Skip to main content

The Brexit effect in media coverage: how the intra-party democracy counters the rise of European populism

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - POSTBREXIT (The Brexit effect in media coverage: how the intra-party democracy counters the rise of European populism)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2022-06-30

Populism is currently at its highest-ever level in Europe. The big questions we need to ask are ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ as there is no one factor to which the spread of populism can be attributed.
Several studies have observed that the rise in populism in Western Europe is due to a reaction to the failure of political parties to be responsive to several issues: economic and cultural globalisation, European integration, immigration, the decline of ideologies, and the growth of corruption in the political elite. Political parties are directly blamed and considered unable to respond to citizens’ demands. So, in several countries, a growing number of political parties have introduced a wide range of methods for including party members in intraparty deliberations and decision-making.
From this standpoint, the EU-funded POSTBREXIT project analysed populism through the link between media communication and intraparty democracy, using the Brexit context as a case study.
The main purpose was to understand how to counter the rise of populism and how political parties could do this. The research involved two steps.
Step 1 – to analyse populist issues in the media and examine how party members perceive and evaluate these; Step 2 – to test how intraparty democracy can influence populism.
The main hypothesis was that the strengthening of intraparty democracy and deliberation processes had profound implications for the rise of populism and the future of democracy as a whole.
Work was conducted via six work packages (WPs).
WP1 comprised all the technological architecture of the project to acquire knowledge about web development and the management of the whole research design. This allowed the building of the official website, the social network accounts, the e-platform of web surveys, and forum space for the research participants. These tools were integrated to improve dissemination activities and communicate results and publications.
WP2 sought to build skills to improve the theoretical and methodological framework. The Fellow attended seven courses on methodology – consolidating two statistical software packages, SPSS, and STATA, and two qualitative/quantitative software packages, T-LAB and NVIVO – and delivered five conference presentations, two published journal articles, three book chapters, four scientific reports, and three international blog articles, with three manuscripts and one book underway.
WP3 involved a content analysis of UK media coverage to analyse the Brexit effect, investigating how populism is reflected in media coverage. The post-Brexit (1 February–31 December 2020) period was analysed by building an online open-access database.
This analysis also enabled the identification of ‘populist issues’ for WP4. In WP4, the Fellow developed two surveys interspersed with an intraparty deliberation phase including a forum debate with members of the major UK parties.
WP5 managed all the weekly meetings, the quarterly progress reviews, and planning and mentoring activities with the Individual Development Plan (IDP) and the Data Management Plan.
Finally, WP6 was characterised by ten public engagement activities to popularise project activities and communicate findings. Moreover, the Fellow attended weekly workshops organised by the host institution and multi-day conferences. He delivered leadership in publishing and research at the university. He conducted eight workshops for researchers to transfer knowledge using an updated section of the research blog. He was appointed Social Media Editor of IJES (Italian Journal of Electoral Studies) and a Committee Board member of the Italian Association of Electoral Studies.
In addition to the outcomes mentioned in WP2, results of this MSCA are reported in (1) forthcoming papers on content analysis of the characteristics of ‘populist discourse’ mediated by the framing of the UK press; (2) forthcoming papers on analysis of intraparty democracy to examine ‘populist issues’ in a deliberative process, describing how to approach it; (3) forthcoming papers on methods used during the research to propose a new idea for the empirical analysis of politics, making an effort to bridge quantitative and qualitative methodology; (4) a forthcoming manuscript to describe the integration of different approaches and theories used in the project. This article will also include a new research approach to conspiracy theories and misinformation, particularly ‘fake news’.
Finally, the data sets collected during this project will contribute to the research of other scholars in the coming years, with several publications planned in addition to the ones produced and published during this MSCA fellowship.
In Europe, research on populism is relatively new, although it has increased considerably since the beginning of the 1990s.
This MSCA has pushed forward the frontiers of populism research in numerous ways.
A forthcoming manuscript has attempted to bring together the main disciplinary fields that in recent years have dealt with the populism topic (political communication, political science, and sociology), focusing on the many key questions that remain in the study of populism: i) how populist actors are represented in the media; ii) what emotional, cognitive and behavioural effects populist issues have on different party members; iii) how intraparty democracy helps contain the electoral success of populist actors.
Second, the research – following the Commission proposal ‘Addressing populism and boosting civic and democratic engagement’ – has enhanced the knowledge base on populism from a comparative perspective. This allowed the project to become more agile in with many different research methodologies and developed indicators as well as medium- to long-term scenarios on the consequences of populism, which could now support policies, narrative construction and other actions to address the phenomenon. With this purpose, the results will have a huge impact and the potential to provide enlightening interpretations of the motivations towards and the possibilities of combating populism.
The blog, media activity and news written and curated by the project’s Fellow for people outside the academic world are helping popularise anti-populist attitudes in order to understand and counter it.
The activities and workshops led by the Fellow are helping boost the broader capacity to produce quality research in the field of politics.
This project was in line with the aims and results of the previous projects promoted by H2020. However, the project added new frameworks to this research, providing an interpretation of how populism might evolve in tomorrow’s Europe.
With regard to the impact on European institutions, previous studies prevented us from understanding how institutions could react to populism: whether and how political parties could contain populism by shielding European institutions and improving cohesiveness towards problems (e.g. immigration and anti-European feelings).
In this way, the fellowship sought to make important and innovative contributions, taking advantage of an unprecedented deliberative observation of party members’ attitudes, and creating opportunities for long-term partnerships among political parties and institutions.
Header - Post Brexit Blog