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What Comes First? Anger, Fear, or Populism? On the Dynamic Relationship between Anger, Anxiety, and Support for Right-Wing Populism

Political Psychology
 
Populism
 
Quantitative
 
Survey Research
 
Presenter
Christoph Nguyen
Freie Universität Berlin
Authors
Christoph Nguyen
Freie Universität Berlin

Abstract
The relationship between negative emotions and support for populist parties has received considerable attention in academic and popular discussions. Populist voters are said to be motivated by cultural and economic anxieties and driven by anger over their (perceived) loss of status. Similarly, populist politics is said to be more emotionalized, focused on using outrage and fear to mobilize its supporters. But despite the often-posited emotionality of populism, few studies have explored the relationship between emotions and populism empirically. Even fewer studies have investigated this relationship from a dynamic perspective, considering the potential feedback loops between affect and populism. Similarly, while negative affect has generally been treated as homogeneous, there is increasing evidence that different negative emotions such as anger or anxiety have different antecedents and effects.

This paper aims to address these shortcomings and asks two related questions: Firstly, what is the dynamic relationship between affect and populism? Do voters support populist parties because they are faced with negative emotions such as anger and anxiety? Or does their proximity to populist parties create a sense of outrage and fear? Secondly, are populists angry, scared, or both? In other words, to what extent do we need to distinguish between specific types of negative affect, such as anger and anxiety, when discussing the emotional underpinnings of populism?

Comparing panel data from Germany and Austria, this paper investigates the relationship between anger and anxiety on the one hand, and support for right-wing populist parties on the other. Using a random-intercept, autoregressive cross-lagged design, the paper shows that (1) support for populist parties drives anger and anxiety, rather than the other way around, and that while (2) both anger and anxiety are salient emotions, anger appears to be the more important one.
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