Skip to main content

Populism and Informal Fallacies: An Analysis of Right-Wing Populist Rhetoric in Election Campaigns

Abstract

Populism is on the rise, especially in Western Europe. While it is often assumed that populist actors have a tendency for fallacious reasoning, this has not been systematically investigated. We analyze the use of informal fallacies by right-wing populist politicians and their representation in the media during election campaigns. We conduct a quantitative content analysis of press releases of right-wing populist parties and news articles in print media during the most recent elections in the United Kingdom and Switzerland in 2015. The results show that fallacies are used in more than a third of all analyzed texts and overwhelmingly co-occur with populist key messages. Moreover, fallacies occur more often in populist parties’ press releases than in news articles and are more common in Switzerland compared to the United Kingdom. This study confirms the argument that populist actors use fallacies in combination with populist claims.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. “Populist” means that these parties are regularly labeled as populist in the media and the scientific literature. According to our conceptualization, this does not say anything yet about how populist their communication actually is, which is an empirical question.

  2. Federal Council (June 9, 2017): Religious signs and buildings worn and attached to building. Report of the Federal Council in fulfillment of the postulate 13.3672, Aeschi, 10.09.2013 [Getragene und an Bauten angebrachte religiöse Zeichen und Symbole. Bericht des Bundesrates in Erfüllung des Postulates 13.3672, Aeschi, 10.09.2013]. www.ager.unibe.ch/Bericht des Bundesrates Postulat Aeschi.pdf.

References

  • Aalberg, T., F. Esser, C. Reinemann, J. Strömbäck, and C. de Vreese (eds.). 2017. Populist Political Communication in Europe. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Abts, K., and S. Rummens. 2007. Populism versus democracy. Political Studies 55 (2): 405–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Akkerman, T. 2011. Friend or foe? Right-wing populism and the popular press in Britain and the Netherlands. Journalism 12(8): 931–945.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Albertazzi, D., and D. McDonnell. 2008a. Introduction: A new spectre for Western Europe. In Twenty-first century populism: The spectre of Western European democracy, ed. D. Albertazzi and D. McDonnell, 1–11. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Albertazzi, D., and D. McDonnell (eds.). 2008b. Twenty-first century populism: The spectre of Western European democracy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Altheide, D.L., and R.P. Snow. 1979. Media logic. Sage Library of Social Research. Beverly Hills: SAGE Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Aslanidis, P. 2016. Is populism an ideology? A refutation and a new perspective. Political Studies 64(1): 88–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernhard, L. 2016. Left or right? Populist communication of political parties in recent Western European elections: Working Paper No. 92. Zürich. Retrieved from http://www.nccr-democracy.uzh.ch/publications/workingpaper/pdf/wp_92.pdf. Accessed 11 May 2018.

  • Bos, L., W. van der Brug, and C. de Vreese. 2010. Media coverage of right-wing populist leaders. Communications 35(2): 141–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bos, L., W. van der Brug, and C. de Vreese. 2011. How the media shape perceptions of right-wing populist leaders. Political Communication 28(2): 182–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bunnin, N., and J. Yu. 2004. The Blackwell Dictionary of western philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Canovan, M. 1999. Trust the people! Populism and the two faces of democracy. Political Studies 47(1): 2–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cook, T.D., and D.T. Campbell. 1979. Quasi-experimentation: Design & analysis issues for field settings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cranmer, M. 2011. Populist communication and publicity: An empirical study of contextual differences in Switzerland. Swiss Political Science Review 17(3): 286–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cummings, L. 2015. The use of “no evidence” statements in public health. Informal Logic 35(1): 32–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Engesser, S., N. Fawzi, and A.O. Larsson. 2017. Populist online communication: Introduction to the special issue. Information, Communication & Society 20(9): 1279–1292.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ernst, N., S. Engesser, and F. Esser. 2017. Switzerland: favourable conditions for growing populism. In Populist political communication in Europe, ed. T. Aalberg, F. Esser, C. Reinemann, J. Strömbäck, and C. de Vreese. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Esser, F. 2013. Mediatization as a challenge: Media logic versus political logic. In Challenges to democracy in the 21st century series: Democracy in the age of globalization and mediatization, ed. H. Kriesi, 155–176. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Esser, F., and T. Hanitzsch. 2012. On the why and how of comparative inquiry in communication studies. In International Communication Association (ICA) handbook series: Handbook of comparative communication research, ed. F. Esser and T. Hanitzsch, 3–22. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Esser, F., and J. Strömbäck. 2012. Comparing news on national elections. In International Communication Association (ICA) handbook series: Handbook of comparative communication research, ed. F. Esser and T. Hanitzsch, 308–326. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Galtung, J., and M.H. Ruge. 1965. The structure of foreign news. Journal of Peace Research 2(1): 64–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Geden, O. 2006. Diskursstrategien im Rechtspopulismus: Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs und Schweizerische Volkspartei zwischen Opposition und Regierungsbeteiligung. 1st ed. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag fur Sozialwissenschaften.

