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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

New Populist Parties and their Effect on Mainstream Parties’ Communication

Political Parties
Comparative Perspective
Electoral Behaviour
Jakob Schwörer
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Jakob Schwörer
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg

Due to the rise of populist parties in Europe, it is often assumed that mainstream parties also increasingly adopt populist communication. However, there is little empirical evidence in this respect. Only few studies have focused on a supposed contagion effect of populism on mainstream parties so far. Generating a better understanding of a potential contagion effect is particularly important given the recent emergence of new actors such as Podemos in Spain, the Movimento 5 Stelle in Italy, and the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany.
This study aims to address this research gap by assessing the impact these new populist actors have on center-left and center-right mainstream parties regarding ‘anti-elitist’ and ‘people-centered’ communication strategies. Furthermore, it is investigated if mainstream parties increasingly employ ‘anti-migration’ communication as well as negative evaluations of economic actors due to the establishment of new populist parties from the far-right (AfD, Germany) and from the left (Podemos, Spain).
Conducting a quantitative content analysis of German, Italian and Spanish parties’ election manifestos of the last four general elections, my study shows that there is evidence for a contagion effect of populist communication in Italy and Spain – even though factors such as shifts in public opinion seem to have a stronger effect than the actual establishment of a new populist party. In Germany however, neither anti-elitist nor people-centered communication increases among the mainstream parties due to the rise of the AfD or due to respective public moods. Instead, there is a considerable increase of anti-immigration communication – especially among the center-right mainstream.
The results suggest, that left- and non-right-wing populist parties contribute to more people-centered communication strategies of the mainstream parties. However, the latter adopt only anti-immigration communication of populist parties from the far right and not their anti-elitist or people-centered communication strategies.
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