Emotional Dynamics of Right- and Left-Wing Political Populism

Mikko Erkki Matias Salmela, Christian von Scheve

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Emotions are prevalent in the rhetoric of populist politicians and among their electorate. We argue that partially dissimilar emotional processes may be driving right- and left-wing populism. Existing research has associated populism with fear and insecurities experienced in contemporary societies on the one hand, and with anger, resentment, and hatred on the other. Yet, there are significant differences in the targets of right- and left-wing resentment: a political and economic establishment deemed responsible for austerity politics (left), and political and cultural elites accused of favoring ethnic, religious, and sexual outgroups at the expense of the neglected ingroup (right). Referring to partially different emotional opportunity structures and distinct political strategies at exploiting these structures, we suggest that right-wing populism is characterized by repressed shame that transforms fear and insecurity into anger, resentment, and hatred against perceived “enemies” of the precarious self. Left-wing populism, in turn, associates more with acknowledged shame that allows individuals to self-identify as aggrieved and humiliated by neoliberal policies and their advocates. The latter type of shame holds emancipatory potential as it allows individuals to establish bonds with others who feel the same, whereas repressors remain in their shame or seek bonds from repression-mediated defensive anger and hatred.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHumanity & Society
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)434-454
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology
  • 611 Philosophy
  • 517 Political science

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