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Module 2: Populism in the context of globalization and mediatization

Module 2 takes as its starting point the assumption that established democracies will be more challenged by populism in the future than they have been in the past. This is a result of the impact of globalization and mediatization on national politics:

  • First, governments find their autonomy increasingly constrained by decision-making bodies operating on levels beyond that of the nation-state. This is why, when in government, parties are limited in how much they can heed their voters’ demands. Voters in turn find it difficult to perceive or understand the rationale behind certain decisions made by their preferred parties once in government. The gap between what citizens might like governments to do and what governments are obliged to do is growing. As a consequence, voters are increasingly alienated from the political process.
  • Second, policy making has increasingly become more complex, technocratic, and dependent on the collaboration between actors on many different levels. Quite often, important decisions are taken “backstage”, in arenas that have little public visibility.  At the same time, the publicly visible “frontstage” is characterized by polarization, personalization, and dramatization, as political actors seek to mobilize the support of voters via the mass media. Journalists contribute to this state of affairs as they tend to focus more on the political contest to the detriment of political substance. This leads to an increase in the scale and the number of public promises that raise expectations which are, in fact, impossible to meet. This in turn fosters alienation from politics and provides fertile ground for anti-system parties and populists.

Both developments facilitate the emergence of populist leaders who appeal to people’s dissatisfaction with established parties, and who claim that established parties no longer represent (or, even worse, “betray”) the will of the people. Moreover, populists appeal to those who lose out from globalization and who feel threatened by states’ cultural, political, and economic borders being made more permeable. Populist mobilization is further facilitated by mediatization as populist leaders are attractive to the media because of their news value: they tend to have charisma, are typically outsiders to the traditional political elites, dare to spell out publicly what the “common man” himself has always thought, and often make effective use of the media’s hunger for controversial performances.

Module 2 analyzes to what extent political actors and the media display populist ideologies and communication strategies, how their populism varies across different political and media contexts, and how it affects citizens’ attitudes, beliefs, and emotions. In particular, four research questions will be addressed in four highly interwoven projects:

  1. To what degree do parties and other political actors display populist ideologies and populist communication strategies?
  2. Which kinds of political and media structures promote which manifestations of populism?
  3. To what degree do mass media carry, shape, and/or transform populist communication in debates and election campaigns?
  4. How does populism in politics and in the media affect citizens’ attitudes, beliefs, and emotions and what are the underlying mechanisms?

These questions will be examined in a comparative study of 12 countries with different types of democracies, media systems, market economies, and party systems.

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M2

Module 2

Module leaders: Werner Wirth / Frank Esser

IP 8: Populism and the news media. A comparative and multi-issue approach
Project leader: Frank Esser

IP 9: A look into the black box: How populist communication strategies affect citizens' attitudes
Project leaders: Christian Schemer / Werner Wirth

IP 10: Populist strategies in current election campaigns
Project leaders: Laurent Bernhard / Hanspeter Kriesi / Marco Steenbergen

IP 11: Populism and national political cultures
Project leader: Daniele Caramani