Vox, Covid-19, and populist discourses in Spain


Коронавирусный кризис способствовал радикализации настроений общества. Часть людей выступала за ограничение свобод в угоду борьбы с пандемией, что удачно резонировало с риторикой популистских сил. Особенно активизировалась радикальная партия VOX в Испании, являющаяся третьей политической партией в парламенте королевства. Их лидер Сантьяго Абаскаль стал достаточно заметной фигурой, обвиняющей власть в попытке расколоть испанское общество. EUROPP проанализировал деятельность VOX, высказывания Абаскаля и их влияние на испанцев

The analysis of populist discourses during great events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, can help us to understand how populist leaders adapt their communicative style to take advantage of changing circumstances. Populist movements often appear within a crisis context. This was the case of some populist leaders in Latin America that emerged after the hyperinflationary crisis in the late 1980s, or the recent emergence of radical populist movements in Europe such as the Alternative for Germany, Brothers of Italy, and Vox after the Great Recession.

Populism finds in economic, social and political crisis a window of opportunity because crisis erodes trust in representative institutions, fuels grievances, and serves as justification for radical measures. Moreover, populists frequently cite social, political and economic problems – as well as the failure to address them – to propagate a sense of crisis and turn ‘the people’ against a dangerous ‘other’. Unfortunately, the simplistic solutions and blame attributions of populist leaders often trigger similarly simplistic and confrontational responses from their political adversaries. These populist performances can become contagious and may further divide society and polarise the electorate.

Populism in Spain during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic

In Spain, the Covid-19 crisis has induced greater demands for techno-authoritarian decision-making, strong leadership, willingness to give up individual freedom, and support for the idea of recentralisation of devolved powers. All these ideas resonate with the discourse of Vox, which is also the party that Spaniards with anti-democratic views are more prone to support. Vox has also grown significantly and become the third largest party in Spain and it is, therefore, a party worth studying in the context of this health crisis.

One way to study populist discourses is to compare the density of populist features for each of the core dimensions of populism, namely: antagonism, morality, the idealisation of society, popular sovereignty and personalistic leadership. Table 1 below provides a definition for each of these dimensions.

Source: Olivas Osuna (2020)

We have analysed the transcripts of the populist discourse of Vox during the debates for the approval and extension of the ‘state of alarm’ to fight against Covid-19. Our analysis reveals that, in comparison with Vox’s political manifestos, the idealised depiction of society lost relevance during these debates, whereas the moral and antagonistic dimensions largely increased their salience. Figure 1 shows the density of each of the populist features in these statements and in the party’s manifestos.

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