Laura Minguzzi

A spectre is haunting political communication: the spectre of populism online



The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated major changes in contemporary society, particularly in regard to communication. Within the political sphere, leaders had to increasingly rely on social media to communicate with the electorate. In many countries, this transition, far from affecting only the period of pandemic emergency, has gone hand in hand with the contemporary populist wave. The paper aims to investigate how political communication of party leaders on social media has been influenced by «populist rhetoric», focusing on the pandemic influence on this shift. This was done by comparing the Facebook posts of populist and mainstream party leaders in three different Western European countries – Italy, the United Kingdom, and Spain – and analyzing the language they used to interact with followers, starting from, with a comparison of periods before and after the pandemic. We identified four essential characteristics of populism Chameleon nature, Manichaean dialectic, Anti-elitism, and Charismatic leadership – which provide the theoretical basis for the content analysis carried out on the reference sample. These changes were observed in a period of rapid socio-cultural transformation. Indeed, the pandemic seems to have pushed the leaders of the parties analyzed toward a more populist vocabulary, even when they were not originally leaders of parties definable as such. This could be traced back to the inherent characteristics of social media, which rely more on the visual medium than on written text; prompting leaders to rely on more direct and impactful rhetoric to convey their message. However, «populist contagion» goes beyond the simple use of communication techniques, and the results of the analysis seem to confirm how populist rhetoric also affects the way leaders (and thus parties) choose to address certain policy and programmatic issues, moving them, in some cases, away from their traditional agendas


  • Populism
  • Political Communication
  • Social Media
  • Content Analysis
  • Personal Leadership


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