To what extent was the Populist movement a true attempt at democratic reform?.
As with most of these "to what extent" questions, the answer is "to some extent." There were aspects of the Populist movement that were democratic, but there were other aspects that had little to do with democracy and had more to do with the economic interests of the Populists themselves.
Let us look at some of the Populists' goals that really were democratic. They wanted:
- direct election of Senators
All of these are reforms that clearly allow for more democracy. In each case, the people get to have a more direct say in more governmental matters. These are democratic reforms.
On the other hand, Populists also wanted:
- "Free silver"
- Progressive income tax
- Government ownership of utilities
- Shorter workdays
- Immigration restriction
None of these things actually brings about more democracy. Instead, these are all things that are aimed at improving the economic situation of the Populists.
Therefore, the Populist movement was partially an attempt at democratic reform and partially just an attempt to gain benefits for a certain group of people.