The political leaders’ speeches in the days leading up to the ballot box and the main conclusions we can draw about the political discourse employed during the just-ended election period.
Which political leaders talk more about their agenda, which ones devote themselves to criticising their opponents, which individual issues complement the established topics and whether political discourse escalates just before the ballots.
Differentiating competition, division and polarisation in political discourse.
Populism is not equivalent to politicians’ falsehoods, promises, or deceitfulness. It is not synonymous with demagoguery, propaganda, or manipulation.
With the election process now concluded, we can analyze and provide commentary on the overall evolution of political discourse during the recent election period, right before the official commencement of the new one. In this article, we will present the data extracted from the speeches delivered by political leaders in the four days preceding the elections, allowing us to draw conclusions that encompass the entirety of the election period.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Nikos Androulakis took the lead in delivering programmatic speeches during the election period
In keeping with the approach adopted throughout this series, we begin our analysis by considering the sentiment conveyed in the speeches. It seems that the observation we initially made at the start of the election period has been further validated in recent days; Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the President of New Democracy, concluded the electoral campaign with a consistent display of speeches falling within the positive spectrum. In contrast, the speeches delivered by opposition leaders during the final days of the campaign maintained a neutral tone. This overall pattern remained consistent throughout the election period, with Kyriakos Mitsotakis being the sole political leader whose speeches consistently emanated a positive sentiment, aligning with his programmatic discourse.
More specifically, the Prime Minister dedicated 85% of the total length of his speeches to promoting his party’s program and the agenda they have implemented or plan to implement. Among the speeches delivered in the past few days, the ones in Piraeus and Thiseio adhered closely to the overall average, demonstrating a consistent commitment to programmatic discourse even in the final days before the ballot. The only other politician whose speeches predominantly focused on their agenda rather than criticism was Nikos Androulakis, the President of PASOK-KINAL (with a ratio of 63% agenda-focused content to 37% criticism across all speeches). Nikos Androulakis’ speech in Thiseio also exhibited a dominant programmatic approach.
Throughout the election period, Alexis Tsipras’ speeches showcased a clear divide between promoting his agenda and criticizing opponents. Interestingly, in Thessaloniki, three days before the end of the campaign, approximately three-fourths of his speech was dedicated to criticism. However, the situation was reversed in his last two speeches delivered in Syntagma Square and Patras, where the focus shifted towards promoting his agenda. Yanis Varoufakis, on the other hand, maintained a nearly equal balance between promoting his agenda and criticism throughout the entire election period. However, in his last three speeches, particularly those in Thessaloniki and Athens, he chose to prioritize programmatic discourse over criticism. In the case of Dimitris Koutsoumbas and Kyriakos Velopoulos, their speeches were predominantly critical in nature. Nevertheless, in the recent days leading up to the election, all three speeches by the General Secretary of the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) in Patras, Syntagma, and Piraeus focused more on promoting the party’s agenda and positions.
There was no marked polarization, nor was there a widespread use of populist discourse.
Regarding polarization and populism, the election period concluded without any significant deviations from the established general trends. Kyriakos Mitsotakis upheld his self-proclaimed identity as a non-populist and anti-secularist figure. Nikos Androulakis also aligned with this anti-secularist stance. Notably, Kyriakos Velopoulos did not employ any populist figures of speech in his speeches. Yanis Varoufakis and Dimitris Koutsoumbas sporadically and minimally utilized populist figures of speech in their speeches. On the other hand, consistent patterns of populist discourse were observed in the speeches of Alexis Tsipras, although not to the extent seen between 2012 and 2015. While there were instances of such discourse in his main campaign speech at Syntagma Square, they did not have a substantial impact on his overall image.
