The Rise of Populism on Facebook. A Comparative Analysis of Party Communication in France, Italy, Spain and the UK

Political Parties
Social Media
Giuliano Bobba
Università degli Studi di Torino
Giuliano Bobba
Università degli Studi di Torino
Cristina Cremonesi
Università degli Studi di Torino
Antonella Seddone
Università degli Studi di Torino

The emergence of populist parties and movements in European democracies has stimulated an increasing interest among scholars (Mudde, 2013; Albertazzi and McDonnell, 2015). In recent years, populist parties and movements have become central in the political life of several European states – indeed, it could be argued that we are seeing the beginning of a ‘new age of populism’. Alongside right-wing populist parties, new parties and movements characterised by distinctive traits can now be described as ‘populist’ (e.g. Syriza in Greece, the Five Star Movement in Italy, Podemos in Spain). This grafts onto the idea that in the last few decades the crisis of representative democracy – and in particular the high level of political dissatisfaction and citizens’ distrust – together with the effect of the Great Recession (Kriesi and Pappas, 2015) has provided fertile ground for the rise of populism.
Our research question draws on the idea that the recent upsurge of populist parties has produced a general increase of populist elements within political communication and it has also affected the communication of non-populist parties. Comparing populist and non-populist parties, the paper sheds light on: i) how and to what extent a political party could be considered as populist at communication level; ii) what ‘populist contents’ are more likely to boost the success of a political message.
Based on four case studies - France, Italy, Spain, and UK - this work concentrates on the political communication of the six most relevant political parties and their leaders in each country. To achieve this goal, the study focuses on a sample of Facebook posts released by these parties in a time frame of 30 days randomly selected in 2015. Firstly, in order to define the type and the intensity of populist elements within party controlled communication, we will carry out a content analysis, identifying: (a) populist contents (namely, references to ‘Others’, ‘Elites’ and ‘People’); (b) references to the economic crisis, terrorism, and immigration; (c) tonality of the post and emotional frames. Secondly, taking into account the number of likes, comments and shares for each post, the paper will show which of these communicative features correlates more with messages likeability and level of engagement.
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