Persuasion Through Emotion? An Experimental Test of the Emotion-Eliciting Nature of Populist Communication

Dominique S. Wirz


Populist parties have been extremely successful in recent years. It is often argued that their focus on emotion-eliciting appeals instead of rational arguments contributes to this success; however, there is a lack of empirical evidence to support this assumption. The objective of this article is to test whether populist appeals do indeed elicit emotions and whether this increases the persuasiveness of the appeals. An experiment was conducted (N = 580) comparing populist and nonpopulist appeals on political advertising posters. The results show that populist appeals elicit stronger emotions than nonpopulist appeals and that these emotions mediate the persuasiveness of the appeals. The widespread assumption that populist appeals are persuasive because they are inherently emotional is thus supported. This finding helps to explain the success of parties that make use of such populist messages.


populism, persuasion, emotions, core relational themes, multimessage design

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