Populism and Conspiracy in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Linking Discourses and Attitudes in Four European Countries

This FWF-funded research project examines the relationship between populism and conspiracy theories in the context of the Corona pandemic, climate change and immigration. The project analyses to what extent conspiracy theories are used by populists, how conspiracy claims are constructed and what effects they have. Specifically, the analysis focuses on the influence of parties and their leaders that are classified as radical right-wing populist. The study is conducted in four selected countries – Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and France – as these countries have long-established and particularly successful right-wing populist parties.

The part of the research dealing with conspiracy claims in speeches and texts by key figures is led by the Swiss project partners at the University of Lausanne. The team from the University of Salzburg is dedicated to the attitudes of citizens and is primarily concerned with the effectiveness of specific conspiracy claims about COVID-19, climate change and immigration. This part of the project aims to clarify which factors particularly favor the belief in conspiracy theories.

For this purpose, surveys with three types of survey experiments are developed. Subsequently, a statistical technique can be used to draw conclusions as to why conspiracy theories become more entrenched in certain population groups. The research project thus provides new scientific insights into populism and conspiracy theories that are relevant not only for the social sciences, but also for government agencies and the public.