Seminar with Professor Markus Wagner (Universität Wien)
Title of the presentation: Closer to the elites? How emotions and information influence populist attitudes.
Research has recently turned to examining populist attitudes, both as an object of study in itself and as a key driver of voting for populist parties. Individuals with populist attitudes are seen as dividing the world into a 'pure' people opposed to a corrupt elite; political decisions should reflect the 'general will' of the people. The causes of populist attitudes remain barely understood. We consider whether persuasion through the provision of information can change populist attitudes. Moreover, we examine whether negative emotions, particularly fear and anger, that are often associated with populism also cause it. This paper thus tests whether populist attitudes can be changed via a cognitive route of persuasion and how emotions and information interplay in affecting populist attitudes. We present results from a survey experiment where participants are presented with positive information and/or induced with anger or fear. Contrary to our expectations, we do not find that induced anger or fear affect levels of populist attitudes, but we do find that fact-based, positive information reduces populist attitudes, thus 'closing the gap' between voters and the elites. The effect of information, however, disappears among individuals induced with anger. This finding points to the fact that anger might stop individuals from processing and incorporating new information relevant for their attitudes. We discuss the implications of these results for understanding over-time and within-individual changes in populism.