The Populist Challenge in the German Parliaments

Project managers:
Andreas Blätte (University of Duisburg-Essen)
Jochen Müller (University of Greifswald)
Marcel Lewandowsky (University of Florida)
Christian Stecker (MZES Mannheim)

Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) represents the most successful in the post-war Federal Republic so far. Faced with this case, political science is called upon to analyze the AfD’s conditions for success and to understand how the party is changing democratic competition. Previous studies have already addressed these questions and provide important insights into constituency, programming, personnel and AfD strategies, as well as their work in some state legislatures.
However, significant research gaps remain. Since most of the studies focus on the AfD, it remains underexposed how the mainstream parties in parliament interact with this challenger (e.g., do they take up or avoid AfD issues) and how the parliamentary arena might change. In addition, existing studies are rooted in populist literature and make little use of the potential of parliamentary and party competition research. Finally, comparative work is limited in terms of the state parliaments, the behavioral indicators and the periods they take into account.
Our project is intended to contribute through three goals. First, it comparatively examines the AfD’s behavior in all state legislatures as well as the underlying preferences and strategies on the basis of various indicators. Second, it analyzes the interaction between the AfD and the established factions. Third, on the basis of the literature on parliamentarism, populism and party competition, we are looking for explanations for the findings on the behavior of the AfD and the patterns of interaction in parliament.
In particular, we focus on rhetoric, on the accentuation or framing of topics, on positioning along abstract ideological dimensions, and on concrete issues. Empirically, we rely on a comprehensive analysis of speeches, the main forms of parliamentary initiatives, and manifest behavioral data (e.g, votes on selected topics). Our project is expected to produce empirical and methodological contributions which shall not only contribute to the study on populist parties but on parliamentarism research in general.
Methodologically, the project makes use of machine-based word processing, a unique, up-to-date database, which shall be developed further. The data obtained will allow us to systematically analyze the issues raised and will empower the scientific community for further studies. Finally, robust insights are to be expected, since the project uses the current quantitative and qualitative tools of text analysis in the sense of computational social science or eHumanities.

Related publications: 

Julia Schwanholz, Marcel Lewandowsky, Christoph Leonhardt and Andreas Blätte (2020), The Upsurge of Right-wing Populism in Germany, in: Irina Khmelko, Frederick Stapenhurst, Michael L. Mezey (eds.), The Rise of Populism and the Decline of Legislatures?, Routledge: London, pp. 184-197.