Populism is a term used to describe politics that appeals to the interests and sentiments of the general population as opposed to the interests of the elite. In other words, populism espouses government by the people as a whole (that is to say, the masses). This is in contrast to elitism, aristocracy, synarchy, oligarchy or plutocracy, each of which is an ideology that espouse government by a small, privileged group above the masses. Political parties and politicians often use the terms populist and populism as pejoratives against their opponents. Such a view sees populism as merely empathising with the public, (usually through rhetoric or "unrealistic" promises) in order to increase appeal across the political spectrum.

There have been several versions of populist movements and populist parties in the United States, some inspired by the Populist Party of the 1890s. This was the party of the early U.S. populist movement in which millions of farmers and other working people successfully enacted their anti-trust agenda. Comparison between earlier surges of populism and those of today are complicated by shifts in what are thought to be the interests of the common people. Both the formation of the Tea Party and the Occupy movement have been attributed to populism.

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