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The Framing of Right-Wing Populism: Intricacies of 'Populist' Narratives, Emotions, and Resonance



In order to embrace the complexities and ambivalences that constitute the global and multifaceted phenomenon of populism, this contribution proposes a), a shift of scholarly attention to the particularities of framing political issues in populist practice, and b), the facilitation of micropolitical approaches in researching these framing practices and their responses. Using the Alternative for Germany’s framing of the ‘returning wolves’ debate in Eastern Germany as an example, this contribution offers a situated approach to understanding right-wing populism, and provides insights into framing techniques that serve to cause affective resonance with people who, supposedly, feel left behind.
The Framing of Right-Wing Populism: Intricacies
of ‘Populist’ Narratives, Emotions,
and Resonance
Julia Leser and Rebecca Pates
After decades of researching populism, many questions still remain unan-
swered. In addition to the incongruities of defining what populism actually
is, there is a lack of understanding of what is causing the global rise of
populist parties (Hawkins et al., 2017, 356), in particular in regard to the
many regional peculiarities of populist politics. For instance, the question of
why the German right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)
continues to be more successful in Eastern Germany than in the West remains
a puzzle. Prevalent explanations see voters’ dissatisfaction with the political and
social system as a reason for choosing the nationalist AfD. Depending on the
theory, this dissatisfaction is associated with the feeling that progressive global-
ization leads to a loss of status, power, or economic stability in disenfranchised
areassuchastheGermanEast(Patzelt,2018, 887). Although research has
shown that it is not necessarily ‘the disenfranchised’ who vote for the AfD, but
rather people with higher and average incomes (e.g., Bergmann et al., 2016),
it is still argued that Eastern AfD voters would be afraid of the future, because
they are expected to be among the potential losers of Germany’s moderniza-
tion, characterized by economic globalization (Lengfeld, 2017, 227). Others
J. Leser (B)
Department of European Ethnology, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
R. Pates
Department of Political Theory, Leipzig University, Leipzig, Germany
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature
Switzerland AG 2022
M. Oswald (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Populism,
suggest that the widespread dissatisfaction with democratic politics, and thus a
greater share of populist sentiments, is the legacy of communism (Minkenberg,
2010; Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017, 36), or that the rise of populism in
the East is linked to “social disintegration and feelings of a lack of recogni-
tion” (Weisskircher, 2020, 7; cf. Kalmar & Shoshan, 2020). A multiplicity of
hypotheses persists, yet upon taking a closer look, the electoral success of the
AfD varies regionally within Eastern Germany, with more people voting for
the AfD in rural areas and particularly in areas close to the Eastern border
(Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2020).1The East is not the East. There are signif-
icant regional differences in voting behavior, and in addition, there is a lack
of empirical evidence for most of the attributes that supposedly make Eastern
Germans more prone to vote for populist parties.
The puzzling search for answers concerning the rise of the AfD in Eastern
Germany reflects the greater struggle for researchers to come up with explana-
tions for the rise of populist parties on a global level. Recently, there has been a
“growing awareness of, and sensitivity to, the complexity but also to the seem-
ingly irreconcilable contradictions inherent in contemporary radical right-wing
populism” (Betz, 2020, 3). In order to embrace the complexities that consti-
tute the global and multifaceted phenomenon of populism, we propose a),
a shift of scholarly attention to the particularities of framing political issues
in populist practice, and b), the facilitation of micropolitical approaches in
researching these framing practices and their responses.
In regard to our first proposition, we agree with Michael Herzfeld who
suggested that instead of asking “What is populism?,” we should be asking
“How does populism work?” (Herzfeld, 2019, 122; cf. Wodak, 2015,2).
For the effectiveness of populist politics is apparent, we should rather inquire
how populist parties succeed in appealing to (potential) constituencies and
mobilizing voters. How populism works has been discussed in terms of how
framings and narratives are being used in populist rhetorics (e.g., Mayer et al.,
2014; Wodak, 2015,2019).2First, populist framings are commonly identi-
fied as promoting a “vision of society as divided into the two antagonistic
moral categories of the ‘pure’ people and the ‘corrupt’ elites” (Mudde, 2007,
23). This framing promotes the construction of a social divide using a moral
distinction, because ‘the people’ are “viewed not only as sovereign, but also
as homogeneous, pure, and virtuous” while “[t]he elite is seen as ‘evil’”
(Akkerman et al., 2014, 1327; cf. Canovan, 1999). Second, there is a tendency
in right-wing populist rhetorics to establishing problematic situations and, in
particular, scenarios of crises that seemingly threaten the political imaginary of
“the people” (Pelinka, 2018, 622; Wodak, 2015).3Third, populist rhetorics
can be characterized in regard to offering “preconceived solutions” (Mayer
et al., 2014, 253) to these scenarios, often in form of proposing “scapegoats
that are blamed for threatening or actually damaging our societies” (Wodak,
2015, 1; cf. Jagers & Walgrave, 2007, 234). As a composition, these framings
are seen as “ideational narratives” that seem to elicit “a panoply of emotions”
(Betz, 2020, 4). Through these framings, populist parties are thought of as
successfully constructing fear (Wodak, 2015), attributing blame (Busby et al.,
2019; Hameleers et al., 2018), producing rage and anger toward imagined
enemies (Jensen, 2017; Salmela & von Scheve, 2017), and elevating a sense
of nostalgia for the “better” past (Gest et al., 2017; Göpffarth, 2020; Kenny,
2017; Steenvoorden & Harteveld, 2018).
