What Drives the Right-Wing Populist Vote? Topics, Motivations and Representations in an Online Vox Pop with Voters for the Alternative für Deutschland

Veronika Koller 1  and Marlene Miglbauer 2
  • 1 Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
  • 2 University College of Teacher Education Burgenland, Eisenstadt, Austria
Veronika Koller and Marlene Miglbauer

Abstract

In a recent study (Miglbauer, Marlene and Veronika Koller (2019). “‘The British People have Spoken’: Voter Motivations and Identities in Vox Pops on the British EU Referendum.” Veronika Koller, Susanne Kopf and Marlene Miglbauer, eds. Discourses of Brexit. Abingdon: Routledge, 86–103.), we investigated vox pops (short for ‘vox populi,’ i.e. ‘voice of the people’) with self-declared Leave voters in the run-up to the 2016 British EU referendum. The study presented here complements this research with a comparative perspective, exploring the motivations expressed by voters for the German right-wing populist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland). On the day of the 2017 general election, the German news website Zeit online (ZON) invited its readers to say why they voted AfD. Although the AfD voter profile and the ZON readership profile are noticeably different, the question elicited 468 replies numbering a total of around 59,000 words, which we compiled into a corpus. Working with corpus analysis software AntConc 3.4.1w, we first prised out topics and motivations by analysing this collection of online vox pops for word frequencies as well as collocates and concordances for selected lexical units, before manually grouping the different lexemes into ten topics. In a second step, we manually analysed the data for social actor representation (van Leeuwen, Theo (2008). Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.) and appraisal (Martin, James R. and Peter R. R. White (2005). Appraisal in English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.). The results of the analysis show that next to previously documented motivations for right-wing populist votes – e.g. in-group bias and rejection of the Other as morally deficient (Heinisch, Reinhard (2008). “Austria: The Structure and Agency of Austrian Populism.” Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell, eds. Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 67–83.) –, the group of AfD voters represented in the written vox pop have specific additional reasons, namely a focus on German chancellor Merkel as an ‘anti-hero’ and a belief of being victimised by the media. An additional, unexpected finding was that a number of posters to the dedicated comment forum explicitly distance themselves from perceived stereotypes of right-wing populist voters. Our findings therefore also problematise previously identified characteristics of right-wing populist discourse as anti-elitist and anti-intellectual (Wodak, Ruth (2015b). The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean. Los Angeles: SAGE.) and call into question the support from workers, and associated fears of wage pressure and competition for welfare benefits, as one of the main factors in the success of right-wing populism (Oesch, Daniel (2008). “Explaining Workers’ Support for Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe: Evidence from Austria, Belgium, France, Norway, and Switzerland.” International Political Science Review 29.3, 349–373.).

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Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik (ZAA) is a peer-reviewed quarterly that reflects the entire spectrum of research on English and American language, literature and culture. Particular attention will be paid to the new literatures in English, the development of linguistic varieties outside of Britain and North America and the relationship between anglophone and neighbouring cultural areas.

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