Feeling the Bern, voting The Donald : a case-based evaluation of comparative theoretical models of populism
Emma Caroline Philbrook
May 6, 2019
Department or Program
This paper examines two prominent theoretical conceptions of populism – as ideology and as discourse – through the lens of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with a focus on supporters of Bernie Sanders who ultimately voted for Donald Trump in the general election. Through an analysis of some of these voters’ social media posts, I ultimately determine that 1) populist sentiment was the overwhelming common factor among these voters, and 2) only the populism-as-discourse model adequately explained the election’s results. The lack of ideological commonalities between the two candidates, the similarity in the rhetorical frames which both men employed, the events of the election itself, and the rationales put forth by the voters in question all lend support to these conclusions. This paper’s findings have ramifications not only for the academic debate to which they contribute, but for understanding the results of 2016’s election and the populist phenomenon in general.