Love, Fear, Anger: The Emotional Arc of Populist Rhetoric


  • Matthew Levinger The George Washington University



Why, at the present historical moment, are divisive nationalist narratives more powerful than inclusive ones seeking to advance transnational integration? This essay examines four case studies of ânationalist storytellingâ: the rhetoric of Nigel Farageâs United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) during the Leave campaign leading up to the Brexit referendum of June 2016 in the United Kingdom, the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump in the United States, the 2017 campaign of Geert Wildersâ Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and the 2017 campaign of Marine Le Penâs National Front in France. In each of these countries, populist leaders have deployed rhetoric that traces a three-stage emotional arc, emphasizing love for the homeland, fear of the foreigner, and righteous anger against corrupt elites who have endangered the nationâs well-being. The powerful emotional response aroused by this rhetoric has been a key factor in these movementsâ recent electoral success.

Author Biography

Matthew Levinger, The George Washington University

Research Professor of International Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs The George Washington University