Media Populism: How Has Social Media Served to Get Populist Politicians to Power?

Populism has been recently the focus of researchers attempting to conceptualize and explain the rising of populist leaders across European democracies and the US. The media in Europe and the US, in many instances, appear to have contributed to a legitimization of the issues, key-words and communication styles typical of populist leaders. Leaders striving to gain media attention have successfully exploited the media’s eagerness to break the routine and attract public attention. To ensure media coverage, the supply and demand relationship appears to have increased the visibility and significance of populist leaders and their strategic messages, serving as a powerful tool of mobilization for populist causes.

The well-established mainstream media, in most countries, is arguably the mouthpiece of the ruling classes. The media tend to overtly combat/downplay/protest populist threats, contributing to their containment. Television, specifically, is central to the political process. There is an ongoing adaptation of political public performances, language and at times even policy-making, to the demands of an increasingly commercialized mass media. Thus, the mediatization of political communication is often identified with the marketization of the public representation of politics, and the transformation of political language into spectacle is its most evident effect. In contemporary society, where image is paramount, political leaders must be good actors and master the tools of drama to address effectively a domestic audience that has become increasingly distracted from politics. It is interesting therefore to look at the most successful communication strategies implemented by populist movements in order to both taps into the public mood and capture the media’s attention.

The media’s role in the dissemination of populism remains nevertheless by and large underexplored, especially for Western democracies. In Arab authoritarian countries, especially in Egypt, media populism has been a natural practise since the time of Nasser. The media in Egypt is under complete control of the state by law, whether state or private media. The aim of this Research Topic is to offer a variety of case studies demonstrating the role of the media, specifically social media, in getting populist leaders to power in democratic and authoritarian states. It seeks to examine the process of media representation and the symbolic construction of favourable opinion climates for populist leaders. Finding indicators that the media provides a significant degree of support for the rise of populist phenomena is a key factor. Other factors to be analyzed in this process include the nature of political systems, and the features of social and cultural-political climates, which the media help disseminate.

This research topic seeks to provide clear and specific answers to the following questions:

  • How is fear continuously invoked and legitimized through various types of media?
  • How is the politics of fear manifested by instrumentalizing ethnic/religious/linguistic/political minorities as scapegoats, as a threat ‘to us’ and ‘our nation’?
  • How is the politics of denial employed by dominant populist rhetoric? How are media scandals provoked to dominate the agenda, forcing all other important topics into the background?
  • How do populists produce and reproduce exclusionary ideologies in everyday politics, in the media, in campaigning, in posters, slogans and speeches, legitimizing the politics of exclusion?
  • How do populist leaders succeed (or fail) in sustaining their electoral success?


Populism, media, social media, populist leaders, Egypt, mediatization

Important Note

All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserve the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Deadline for submission of abstracts: 31 January 2020