Does Radical-Right Success Make the Political Debate More Negative? Evidence from Emotional Rhetoric in German State Parliaments


Political rhetoric has important effects on the quality of democracy, but we know very little about what causes variation in the tone of the political debate. We investigate how radical-right success affects the way the remaining politicians discuss political issues. Using an original dictionary, we measure different positive and negative emotions in a newly collected dataset of speeches in German state parliaments. Taking advantage of variation in the timing of elections when radical-right politicians enter these parliaments, we find that politicians of other parties respond to radical-right success by using more positive, instead of negative, emotions. A mix of quantitative and qualitative analyses suggest that the increase in positive emotions is used strategically for politicians to distance themselves from radical-right discourse. Our findings highlight how radical-right success can create incentives for other politicians to enforce norms that radical-right politicians breach.

Political Behavior