Emotions in Populist Campaigning: An Empirical Analysis of the Alternative für Deutschland

Anna Laube

Student thesis: Master thesis


Politicians, when trying to convince voters usually appeal to emotions (Brader, 2005). Especially populists often work with negative emotions in their campaigns to affect rational mechanisms of decision making to get electoral support (Hameleers et al., 2017). This thesis studies the effects of anger and fear in populist communication on sharing behavior on social media. Based on the theory of Affective Intelligence the author proposes that tweets by political accounts that contain anger will result in more retweets than those containing fear. The empirical analysis was done through the collection of a data set of 1461 tweets taken from 17 official Twitter accounts by the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and their party members during the period of July 17 until August 9, 2018. By applying sentiment analysis techniques the author found evidence for the intensified use of both anger and fear in the tweets and its positive impact on retweet quantity. Evidence for a higher impact of anger than fear on sharing behavior could, however, not be confirmed. Furthermore, an additional content analysis was done to categorize the topics of the tweets and the external sources of information being shared. The results confirm the assumptions that populist parties predominantly criticize elites and out-groups, and often refer to information from right-leaning media platforms. These findings help to explain the recent success of populist parties.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages98
SupervisorsTore Kristensen