    Google Scholar 

  • Habermas, J. 2006. Political communication in media society: Does Democracy still enjoy an epistemic dimension? The impact of normative theory on empirical research. Communication Theory 16(4): 411–426.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hallin, D.C., and P. Mancini. 2004. Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Communication, society, and politics. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hamblin, C.L. 1970. Fallacies. London: Methuen.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hänggli, R. 2012. Key factors in frame building: How strategic political actors shape news media. American Behavioral Scientist 56(3): 300–317.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hawkins, K.A. 2009. Is Chavez populist? Measuring populist discourse in comparative perspective. Comparative Political Studies 42(8): 1040–1067.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heiss, S.N., and B.R. Bates. 2016. When a spoonful of fallacies helps the sweetener go down: The Corn Refiner Association’s use of Straw-Person arguments in health debates surrounding high-fructose corn syrup. Health Communication 31(8): 1029–1035.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ikuenobe, P. 2002. In search of criteria for ‘fallacies’ and ‘begging the question’. Argumentation 16(4): 421–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jagers, J., and S. Walgrave. 2007. Populism as political communication style: An empirical study of political parties’ discourse in Belgium. European Journal of Political Research 46(3): 319–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Joseph, H.W.B. 1906. An introduction to logic. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koopmans, R. 2004. Movements and media: Selection processes and evolutionary dynamics in the public sphere. Theory and Society 33(3/4): 367–391.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kriesi, H. 2014. The populist challenge. West European Politics 37(2): 361–378.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kriesi, H., and T.S. Pappas (eds.). 2015. European populism in the shadow of the great recession (1. publ). ECPR studies in European political science. Colchester: ECPR.

    Google Scholar 

  • Labrie, N., and P.J. Schulz. 2015. Quantifying doctors’ argumentation in general practice consultation through content analysis: Measurement development and preliminary results. Argumentation 29(1): 33–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Laclau, E. 2005. On populist reason. London: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewin, K. 1947. Frontiers in group dynamics. Human Relations 1(2): 143–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lippmann, W. 1922. Public opinion. New Brunswick, NJ: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Luginbühl, M. 2010. Die Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP) – ein linguistischer Streifzug. In Sprache - Politik - Gesellschaft: Bd. 4. Wahl der Wörter - Wahl der Waffen? Sprache und Politik in der Schweiz, vol. 4, ed. K.S. Roth, 187–205. Bremen: Hempen.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mazzoleni, G. 2008. Populism and the media. In Twenty-first century populism: The spectre of Western European democracy, ed. D. Albertazzi and D. McDonnell, 49–64. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Mazzoleni, G. 2014. Mediatization and political populism. In Mediatization of politics: Understanding the transformation of Western democracies, ed. F. Esser and J. Strömbäck, 42–56. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Mudde, C. 2001. In the name of the peasantry, the proletariat, and the people: Populisms in eastern Europe. East European Politics and Societies 15(1): 33–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mudde, C. 2004. The populist Zeitgeist. Government and Opposition 39(4): 542–563.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mudde, C., and C. Rovira Kaltwasser. 2012. Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or corrective for democracy?. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Pauwels, T. 2011. Measuring populism: A quantitative text analysis of party literature in Belgium. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties 21(1): 97–119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reinemann, C., J. Matthes, and T. Sheafer. 2017. Citizens and populist political communication: Cross-national findings and perspectives. In Populist political communication in Europe, ed. T. Aalberg, F. Esser, C. Reinemann, J. Strömbäck, and C. de Vreese, 381–393. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reisigl, M. 2002. Dem Volk aufs Maul schauen, nach dem Mund reden und Angst und Bange machen.: Von populistischen Anrufungen, Anbiederungen und Agitationsweisen in der Sprache österreischischer PolitikerInnen. In Rechtspopulismus: Österreichische Krankheit oder europäische Normalität?, ed. W. Eismann, 149–198. Wien: Czernin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reisigl, M. 2012. Rechtspopulistische und faschistische Rhetorik – Ein Vergleich. Totalitarianism and Democracy 9(2): 303–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rooduijn, M., and T. Akkerman. 2015. Flank attacks: Populism and left-right radicalism in Western Europe. Party Politics 23(3): 193–204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rooduijn, M. 2014a. The nucleus of populism. In search of the lowest common denominator. Government and Opposition 49(04): 573–599.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rooduijn, M. 2014b. The mesmerising message: The diffusion of populism in public debates in Western European media. Political Studies 62(4): 726–744.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rooduijn, M., S.L. De Lange, and W. van der Brug. 2014. A populist Zeitgeist? Programmatic contagion by populist parties in Western Europe. Party Politics 20(4): 563–575.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sahlane, A. 2015. Dialectics of argument and rhetoric: Protesting the Iraq War in US-British opinion press. Discourse & Society 26(6): 754–774.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schulz, W. 1976. Die Konstruktion von Realität in den Nachrichtenmedien [The Construction of Reality in the News Media]. Alber-Broschur Kommunikation: Bd. 4. Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlag Karl Alber.

