In 2017 the right-wing populist AfD entered the German Parliament, which was the first time that a radical right-wing party crossed the 5%-threshold. We provide novel evidence on a contagion effect of right-wing populism in the political arena. Using several thousand digitized speeches from the German parliament, we show that exposure to right-wing populist politicians makes non-populist politicians slant their parliamentary speeches towards the populist rhetoric. We measure similarity to populist rhetoric via unsupervised cosine similarity to parliamentary speeches from AfD politicians. We validate our measure using manifestly populist speeches at populist rallies and a supervised dictionary method. We exploit exogenous variation from the allocation rule for committee members in the German parliament to identify a causal estimate. We find in a difference in differences setting, that an additional AfD member in a shared committee of 20 politicians is associated with a 0.2 increase in standardized AfD cosine similarity. The effect remains robust to including party, month, and speaker fixed effects. The results are also robust to including different minimum word choices and topic controls.
Bio: Julian Heid is a PhD student in economics at the Munich Graduate School in Economics at the University of Munich (LMU). Until December 2022 he is also a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. His research is at the intersection of economics, political science and psychology with a strong focus on political economy and behavioral economics. He is working on research on electoral behavior of individuals and elections in general. He is investigating the contagion effect of populist speech in parliament by applying methods from natural language processing. Further projects focus on the formation and intergenerational transmission of political preferences among parents and their children.