Speaking their Mind: Populist Style and Antagonistic Messaging in the Tweets of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Nigel Farage, and Geert Wilders
The authors in this study examined the function and public reception of critical tweeting in online campaigns of four nationalist populist politicians during major national election campaigns. Using a mix of qualitative coding and case study inductive methods, we analyzed the tweets of Narendra Modi, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Geert Wilders before the 2014 Indian general elections, the 2016 UK Brexit referendum, the 2016 US presidential election, and the 2017 Dutch general election, respectively. Our data show that Trump is a consistent outlier in terms of using critical language on Twitter when compared to Wilders, Farage, and Modi, but that all four leaders show significant investment in various forms of antagonistic messaging including personal insults, sarcasm, and labeling, and that these are rewarded online by higher retweet rates. Building on the work of Murray Edelman and his notion of a political spectacle, we examined Twitter as a performative space for critical rhetoric within the frame of nationalist politics. We found that cultural and political differences among the four settings also impact how each politician employs these tactics. Our work proposes that studies of social media spaces need to bring normative questions into traditional notions of collaboration. As we show here, political actors may benefit from in-group coalescence around antagonistic messaging, which while serving as a call to arms for online collaboration for those ideologically aligned, may on a societal level lead to greater polarization.
KeywordsTwitter Populism Politics Social media Political spectacle Political attack Political communication
The authors would like to acknowledge useful comments and contributions by Tanya Madhani, Vaishnav Kameswaran, Maximillian Alvarez, Shraddha Jain, and Verushka Patel during various iterations of this research.
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