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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Salvini’s Framing on Facebook Images: Between the 'Superleader' and the 'Ordinary Person'

Political Leadership
Social Media
Marco Mazzoni
Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche, Università degli Studi di Perugia
Roberto Mincigrucci
Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche, Università degli Studi di Perugia
Marco Mazzoni
Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche, Università degli Studi di Perugia

According to the work of Kane and Patapan (2012), today’s political leaders face with a “paradox” that affects contemporary democratic leadership: on the one hand, they have to appear as strong statesmen, in possession of particular skills that gave them the authority to rule the people. On the other hand, they are allowed to rule by the people, they are subjected to people approval, and for that reason they have to appear similar and intimate with common people. Such paradox is certainly accentuated in our era which is increasingly characterised by the media and by a corresponding increase of the so called "anti-political sentiment" (Campus 2006; Boswell and Corbett 2015), namely a strong decline of trust in and popularity of political leaders.
Through this study, we analyse how the Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini aims to solve the aforementioned paradox. Salvini is the spokesman of the right-populist “League party” and, according to latest polls, he is the politician most appreciated by Italians voters. The main goal of our study is to answer to the follow question: “what kind of leadership is improved by Salvini in order to maintain his high consensus?”. Many studies focused on politicians’ leadership style are based on the message that they diffuse thorough discourses and declaration. In our study, we will deal with the phenomenon by a different point of view, analyzing the pictures that Salvini publishes on his personal Facebook profile. Previous studies demonstrate that images are more memorable, garner more attention, and stimulate more emotive responses than other types of messages (Munoz and Towner 2017). However, we know little on how leaders utilize images in “self-presentation” on social media sites. Our main hypothesis is that Salvini faces the “paradox of democratic leader” thorough a strategic use of his “political body”. In particular, he is able in mixing the features of a “super leader” with the ones of an “ordinary person”, appearing as authentic and normal as possible. In recent years, many scholars (Kreis 2018; Achen and Bartels 2016) have advanced a new understanding of democracy in primarily identity-based terms: they argued that citizens vote is based on social identities, more than on policy proposals. Salvini is able in identifying himself with the community he wants to represent thorough a strategic use of images, wearing a peculiar type of clothes and appearing with particular categories of people.
Our methodology implies a deductive qualitative content analysis based on Munoz and Towner (2017) framework that proposes two kinds of visual frames: the “Ideal Candidate” and the “Populist Campaigner”. The study is focused on Salvini. However, we will compare his Facebook pictures with the ones of other politicians who have a populist style and similar political views from different countries: Trump in USA, Le Pen in France, Orban in Hungary. The aim is to verify if Salvini’s communication presents common or different features with these other right-wing populist leaders.
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