The Dark Side of Inspirational Pasts: An Investigation of Nostalgia in Right-Wing Populist Communication

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In recent years, research found that populism employed a new strategy by using nostalgia, a sentimental longing for the past, as a communication tool to persuade citizens to support their political agendas. In populist campaigns, nostalgia is used to affectively link (alleged) crises with longing for a cherished past. In this paper, we applied a mixed-methods approach to understand how populists exploit nostalgia in their communication and how nostalgic rhetoric has the potential to persuade people to support their claims. In Study 1, we conducted a case study based on a qualitative content analysis of the Alternative for Germany’s (AfD) online election campaign in the 2019 Thuringia election in East Germany. The analysis revealed that the campaign was built around the nostalgic narrative of the 1989 peaceful revolution as a proud historical moment for former GDR citizens while at the same time creating a sense of crisis supposedly caused by false post-reunification politics. To further investigate the persuasiveness of nostalgia, Study 2 used a statement from the campaign and found that participants tended to agree more with populist statements if they contained nostalgic rhetoric (compared to non-nostalgic populist and control rhetoric). These findings suggest that right-wing populists can effectively exploit nostalgia and that it may ‘sugarcoat’ populist messages.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedia and Communication
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)237–249
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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