The populist’s performed social movement: analysis of Volodymyr Zelensky’s 2019 presidential campaign



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A performed social movement captivated the Ukrainian nation in 2019. The 2019 Ukrainian Presidential election marked a change in the form of campaign strategies of a presidential candidate. Ukrainian entertainer Volodymyr Zelensky made his political debut by running for President of Ukraine on a platform based on having no visible links to the political elites and essentially promised a new era in Ukrainian politics, absent of endemic corruption and an end to the War in Donbass. The style of Zelensky’s campaign tactics of merging entertainment into politics transformed Zelensky into a media phenomenon. Zelensky won the second round of the presidential election with a landslide victory. Earning 73% of the vote, Zelensky overcame traditional national voting cleavages winning with the largest majority in contemporary Ukrainian history. The aim of this thesis was to analyze how a politically inexperienced electoral candidate can construct a movement of electoral support which unites the people through social media campaigning. Through an interpretive single case study of the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election, qualitative content analysis and discourse analysis drawn from 1753 social media posts from three social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) was conducted. Through analysis of selected postings, coding was generated which ultimately mapped the two dominant themes in Zelensky’s social media discourse: spectacle and social movement. While academia may suggest that Zelensky’s performed social movement would be labelled as a face in the new era of populism, findings suggest that Zelensky’s campaign strategy created a new form of populism: Spectacular Populism.