Yet how emotions work in populist framings, narratives, and rhetorics to
generate appeal remains unclear. Research suggests that latent populist senti-
ments and xenophobic resentments among the population can be activated by
populist rhetorics (e.g., Hawkins et al., 2020). Emotions are thus thought of
as providing a breeding ground for populism, and as resources that populist
parties are able to mobilize, instrumentalize, and manipulate. But this concep-
tion is challenged in empirical research on the role of emotions in populist
politics, and it has been shown that a focus on negative emotions tends to over-
look the ambivalence and ambiguity of how emotions work in political practice
(Busher et al., 2018,4;Leser&Spissinger,2020). While populist politics
can be characterized by emotional dynamics, we should assume that these
dynamics are more complex than manipulation or exploitation of people’s
sentiments and resentments (Herzfeld, 2019, 134; Mazzarella, 2019, 51).
Emotional dynamics are better grasped in their situated nature and as func-
tioning in “mechanisms of circulation, accumulation, expression, and exchange
that give them social currency, cultural legibility, and political power” (Ioanide,
2015, 2). Thus, while a focus on populist framings, narratives and the use
of emotions might certainly be of benefit for understanding populist parties’
success, a closer look into the context and situatedness of populist framing
practices and the modalities in which their emotional overtures resonate with
(potential) constituencies is needed.
Thus, in regard to our second proposition, micropolitical approaches could
improve our understanding of how populist mobilization works in practice
and provide insights into why people might be attracted to populist politics,
because “to engage in micropolitics is to pay attention to the connections
between affective registers of experience and collective identities and practices”
(Bennett & Shapiro, 2002, 5). While research on right-wing populism has
been dominated by “externalist approaches” and a focus on either demand
or supply side (Castelli Gattinara, 2020), we concur with Robert Jansen’s
(2011, 75–7) suggestion to treat “populism as a mode of political prac-
tice and to “focus on actually enacted, spatially and temporally bounded
projects of populist mobilization. In focusing on particular contexts and situ-
ations of populist practices, micropolitical approaches can be used to analyse
how practices of framing and mobilization relate to, and connect with, the
addressees of populist politics, and how they resonate with potential voters—
either in microcontextual approaches that focus on framings, discourses, and
narratives mobilized around particular topics (e.g., Herzfeld, 2019;Jensen,
2017), or approaches informed by political anthropology, e.g., ethnography
and fieldwork in sites of right-wing populist mobilization (e.g., Göpffarth,
2020; Hochschild, 2016; Leser & Spissinger, 2020).4
In this contribution, we thus use a micropolitical approach to analyze
how the right-wing populist party AfD framed the “wolf debate” in their
campaigning efforts in Eastern Germany in 2019, and how these framings
resonated with people in Eastern German rural areas that the AfD sought to
address with these framings. This contribution draws on ethnographic data,
interviews, and textual data such as official party statements, and offers a situ-
ated approach to understanding right-wing populism, providing insights into
framing techniques that serve to cause affective resonance with people who,
supposedly, feel left behind.
Populist Wolf Politics in Eastern Germany
During the 2019 regional state elections in three Eastern German Länder,the
AfD succeeded in getting the highest results in their short history. In Saxony,
Thuringia and Brandenburg, the party achieved more than 20% and came
up second respectively. The timing of their success was “highly symbolic,”
as the elections “were held exactly three decades after the autumn of 1989,
when mass protests in cities such as Berlin and Leipzig erupted in the GDR”
(Weisskircher, 2020, 1). During the months preceding the state elections,
right-wing populist parties such as the AfD and the (now dissolved) Blue
Party took up the topic of the returning wolves to German territories as a
campaigning subject. Almost extinct for 200 years, wolves had continued to
return to Germany from Eastern Europe since the early 2000s.5In 2019,
most of the wolves had settled in thinly populated areas, predominantly in the
Eastern German states. And while sightings have been rare and most wolves
remain invisible to human eyes, the topic of the wolves was made present and
visible in the AfD campaigns targeted at rural populations.
