Absolving “The Forgotten” from the Neoliberal Burden of Responsibility: The Effect of Populist Victim Rhetoric

Zoom Research Seminar / 5th Floor EE Lecture 2

Game figure with crown stands in front of other figures

Past event — 12 October 2022

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Jasper Neerdaels, PhD

Post-doctoral Researcher

Universität Greifswald

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Why do populist leaders gain support by portraying their (to be) followers as victims? An often-acclaimed explanation is that populists rhetorically shift blame for their followers’ hardships towards ‘elites’, therefore creating a culpable outgroup. However, we argue that there are two confounded effects at play here, shifting blame towards an outgroup and shifting blame away from oneself. Therefore, we theorize that, above and beyond elite blame, victimization rhetoric leads to leader support because it specifically relieves followers who otherwise subscribe to neoliberal ideology from the pressure of having to take responsibility for negative life outcomes. Supporting our predictions, we show via a survey that, while controlling for elite blame, populist victim rhetoric increases leader support, especially among people subscribing to neoliberal competition ideology.  In a subsequent experiment, we replicate the findings causally and additionally show that the effect works through the reduction of perceived personal responsibility for negative life outcomes. Our results indicate that populist rhetoric encompasses two so far confounded aspects, shifting blame towards others and shifting blame away from oneself. Having shed light on the latter can explain some of the conundrums that have plagued the literature such as why elites may also fall for populist rhetoric.


Jasper Neerdaels is a PhD candidate in the field of Leadership and Organizational Behavior under the supervision of Christian Tröster and Niels Van Quaquebeke. In his research, Jasper is studying the psychological consequences of social hierarchies and how they relate to support for authoritarianism. Jasper holds a Master and Bachelor Degree in Psychology from the University of Amsterdam. Prior to joining the KLU, Jasper has worked in various roles as a communication and strategy consultant, for example, at UNICEF Cambodia, &EQUITY, achtung!, and STURM und DRANG.



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Bärbel Wegener

Assistant to Resident Faculty