Populism and Policy Issues: Examining Political Communication on Twitter in Italy 2018-2019
This study inductively explores the policy and populism dimensions of Italian political discourse on Twitter. Starting from a corpus of 25,000 tweets posted by a number of Italian political actors throughout a year (March 4, 2018 – March 4, 2019), we apply the Structural Topic Model to uncover the policy content underlying their political communication. Our results suggest that actors representing populist parties (i.e. M5S and Lega) were mostly interested in emphasizing the immigration issue, although to a different extent. In particular, the debate on immigration was dominated by the Lega, suggesting that the party kept prioritizing the issue that occupied center stage in its electoral campaign. The M5S emphasized infrastructure that had been an essential component of its pro-environment stance, but they also gave room for immigration. Interestingly, our analysis also shows that populist tones are associated with different issues, with topics related to immigration displaying the highest populist tone. On the whole, our results are consistent with previous research showing that some issues such as immigration as closely aligned with populist parties.
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