Populist online communication in Germany

Together with my colleagues Lisa Posch and Arnim Bleier from GESIS I am working on a project analyzing the textual features of online communication by German political parties. In our first paper, we investigate similarities between two political forces that have recently gained strength in Germany, especially in the wake of the ongoing refugee crisis: Pegida and AfD. The first one can be characterized as a nationalist anti-Islam protest movement while the latter is a new political party that initially addressed economic issues appealing to conservative voters from the middle class but increasingly incorporated populist ideas. Still, AfD politicians distanced themselves from Pegida various times while the mainstream press framed both as being part of the same underlying phenomenon: right-wing populism.

We examine similarities in the supporter groups of Pegida and AfD, to which extent the political issues they discuss overlap and to which extent both groups use populist rhetoric online. For this purpose, we collected all Facebook posts by both organizations and their individual representatives. We also extracted the corresponding Facebook data posted by other German parties and their politicians in order to estimate a baseline for our analyses. We first analyze overlaps between the user bases of Pegida and AfD. Then we use topic models to identify party specic topic use and assess similarities quantitatively and qualitatively. We find considerable similarities between both groups in terms of overlaps in user bases and the use of populist frames as opposed to the other German parties.

A teaser on the use of populist topics by Pegida and German political parties:


The current version of the working paper can be found here.

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