Successful populist-leaders are frequently described as charismatic, theoretically implying followers unconditionally supporting and believing in the leadership’s extra-ordinariness and mission. Many scholars have criticized the charisma-thesis, however often ignoring that charisma resides in ‘the eye of the beholder’ instead of being possessed by leaders. As such, charisma is one possible outcome of subjectively, interactively, and interpretatively constructed leader-follower relationships. Hence, our question: if, when, and how charisma arises. Social media provide an underexplored empirical possibility to study populist leaders’ discourse and followers’ reactions. Therefore, we analysed data from Belgium’s most popular self-managed political Facebook-page, Theo Francken’s, secretary of state for migration and often accused of ethno-populism. Methodologically, we have chosen a mixed method iterative design. First, a deductive automated content analysis was used to measure how populist Francken’s discourse is. Second, quantitative text analysis revealed the main patterns in posts and reactions (comments, likes, shares) according to the messages’ degree of populism. Third, we performed an in-depth qualitative analysis on samples of both high and low-impact posts, revealing when, how and why interactions indicate charismatic leadership. Finally, this served as the basis for a new content analysis that also considers followers’ reactions, thereby offering both a critical assessment and advancement of scholarship concerning populist leaders’ communication and its influence on the presence or absence of perceived charisma. Our findings show how this is one of many possible leader follower relationships that is dependent on and intertwined with the leader’s personality and populist message of crisis and antagonistic struggle.
Reference: Caprioli, Mauro Ugo ; Versailles, Alban. Populist leadership 2.0 : a mixed methods approach to Theo Francken’s discourse and his relationship with followers in the era of social media.Politicologenetmaal 2018 (Leiden, du 07/06/2018 au 08/06/2018).