What kind of populism? Tone and targets in the Twitter discourse of French and American presidential candidates
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionEuropean Journal of Communication. 2020, 35 (5), 453-468. 10.1177/0267323120909288
Insurgent candidates from across the political spectrum are increasingly turning to social media to directly engage the public. Social media offer a platform that favours affect and personality, both key components of populist-style rhetoric, a label that is often attached to politicians outside the political establishment. Despite noteworthy exceptions, few cross-national studies of high-profile candidates’ use of social media exist, and even less is known about how candidates representing various political ideologies employ affect alongside populism. To advance the state-of-the-art, this study examines the sentiment and rhetorical targets of attack in the Twitter feeds (N=25,825 tweets) of six presidential candidates in the United States and French election campaigns of 2016 and 2017. Employing dictionary-based quantitative analysis, the study finds variation among the candidates’ rhetoric in terms of how they employ populist themes, affect and ideology. The findings suggest that scholars should consider a more nuanced approach to populism in latemodern democracies.