Can the diffusion of broadband internet explain the recent success of populist parties in Europe? Populists cultivate an anti-elitist communication style, which, they claim, directly connects them with ordinary people. The internet therefore appears to be the perfect tool for populist leaders. In this study, we show that this notion holds up to rigorous empirical testing. Building on survey data from Italy and Germany, we find a positive correlation at the individual level between internet use and voting for populist parties. We then demonstrate that this relationship is causal with an instrumental variable strategy, instrumenting internet use with broadband coverage at the municipality level. Finally, we explore heterogeneity in our sample in order to test for three mechanisms that theoretically link internet use to populist voting. Our tests indicate that broadband internet allows populists to effectively activate pre-existing political attitudes in the electorate.
DAVIDE MORISI is a Research Fellow at the Department of Government at the University of Vienna. He completed his PhD at the European University Institute. His doctoral dissertation has been selected among the notable theses defended at the EUI. Davide holds a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, and has been visiting researcher at New York University, University of Copenhagen, and University of Edinburgh. His research interest covers the topics of political behaviour, election and referendum campaigns, public opinion, political parties, political psychology and experimental methods.
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