December 1, 2021

Corona pandemic is instrumentalized in Europe to criticize elites - AfD also becomes more populist

New MIDEM Annual Study examines social media and populist attitudes in times of pandemic

With the pandemic, right-wing populist parties have once again strengthened their unique characteristics. This is the conclusion of the new study by the Mercator Forum Migration and Democracy (MIDEM), which is being published today in Dresden.The analysis of the official Facebook pages of right-wing populist parties in Europe shows that Covid-19 is an important mobilization topic and is used to tap into populist voter strata. While right-wing populists do not usually address the issue of the Coronavirus more frequently than other parties, the way they communicate it clearly stands out from that of other parties. For example, government measures to combat the pandemic have been used as a backdrop for polemically and emotionally charged criticism of the government. Right-wing populist parties that are in government are an exception: During the pandemic they were primarily concerned with depoliticizing the Covid-19 issue.

 "At the core, most right-wing populists, even during the pandemic, are concerned with staging themselves as the only alternative to the existing parties. This is also why opposition right-wing populists in Europe made a radical change of course at the beginning of the pandemic: from supporters to harsh critics of the protection measures," said Professor Hans Vorländer, director of the Mercator Forum Migration and Democracy (MIDEM).

The issue of migration remains important for right-wing populists even during the pandemic - especially for right-wing populist parties in Northern Europe. In social media, Covid-19 and migration are often linked, for example when warnings are issued about the spread of the virus by migrants. Also, the analysis of official Facebook pages shows that right-wing populist parties do not fundamentally question the expertise of health professionals. Rather, they seek to broaden the spectrum of opinion to include positions that are allegedly not being heard. Content based on conspiracy theories, on the other hand, is mostly disseminated via other channels - such as right-wing populist and extremist platforms or accounts of individuals.

"One of the biggest threats to social cohesion comes from right-wing currents," explains Christiane von Websky, Head of Participation and Cohesion at Stiftung Mercator. "The MIDEM annual study provides important impetus for policymakers and civil society to strengthen the cohesion of society - and to promote tolerance, openness to the world and respect."

With regard to the AfD, the study shows that its populist style is crucial for numerous coronavirus skeptics to rally behind the party. For example, the representative survey on the measures to combat Covid-19 in Saxony shows that rejectionist positions on the state's infection control measures are primarily associated with populist orientations. This means that people who reject the measures often feel little or poorly represented by politics and institutions. In contrast, critical attitudes toward infection control measures are less often associated with ethnocentric or authoritarian attitudes. The 4th annual study of the Mercator Forum Migration and Democracy will be publicly presented at a special event on December 1, 2021. It offers insights and background analysis on the social media communication of right-wing populist parties in 12 European countries: the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. The study evaluates Facebook data from the official pages of right-wing populist parties. The results of the study are also based on a representative survey of a total of 1,008 Saxons conducted in cooperation with the opinion research institute dimap.

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