Leveraging victimhood : how politicians turn persecution into support

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2021-12-02

Authors

Guiler, Kimberly Gouz

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Abstract

Victimhood–defined as the perception of having been unjustly persecuted–can be artfully leveraged by strategic politicians to amplify their support. Yet, existing scholarship fails to empirically link victimhood to electoral success or to delineate the conditions under which it ‘works’ as a strategy. In this dissertation, I develop an original theory of how politicians translate persecution into popular support. I argue that victimhood is an effective strategy when politicians tap into widespread grievances and convince voters they are best positioned to remedy them. I develop and test the theory using in-depth interviews with politicians and publics in Turkey, historical case studies, as well as three original survey experiments. In the first empirical chapter, I examine interviews and an original survey experiment to demonstrate that political victimhood confers an electoral advantage on the victim. It shows that politicians can leverage political victimhood to broaden their base of support. The second empirical chapter draws on case studies of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) and the Kurdish-led Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP) and a survey experiment to introduce the concept of dueling victimhood and two unique victimhood frames–exclusionary and inclusive. It demonstrates how politicians can distinguish themselves in environments where competing claims of victimhood are deployed simultaneously. A final empirical chapter presents evidence from an original survey experiment in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey. It further exemplifies how incumbent politicians with substantial resources and power can leverage moments of national crisis to frame themselves as victims, link their suffering to that of the nation, and consolidate their support.

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