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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

How Emotional are Populists Really? Discrete Emotions in the Communication of Political Parties and their Influence on Information Diffusion

Political Psychology
Social Media
Big Data
Tobias Widmann
European University Institute
Tobias Widmann
European University Institute

Some studies try to explain populist success by referring to their supposed emotional tone in their political communication. However, it remains unclear whether populist messages are in fact more emotional than non-populist ones, and which specific emotions are more salient. This paper answers the question of which political parties use which discrete emotions at what times, by empirically analyzing six discrete emotions in the communication of government parties, opposition parties, and populist parties in Germany. It analyzes the development of these emotions over time from the beginning of 2016 to the end of 2018, including the analysis of the election campaign ahead of the federal elections in September 2017. It further compares the salience of emotions between different media platforms, including twitter, Instagram, and party press releases. Finally, it tries to examine which emotions influence the process of information diffusion in social media networks. To answer these questions, this study applies an innovative text-as-data approach, including computational methods such as automated sentiment and emotional analyses. Based on literature on populist communication and political psychology, this study hypothesizes that populist parties’ communication shows the highest level of negative emotions, followed by opposition parties. It also assumes that non-populist parties change their level of emotionality during an election campaign phase, while populist parties do not. Furthermore, it is expected that social media show in general a higher salience of emotions compared to traditional media platforms. Finally, this study assumes that mobilizing emotions (e.g. anger) are increasing information diffusion, while non-mobilizing emotions (e.g. fear) do not. Studying emotions in communication is highly important, because previous findings revealed that emotions can influence political attitudes formation through impacting information processing or through mediating framing effects.
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