by Gloria Gennaro, Giampaolo Lecce, Massimo Morelli
Do candidates use populism to maximize the impact of political campaigns? Is the supply of populism strategic? We apply automated text analysis to all available 2016 US Presidential campaign speeches and 2018 midterm campaign programs using a continuous index of populism. This novel dataset shows that the use of populist rhetoric is responsive to the level of expected demand for populism in the local audience. In particular, we provide evidence that current U.S. President Donald Trump uses more populist rhetoric in swing states and in locations where economic insecurity is prevalent. These findings were confirmed when the analysis was extended to recent legislative campaigns wherein candidates tended towards populism when campaigning in stiffly competitive districts where constituents are experiencing high levels of economic insecurity. We also show that pandering is more common for candidates who can credibly sustain anti-elite positions, such as those with shorter political careers. Finally, our results suggest that a populist strategy is rewarded by voters since higher levels of populism are associated with higher shares of the vote, precisely in competitive districts where voters are experiencing economic insecurity.
Keywords: Populism, Electoral Campaign, American Politics, Text Analysis