The use of religious populism in social media during presidential elections: the cases of Guatemala and Honduras



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Tartu Ülikool


Religious populism signifies the relationship between religion and populism in otherwise secular states. It includes both the emergence of religious political actors in non-religious states as well as the populist use of religious symbols, traditions, and values by secular politicians. While populism itself is a political phenomenon that has been extensively researched in the last decades, religious populism has not received that much scholarly attention. The aim of this research is to study the presence of religious populism on social media during presidential elections in Guatemala and Honduras. A multimodal discourse analysis is carried out with the purpose to analyse Facebook posts made by the two most popular presidential candidates in the 2021 Honduran presidential elections, Xiomara Castro and Nasry Asfura, and by the two most popular presidential candidates in the 2019 Guatemalan presidential elections, Alejandro Giammattei and Sandra Torres. Data used in this research consists of posts made on verified public Facebook pages by these four candidates. Religious populism is assessed through five indicators in this thesis: 1) God’s sovereignty – focusing on God’s sovereignty instead of popular sovereignty 2) invoking a heartland – emphasising the connection between God and a specific territory 3) charismatic leadership – a leader presenting themselves as a martyr or as a saviour-like figure 4) a mission of salvation – framing one’s political mission as a religious one, promising salvation to people 5) a moral community – equating religious communities to the most moral ones. The strongest indicators of religious populism in the analysed Facebook posts proved to be the concepts of invoking a heartland, a moral community, and charismatic leadership, while two aspects of religious populism – a mission of salvation and God’s sovereignty – were missing in the posts. The research confirms that all analysed presidential candidates in Guatemala and Honduras have used some aspects of religious populism in their political campaigns on Facebook. While this thesis offers a comparative analysis of two Latin American countries, future research could focus on conducting a region-wide study regarding the use of religious populism in political campaigning.