Panel 9 | Voices of Supporters: Populist parties, social media and the 2019

CADAAD2022 | 06-08/07/2022 | Bergamo, Italy

Panel description

This panel will present the work collated in a multi-authored book-in-progress. The talks investigate how supporters of populist parties across Europe used social media voice their endorsement in the context of the European elections 2019. What drives the study is the wish to understand the motivations of people to support and potentially vote for populist parties. Unlike the bulk of previous research, however, we do not seek explanations in the official discourse of such parties, but in the discourse of supporters themselves. We believe that analysing the voices of supporters, and linking them to party political communications, provides a more comprehensive account of the phenomenon of resurgent populism.

The 2019 elections to the European parliament took place across various national contexts. With the goal and timing being the same across member states, examining the reactions to the various election campaigns allows observing commonalities and differences across different countries. Moreover, the European Union itself has been a contested entity since its inception, and, consequently, all discussions about it may involve general considerations of identity, culture and sovereignty. Finally, in spring 2019, the EU elections, even though generally classified as second order elections, took on a special role as the first EU elections since a member had decided to leave.

Across the talks presented at the proposed panel, we focus on three aspects. Firstly, we seek to identify what the language and visuals featured in social media comments, and the media practices around them, can tell us about what motivates people to vote for populist parties. Given the pan-European scope of the work, we also ask whether voter motivations are shared across different political contexts within Europe. Secondly, we discuss what role national identities and values play in motivating supporters to vote for populist parties. Again, we address the question if the data presented in the different talks indicate the emergence of a pan-European identity. Finally, we analyse how the social media postings of populist parties are recontextualised in supporters’ social media comments so that they are meaningful and constitute a voting motivation.

The panel will begin with some introductory remarks that spell out the rationale for a cross-European study of voices of supporters of populist parties as they manifest on social media. We will also provide our definition of populism:

Populism is a political strategy and/or practice, realised in discourse, that is based on a dichotomy between ‘the people’, who are unified by their will, and an out-group whose actions are not in the interest of the people, with a leader safeguarding the interests of the people against the out-group.

The panel closes with deriving answers to our overarching research questions from the findings of the individual studies, outline the contributions our work has made to the study of discourses of populism, reflect on the process of collaborating in the form of a multi-authored book and provide an outlook on further research.

71 | Anna W Gustafsson & Charlotta Seiler Brylla

Sweden: “Go Jimmie go!”: The voices of Sweden Democrat supporters

Sverigedemokraterna (The Sweden Democrats), a nationalist right-wing populist party with roots in neo-Nazism and white supremacist beliefs, has experienced continuous progress during the last decade in Sweden, attracting 17.5 per cent of the vote in the 2018 general election. The comment sections of the official social media accounts of the party (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) are analysed to explore what topics supporters engage with most and what discursive strategies they use to position themselves in relation to politicians, to other parties or to political topics. Particular attention is paid to the role of affirmative and evaluative practices to build in-group identity. The supporters engage in posts that articulate discontent with the state of the country or other parties, especially the Social Democrats. Frequent positioning against immigration tends to equate immigration with criminality. Identities such as that of the victim or the misunderstood, the worried or scared citizen, are also common. Finally, the analysis brings to light the Sweden Democrats’ extensive use of social media to elicit both positive and negative affective reactions from the supporters.

80 | Laura Filardo-Llamas

“There is now an alternative. Thank you #EspañaViva”: Voters’ motivation and identity construction in the Spanish context

Following the identification of three key elements in populist discourse (Canovan 1999; Wodak 2015), the talk identifies parallelisms and similarities between Vox’s and its supporters’ discursive construction of the self as a political party, of the nation as the heartland and of other social and political actors. The analysis is based on 400 tweets produced by supporters of Vox, 200 each produced during the 2019 European elections and the 2019 General Elections in Spain. The qualitative analysis adopts tools from cognitive linguistics and multimodality and identifies the strategies followed by Vox supporters to construct their identity, mainly along three dimensions: the self, the others and the nation. A blend is discursively established between the political party, its supporters and the nations, hence showing a nativism trait. The construction of the other is varied, comprising not only other political parties, but also social groups, such as Muslims. The existence of Vox is legitimised by supporters as a means for maintaining the Spanish identity not only within Spain, but also within Europe. The centrality of the nation is seen not only in the textual mode of the tweets, but also in the visual modes such as emojis and discursive practices, e.g. hashtags.


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

Wodak, R. (2015). The Politics of Fear: What right-wing populist discourses mean. London: Sage.