In the German Bundestag, AfD politician Karsten Hilse among others prob-
lematized the return of wolves in speeches and petitions, claiming that the
wolves would threaten “densely populated and agricultural areas (Kulturland-
schaften),” particularly in the East, and that “the further spread of wolves
should be limited,” demanding an “upper limit” for the German wolf popu-
lation and the permission to shoot wolves,6despite the fact that wolves in
Germany are listed as a protected species. In his address to the Bundestag on
February 21, 2019, Hilse stated in concern to the “wolf problem”:
What does the affected rural population say? What does the livestock owner do
when the big bad wolf has repeatedly haunted his premises, when he finds his
pasturage in the morning with his sheep barely alive, their bellies ripped open,
their intestines oozing out, or their hind legs chewed on? He takes action.
If a government leaves their people alone with their worries and commits a
thousand-fold breaking of laws in regard to refugee and migration politics, then
inhibitions are lowered, and people will take things into their own hands.7
In their campaigning efforts, and in multiple speeches, statements,
campaigning events, and information materials, AfD politicians aimed for
constructing a narrative of westward moving wolves into German territories—
where they supposedly do not belong—and, as is apparent in Hilse’s speech,
rhetorically paralleling this emergent, threatening situation with a perceived
“invasion” of migrants into Germany. The “culprit” in this narrative is “the
government” who is framed as unresponsive to the “real” needs and worries of
the affected population, and intentionally letting “those who do not belong”
into our country (Pates & Leser, 2021). The solution Hilse proposed in his
speech and in petitions was simple: people should have the right to shoot
While noting that this particular framing of “wolf politics” is undoubtedly
populist in character, we further notice the visceral detail of wolves killing
sheep in Hilse’s speech. The wolf here is portrayed as a killer of whom the
rural population in particular should be afraid. On local AfD election placards
and flyers, pictures of children were used along with captions such as “Children
in danger Wolves advance further,” and when we talked to AfD member of
the Saxon parliament Ivo Teichmann, he told us,
In my electoral district, pupils […] were waiting for the bus and a wolf came
by just a few meters away. They were lucky that the wolf wasn’t hungry or
aggressive. But especially in winter, when they’re in peril, you never know how
they would react. […] Just before, the wolf came by a farm, there was an older
lady who saw it, too […] and she was very worried.8
Christoffer Kølvraa analyzed the Danish People’s Party’s (DPP) framing of the
returning wolves to Denmark and observed in a similar manner that “[t]he
effect of such subjunctive discourse was to shift the object of the political
debate from the likelihood of being attacked by wolves on the basis of what
is known, to the legitimacy of harbouring a fear of wolves on the basis of
what might be imagined” (Kølvraa, 2020, 114). Thus, the strategy of the
“returning wolves” narrative put forward by right-wing populist rhetorics aims
at addressing anti-establishment sentiments by framing “the government” as
the culprit, anti-immigration resentments by framing the returning wolves as
a “dangerous invasion,” and, in addition, nourishing fear of wolves instead of
recognizing the scientific evidence.
Telling the story of returning wolves in this manner, the AfD as well
as the Blue Party organized numerous campaigning events in the Eastern
German rural areas, enacting themselves as those who take the local popula-
tion’s worries seriously, as the ones who come and listen. As a member of the
Saxon parliament Kirsten Muster said to the agitated audience in one of the
Blue Party’s campaign events in Saxon Lusatia: “You are not included on this
matter enough, you are not being heard enough.”9What the party offered to
agitated farmers whose sheep had been killed or who were at least afraid this
could happen, is recognition of their worries, not judging them as irrational,
and a valorization of their emotional interests—it is a promise of being taking
seriously, of not being ashamed of one’s own fears and worries, and of being
listened to. It is through these promises and emotional overtures that populist
rhetorics and performances work best, as Arlie R. Hochschild explained in the
case of Trump’s success in her ethnographic study of Trump supporters:
Trump allowed them both to feel like a good moral American and feel superior
to those they considered “other” or beneath them. This giddy, validating release
produced a kind of “high” that felt good. And of course people wanted to
feel good. The desire to hold on to this elation became a matter of emotional
self-interest. (Hochschild, 2016, 230)
Similarly, the AfD portrays itself as attending to those (e.g., rural popula-
tions) deemed left behind and unrecognized by “established” parties. In these
framings, however, the “left-behind” are coproduced in performance, and
it remains a matter of inquiry how those addressed this way react to these
emotional overtures, and how the populist framing of the returning wolves
resonates with the affected populations.