    Google Scholar 

  • Southwell, B.G., and E.A. Thorson. 2015. The prevalence, consequence, and remedy of misinformation in mass media systems. Journal of Communication 65(4): 589–595.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stanley, B. 2008. The thin ideology of populism. Journal of Political Ideologies 13(1): 95–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stanyer, J., C. Archetti, and L. Sorensen. 2017. The United Kingdom: Hybrid populisms, mixed fortunes, and unstable support. In Populist political communication in Europe, ed. T. Aalberg, F. Esser, C. Reinemann, J. Strömbäck, and C. de Vreese, 165–177. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taggart, P. 2000. Populism. Concepts in the social sciences. Buckingham: Open University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taguieff, P.-A. 1997. Le populisme et la science politique. Du mirage conceptuel aux vrais problemes. Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire 56(1): 4–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tindale, C.W. 2007. Fallacies and argument appraisal. Critical reasoning and argumentation. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • van Eemeren, F.H. 2015. Reasonableness and effectiveness in argumentative discourse: Fifty contributions to the development of pragma-dialectics. Argumentation library, vol. 27. Cham: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • van Eemeren, F.H., and R. Grootendorst. 1984. Speech acts in argumentative discussion: A theoretical model for analysis of discussions directed towards solving conflicts of opinion. Pragmatics and discourse analysis, vol. 1. Dordrecht: Foris.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • van Eemeren, F.H., and P. Houtlosser. 1999. Strategic manoeuvring in argumentative discourse. Discourse Studies 1(4): 479–497.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walton, D.N. 1995. A pragmatic theory of fallacy. Studies in rhetoric and communication. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walton, D.N. 1996. Arguments from ignorance. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walton, D.N. 1997. Appeal to pity: Argumentum ad misericordiam. SUNY series in logic and language. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walton, D.N. 1998. Ad hominem arguments. Studies in rhetoric and communication. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walton, D.N. 2008. Informal logic: A pragmatic approach. 2nd ed. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Walton, D.N. 2013. Methods of argumentation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • White, D.M. 1950. The “gate keeper”: A case study in the selection of news. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 27(4): 383–390.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, J., A. Sahlane, and I. Somerville. 2012. Argumentation and fallacy in newspaper op/ed coverage of the prelude to the invasion of Iraq. Journal of Language and Politics 11(1): 1–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wirth, W., F. Esser, S. Engesser, D. Wirz, A. Schulz, E. Nicole, et al. 2016. The appeal of populist ideas, strategies and styles: A theoretical model and research design for analyzing populist political communication: Working Paper No. 88. Retrieved from http://www.nccr-democracy.uzh.ch/publications/workingpaper/pdf/wp_88.pdf.

  • Wodak, R. 2003. Populist discourses: The rhetoric of exclusion in written genres. Document Design 4(2): 132–148.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wodak, R. 2013. ‘Anything Goes!’ - The Haiderization of Europe. In Right-wing populism in Europe: Politics and discourse, ed. R. Wodak, M. Khosravinik, and B. Mral, 23–38. London: Bloomsbury.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wodak, R. 2015. The politics of fear: What right-wing populist discourses mean. London: Sage.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Wodak, R., M. Khosravinik, and B. Mral (eds.). 2013. Right-wing populism in Europe: Politics and discourse. London: Bloomsbury.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zurloni, V., and L. Anolli. 2013. Fallacies as argumentative devices in political debates. In Lecture notes in artificial intelligence: Vol. 7688. Multimodal communication in political speech: Shaping minds and social action : International Workshop, Political Speech 2010, Rome, Italy, November 10-12, 2010, Revised selected papers, vol. 7688, ed. I. Poggi, 245–257. Heidelberg: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We want to thank Tobias Good and Anna Hadorn for their valuable contribution as coders as well as in the development of the codebook.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sina Blassnig.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Blassnig, S., Büchel, F., Ernst, N. et al. Populism and Informal Fallacies: An Analysis of Right-Wing Populist Rhetoric in Election Campaigns. Argumentation 33, 107–136 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10503-018-9461-2

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10503-018-9461-2

Keywords

  • Populist communication
  • Political communication
  • Rhetoric
  • Fallacies
  • Election campaigns