What Makes Populist Messages Persuasive? Experimental Evidence for How Emotions and Issue Characteristics Moderate Populist Framing Effects

Communication Research, Ahead of Print. Research asserts that populist messages are more persuasive when the audience’s predispositions align with the framing and topic of these messages. Yet, few studies have empirically analyzed this assertion. In this article, we examine how people’s emotional reactions to social issues (fear/anger) and the belief that society is in decline condition people’s reactions to populist framed messages, and whether a populist framing is more persuasive on specific issues—that is, the European refugee crisis, climate change, or the pension crisis. We also focus on two effects of populist messages: issue-specific attributions of responsibility and populist attitudes. Based on a survey experiment, we find that people who are more fearful about social issues express more populist attitudes after reading a populist framed message, compared to a pluralist framed message, and that populist messages increase the attribution of responsibility to politicians for the European refugee crisis and climate change (i.e., global issues).