The Complexities of Popular Resentments
In our ethnographic exploration of the wolf issue in Eastern Germany’s rural
areas, in addition to attending campaigning events on the topic by various,
including populist parties, we talked to numerous members of the rural popu-
lation who were in one way or another affected by the return of wolves: sheep
farmers, hunters, local business owners and associates of official wolf protec-
tion measures.10 In accordance with similar research projects (e.g., Frank
et al., 2016; Heinzer, 2016; Skogen et al., 2017; von Essen & Allen, 2017),
we found a high degree of complexity and ambivalence in standpoints on
the wolf issue, as well as “deeper” conflicts underlined by particular senti-
ments and resentments. We talked to people from pro- and anti-wolf camps,
but the majority of people were ambivalent in their opinion, and in most
instances, the wolf as such was not the real problem. For a hunter we talked
to, regulating nature and wildlife populations are an inherently rightful human
endeavour; wolves and other “invasive” animals, he argued, “are immigrating
to Germany and causing problems.” This conception of regulating migrating
animal populations coincided with his anti-immigration sentiments: “To let
people immigrate into a country increases the population density, and the
conflicts in that country.”11 In his view, wolves are object to economic calcula-
tion, as is nature, as are the general migration dynamics of wolves and people
alike. The wolf issue was an occasion to articulate general anti-immigration
We furthermore found strong anti-urban sentiments, as “we [the rural
population] are being governed by people living in the cities, because the
majority and their sentiments decide the elections, and not us few who live
in the countryside.”12 Many extended this feeling of unfair treatment to the
voters of Green parties and nature conservation organizations who, after all,
would support wolf protection measures rather than care about the needs of
farmers protecting their sheep.
Underlying conflicts about “hierarchical social structures and power”
(Skogen et al., 2017, 2) are essential in framing the wolf issue. In partic-
ular, populist sentiments in the sense of mistrust in government and a feeling
of politicians’ unresponsiveness to the problems of sheep farmers were preva-
lent in our explorations. Most sheep farmers in Eastern Germany face or have
faced structural issues: Since reunification in 1989, Germany started to import
wool, while many businesses in the East perished or transformed into large-
scale operations. Small farmers in particular struggle. While they can apply
for governmental subsidies to install necessary protection measures for their
flocks in order to protect their sheep from wolf attacks, that involves complex
bureaucratic procedures, and, as one farmer put it, “the farmer is not the
kind of guy who sits down and fills in pages and pages of forms in order to
get fences subsidized, […] he didn’t study filling-in forms.”13 For farmers,
an associate of a local NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union)
organization explained to us, the wolf issue means “extra work, expenses, and,
in the worst case, the death of their animals.”14 In her opinion, the sheep
farming business in general was suffering immensely, not because of wolves,
but because of the struggle to make profits. In addition, she felt that rural
areas and agriculture in general have been neglected political issues for years,
and she felt for the farmers, explaining,
The farmers are lacking a lobby, and I feel that […] through taking up wolves
as an issue, the farmers are getting a voice and getting listened to in the first
place, because farmers are sympathetic characters in society, politicians know
that. There is a lot of coverage about how bad off farmers are. […] and to take
up that topic, and to get that attention, farmers can use that issue to point out
their needs on the political level.15
Populist sentiments, i.e., the sense that politics is failing the farmers, are framed
here as an important driving force, as a potential for making oneself heard.
For many of the complicated structural issues affecting farmers in Eastern
Germany, political recognition is lacking, and a form of “wolf populism”
can be used to garner political attention. However, others problematize the
perceived unresponsiveness of “established” politicians to farmers’ problems
as a force to drive people into the hands of populist parties. One farmer told
us that he could understand his colleagues who vote for the AfD, because “it
is a protest party, because you are not being heard, […] but it cannot be the
goal that people are so insecure that they vote for the AfD, can it? […] Out
of desperation? […] It’s not just tragic, it’s dangerous.”16 While they disqual-
ified the AfD as a valid solution to their problems, these farmers still saw the
potential of the populist party in resonating with people’s discontent toward
the “established” parties:
Now, here, in the Eastern German Länder, the AfD is getting an upsurge,
because of their big mouths, even if they don’t have to offer any solutions, at
least they’re talking about the problems that are moving the people. […] Even if
they’re, in my opinion, not capable of governing or having good concepts. But
they’re striking the people’s feeling […] as it was in 1985/1986, [the feeling]
that the system is going down the pan, that nothing works anymore.17
In this view, voting for the AfD is framed as the last straw, the last means to
do politics, at least to express one’s own feeling of helplessness. Many farmers
could relate to this perspective, but they still questioned the AfD’s ability to
make a change and thus, did not vote for them. Among the farmers we talked
to, we met one owner of a large sheep farming business who openly, almost
proudly, identified himself as an AfD voter. He explained,
I vote for the AfD. […] The big parties, […] are drifting. […] And I am doing
very well, financially. And I don’t have a lack of education either, […] I have
a university degree […] and I am not afraid. I don’t have ‘diffuse fears’. I am
okay with the wolf being here. […] But many other people are not. […] And
this is my duty, as we were just talking about Christian responsibility, […] social
responsibility. It is my duty to speak up for these people who are not that strong,
who are not that educated, who can’t articulate their problems as well.18
While he felt the need to emphasize that he is neither deprived nor uneducated
to challenge the perceived stigma of AfD voters, he simultaneously enacted the
“simple” people who would need someone like him to speak up. During our
interview, he continuously emphasized his support for the protection of nature
and wildlife, but made it clear that he would not vote for the Green party,
because in his eyes, the Greens were “decadent Bolsheviks who are discon-
nected from real life, […] it is an urban intellectual upper class who vote for
the Greens.”19 Thus, when people legitimize their voting for the AfD as an act
of revolt and resistance, we need to look closer into the conception of those
they are revolting against: Here, it is those who are construed in opposition
to the “real” and the “simple” people, the Greens and those who vote Green,
who are supposedly making decisions on “our” way of life but dismissing the
issues that really lie in “our” interest. It is a performance of revolt against a
felt stigmatization by those conceived “better than us.”
