Populists claim that they alone represent the voice of the people against a corrupt elite. We argue that populist governments augment this claim by appropriating and manipulating the language and methods of participatory governance. Advancing an analytical framework on content, process, effect, resource efficiency and communication dimensions, we illustrate these arguments with the National Consultations in Hungary in 2010–18. Our conclusion for the case study is that these exercises were deeply flawed for securing popular input into policy-making. The implication for scholarship is that participatory governance enthusiasts need to be more aware not just of the uses, but also the abuses, of public input, while scholars of populism should pay more attention to the actual policies and practices populist actors employ to gain or maintain power.