Prosecuted, yet popular? Hate speech prosecution of anti-immigration politicians in the news and electoral support

Laura Jacobs, Joost van Spanje

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prosecuting anti-immigration party leaders for hate speech is theorized to yield electoral ramifications. We assess to what extent these trials are mediatized and whether news visibility of hate speech prosecution affects levels of anti-immigration party support. We compare four Western European countries (Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands) for which aggregate-level media and public opinion data are combined. We find that hate speech trials were highly mediatized, and dominated the headlines for protracted periods. This short-term news attention drives general news visibility for anti-immigration party actors. Thus, news about hate speech prosecution of anti-immigration politicians creates a reinforcing spiral of attention by increasing the general newsworthiness of a political actor. The findings seem to point to the cautious conclusion that hate speech prosecution is either directly or indirectly related to increased electoral support. While in France and Germany, general news visibility of anti-immigration party actors is associated with higher levels of electoral support, in the Netherlands and Belgium, news about hate speech prosecution has a weak and direct positive relationship with anti-immigration party support. This finding yields implications for political communication strategies of parties by suggesting that hate speech prosecution does not undermine the electoral performance of anti-immigration parties. In fact, initiating legal actions yields unintended effects by granting these parties a media platform.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)899-924
Number of pages26
JournalComparative European Politics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2020

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