Emotional Dynamics of Right- and Left-Wing Populism
1University of Helsinki, Finland; 2Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Emotions are prevalent in the rhetoric of populist politicians and among their electorate. However, it is not clear if the same or different emotional dynamics underlie support for right- and left-wing populism. We argue on the basis of our recent research (Salmela & von Scheve 2017, 2018) that partially dissimilar emotional processes may be at play behind opposite branches of populism. Existing research has associated populism with fear and insecurities experienced in contemporary market societies, on the one hand, and with anger, resentment, and hatred, on the other. Yet there are significant differences in the targets of right- and left-wing resentment: A political and economic establishment deemed responsible for austerity politics (left) and political and cultural elites accused of favoring ethnic, religious, and sexual out-groups at the expense of the neglected in-group (right). Referring to partially different emotional opportunity structures and distinct political strategies at exploiting these structures, we suggest that right-wing populism is characterized by repressed shame that transforms fear and insecurity into anger, resentment, and hatred against perceived “enemies” of the precarious self. Left-wing populism, in turn, associates more with acknowledged shame that allows individuals to self-identify as aggrieved and humiliated by neoliberal policies and their advocates. The latter type of shame holds emancipatory potential as it allows individuals to establish bonds with others who feel the same, whereas repressors remain in their shame or seek bonds from repression-mediated defensive anger and hatred
Social Sharing of Emotions in Populist Online Communication
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Anger and fear are frequently considered as driving forces of populist party support, since their corresponding appraisal structures resonate with characteristics of populist ideologies.
This contribution examines the presence and diffusion of these emotions in populist online communications to gain insights into the formation of intergroup emotions.
The study applies a lexical sentiment analysis of discrete emotions to a sample of 275.582 Twitter posts authored by officials of two German political parties frequently characterized as populist, the left-wing "Die Linke" and the right-wing "Alternative für Deutschland" (AfD), and to a baseline sample of 315,536 randomly collected posts. Using multilevel regression models, the study compares the presence of anger and fear cues across groups and analyzes associations between these cues and linguistic references to migrants and political elites. Also, the effect of expressed anger on the frequency by which posts are shared by their recipients is modeled.
Results support the hypotheses that anger, and to a lesser extent fear, are dominant emotions in populist communications on Twitter, and that populists are more likely to evoke anger when referring to out-groups. Finally, the study shows that anger cues significantly increase the sharing of posts authored by populist actors.
Since social sharing of emotions is thought to contribute to emotional alignment processes within groups and consequently to the strengthening of group identities, these findings do not only depict a strong resonance of emotionalized populist messages promoting out-group devaluation but also hint at their potential to foster in-group cohesion within populist online-collectives.
Shame and Pride: Affective Polarization in Polish Right-wing Media Coverage of the 2019 European Parliament Elections and the 2019 Polish Parliamentary Elections
University of Helsinki, Finland
The rhetoric of Poland’s ruling populist right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party reveals an important role of emotions in efforts to mobilize the support of electorates. A key element of right-wing populist mobilization in Poland is the strategic use of the media, which contributes to the affective polarization of Polish society and politics. The paper examines how right-wing, pro-government media outlets in Poland employ two interrelated emotions – shame and pride – in their coverage of debates in the run-up to the 2019 European Parliament elections as well as the 2019 Polish parliamentary elections. Our theoretical approach builds on work by Salmela and von Scheve (2017, 2018) which proposed two hypotheses regarding the emotional underpinnings of support for the populist right. The first hypothesis identifies the mechanism of ressentiment as an emotional dynamic transforming negative self-focused emotions via repressed shame into anger and resentment towards out-groups. The second hypothesis relates to the emotional distancing from social identities that inflict shame and instead seeking more stable ascriptive ones. In support of the two mechanisms, previous research (Tworzecki 2019) indicates that PiS invented and popularized a discourse that set the beneficiaries of the post-1989 transformation against those who experienced a decline in their economic well-being and social esteem. These experiences relate to envy and shame, whose repression in turn feeds ressentiment. Close collaboration of PiS with the Catholic Church identifies the out-groups to which the resulting anger is to be directed and supports emotional distancing by encouraging identification with ascriptive social identities.