How do populists visually represent ‘the people’? A systematic comparative visual content analysis of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ Instagram accounts

Journal article


Moffitt, Benjamin. (2022). How do populists visually represent ‘the people’? A systematic comparative visual content analysis of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ Instagram accounts. The International Journal of Press/Politics. pp. 1-26. https://doi.org/10.1177/19401612221100418
AuthorsMoffitt, Benjamin
Abstract

How do populists visually represent “the people”? While the literature on populism has tended to focus on text- and language-based documents, such as speeches, policies, and party documents to consider how populists characterize “the people,” in this article I undertake a systematic visual content analysis to consider how populist leaders on either side of the ideological spectrum visually represent “the people” in images from their official Instagram accounts (N = 432). Comparing the cases of Donald Trump on the populist right and Bernie Sanders on the populist left, I code for the majority gender, race, and age of “the people” in each image, and supplement this with a discussion of the depictions of these categories. I find that Trump’s images of “the people” are significantly more homogenous across all categories—specifically more white, more masculine, and with less young people—than Sanders’, and situate these findings in the context of the literature on the differences between left and right populism. This article contributes to the study of populist communication by highlighting the role of images in representing “the people”; analyzing how left and right populists do this differently; and developing a method for measuring the demographic characteristics of “the people” in populists’ images that can be used in future studies. In doing so, it seeks to push the literature forward by highlighting that images are not something “extra” to be studied in populist communication, but rather are a central battleground for the construction of populist identities.

Keywordspopulism; visual politics; Instagram; Donald Trump; Bernie Sanders
Year2022
JournalThe International Journal of Press/Politics
Journal citationpp. 1-26
PublisherSAGE Publications
ISSN1940-1620
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1177/19401612221100418
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85130889940
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range1-26
FunderAustralian Research Council
Publisher's version
License
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Controlled
Output statusIn press
Publication dates
Online18 May 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited15 Jun 2022
ARC Funded ResearchThis output has been funded, wholly or partially, under the Australian Research Council Act 2001
Grant IDARC/DE190101127
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