Yet populism in the form of platitudes was often challenged by our inter-
locutors. “There are these platitudes like ‘Nobody listens to me!’,” said a
volunteer at the Contact Office Wolves in Saxony, “how often am I hearing
this! […] and then there is no level of trust, and then people aren’t talking at
all.”20 While mistrust and anger at a political situation can be made produc-
tive, a simple reduction into a generalized mistrust “against all enemies” is
seen as dangerous by many, because such an attitude would render any polit-
ical discussion impossible. However, we encountered these populist sentiments
“against all” not only in the anti-wolf camp, but among associates of nature
protection organizations in the pro-wolf camp, too:
If some laws are to be implemented, the people have to decide und not those
who we voted into office. Because I didn’t vote for them! They’re not repre-
senting my opinion. They’re representing their opinion, don’t they? All liars,
frauds, all of them. Politics, it’s bad. […] Now everybody complains about the
AfD. Why are they so strong? I can tell you, because they [the government]
made them strong. Because they are making all these promises and not keeping
Skepticism toward “the government,” and even a certain “culture of
complaint” are not unusual, particularly in the Eastern German states, as
ethnographer Juliane Stückrad (2010) has shown. This does not make Eastern
Germans more prone to support populist parties in general. On the contrary,
we observed many instances in which this form of skepticism extended to the
politics of the AfD. During the already mentioned campaign event of the
populist Blue Party, members of the audience openly questioned the cred-
ibility of their claims of “bringing change,” and many farmers and hunters
we talked to dismissed the AfD campaigns for their lack of offering valid solu-
tions considering the wolf issue. One hunter fell into an agitated rant when the
topic of the AfD came up, she said: “They’re discussing this topic, but I won’t
expect them to have read even one scientific article, everything is composed of
different stories and I just can’t stand it!”22 Populist parties provide particular
narratives around the return of the wolves, offering a different kind of knowl-
edge and emotional framing, and strategically, these are supposed to resonate
with widespread populist sentiments among particular populations. Yet these
overtures are also widely contested. With some people, this strategy of framing
the return of wolves as a crisis resonates—but often for other reasons than
striking the supposedly fertile grounds of fears and anxieties. Others remain
skeptical to these overtures, or are even getting furious about the AfD’s
obvious strategy, and thus do not accept the epistemological premises of these
framings—and in these instances, apparently, the attempted mobilization fails.
[H]aving acknowledged the affective intensity of the populist symptom, we
should avoid dismissing it as either cynically instrumental (a mode of manip-
ulation) or as tactically ornamental (political style as surface distraction). How
would our analysis look different if we granted the symptom its own integrity,
its own truth? (Mazzarella, 2019, 51)
As Hans-Georg Betz (2020, 25) argues for the case of Eastern Germany,
“[t]he experience of deprivation is bound to provoke a panoply of nega-
tive emotions, such as anxiety, frustration, anger and resentment,” but these
resentments do not automatically make voters for populist parties. The
dynamics between anti-government resentments and populist overtures in
particular are more complex than we might assume. Not the whole “East” of
Germany suffers from deprivation and grievances, while some segments of the
population do, and in particular instances, people have good reasons to call
out political misrecognition of structural dilemmas. But it seems imperative
to further understand the complexities of populist dynamics and the driving
forces to gain political recognition of structural struggles. As Erica von Essen
and Michael Allen (2017, 146) point out, “[u]nderstanding complexity and
ambivalence may point to […] more flexible and productive policy responses
that take seriously without valorizing reactionary movements.”
