Why is the Populist Radical Right so Popular? The Role of News Media Content in Explaining the Popularity of the Front National

Political Leadership
Caterina Froio
Université catholique de Lille – ESPOL
Emiliano Grossman
Sciences Po Paris
Caterina Froio
Université catholique de Lille – ESPOL

The Front National is considered as one of the most successful Radical Right Populist Parties (RRPPs) in Western Europe. Existing literature mainly considers anti-immigration, economic and party competition factors to explain RRPPs’ popularity, e.g. the fact that the party is well-liked by citizens. The role of news media however has only been a focus of academic attention since the turn of the century. In this paper we consider the role of news content as an explanatory factor, while simultaneously controlling for unemployment rates, immigration levels, crime rates, the content of party manifestos of mainstream parties and leaders’ alternation between 1983 and 2015. We find that newspaper coverage of immigration issues has a significant positive effect on the FN’s popularity. The more immigration receives media coverage, the higher the aggregate popularity for the Front even when controlling for economic, crime and party competition related factors. The effect however is stronger under the Presidency of Jean Marie Le Pen rather than under Marine Le Pen. Future research needs to consider more carefully the interaction between media coverage and leadership alternation to explain RRPPs’ popularity and so-called ‘normalization’.
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