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ECPR General Conference 2020, University of Innsbruck

Populism, Blame Shifting and the Crisis: Communication Strategies in Portuguese Political Parties

Political Parties
Southern Europe
Enrico Borghetto
Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais, IPRI-NOVA
Enrico Borghetto
Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais, IPRI-NOVA
Marco Lisi
Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais, IPRI-NOVA

Riding the wave of the economic crisis and the refugee emergency, populist parties have been gaining ground in European political systems. Their claims are not simply anti-elitist or people-centred: these parties defy the tenets of democratic liberalism by presenting themselves as the only "true" representatives of the "true" people. Southern Europe is no exception. Five-stars movement, Podemos and Syriza have all hit the headlines in recent years with their unique kind of rhetoric. Against this background, Portugal stands out as the only southern European country where traditional mainstream parties have not had to face the strong rise of populist challengers. Yet, this does not imply that the political rhetoric has not been affected by the populist zeitgeist. This paper starts from the premise that it is more meaningful to talk of degrees of populism (Jagers & Walgrave, 2007) and that elements of the populist rhetoric can be systematically detected in the political discourse (Hawkins 2009, Rooduijn 2011). We use a new protocol of frame analysis (Conti et al. 2017) to identify the presence of a populist discourse in party manifestos and political leaders' speeches during the last two political campaigns (2011 and 2015). The approach we adopt allows us also to examine the use of blame-shifting argument, a rhetoric device extremely important in a country that faced the intervention of external actors in national politics during the bailout (2011-2014). Portugal is also an interesting case study given the resilience of mainstream parties and the continuities in terms of party systems characteristics. Therefore, the implications of this study provide a better understanding not only on the use of distinct rhetoric tools, but also on inter-party dynamics and party competition. Finally, this case study enlarges the scope of extant research by considering how populist discourse is used in distinct party types, both in terms of ideological orientations and organizational characteristics.
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