As William Mazzarella puts it in the quote above, we should question the
analytical benefit of suspending populist agents as mere seducers or exploiters
of popular resentments. Indeed, populist parties attempt to appease to the
rural population in Eastern Germany by framing the returning wolves as
harbingers of crises, providing a narrative with clear-cut culprits and victims.
And indeed, populist sentiments are widespread among these addressees. But
sometimes these sentiments are enacted where we would not expect them,
and the other way around, and often for reasons that go beyond the fram-
ings of populist parties. We should attend to these complexities and attune
our analyses to the ambivalences in populist (non-)mobilization. Micropolit-
ical approaches on populist framings can further our understanding of the
local and topical particularities of populist sentiments and the shape that these
take in regard to struggling with problems of the social, political, and even
the seemingly natural worlds—in particular concerning cleavages in voting
behavior (West/East, urban/rural) and our attempts to find explanations.
Further, micropolitical approaches can deepen our understanding of how
populist politics relate to and resonate with people’s sentiments toward partic-
ular issues, and most importantly, how such politics do not relate and not
resonate. Focusing on “resonant encounters” (Mazzarella, 2017, 136) we can
grasp the dynamics between political parties and their (potential) constituen-
cies, instead of analyzing both as separate entities. Exploring the lived realities
of different people in different places, such approaches can shed light on the
myriad of problems people are facing, on political agents offering solutions to
these problems, and on the societal complexities that challenge democracies
1. The observation of a clear urban/rural divide in votes for the AfD is not only
true for Eastern Germany, but the rural population shows a higher affinity
for the AfD across the country. Similar trends can be observed in France
with regard to support for the Front National, in Great Britain with regard
to support for Brexit or in the USA with regard to Trump supporters.
2. Populist rhetorics is understood as “an anti-elite, nationalist rhetoric that
valorizes ordinary people” and is comprised of “collections of symbolic actions,
styles of expression, public statements (spoken or written), definitions of the
situation, and ways of elaborating ideas that broadly invoke or reinforce a
populist principle, which reciprocally legitimates and animates political action”
(Jansen, 2011, 83–84).
3. For the right-wing populist party Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ), Wodak
(2019, 204) has identified, for example, a “threat scenario consisting of an
imagined ‘invasion’ by so-called ‘illegal migrants’,” implying that people would
be “claiming to be refugees but are in fact travelling to rich European countries
to live off welfare and benefits, and thereby endanger the prosperity of those
4. For an overview of anthropological research on populism, see Mazzarella
5. In 2018/2019, the Federal Documentation and Counselling Centre on the
Topic of Wolves counted 145 wolf territories in Germany, including 105 wolf
packs, 29 couples, and 11 lone wolves; see
(Accessed on June 23, 2020).
6. Drucksache 19/594, German Bundestag, January 31, 2018.
7. K. Hilse, ‘Wolfsmanagement und -monitoring’, Deutscher Bundestag: Parla-
mentsfernsehen. [Video file] (21 February 2019), URL: www.bundestag.
MTk=&mod=mediathek [Accessed 24 November 2019], cited in Pates and
Leser (2021); translation by the authors.
8. Interview with AfD politician I. Teichmann, 2019; all interview quotes have
been translated by the authors.
9. K. Muster, Blue Party campaign event on the topic of wolves, Wittichenau
(Saxony), January 23, 2019.
10. We are grateful to Pauline Betche and Anna Bentzien for letting us use their
interviews in addition to our own material.
