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Strategies of Secession and Counter-Secession

The “Contagion Effect” of Populism: the Case of Italy

Political Parties
Social Movements
Jakob Schwörer
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Jakob Schwörer
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg

Scholars working on populism usually assume that the rise of populist parties and movements in Western Europe triggers populist attitudes among political actors. However, although it is argued that we live in increasingly populist times, there are still few empirical findings in this respect. Recent years have witnessed first attempts at measuring populist discourses of political parties and movements. Only few of them measure the development of populist discourses over time. Furthermore, all of the longitudinal studies use electoral manifestos as text sources and do only focus on anti-elitist and people-centred discourses. This paper presents an approach to measure “pure” (anti-elitist and people-centred) as well as right- and left-wing populist discourses of political parties in order to identify a “populistization” of political parties.
Taking Italy as a first case study, it is examined how these discourses are changing in the face of the establishment of a new populist party – the “Five Star Movement”. Therefore, a manual quantitative content analysis of statements from the parties’ websites during election campaigns on the national level as well as an analysis of election manifestos of the “mainstream” parties/electoral alliances is carried out. It is claimed, that the method used in this paper, as well as its category system, is applicable for all kind of text sources.

The first results reveal an increase in populist discourses only among the centre-right party during the rise of the Five Star Movement – both in the election manifestos of the centre-right alliance, as well as in the statements of Berlusconi’s centre-right party. This increase is due to more people-centred discourses, while the second element of populism – anti-elitism – does not appear more often. Left-wing populist discourses against economic actors do also grow during the upheaval of the Five Star Movement – however, only in the election manifestos of the “mainstream” parties/alliances. Specific right-wing populist discourses – directed towards cultural groups and immigration – do only increase among the centre-right and during the election campaign in 2014 and 2018, after the right-wing shift of the (Northern) League and its rise in opinion polls.
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