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.
We are now at the heart of the pre-election period. Political leaders give speeches all the time and sometimes, the main contenders – Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Alexis Tsipras – even deliver two speeches on the same day. The main characteristics of each leader’s discourse seem to be well established. We will look in detail below at how the political leaders’ discourse evolved during the third week of the pre-election period, that is until Monday May 15th.
As regards the emotional climate that stems from the leaders’ speeches, we explained from the beginning that our basic presumption is that the positive climate will be mainly found in the government discourse. And this week also, the basic trends observed during the last two weeks are confirmed. All the speeches given by the Prime Minister lie within the positive range. Alexis Tsipras and Nikos Androulakis’ speeches remained in the neutral range, in which Dimitris Koutsoumbas’ speeches are reflected this week. Yanis Varoufakis’ speeches are going in the exact opposite direction, passing into the negative range for the first time.
Mitsotakis’ speeches are devoted to the party’s program, Tsipras’ discourse is quite devided into agenda and criticism
We may associate the emotional climate with the extent to which each political leader focuses on the promotion of his poltical agenda and his government programme or on the criticism of his opponents. This observation can explain why Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ discourse is firmly inside the positive range. The Prime Minister’s speeches are overwhelmingly devoted to the promotion of the party’s programme. And as for this week’s speeches, this rate is consistently above 80%. And this trend is consistent over the entire pre-election period.
Alexis Tsipras’ discourse is quite divided, with the dimension of criticism taking a slight lead this week. The case of Yanis Varoufakis presents a similar picture. Nikos Androulakis’ political discourse is placed somewhere between the Prime Minister’s entirely programmatic speech and Tsipras – Varoufakis’ divided speech, in the context of which the promotion of the programme takes a slight precedence over criticism. The majority of Dimitris Koutsoumbas and Kyriakos Velopoulos’ speeches involves criticism. These observations explain why so far during the pre-election period, Tsipras – Androulakis – Varoufakis’ speeches are mainly inside the neutral range, while Koutsoumbas – Velopoulos’ speeches are inside – or are moving in the direction of – the negative range. The subjects touched upon in each leader’s speech are analyzed below, but before that, we will examine the polarization and populism indexes.
Significant increase in moments of polarization is identified in Alexis Tsipras’ discourse
The levels of political polarization in Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ discourse continue to remain low. Besides, in several of these speeches, he explicitly states that he does not intend to deal with the opposition and with what other political parties are saying. Of course, there are moments when polarization patterns are used in order to raise dilemmas and the stakes behind the elections, but these are very specific. A significant increase in moments of polarization is identified in Alexis Tsipras’ discourse. The polarization characterizing the opposition leader was fairly limited, considering that we are talking about an opposition party, and has shown signs of gradual increase from May 4th onwards. A significant increase is observed this week, specifically compared to the first ten days of the pre-election period. An increase in the moments of polarization is also observed in Nikos Androulakis and Yanis Varoufakis’ speeches. There has been a low-level escalation of the use of polarization patterns in Dimitris Koutsoumbas’ speeches last week, which remained at the same levels this week as well.
The “people” in Dimitris Koutsoumpas’ speeches
As regards populism, as explained in the very first report, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, identifying himself as an anti-populist politician, does not show signs of populist discourse in his speeches. Constantly present and slightly more in number are the populist moments in the opposition leader’s speech. A typical populist pattern in Alexis Tsipras’ speech is his reference to the fact that the people and not cartels or the powerful ones will be celebrating on the Election Day. Whereas no significant moments of populist discourse are observed in Nikos Androulakis, Kyriakos Velopoulos and Yanis Varoufakis’ speeches.
Here, specific reference should be made to Dimitris Koutsoumbas. We have once again pointed out that populism does not represent a central element of the Communist Party secretary general’s discourse. However, the reason why we are still making this specific reference is that one can identify numerous references to “the people” in Dimitris Koutsoumbas’ speeches. When we were describing how we would approach the phenomenon of populism, we had explained that it is not enough just to identify a large number of references to “the people”, but the role of this signifier in the political discourse is fundamental. Most of the times when we come across these references in Dimitris Koutsoumbas’ speech, “the people” is used as another word to describe workers, the working class or sometimes, the grassroots classes. The identity of “the people” is not usually open; the signifier “the people” does not play the role of the nodal point required in a populist discourse, whereas several times such reference is accompanied by the dichotomous representation “the people vs. elite”.
Topics relevant to the place of the discourse complete the agenda
In the previous article, we had commented on how each political leader’s main agenda is consolidated. The observation that much of political leaders’ speech revolves around the elections themselves and the stake behind them also applies to this week as well. Economy and health remain key topics for Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Where appropriate, they are complemented by other themes depending on the location at which the speech is delivered. For instance, national security appeared to be the key topic in Mytilini, while in Lavrio tourism was the basic point of his speech with a reference to the local marina. With the exception of the elections, the economy is one of the major themes of Alexis Tsipras’ speeches. As mentioned before, the opposition leader’s discourse features several themes at once. The issues that complete his main agenda are amongst others the private debt, corruption / accountability and the social state. It appears once again that politicians adapt their speeches based on the place they visit, since national security was among the basic points of his speech in Alexandroupoli, while in Trikala rural policy was included in the agenda.
There is a wide variety of themes in Nikos Androulakis’ speeches, with the PASOK’s leader mainly referring to the economy, the social state and to questions of democracy / accountability. The economy is also a key topic for Dimitris Koutsoumbas as well. His speech in Heraklion is of particular interest, since in a tourism destination, such as Crete island, the Communist Party’s secretary general chose to raise the issues of employment and tourism, obviously emphasizing the working conditions of those working in the tourism sector. The economy remains a top theme for Yanis Varoufakis throughout the pre-election period, while this week his main agenda also included the subject of housing, corruption and the debt, both private and public.
Turkey and Evros are in Mitsotakis’ speech, Andreas Papandreou appears in Androulakis’ discourse
Concluding this weekly report, we identify the references to names of persons, places, institutions and organizations made by the political leaders in their speeches. An analysis that appears to us to be complementary to what has preceded. This week, it is possible to observe that the Prime Minister constantly referred to Turkey and Evros, thus noting that the issue of Greece – Turkey relations is important, although it does not appear as such in the main themes of his speech. The number of references made by Alexis Tsipras to the name of Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been at a constant high level. The social groups mainly targeted by Tsipras in his speeches were the young people, the middle class and the farmers.
The number of references made by Nikos Androulakis both to the Prime Minister and the opposition leader was consistently high. It is noticeable that PASOK leader repeatedly referred to PASOK founder, Andreas Papandreou, in every speech he made this week. Dimitris Koutsoumbas keeps referring to and targeting the workers, the working class and the communists. Such observation is associated with what was mentioned earlier about the signifier “the people” in Dimitris Koutsoumbas’ speech. Kyriakos Velopoulos raised the Macedonian question this week, referring to Macedonia and the Macedonians. Finally, as regards Yanis Varoufakis, he keeps referring to names of Greek businessmen and various international organizations and entities. This week, he repeatedly referred to the Superfund, thus confirming that he is the political leader that firmly deals with the memorandum framework.
Translation: Tina Katoufa