In terms of polarization, there was no widespread political-social polarization or extreme escalation, as observed by most people. While polarization patterns were present in political discourse, their usage remained more specific and targeted. Clearly, the patterns of polarization were more pronounced in the discourse of the opposition compared to that of the government. However, in the last four days, Kyriakos Mitsotakis also intensified the raising of dilemmas in his speeches. Alexis Tsipras’ discourse displayed an escalation since around May 5th, which stabilized in the final ten days with the consistent use of moderate levels of polarizing speech patterns. This trend persisted and was evident even in his main campaign speech at Syntagma Square. Nikos Androulakis followed a similar trajectory in his speeches, gradually escalating over the last ten days of the election period and maintaining that intensity even in his final speech in Heraklion. Dimitris Koutsoumbas’ discourse exhibited significant variations from one speech to another, but overall, his speeches displayed the highest escalation in the polarization index. He concluded the election campaign with a notable level of polarizing speech patterns in his final speech in Piraeus. It is worth noting that KKE’s slogan during the election period was “them alone, and all of us.” Yanis Varoufakis predominantly employed mild levels of polarization, with only isolated instances of escalation, one of which occurred during his central and final speech in Athens.
Tsipras’ main targets of criticism were the economy, accountability, and corruption
As highlighted in our previous weekly commentaries, the primary focus of the political leaders’ speeches revolved around the elections themselves and their significance in mobilizing voters. However, Yanis Varoufakis deviated from this trend, as his speeches primarily emphasized the economy, with the elections being a secondary topic. To analyze each party’s agenda, we will exclude the election topic from the upcoming commentary. Kyriakos Mitsotakis consistently prioritized three main issues: the economy, health, and labor. This emphasis was evident in both his personal election material and that of his party, as well as in the analysis of all his election speeches. When considering the agenda-focused portions of his speeches, several topics were notably absent or received minimal attention. These included debt, democracy, justice, the pandemic, environmental concerns, human rights, culture, accountability, agricultural policy, and tourism.
Throughout the election period, Alexis Tsipras maintained a consistent focus on the economy, accountability, corruption, and labor. This was evident in the data we collected and reflected in his speeches. His agenda prominently highlighted the areas of economy, labor, and health, while his criticism primarily targeted the economy, accountability, and corruption. However, issues such as migration, the public sector, national security, and foreign policy were either absent or downplayed in his programmatic speeches. It is evident that there are notable disparities in the political discourse of the two main contenders, despite the economy being the dominant topic in both of their campaigns and throughout the entire election period.
It is worth examining the variations present in the political discourse of the other parliamentary parties as well. Nikos Androulakis placed overall emphasis on the economy, accountability, agricultural policy, and debt (private and public). Regarding his criticisms, Alexis Tsipras directed them towards accountability and democracy, in addition to focusing on the central issue of the economy. On the other hand, his agenda covered a range of topics, including agricultural policy, housing, and the welfare state as a whole, encompassing areas such as health, education, and welfare.Top of FormBottom of Form It is worth noting that throughout the election period, Nikos Androulakis consistently prioritized addressing the rural communities, as we have previously highlighted.
The working methodology for analyzing campaign speeches in the project -from data collection to data analysis.
What issues did the political leaders focus on at the beginning of the official election period, what is the prevailing emotional climate and to what extent can polarisation and populism be detected in their discourse?
In all of Dimitris Koutsoumbas’ speeches, the main themes revolved around the economy and labor. Additionally, the issue of housing was also addressed in his programmatic discourse. These same topics, namely the economy, labor, and housing, were the focal points of criticism by the KKE General Secretary, along with health and democracy.
Once again, we would like to emphasize that Kyriakos Velopoulos’ statements, as they were made in the context of press conferences, cannot be directly compared to the speeches of the other politicians and do not provide a robust basis for analysis and drawing conclusions. However, his statements did focus on key topics such as the economy, corruption, and foreign policy. Additionally, agricultural policy held a prominent position on his agenda.
Throughout Varoufakis’ discourse, the economy and the debt emerged as the two primary topics. In presenting his agenda, he also placed a strong emphasis on the issue of democracy, while his criticism encompassed privatization. Varoufakis’ discourse exhibited distinct differences compared to the other political leaders, particularly in his strong emphasis on the issues of debt (both public and private) and the matter of privatizations. These issues, especially the latter, held a lower priority on the agendas of the other political leaders.