11. Interview with a hunter, Saxony, 2019.
12. Interview with a member of the farmers’ association, Brandenburg, 2019.
13. Interview with a farmer/hunter, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, 2019.
14. Interview with a NABU associate, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, 2019.
15. Interview with a NABU associate, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, 2019.
16. Interview with a farmer, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, 2019.
17. Interview with a member of the farmers’ association, Brandenburg, 2019.
18. Interview with a sheep farming business owner, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania,
19. Interview with a sheep farming business owner, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania,
20. Interview with a volunteer at the Contact Office Wolves in Saxony, 2019.
21. Interview with associate NABU, Saxony, 2019.
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Background : Populism is often perceived as a shamelessly loud segment of political discourse. However, Jelinek’s play On the Royal Road , written on the occasion of Trump’s 2016 election as US president, suggests that populism leads to societal silencing. Jelinek’s text expounds that when a society’s public sphere is marked by ubiquitous enmity against an imagined “we”, grounded in antagonism, then the possibility of speaking to one another disappears, because speaking to one another is based on the willingness to give one’s counterpart space and listen to them. In a public discourse that stages enmity, the counterpart vanishes. Therefore, populism, loud as it is, leads to the silencing of whole communities insofar as they are left with nothing in common but enmity. Method : Critical discourse analysis is used to contextualise close readings of select passages of Jelinek’s play with recent social sciences and humanities research on global populisms to highlight what literary language and the dramatic form can contribute to understanding populism. Results : The silencing populisms entail is fed, in large part, by a dynamics linking the interpersonal emotion of shame to its discursive exploitation in shamelessness and shaming: populist voices transgress rules of democratic debate in the public sphere to elicit outrage by mainstream politics, media, and civil society, which often retort populist shamelessness by shaming populist actors. The audience excitement populist leaders and supporters generate is an important factor in normalizing the emotional, moralizing populist polarization of “us” versus “them” that undermines differentiated discussion and a dispute of arguments. Conclusion : While media and research commonly suggest that with the populist reduction of politics to a spectacle, citizens become a passive audience, the article expounds that audiences play a key role in the production of populist enmity. This insight offers an alley to counteract populism.
Background : Populism is often perceived as a shamelessly loud segment of political discourse. However, Jelinek’s play On the Royal Road , written on the occasion of Trump’s 2016 election as US president, suggests that populism leads to societal silencing. Jelinek’s text expounds that when a society’s public sphere is marked by ubiquitous enmity against an imagined “we”, grounded in antagonism, then the possibility of speaking to one another disappears, because speaking to one another is based on the willingness to give one’s counterpart space and listen to them. In a public discourse that stages enmity, the counterpart vanishes. Therefore, populism, loud as it is, leads to the silencing of whole communities insofar as they are left with nothing in common but enmity. Method : Critical discourse analysis is used to contextualise Jelinek’s play with recent social sciences and humanities research on global populisms, and combined with close readings of select passages of the play to highlight what literary language and the dramatic form can contribute to understanding populism. Results : The silencing populisms entail is fed, in large part, by a dynamics linking the interpersonal emotion of shame to its discursive exploitation in shamelessness and shaming: populist voices transgress rules of democratic debate in the public sphere to elicit outrage by mainstream politics, media, and civil society, which often retort populist shamelessness by shaming populist actors. The audience excitement populist leaders and supporters generate is an important factor in normalizing the emotional, moralizing populist polarization of “us” versus “them” that undermines differentiated discussion and a dispute of arguments. Conclusion : While media and research commonly suggest that with the populist reduction of politics to a spectacle, citizens become a passive audience, the article expounds that audiences play a key role in the production of populist enmity. This insight offers an alley to counteract populism.
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Does the return of large carnivores affect voting behavior? We study this question through the lens of wolf attacks on livestock. Sustained environmental conservation has allowed the wolf ( Canis lupus) to make an impressive and unforeseen comeback across Central Europe in recent years. While lauded by conservationists, local residents often see the wolf as a threat to economic livelihoods, particularly those of farmers. As populists appear to exploit such sentiments, the wolf’s reemergence is a plausible source for far-right voting behavior. To test this hypothesis, we collect fine-grained spatial data on wolf attacks and construct a municipality-level panel in Germany. Using difference-in-differences models, we find that wolf attacks are accompanied by a significant rise in far-right voting behavior, while the Green party, if anything, suffers electoral losses. We buttress this finding using local-level survey data, which confirms a link between wolf attacks and negative sentiment toward environmental protection. To explore potential mechanisms, we analyze Twitter posts, election manifestos, and Facebook ads to show that far-right politicians frame the wolf as a threat to economic livelihoods.
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The term 'illiberal democracy', coined by Fareed Zakaria in 1997, has gained much traction, specifically since its use by Hungarian Prime Minster Victor Orbán in 2014. Ever since, Orbán and his governing party Fidesz have been implementing this vision resulting in major cutdowns on free speech, freedom of press, of various NGOs which support human rights, and so forth. Moreover, Fidesz won the 2018 national election with a strong focus on antiimmigration policies. Although Orbán's restrictive migration policies were widely criticised during the so-called refugee crisis 2015, many EU member states have started to follow the Hungarian policy of closing borders and protecting the EU from asylum-seekers and an alleged invasion by Muslims. Hence, I claim that formerly taboo subjects and expressions in mainstream discourse are being accepted more and more ('normalisation'). Such normalisation goes hand in hand with a certain 'shamelessness': the limits of the sayable are shifting regarding both the frequency of lies and the violating of discourse conventions – as well as regarding repeated attacks on central democratic institutions. Normalising the assessment of migrants as a threat to inner security and a burden on the welfare state and education system must be perceived as an international development – generally instrumentalising a 'politics of fear'.
