Forging Emotional Linkages: Campaign Strategy, Party Appeals, and Voter Affect in Post-Industrial Democracies
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The growing support for populist politics sits uncomfortably with the ingrained belief of academics and observers that the linkage between political parties and voters in a democracy is, and should be, programmatic. I argue instead that parties in post-industrial democracies aim to forge emotional linkages with voters. To substantiate this argument, I compare recent election campaigns in Austria (2017), Germany (2017), and Italy (2018) to uncover why, how, and to what effect parties appeal to the emotions of citizens. The study brings together (1) a reconstruction of campaign strategies based on in-depth interviews with campaigners, (2) an analysis of the appeals made in campaign communications (manifestos, Facebook posts, press releases, posters, speeches, ads), and (3) an experiment employing physiological measurements to gauge how citizens affectively process appeals. Against the desires of standard democratic theory, many parties in post-industrial democracies think more about emotions than policy while designing their election campaigns. When choosing the emotions at the center of their campaigns, parties largely behave as their relationship to the party system leads them to. Prime ministerial parties appeal to calmness, which is an emotional focus that is compatible with a rational appeal as well. The remaining parties inside the system focus especially on enthusiasm. Anger, in turn, is the emotion of anti-party-system politics. Contrary to widespread beliefs, parties outside of the mainstream are distinguished neither by a lack of appeals to positive emotions nor by a pronounced emphasis on fear. However, parties’ campaigns cannot be exactly deduced from the constellations of the party system alone. Organizational aspects determine whether a party is able to develop a consistent strategy in the first place. Moreover, the perceptions, beliefs, and goals of campaigners can reorient parties’ approaches in terms of rational versus emotional electioneering and which emotions campaigns focus on. The patterns and consistency in parties’ appeals, arising from the constellations of the party system and the views of campaigners, build up a correspondence in the emotive structures of the electorate. These, in turn, channel citizens’ momentary affective reactions. Together, this suggests a reappraisal of equating programmatic linkage with democracy.