Media, populism and surprise elections
In 2002, people around the world were shocked and confused when Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had previously polled at fifth or sixth, beat Lionel Jospin, established politician and incumbent Prime Minister, for a spot in the second round of the French presidential election. Years later, in 2016, a similar electoral surprise occurred in the United States. While many assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the next President, Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote, and therefore the presidency. There is a trend in these cases that unexpected candidates can have common successes. This project examines how and why the symbiosis of populism and media coverage contributed to these electoral surprises. While news media outlets outwardly discounted and spoke negatively about Le Pen and Trump, promoting the assumption they had no chance of winning, their focus on issues these candidates held strong positions on, such as insecurity and economics, as well as the large volume of coverage they gave these candidates, contributed to these candidates’ successes. Though it is not common, every once in a while, it appears that news media, without any input from the candidates, can have a real impact on election results through their symbiosis with populist movements, specifically through outwardly saying one thing about the candidates while having a different effect on them. This thesis labels these situations as “pop-elections.” Through a mix of content analysis of 25 news articles from each case and discourse analysis of other key texts, this project examines the U.S. 2016 presidential election and France 2002 presidential election as case studies for how the news media’s coverage of the populist candidates’ controversial statements and policies amplified their messages and helped them be seen by voters as valid candidates they should consider voting for.