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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Emotional underpinnings of citizens’ populist attitudes

Comparative Politics
Political Psychology
Guillem Rico
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Guillem Rico
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Marc Guinjoan
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Scholarship accounts have often depicted populist movements as highly emotionally charged episodes. The anxiety provoked by far-reaching societal change, for example, has been recurrently associated with populist upsurge. Similarly, anger against the establishment became a hallmark of the anti-austerity protests with strong populist tone in the wake of the economic crisis, such as those featured by the Spanish and Greek indignados. However despite these and analogous widespread characterizations, the alleged link between populism and citizens’ emotions has hardly been subject of scientific scrutiny in the burgeoning literature on populism. This paper explores the dynamic between citizens’ emotions and populist attitudes at the mass level, operationalized as individuals’ endorsement of the tenets of a thin-ideology that sees politics as a Manichean struggle between the corrupt politicians and the pure people. Drawing on data from an online survey conducted in nine European countries, it examines how discrete emotions elicited by national economic conditions, such as anger, fear, and sadness, are related to voters’ expression of populist attitudes. Rather than confining the analysis to the direct effect of emotions in the formation of mass populism, our study also examines the role that emotional reactions may play in the activation of populist predispositions, by tackling the extent to which the former moderate the latter’s effect on other political attitudes and behaviors, such as the likelihood of engaging in different forms of political participation and support for populist formations. Additionally, we present experimental evidence that allows to test if incidental emotions, and particularly anger and fear, exert a carry-over effect on the emergence and activation of populist attitudes.
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