism in an attempt to get support and votes.
For the Greatest Good
These sorts of political movements are designed to encourage governments and society in general to work to provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people. This might be achieved through policies and pieces of legislation that support ordinary people. Populist movements, however, often reject policy suggestions such as living-wage mandates, public assistance and government-sponsored healthcare, even though these policies are often designed to help the members of the public who are most in need.
Some people are fond of using the terms "populist" and "populism" in descriptions of public outcry over political events. People might be said to be “erupting in populist rage” when they lodge complaints about flagrant abuses of power among the elite or when there is backlash against a government pushing through legislation that does little to benefit the lower and middle classes. In this sense, these terms might be pejorative in nature and are often used to suggest that the public is too ignorant or short-sighted to understand what is really taking place.