Populist Communication and Publicity: An Empirical Study of Contextual Differences in Switzerland


  • Mirjam Cranmer is a PhD candidate at the University of Bern. Her research interests are in political communication and political psychology.

Address for correspondence: Mirjam Cranmer, Institute of Political Science, University of Bern, Lerchenweg 36, CH-3000 Bern 9. Phone: +41 (0)31 631 53 60; Fax: +41 (0)31 631 85 90; E-mail: mirjam.cranmer@ipw.unibe.ch.


Abstract: This study analyzes the context-dependency of populist communication and asks whether there are variations in populist communication for representatives of different kinds of parties. In contrast to previous research on European populism, which mostly considers only the right-wing, this study includes the entire scope of political parties; thus allowing for the possibility of the diffusion of populism in contemporary politics. The empirical contribution is a multilevel analysis of speeches in non-public and public forums (closed parliamentary committees, open parliamentary floors, and the talk show ‘Arena’) on immigration and asylum amendments in Switzerland. A so-called populist party, the Swiss People’s Party, played a significant role in drafting the legislation. Analysis reveals that a) different public settings influence populist communication differently; b) a non-populist party, the Christian-democrats, employs more populist communication on average than any other party and its populism is employed more consistently across contexts than that of the Swiss People’s Party; c) but when speaking in media forms, the Swiss People’s Party employs substantially more populist communication than any other party. Thus, the type of public forum does not uniformly contribute to higher levels of populist communication, but rather the effect of forum type varies substantially by party.