Priming Potential Populist Voters: Results from a Survey Experiment in the 2017 German Election

Project Name:

Priming Potential Populist Voters: Results from a Survey Experiment in the 2017 German Election


Alexander Held (PI) (supervised by Professor Alan Jacobs; Professor Richard Johnston)

Funding Source:

UBC Public Scholars Initiative (PSI), Humboldt Stiftung (Germany; PI: Professor Richard Johnston)

Project Description:

This project builds on the literature on political persuasion, priming and campaign effects in established democracies and extends it to a group of voters that has received relatively little attention so far in this literature: citizens who have turned their back on mainstream political elites and lean towards populist parties and politicians instead. While these particular voters’ distrust toward the political establishment might make them less likely to respond to the appeals of mainstream parties, the ability to sway at least some voters seems increasingly important for moderate politicians eager to win elections in Western democracies. Thus, this project analyzes the extent to which voters who are susceptible to populist appeals can be primed by mainstream political messages.

In the context of the 2017 German election – the first general election after the 2015 – 2016 refugee crisis—I leverage a targeted sampling strategy to draw a large sample of approximately 1,800 voting-age citizens with strongly anti-immigrant attitudes who are likely to be skeptical of mainstream German parties and their immigration policies. Using survey experimentation, I test how four different messages that are grounded in major theories of voting behavior affect individuals’ vote: priming of the economy, priming of anti-establishment considerations, priming of insecurity, and priming of policy considerations. The findings from this research provide insights into the extent to which mainstream parties can use priming strategies to influence a group of voters that is least likely to be primed by their messages.

Project Stage:

Data analysis, writing, dissemination