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ECPR Rising Star Award

The Affective Content of Populist Security Communication

Comparative Perspective
Donatella Bonansinga
University of Birmingham
Donatella Bonansinga
University of Birmingham
Yani Kartalis
Universidade de Lisboa Instituto de Ciências Sociais

Contrary to what initially hypothesised in the political science literature, populism has proved to be far more than an episodic or protest phenomenon: since more than a decade, populist parties are both successfully performing in elections and also actively involved in government, either as junior coalition partners or leading members. Given this increasingly prominent role, it is important to shed light on how populists in power articulate basic state functions, such as security, to their publics. This paper examines security communication in both right and left-wing populism, with a particular focus on the affective content of this talk. There is increasing academic interest in unpacking the role of emotions for understanding populists’ appeal and success, but this literature is still in its infancy in comparative politics and European Studies. This study fills this gap by investigating to what emotions right and left-wing populists appeal when discussing security. The empirical focus is on two cases in point of populists in power: the leader of Italy’s Lega and vice PM, Matteo Salvini, and the Greek PM Alexis Tsipras of Syriza. The paper analyses their security communication by means of a quantitative text analysis approach on a variety of sources (e.g. party manifestos, speeches in parliament, social media). It maps the levels of emotionality involved in security narratives (individual, collective, social), identifies the affective tone of security communication and classifies emotional appeals based on six clusters (anger, fear, hope, pride, disappointment, compassion). This study advances our knowledge of how security is constructed in the populist vision, by mapping and differentiating right and left-wing emotional discourses, whose appeals have often been overlooked in the current literature; in addition, by unpacking the affective content of security communication, the paper helps unravel how emotional framing may contribute to shaping public attitudes toward populism.
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