Local Newspaper Reporting and Support for the Radical Right

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On the 16th of June, City-REDI held a webinar featuring Beatriz Jambrina-Canseco from the International Inequalities Institute, LSE.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Local Newspaper Reporting and Support for the Radical Right

Abstract:

Rising support for the radical right has become a hallmark of the current political landscape. As to the reasons driving voting decisions, researchers disagree on the relative importance of economic anxieties – amongst them grievances related to regional disparities – compared to a potential cultural backlash.

Previous efforts to settle this question have focused on voters’ personal characteristics and on regional socioeconomic indicators. An underlying assumption in these models is that people accurately internalize statistical information and use it to allocate their votes. This would imply that perceptions closely track socioeconomic statistics, something I show does not necessarily occur.

To tackle this issue, this article focuses on local narratives, which prior research shows strongly influence culture, opinions and beliefs. I posit that local newspapers – and the topics on which they choose to write their articles – reflect the prevailing worldview in a given geographical location. Taking Spain as an example, I build a machine-learning algorithm to determine the prevalence of given news topics across the national territory based on how many related articles local newspapers published on Twitter over the year 2018.

Linking these results to local divergences in support of the radical right party Vox sheds some light on the economic-regional-cultural backlash debate. Overall, I find evidence for all three explanations of the radical right support, although the cultural backlash thesis appears to have the largest effect.

Summary
  • Over the last 40 years, there seems to be an increase in the number of far-right parties and the average in the percentage of votes in the EU member countries. This shows that populist radical right ideas have become mainstream.
  • This paper aims to map local narratives across Spain in order to understand how they align with the main theoretical explanations on the rise of the radical right. The main assumption is that Geographical differences in newspaper reporting can help us understand which issues drive the vote for the radical right.
  • Data from three sources: one is newspaper twitter data from 2018 from all (121) Spanish newspapers (with an online presence); second regional-level information about newspaper readership and third, Municipality data about turnout, election results, population and unemployment.
  • The analysis was an adaptation of a machine learning algorithm to determine prevalent political preferences in each geographical area.
  • Results about reasons behind the rise of the radical right: Find evidence for all sides in the theoretical debate and Cultural elements seem to outweigh economic concerns. Local perceptions (as proxied by newspaper reporting) and reality do not necessarily align. Quantitative text analysis provides a new pathway to solve this problem.


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