The ‘Will of the People’ or Willed by Elites? Candidate Rhetoric and the Mobilization of Populist Citizens in Latin America and Europe
Cassell, Kaitlen J.
Worldwide, millions of people are supporting political candidates who promise to upend “politics as usual.” Frequently referred to as “populists,” their election to power has become increasingly common: citizens have recently elected populists into power in Greece, Italy, Mexico, the United States, Poland, Hungary, and Brazil, among others. Despite populists’ recent electoral victories, we know relatively little about how receptive individuals are to the content of populist messages (i.e., populist frames). To address this question, I use framing theory to situate populist rhetoric in a broader comparative framework, permitting substantive comparisons between what is unique about populism and what is unique about other ways of viewing the relationship between the people and the elites. I apply my theory to a self-collected database of the Tweets of five national campaigns where at least one populist candidate ran in 2018 and 2019: Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Spain. The most important contribution of this research is that it moves the field towards a more comprehensive understanding of the effectiveness of populist frames relative to other frames common in liberal democracies across contexts, candidates, and communication platforms.