Alexis Tsipras mentioned Kyriakos Mitsotakis by name a total of 330 times, while Kyriakos Mitsotakis mentioned Alexis Tsipras by name 67 times.
Throughout the election period, the recording of name mentions has served as a valuable tool of analysis. One notable finding is the stark contrast in how often Alexis Tsipras refers to the Prime Minister by name compared to Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ use of the opposition leader’s name. The frequency of name mentions is particularly striking, with the word “Mitsotakis” emerging as the most prominent nominal reference in Alexis Tsipras’ speeches.
In Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ discourse, there are notable mentions of other politicians by name, aside from Alexis Tsipras (67). Specifically, Yanis Varoufakis is mentioned 18 times, while Georgios Katrougalos is mentioned 11 times. Of particular significance is the mention of Georgios Katrougalos, which predominantly occurred in the last few days following his statement on a TV channel regarding social security contributions. Additionally, Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ discourse prominently focuses on key topics such as the National Health System (42), Recovery Fund (33), Evros (37), and Turkey (38), further highlighting his main areas of emphasis: health, economy, and national security/immigration.
Once again, we must underline the striking finding that the name “Mitsotakis” was the most frequently mentioned reference in Alexis Tsipras’ speeches (330 times), indicating a deliberate inclination towards personal confrontation and the strategic use of this comparison. Notably, the Greek Healthcare System emerged as a prominent topic of reference. It is worth highlighting that the opposition leader specifically addressed two main groups by name: young people (35 mentions) and the middle class (28 mentions). Lastly, among Greek place names, “Tempi” stood out with the highest frequency of reference.
Nikos Androulakis consistently made a significant number of direct references to both Kyriakos Mitsotakis (212 mentions) and Alexis Tsipras (145 mentions). The third most frequently mentioned person was Andreas Papandreou, the founder of PASOK. References to the Recovery Fund and the Greek Healthcare System were also frequent in his speeches. It is noteworthy that farmers were the social/professional group most addressed by Androulakis. Additionally, he frequently referenced Portugal, apart from Greece, as he drew comparisons between the management of Recovery Fund resources in the two countries.
Dimitris Koutsoumbas’ use of the rival political leaders’ names in his speeches was relatively limited. Notably, the place name “Tempi” appeared most frequently in the speeches of the KKE General Secretary. Koutsoumbas primarily addressed workers and communists, frequently acknowledging their role in local communities and trade unionism. One distinctive feature of his discourse was the frequent reference to NATO, a topic that was not as prominently mentioned by any other political leader.
Overall, Kyriakos Velopoulos had a low frequency of name mentions in his speeches compared to other political leaders. However, one notable difference was the relatively high frequency of references to the Greek region of Macedonia, which was not found in the speeches of the other candidates.
The discourse of Yanis Varoufakis stands out significantly from that of the other political leaders in terms of the recorded name mentions. A notable observation is that he is the only one who references Troika (47) and the Growthfund (36) in his speeches, which are closely associated with the Economic Adjustment Program for Greece. Another noteworthy aspect is his specific references to businessmen by name and his frequent use of Thatcher as a counter-example.
Key observations from the past election period can be summarized as follows:
a) There was no period of intense or extreme polarization, contrary to initial expectations.
b) There was no widespread use of populist discourse detected among the political leaders. Even in the case of Alexis Tsipras, where some instances were identified, it was not a fundamental strategy in his speeches.
c) Based on the analysis, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Nikos Androulakis focused primarily on programmatic discourse. Tsipras and Varoufakis struck a balance between agenda and criticism, while Koutsoumbas and Velopoulos predominantly relied on criticism.
d) In terms of sentiment, Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ discourse stood out as the only consistently positive one.
e) The two aforementioned elements critically distinguished the Prime Minister’s discourse from those of the other political leaders.