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Hameleers, Michael and Fawzi, Nayla (2020): Widening the Divide between Them and Us? The Effects of Populist Communication on Cognitive and Affective Stereotyping in a Comparative European Setting. In: Political Communication: pp. 1-23 [PDF, 1MB]


To explain the global spread and electoral success of populist rhetoric, a growing body of research has investigated the content and effects of populist communication. Extant research has shown that right-wing populist communication can activate negative stereotypical portrayals toward the populist out-group. Yet, we know too little about how exposure to populist ideas can widen the perceived cognitive and affective divide between the people and others in different European regions, although this Manichean view of in- and out-groups is at the core of populist ideology. Against this backdrop, we rely on a comparative experimental study in Western, Eastern, and Southern European regions to investigate how exposure to right-wing populist communication can activate the perceived divide between the ordinary people vis-à-vis the elites and immigrants. Our main findings demonstrate that populist communication in some cases widens the cognitive and emotional divide between the people and the populist out-groups, but the magnitude of the effects is small, and we do not find systematic patterns corresponding to regions. Nevertheless, our results have important implications for understanding the impact of populism on the cultivation of polarized divides in a diversified European region. Populist communication may augment societal divides, but these effects are spread across countries and only triggered by some elements of the ideational core of populism.

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