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Over the past decades, the far right has become one of the most studied phenomena in international political science, attracting more attention than all other party families combined. This article critically assesses the scholarly progress made so far and discusses what future research on the far right should focus on. It argues that although the number of studies has grown disproportionately, scholars have been slow in acknowledging that far-right politics have entered a new phase, where traditional aspects progressively lost momentum and new ones acquired central stage. To understand the transformations in the contemporary far right, scholars must address three shortcomings of international comparative research—Eurocentrism, Electoralism and Externalism. Today, we need to re-embed the study of the far right into the broader literature on party politics and political sociology, acknowledging the diversity that exists within the far right, its diffusion beyond (western) Europe and its mobilization outside the electoral arena.
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The article sheds light on one of the key developments in recent German politics and relates it to the broader debate on the electoral success of the far right. The rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) is also a story about Germany's internal political divide three decades after 'reunification' as the party is about twice as strong in the east than in the west. The article analyses the country's east-west divide, strongly visible in widespread sentiments of societal marginalization among eastern Germans. The key socio-structural differences between the east and the west relate to matters of economics, migration, and representation-and provide a setting suitable to AfD strength in the east. In explaining the party's electoral success in eastern Germany, the article echoes recent scholarship rejecting narrow explanations for the strength of 'populism', and instead highlights its multiple causes.
Across Eastern Germany, where political allegiances are shifting to the right, the wolf is increasingly seen as a trespasser and threat to the local way of life. Styled by populist right-wing actors as an 'invasive species', the wolf evokes and resonates with anti-immigration sentiments and widespread fears of demographic catastrophe. To many people in Eastern Germany, the immigrant and the wolf are an indistinguishable problem that nobody in power is doing anything about. In this account of Eastern German agitation of wolves and migrants, Eastern German hunters, farmers, rioters and self-appointed 'saviours of the nation', Pates and Leser move beyond stereotypic representations of 'the East' and shine a light on the complexities of post-socialist life and losses. As nationalist parties are on the rise across Europe, The wolves are coming back offers an insight into the rise of the far right in Germany. The nationalist Alternative for Germany represents the third-largest party in the German federal parliament, with representation in the vast majority of German states. They draw much of their support from the 'post-traumatic places' in Eastern Germany, regions structured by realities of disownment, disenfranchisement and a lack of democratic infrastructure. Pates and Leser provide an account of the societal roots of a new group of radical right parties, whose existence and success we always assumed to be impossible.
In this Introduction to a Special Issue on Islamophobia East/West, we provide a general review of the topic. Despite similarities in Islamophobia between East and West Germany, significant contrasts persist. While scholars have understood them as residues of communist rule, here we argue for the importance of what followed its downfall. First, we sketch out the history of Islamophobia in post-reunification Germany. We suggest that the othering of easterners has shown close resonances with the othering of (particularly Muslim) migrants. Both are represented as in need of a reckoning with the German past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung), unlike westerners. Such contrasts, we argue, are reproduced across multiple and different scales, from the geography of Berlin to the national territory, the EU (with its persistent East/West divisions), and beyond it. The politics of gender, we insist, is vital for understanding German Islamophobia. Both feminists and conservatives have framed Muslims at once as sexual predators and as repressive patriarchs. Meanwhile, the emergence of ‘welcome culture’ (Wilkommenskultur) has created opportunities for solidarity yet has also come to reference liberal naïveté. We conclude that neither Islamophobia nor the East/West contrasts are likely to disappear while eastern populations remain peripheral to the contemporary economic and political orders.
A widespread view on the success of populist far-right parties is that they mobilise economically left-behind voters via a backward-looking, nostalgic and thus illegitimate agenda. Yet, recent research has shown that it is often wealthy areas that vote for the German populist far-right AfD. Drawing on nationalism, memory-studies and social-movement literature, this article examines how nostalgia drives the activism of well-off local intellectual far-right groups. Based on ethnographic data gathered in Dresden, I argue that far-right intellectual activism in East Germany is facilitated by the convergence of two distinct but related forms of nostalgia. First, a positive nostalgia for a guilt-free past. Second, a negative nostalgia characterized not by a celebration of socialism, but the resistance to it. As multidirectional nostalgia this convergence makes the far right’s political memory resonate with local individual and social memories providing the cultural opportunity structure for electoral success. Infused with a forward-looking ‘anxious hope’, it prefigures an alternative far-right future.
Until 2017, Germany was an exception to the success of radical right parties in postwar Europe. We provide new evidence for the transformation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) to a radical right party drawing upon social media data. Further, we demonstrate that the AfD's electorate now matches the radical right template of other countries and that its trajectory mirrors the ideological shift of the party. Using data from the 2013 to 2017 series of German Longitudinal Elections Study (GLES) tracking polls, we employ multilevel modelling to test our argument on support for the AfD. We find the AfD's support now resembles the image of European radical right voters. Specifically, general right-wing views and negative attitudes towards immigration have become the main motivation to vote for the AfD. This, together with the increased salience of immigration and the AfD's new ideological profile, explains the party's rise.