Populism Fuels Love and Anger: The Impact of Message Features on Users’ Reactions on Facebook

Pablo Jost, Marcus Maurer, Joerg Hassler


To increase the outreach of their messages, populists and nonpopulist political actors use populist communication strategies that stimulate users to interact with their messages on social media platforms. Yet, not much is known about the effect of such strategies on different types of user interactions of distinct valence. Applying a manual content analysis on posts of political parties and their top candidates (N = 1,540) during the German federal election campaign in 2017, we take Likes and Facebook Reactions (Angry and Love) into consideration. We find that exclusive populist message features (anti-elitism, excluding out-groups) and negative portrayals of political actors increase the number of Angry Reactions, whereas inclusive populism and the positive depiction of ordinary citizens lead to higher numbers of Love and simultaneously reduce the number Angry Reactions. The study thereby reflects the results of experimental research on the effects of populist communication. Against this backdrop, we argue that Love and Angry can be categorized as positive and negative one-click expressions of emotional states.


populism, Facebook, reactions, emotions, content analysis

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