When populists become popular: comparing Facebook use by the right-wing movement Pegida and German political parties

Previous research has acknowledged the use of social media in political communication by right-wing populist parties and politicians. Less is known, however, about its pivotal role for right-wing social movements which rely on personalized messages to mobilize supporters and challenge the mainstream party system. This paper analyzes online political communication by the right-wing populist movement Pegida and German political parties. We investigate to which extent parties attract supporters of Pegida, to which extent they address topics similar to Pegida and whether their topic use has become more similar over a period of almost two years. The empirical analysis is based on Facebook posts by main accounts and individual representatives of these political groups. We first show that there are considerable overlaps in the audiences of Pegida and the new challenger in the party system, AfD. Then we use topic models to characterize topic use by party and surveyed crowdworkers to which extent they perceive the identified topics as populist communication. The results show that while Pegida and AfD talk about rather unique topics and smaller parties engage to varying degrees with the topics populists emphasize, the two governing parties CDU and SPD clearly deemphasize those. Overall, the findings indicate that the considerable attention devoted to populist actors and shifts in public opinion due to the refugee crisis have left only moderate marks in political communication within the mainstream party system.