Framing and Blame Attribution in Populist Rhetoric

Abstract

The rhetoric of populist politicians is an important part of their appeal; however, little is known about how that rhetoric operates. Drawing on two large experiments conducted with American adults, we show that frames encouraging individuals to consider political problems in dispositional terms prompt populist expressions, while an encouragement to consider these same problems situationally does not. In our second experiment, we connect this framing change to voting intentions and find that subjects exposed to dispositional frames are more likely to express support for Donald Trump and less likely to express support for Hillary Clinton than subjects exposed to situational frames. We find the same pattern when we compare Bernie Sanders with Clinton but not when we compare Trump with Sanders. Importantly, the impact is contingent on preexisting populist attitudes; subjects with lower populist attitudes are more likely to demonstrate an increase in expressed populism and support for populist candidates.

Publication
The Journal of Politics