What do we mean when we talk about populism? Local politics, global movements and ‘the people’ in political coverage of the 2016 Australian federal and United States presidential elections

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In a moment where public and media discussion in some Western democracies is concerned with labelling particular political parties, movements and ideas as ‘populist’, this article seeks to understand what is signified by the act of labelling. It undertakes an analysis of political and media discussions of populism during and following the 2016 Australian federal election and United States Presidential election. The article first conducts a discourse analysis of print and online news coverage in the two election cycles, analysing who and what is labelled populist in political journalism in these spaces. It then turns to an analysis of why: what is it about the current political moment that inspires the application of this label? The article explores how populism operates as shorthand for the identification of – and often, dismay about – the importation of the discourses, logics and technologies of cultural populism into the realm of ‘serious’ politics. It argues that the label masks a deeper conversation which diagnoses and delegitimises specific politicians and those who support them, as part of a broader project to explain the complexities of the present.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1252-1269
Number of pages18
JournalMedia, Culture and Society
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Australia
  • discourse analysis
  • election campaigns
  • political journalism
  • populism
  • United States

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