Elite–Public Interactions on Social Media: Facilitating or Undermining Democracy?

Research question/goal: 

The main research question guiding the project is how populist politicians across the EU use social media to mobilize support for their purposes, and what the public's reaction can tell us about its broader implications for democracy, a question that is prominently featured in the mass media but has not yet been empirically studied. In order to investigate this puzzle, we plan to collect the social media data of European politicians and identify the main patterns that are specific to populist politicians. In doing so, we take an ideational approach to what defines a populist politician. Accordingly, we consider as populist the politicians who belong to parties that put the following ideas at the heart of their message: an inherent opposition between the corrupt ‘elites’ and the virtuous ‘people’ (i.e. anti-elitism and people-centrism), support for popular sovereignty, a belief that they alone can represent the people (i.e. anti-pluralism), and ostracizing those who are a threat to the ’homogeneous’ nation (i.e. exclusion of ‘others’, typically members of a sexual, ethnic, and/or religious minority). Following this tentative definition, the initial hypothesis is that the success of populist communication can be explained from both a linguistic point of view and from the communication patterns that resonate with the public. A secondary research question that will be a strong component of this project focuses on the relation between the impolite/uncivil behaviour of politicians on social media, the behaviour of those with whom they interact, and if this is driven by specific political events. This research project is inherently comparative, since the expectation is that these phenomena are developing very differently across the EU.

Fact sheet

2017 to 2020
Data Sources: 
Data from the European Election Study (EES) and the EUENGAGE project
Geographic Space: 
Greece, UK, Germany, Italy, United States, France, Spain