Motivational and Affective Drivers of Right-Wing Populism Support: Insights From an Austrian Presidential Election


  • Adrian Lüders Orcid
  • Christina Mühlberger
  • Eva Jonas


Research has identified political disenchantment as an important driver for the recent spread of right-wing populism. The cultural backlash approach explains this relationship as a counter response to progressive socio-political developments in Western societies. Drawing on previous work, the present research examines motivational and affective factors underlying the support of right-wing populist parties. We hypothesize that a perceived alienation from the symbolic architecture of a society may decrease levels of psychological need satisfaction, which may catalyze into anxiety and anger. As the “political system” represents an important reflective surface for the socio-political status quo, we expected lower levels of need satisfaction and its resulting affective consequences to help explain the relationship between political disenchantment and right-wing populist support. We tested these tenets based on data from the 2016 Austrian presidential election (n = 626). The results of a structural equation model corroborated our predictions with some exceptions. Data indicated a negative relationship between political disenchantment and need satisfaction. Moreover, decreased need satisfaction was associated with increased self-reported anxiety and anger. Political disenchantment indirectly predicted support for a right-wing populist presidential candidate through decreased need satisfaction and anger, thus corroborating the role of anger as an important driver underlying right-wing populism support. Counterintuitively, the data indicated a negative relationship between anxiety and right-wing support. We discuss theoretical and practical implications, as well as limitations stemming from sample characteristics and the employed cross-sectional design.