82 | Valeria Reggi

“Long live our Captain!”: A multimodal analysis of supporter’s comments on Matteo Salvini’s tweets

Populism has been defined in a variety of ways, which all agree on two core notions: society is seen as polarized into two antagonistic groups – the people and the (corrupt) elites – and politics should be the expression of the ‘will of the people’ (Mudde, 2004; de Vreese et al., 2018; Jagers & Walgrave, 2007; Woods, 2014). In Italy, the Lega (League) and its leader Matteo Salvini are exemplary of the themes and style of populism, thanks to their extensive use of oppositional, nationalistic discourse, which they systematically disseminate on social media (Albertazzi et al., 2018; Bobba, 2019; Bracciale & Martella, 2017).

The paper focuses on the comments on Salvini’s tweets around the European elections of 2019. The study focuses on the core notions of populism while also accounting for the presence of evaluative resources that appeal to and express emotions. The aim is to determine whether the comments reproduced populist themes and, if so, understand which one(s) prevailed and what evaluative resources were used most frequently. The analysis will ultimately contribute to outline what motivated support for populist parties, with a specific focus on the role played by national identity and by the strategies that supporters chose to recontextualise the original postings.

The qualitative analysis is based on Appraisal Theory (Martin & White, 2005), which is applied to the core populist notions to foreground possible ideation-attitude couplings (Zappavigna, 2019); the frequency of these co-occurrences is then measured in order to assess which ones prevail. Drawing upon the notion that all is text (Baldry & Thibault, 2006; Halliday, 2004; Kress, 1996), the analysis is expanded to include capitalisation, visual resources (emojis, GIFs, memes, images, videos) and extra-textual information (hyperlinks), so as to provide a comprehensive, multimodal investigation into social media content.


Albertazzi, D., Giovannini, A., & Seddone, A. (2018). ‘No regionalism please, we are Leghisti !’ The transformation of the Italian Lega Nord under the leadership of Matteo Salvini. Regional & Federal Studies, 28(5), 645–671.

Baldry, A., & Thibault, P. J. (2006). Multimodal Transcription and Text Analysis. London: Equinox.

Bobba, G. (2019). Social media populism: features and “likeability” of Lega Nord communication on Facebook. European Political Science, 18, 11–23.

Bracciale, R., & Martella, A. (2017). Define the populist political communication style: the case of Italian political leaders on Twitter. Information, Communication & Society, 20(9), 1310–1329.

de Vreese, C. H., Esser, F., Aalberg, T., Reinemann, C., & Stanyer, J. (2018). Populism as an expression of political communication content and style: a new perspective. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 23(4), 423– 438.

Halliday, M. A. K. (2004). An Introduction to Functional Grammar. (3rd ed.) London: Hodder Arnold.

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

Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. New York: Routledge.

Martin, J. R., & White, P. R. R. (2005). The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mudde, C. (2004). The populist zeitgeist. Government and Opposition, 39(4), 541-536.

Woods, D. (2014). The many faces of populism: diverse but not disparate. In D. Woods (Ed.), The Many Faces of Populism. Bingley: Emerald, pp. 1–25.

Zappavigna, M. (2019). Ambient affiliation and #Brexit: Negotiating values about experts through censure and ridicule. In V. Koller, S. Kopf, & M. Miglbauer (Eds.), Discourses of Brexit. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 48-68.

91 | Marlene Miglbauer

Populist conceptualisations as drivers for identity formation and expressing support for Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)

This paper focuses how populist conceptualisations and right-wing populist rhetoric are drawn upon by Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) supporters on Facebook in the run-up to the European Elections 2019. The study aims to investigate which right-wing populist conceptualisations are drawn upon when expressing support for AfD and constructing identities (in- and outgroups). 1479 direct replies to the original post covering the election campaign for the EU elections in four threads were selected from the official German-wide AfD Facebook page.

Findings show that populist conceptualisations such as ‘saving’ and speaking for the people, denouncing the elite (aka mainstream parties, media and the EU) and belittling outgroups (non-AfD voters) are crucial drivers for voting AfD and identity construction of in- and outgroups. By doing so, AfD supporters draw on linguistic resources specific to social media (paralinguistic cues, use of emojis) and populist discourse (vagueness, use of derogatory terms) resulting in populist conceptualisations and right-wing rhetoric being an integral part of the comments by AfD supporters.

