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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Bringing in Emotions: Social Isolation, Emotional Responses and Populist Attitudes

Political Psychology
Political Sociology
Survey Research
Maximilian Filsinger
Universität Bern
Maximilian Filsinger
Universität Bern

Research on populism has suggested that people who are socially isolated and not rooted in society are more likely to vote for (right-wing) populist parties (Rydgren 2009). Moreover, recent research argues that emotions play a particularly important but so far neglected role in explaining populist attitudes (Rico et al. 2017; Salmela/von Scheve 2017). I combine both literatures by analysing the relationship between social isolation, its emotional responses and populist attitudes in Switzerland. Specifically, I argue that people who experience social isolation are more likely to have populist attitudes, because they feel useless and have the feeling that they cannot cope with the problems they are facing in life. Thus, they have the impression that they do not have any influence on their life and thus trust less. Consequently, isolated individuals look for solidarity, security and a shared consensus of values. Additionally, they look for somebody who claims to do something about their situation. People, who look for such a new identity, take comfort in a group that provides this identity by forming a community that is based on the exclusion of those who are claimed to be responsible (e.g. the elites) and by proposing an alternative. Using regression analyses with survey data from Switzerland, the results indicate that social isolation is related to populist attitudes. Moreover, preliminary mediation analyses support the assumption that social isolation leads to emotional voids that support the development of populist attitudes. I contribute to the literature in three ways. First, I expand the endeavour of explaining populist attitudes instead of populist vote choice. Second, I open up the black box on how social isolation affects populist attitudes. Third, Switzerland offers an interesting investigation of populist attitudes as a populist party (Swiss Peoples Party) is part of the government.
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