Populist Rhetoric’s Emotional Play In Spain, Italy & Beyond

When we examine the speeches made by the populist parties which, for several years, have not ceased to progress in many European countries, we see that these formations place at the heart of their communication strategies terms strongly imbued with emotions to convince and seduce voters.

The analyzes presented in the collective work Emotions, political strategies and civic engagement that we co-directed highlight the affective structures mobilized by these ideologies and their instrumentalization in a rapidly changing media landscape. To what extent does the use of this emotional rhetoric explain the current populist wave? What are the political and cultural contexts that favor the expression of emotions? And what is the influence of digital tools in the propagation of emotion-based arguments and in the formation of emotional communities?

Internet: a Catalyst of Affects

The generalization of digital tools and social networks has had a major impact on the methods of political and citizen discussion. By crystallizing intangible power relations between, on the one hand, “an elite above ground” and, on the other, “a people anchored in reality”, these new practices feed a social identity process that promotes emotional adherence. to the nationalist values carried by certain political formations.

The ability of digital devices to influence is therefore favored by populist leaders seeking direct and personal communication with their audience. For many of them, it is a question of promoting, against a backdrop of identity anxiety, their ideological referents through themes that arouse emotions such as fear, anger or resentment.

The highlighting of shared values, associated with the virality of new information technologies, makes it possible to create these imaginary moral communities of populism which, by relying on symbolic referents and affects, seek to erase the differences within of the group and to focus on common interests and objectives.

In the rhetoric and visuals of the far-right Spanish party Vox, these logics of community belonging are found, for example, in the exaltation of a ruralist theme that relies both on patriotic symbols such as the Spanish flag but also on the defense of certain traditions such as bullfighting or hunting.

The space of digital discussion allows new formats, with more immediate and more spontaneous interactions than traditional meetings and television interviews. The impact of new technologies on the media coverage of public speech is significant. Indeed, the generalization of digital media brings about new forms of media influence and redefines the relationships and interdependencies between the political sphere and civil society. Emotions then become a tool for mobilization, through the stigmatization or delegitimization of certain minority groups, for example illegal immigrants.

During the last electoral campaigns in several European countries such as France, Spain or Italy, emotional rhetoric has been used, and amplified via social networks, to convince voters of the dangers of immigration. In Spain, until 2017, the fight against immigration was not a promising electoral argument. In other countries, social networks have facilitated the spread of this type of argument that uses emotions, hence the rise in results in the last elections (which is of course also explained by other factors such as the feeling of downgrading, the health crisis, economic difficulties, etc.).

In alarmist speeches, broadcast in the form of short videos, electoral spots or short messages such as hashtags or tweets, we observe a centrality of the identity theme. It is a question of constructing logics of exclusion based on a fear of the foreigner and a refusal of cosmopolitan values, presented as threatening for the nation. This ideological war/manipulation exacerbates fears and, by dividing the political space, fuels in the public and media space a form of radicalization favorable to populism. The affective involvement that characterizes conflictualization is used to feed frustrations and act on the construction of the ideological positions of citizens.

Emotions And Electoral Strategies

By basing their argument on identity anxiety, several populist leaders have been able to gain power – as in Italy where Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party, becomes president of the Council of Ministers – or obtain greater parliamentary representation . This is particularly the case with the National Rally in France or Vox in Spain which, following the last general elections in November 2019, became the third political force in the country, whereas since the end of the democratic transition process in 1982, no extreme right-wing party had sat in the Congress of Deputies in Madrid.

During this last election campaign, Vox overinvested the “anti-immigration” theme by associating it with an exaltation of the nation and patriotic values. On its official Twitter account, the party broadcasts numerous videos which mobilize, with a vehement tone and against a background of catchy music, this polemical argument, and exploits the mechanisms of virality through hard-hitting hashtags.

Building a Friend/Foe Opposition

The register of emotion also aims to exploit the social discontent and resentment of downgraded populations caused by economic difficulties. In a European political context marked by a crisis of representativeness and a disaffection of citizens towards the State and the traditional parties, the discourse produced by populist formations is based on attack devices aimed at discrediting the functioning of institutions and designating scapegoats.

The affective vocabulary is found in anti-elite rhetoric and in the use of invective aimed at fueling popular resentment of them. Moreover, the emotional devices implemented seek to promote forms of collective identification by offering a Manichean vision of society. Thus, Vox presents itself as “the party of common sense” and feeds on democratic disenchantment by opposing the people to the elite. It also manifests a distancing from ideologies as evidenced by this slogan: “Common sense does without ideologies. The objective is to transcribe a feeling of indignation with regard to the traditional party system which no longer seems, according to this argument, to meet the expectations of society.

As with many nationalist populisms, this theme which systematically divides the public space has become central to Vox’s communication system. We note the use of a simple and very often binary language which opposes a “them” (the elite) to a “we” (the people) as well as a rejection of complexity. The images and narratives posted online aim to show a party listening to the “real people” and their difficulties. A video entitled “Asphalt workers, forgotten Spain” emphasizes, with a neat aesthetic, the precarious working conditions of certain professions such as the delivery people of digital platforms, presented as left behind by political leaders. Through the portrait of a young 31-year-old delivery man, Vox castigates the decisions taken by companies, the government and the unions. We find the accusatory logic characteristic of this rhetoric which favors the use of emotions and the presentation of simple solutions to rational arguments.

In the current context of political, social and economic uncertainties, emotions are an essential tool of political communication for populist formations. The study of these mechanisms opens up new perspectives for analyzing not only the strategies implemented and their electoral impact, but also the elements underlying the construction of a discourse on identity.

This article is originally published on latribune.fr

Previous post In Montenegro, A New Guard Revives European Ambitions
Next post The Party Of Finns Joins The Group Of European Conservatives And Reformists