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Research Project

Anti-Establishment Politics in Europe: Issue Entrepreneurship, Voting Patterns and Counter-System Strategies of Representation

Anti-establishment claims against ‘politics as usual’ have themselves become a usual sight. Yet the exploration of the many waves of diverse political actors from the left, right and centre articulating a fundamental challenge to those wielding political power continues to come with conceptual challenges and empirical trade-offs.

Analysing these mercurial and versatile phenomena becomes even more complex once we realize that anti-establishment actors do not only voice dissatisfaction with established politics. They may also articulate more or less explicit prescriptions of what representative politics should be and how it should work, linking these representative claims to their issue supply. In order to understand these phenomena better, we therefore need to look deeper into the “black box” of anti-establishment politics and treat it as multidimensional, dynamic and interactive political agency.


Picture taken by Lucas Deve and found on Flickr.

The main aim of the project, funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and led by Dr. Bartek Pytlas, is to analyse the patterns of anti-establishment politics, its role within the issue supply of political parties, as well as the impact of these narratives on party systems, voting patterns and representative democracy across Europe.

Towards a conceptual framework of anti-establishment politics

The goal is, first, to develop a conceptual framework of anti-establishment politics that allows to empirically analyse this versatile phenomenon under a single comparative roof. For this purpose, the project draws from extant conceptualizations of anti-establishment politics, bringing them together under the heuristic roof of framing and representational claim-making. It identifies an array of counter-representation strategies: tactical frames that suggest what representative politics should be about and how it should work.

Second, exploring the role of anti-establishment politics relates to the function of these narratives within issue entrepreneurial agency of political actors. Political parties and movements can tactically use diverse anti-establishment frames to modify the meaning behind their issue supply, suggesting what their articulated issues are actually about and why are they relevant. The project thus aims to observe how political entrepreneurs link their issues with particular anti-establishment narratives and what they actually mean when they vow to “smash the system” or to “fix politics”.

Finally, issue entrepreneurial strategies of anti-establishment parties and the reactions of more conventional parties may influence the shape and dynamics of political conflicts both on the demand and supply side of the political process. The project therefore accounts for the impact of anti-establishment claims on the representative linkage between societies and parties in contemporary European democracies.

Analysing discourses of political actors in Europe

The research team will attend to analysing these aspects by using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. The analytical core of the project rests in a systematic rule-guided coding of anti-establishment discourse by means of Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDA).

The coding analysis includes electoral campaign discourses of political actors from the left, centre and right in North-Western, Southern, as well as Central and Eastern Europe between 2010 and 2019. This allows to analyse anti-establishment politics across regions, time and ideological positions.

By these means, the project contributes to both a deeper analytical exploration and systematic empirical understanding of anti-establishment politics, as well as its impact on the character of the representative linkage between societies and parties in contemporary European democracies.