The Populist Challenge in Parliament

Research question/goal: 

The enduring electoral success of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) marks the first establishment of a right-wing populist party in the party system of post-war Germany. In light of this historical turning point, political scientists need to investigate the reasons for the AfD’s rise and how it transforms democratic competition. Our project continues existing research on these questions and pursues three specific goals. First, using various behavioural indicators, we will analyse the patterns of the AfD’s parliamentary behaviour as well as the underlying preferences and strategies. Second, we will examine the interaction between the AfD and established parliamentary party groups to gain a comprehensive understanding of party competition in the Bundestag and in the Landtage. Third, synthesizing insights from the literature on populism, party competition, and legislative studies, we will explain the variation in the AfD’s behaviour and in the patterns of parliamentary interaction. Our main focus is on parties’ parliamentary rhetoric, the framing of topics, issue attention, and ideological as well as issue-specific positions.

Our project advances the state of the art in various respects. First, it provides comprehensive insights into the AfD’s role in parliaments, which will also be of interest to the international study of populism. Second, it employs and enhances the most recent techniques of computer-based text mining in order to compile a novel and extensive data set. These data not only allow for a rich description and robust tests of our hypotheses but will also enable other scholars to investigate questions that are beyond our project. Third, it promises robust and rich insights by using the most recent qualitative and quantitative tools of text analysis, created by the computational social science and digital humanities.

Current stage: 

We are currently collecting and managing large amounts of quantitative and qualitative data. Using computer scripts, we collected parliamentary questions in all 16 German state parliaments and created a machine-readable text data base. Moreover, we conducted several interviews with Members of Parliament along the research questions of the project. We are also preparing first publications, e.g. on parliamentary discourse on the European refugee crisis and on the question how the advent of the AfD altered party competition.

Fact sheet

2018 to 2021
Data Sources: 
parliamentary speeches, parliamentary initiatives and behavioural data
Geographic Space: 
Germany (federal and regional level)