Populist Communication in the New Media Environment: a Cross-Regional Comparative Perspective

Lone Sorensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The changing terms of mediation place new demands, opportunities and risks on the performance of the political persona. Visibility has become a double-edged sword, leaving representatives vulnerable to exposure while new tools provide opportunities for emerging entrepreneurial actors. This double risk to elites’ mediated personas—exposure and challenge from entrepreneurs—renders their armour of authenticity dangerously fragile, which nourishes a public sense of being inefficaciously represented. It is this climate in which populism currently flourishes around the globe. Three primary criteria of mediated self-representation by politicians—visibility, authenticity and efficacy—form the focus of this paper: how do populists negotiate such demands in different democratic contexts, and wherein lies the symbiosis between populism and the new media environment suggested by the literature?

To answer this, the paper compares two populist cases responding to different democratic contexts: UKIP, a right-wing party from an established democracy (UK), and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a left-wing party from a transitional democracy (South Africa). The objects of study are disruptive performances by these parties, which are considered emblematic manifestations of populist ideology as they establish a Manichaean relationship between the elite and populist actors who embody the people. The paper introduces disruption as a multi-faceted and significant analytical concept to explain the populist behaviour and strategies that underlie populist parties’ responses to the demands for visibility, authenticity and efficacy that the new media environment places upon political representatives. Using mixed methods with an interpretive focus, the paper paints a rich picture of the contexts, meanings and means of construction of populist performances.
Original languageEnglish
Article number48
Number of pages12
JournalPalgrave Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


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