Measuring Populist Discourse: The Global Populism Database

With Kirk A. Hawkins, Rosario Aguilar, Erin K. Jenne, Bojana Kocijan, and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser

This research note introduces the Global Populism Database, which measures the level of populism in the discourse of 215 chief executives (Presidents and Prime Ministers) from 66 countries across all continents. The dataset covers 279 government terms and includes more than 1,000 speeches, mostly between 2000 and 2018. We describe the data and data generation process and move to give the broadest description of the level of populism by leaders of government in the world. We give a few examples of how the dataset can be applied, for example to investigate the causes of populism (such as corruption and economic crisis) or to identify the policy consequences of populism (such as economic collapse, increased corruption, political participation, and the erosion of basic democratic freedoms). This dataset promises to serve as a useful tool in determining the role of leader rhetoric in the spatial and temporal variation of populism.

The working paper is available here.

Social Media and Politics

Politicians' spread of misinformation on Facebook

With Rosario Aguilar, Federico Vegetti, and Sascha Göbel

There has been a major concern during the Covid-19 pandemic with the spread of misinformation about the origins of the virus, how serious the risk was, and on the newly developed Covid-19 vaccines. Such stories lead to lower compliance with safety measures and reduced vaccination uptake, putting the entire world at risk. Anecdotally, it appears that populists have been instrumental in the spread of Covid-19 misinformation, and theory would lead us to expect that: we know that populist attitudes are related to conspiratorial thinking among the public; and we know that populist discourse has elements, such as the anti-elitist appeal, that border on conspiracism. However, to date the evidence that populist politicians are more likely to spread misinformation is very limited. We test this expectation with a dataset containing all Facebook posts by every member of parliament in eight EU countries plus the UK in 2020 and 2021. We first identify a list of approximately ten thousand websites that are engaged with spreading unreliable information, and then look at what politicians are more likely to share Covid-19 links from them. Results reveal that right-wing populists were on average more likely to share Covid-19-related misinformation, but that there are still important variations within and across countries. These results are the first systematic cross-national evidence that populist actors do engage more in spreading misinformation, and help us understand how they build their appeal in a time of crisis.

The data privacy notice, in compliance with GDPR, can be found here