97 | Ljiljana Saric

Croatia and Slovenia: Argumentation and identity construction by supporters of populists in the context of the 2019 European elections

While only one, left-wing populist party (Živi Zid ‘Human Blockade’) was somewhat visible in Croatia in the context of the 2019 European Parliament elections, a number of mostly right-wing populist parties were influential in Slovenia. This analysis utilises appraisal theory (Martin and White 2005), particularly focusing on affect and judgment. It also addresses identity construction and the representation of social actors (Wodak et al. 2009; van Leeuwen 2008). For Croatia, the material is 760 Facebook comments on an election video, while for Slovenia 131 online comments on various election-related news stories were analysed. The findings show that the main driving factor for Croatian discussants supporting Živi Zid was discontent with the economic situation and the country’s political elites. Very few posts topicalise the EU. The dominant identity constructed is one of disadvantaged “ordinary people” oppressed by a morally deficient Other: corrupt political elites. The driving factors for discussants supporting Slovenian right-wing populists were mainly anti-immigrant attitudes and protecting Slovenian values (traditional, conservative and Christian), which are represented as endangered. Contemporary Europe is perceived as changing for the worse, and right-wing parties are represented as saviours.


Martin, J. R., & White, P. R. R. (2005). The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

van Leeuwen, T. (2008). Discourse and Practice: New tools for Critical Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wodak, R., De Cilla, R., Reisigl, M, & K. Liebhart (eds) (2009). The Discursive

Construction of National Identity. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

102 | Susanne Kopf

Supporting the Freedom Party to protect Austria

The presentation on the Austrian context focuses on the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) as the most successful populist party in Austria. The analysis suggests that past findings on the FPÖ’s discursive choices – representing Austria and Austrians as the in-group threatened by the Other, i.e. by immigrants, the EU and political competitors – are reflected in the discourse of the party’s supporters. Moreover, and again mirroring the FPÖ’s discourse, the supporters represent the party, and especially its leaders, as moral and upright and as the only one(s) championing and defending the Austrian in-group’s interests. Interestingly, there is no detailed discussion of what it means for the FPÖ to champion Austria and what concrete actions are taken. This lack of specific action along with equating the FPÖ with Austria and representing it as the country's advocate may be advantageous for the party – citizens who align with nationalism and an equally unspecified Austrian national identity are invited to identify the FPÖ as representing their interests regardless of any concrete actions.

114 | Massimiliano Demata

Scotland: Scottish, British or European? The Brexit referendum and the negotiation of national identity by SNP supporters on Twitter

The political discourse and identity of the supporters of the SNP (Scottish National Party) are the focus of this talk. The analysis is of a dataset of 331 tweets by SNP supporters in response to 30 tweets and retweets published by the official SNP Twitter account (@theSNP) from 11 to 23 May 2019. The methodology used to analyse this data set draws on Wodak’s Discourse-Historical Approach (DHA), which identifies and contextualises those discourse elements which are routinely used to construct the “dichotomist perspective” (Wodak 2015, 5) typical of discourses on national identity. This is combined with the framework offered by Zappavigna in her analysis of hashtags, identified as instruments of “ambient affiliation” (Zappavigna 2012), which communicate and share social identities as well as personal feelings. The analysis reveals that SNP supporters on Twitter are more radicalised than the party leadership as they do not address EU policies or concerns very often but constantly prioritise demands for Scottish independence. Indeed, the populist dichotomy of the Scottish people vs the Westminster elite shown in most comments is only occasionally implemented by the EU-friendly attitudes of some SNP supporters.

155 | Maria Stopfner

"What she says sounds good to me. Why should it be radical?" The voice of populist supporters in France

The presentation aims to uncover possible motives of the French electorate to support the right-wing populist Rassemblement National (National Rally) in the 2019 elections to the European Parliament by analysing public discourse on Twitter in view of identity construction and recontextualization. Populist political practice can be characterized by its appeal to ‘the people’ and its condemnation of ‘the elite’, and, in case of far-right populism, by ostracising migrants and other minority groups as ‘the other’. The second defining trait of (most) populist movements concerns the role of ‘the leader’, who not only functions as an anchor point for the often heterogeneous and divergent policies these movements pursue, but more importantly serves as the metonymic embodiment of the people’s will and wishes. Assuming that supporters respond differently to long-time party leader Marine Le Pen than to “France’s far-right boy wonder” (Momtaz 2019) Jordan Bardella, the 23-year-old lead candidate for the 2019 election to the European Parliament, the presentation pays special attention to the second defining trait, i.e. the role of the populist leader for voter motivation. Adopting a discourse-historical approach with a special focus on the recontextualization of argumentation and rhetoric as well as identity construction, the qualitative analysis thus examines the extent to which populist supporters adapt their line of argumentation to the respective political champion based on 801 tweets that were published on Marine Le Pen’s and Jordan Bardella’s official Twitter accounts. The results show that the main rationales of the French electorate in support of the Rassemblement National are not considered populist, but logical and common-sense.

168 | Veronika Koller

Oppressors, traitors, saviours: populist discourse in Instagram posts by Brexit party supporters

329 | Natália Borza

"We have the right to choose who to live with" Discursive legitimation strategies in the Facebook comments of Fidesz supporters