- It’s Us against Them: A Comparative Experiment on the Effects of Populist Messages Communicated via Social Media
- Information, Communication & Society
- Volume | Issue number
- 20 | 9
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)
Populism has gained momentum all around the globe. Social media channels contribute to the success of populism by providing an attractive environment for both politicians and ordinary citizens to disseminate their political ideas. Building on previous research, this study argues that attributing blame to culprit others, such as immigrants or the political elites, for causing major societal problems facing the ordinary people is central to populism. By employing a 2 × 2 between-subjects comparative survey experiment, we investigated the effects of these blame attributions in populist online messages on citizens’ exclusionist and anti-establishment populist attitudes in two Western European countries, Austria and the Netherlands (N = 646). Additionally, for the first time in extant research, we distinguished between populist politicians and ordinary citizens as communicators of populist messages. Results revealed that messages blaming the elites or immigrants bolstered citizens’ populist attitudes, but only for those who supported the source of the message. For those who opposed the source, in contrast, populist blame attributions reduced populist attitudes. These findings help us to understand how the core element of pervasive populist messages – attributing blame – affects the populist attitudes of which citizens.
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