Populism as political communication style: An empirical study of political parties' discourse in Belgium


Jan Jagers, Media, Movements and Politics (M2P), University of Antwerp (UIA), Korte St Annastraat 6, B-2000 Antwerp, Belgium. E-mail: Jan.jagers@ua.ac.be


Abstract.  The scientific debate about populism has been revitalised by the recent rise of extreme-right parties in Western Europe. Within the broad discussion about populism and its relationship with extreme-right, this article is confined to three topics: a conceptual, an epistemological and an empirical issue. First, taking a clear position in the ongoing definition struggle, populism is defined primarily as a specific political communication style. Populism is conceived of as a political style essentially displaying proximity of the people, while at the same time taking an anti-establishment stance and stressing the (ideal) homogeneity of the people by excluding specific population segments. Second, it is pointed out that defining populism as a style enables one to turn it into a useful concept that has too often remained vague and blurred. Third, drawing on an operational definition of populism, a comparative discourse analysis of the political party broadcasts of the Belgian parties is carried out. The quantitative analysis leads to a clear conclusion. In terms of the degree and the kinds of populism embraced by the six political parties under scrutiny, the extreme-right party Vlaams Blok behaves very differently from the other Belgian parties. Its messages are a copybook example of populism.