Markus Kollberg, Benjamin Lauderdale, and Christopher Wratil, “Winning Votes and Changing Minds: Do Populist Arguments Affect Candidate Evaluations and Issue Preferences?”
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Populist rhetoric – presenting arguments in people-centric, anti-elite and “good vs. evil” frames – is said to be particularly successful in winning and binding voters. Yet, identifying the causal effect of populist rhetoric is complicated by its enmeshment with positions and issues that populists tend to emphasize. We use a survey experiment in the UK (n≈9,000), randomizing the use of populist arguments across issues and positions to test their effect on voters’ candidate evaluations and issue preferences. We find that, on average, populist arguments have a negative effect on the electoral viability of candidates and no effect on voters’ issue preferences. However, when politicians speak to voters who already like them, populist arguments sway these voters’ issue preferences effectively. Among voters with strong populist attitudes, populist arguments also do not dampen politicians’ electoral viability. Populist rhetoric is thus useful in convincing and mobilizing supporters but detrimental in expanding electoral support.