Apr 27 2021

Professor Joost van Spanje, Department of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, has recently been given an ERC grant allowing him to build a team of seven researchers that will investigate media coverage of new parties and its electoral effects. We recently caught up with Professor Joost van Spanje to ask more about this research. 

1. Can you tell us a bit about your research?

Before coming to Royal Holloway as a Professor of Politics in 2020, I was an Associate Professor of Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam. The team of six researchers I led in Amsterdam studied effects of legal action against anti-immigration parties on citizens in 21 countries since 1965. We found that hate speech trials of party leaders such as Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders tend to increase their electoral support, decrease political trust, and lead to more hate crime. A book manuscript about this is currently in progress. The postdocs on our team won their own individual three-year research grants; the PhD students defended successfully (one with a distinction only 4% receives) and secured postdoc positions at UCD and Stanford.

2. What inspired you to specialise in politics?

When I was ten years old I read about something called ‘US presidential elections.’ I was intrigued. After that I discovered that elections were regularly held in many countries worldwide. Wow. Later on, my father was on the ballot. Amazing. I wanted to know all about it, made posters, distributed leaflets, and carried out two what one might call ‘exit polls’ with a group of friends. I was puzzled about why some people vote the way they do. I still am. My new course at Royal Holloway, “Parties, Media, and Defence of Democracy,” addresses some of these puzzles.

3. You have been given an ERC grant, what is the project about?

The ERC Consolidator Grant allows me to build a seven-person team. We will investigate media coverage of new parties and its electoral effects. New parties must rely on media to communicate with the electorate – but studies of new parties pay little attention to media, and studies of media pay little attention to new parties. So, we do not fully understand the current rise of new parties such as Volt or the Pirate Parties. This is perhaps surprising, as some new parties have become quite powerful, such as Podemos in Spain, the Five-Star Movement in Italy, and the current French President’s party. Our project will offer a new theoretical framework and use novel data collection and analysis tools, studying new parties, media and voters in 19 countries since 1950.

4. Where did you get your PhD degree?

I hold a PhD degree from the European University Institute in Florence, and also briefly worked in Oxford and New York. My PhD project entailed experimental and non-experimental research on 15 countries between 1944 and 2014. Its results suggested that, on average, a particular combination of reactions to far left and far right parties costs them votes. This strategy is currently being used against parties in continental Europe. You can read all about it in my 2018 monograph “Controlling the Electoral Marketplace: How Established Parties Ward Off Competition.”

 5. How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

Besides city trips, I enjoy exercising in the form of running or playing with my daughter. I tend to consume Italian coffee and Spanish food. I regularly watch nations' field hockey and football teams play, romcoms, and all kinds of documentaries. I also like to read newspapers and books about politics, economics, and history. The book I am currently reading is about the role of Charles Adolphe Faux-Pas Bidet, DeWitt Clinton Poole, and Xénophon de Blumenthal Kalamatiano in the 1918 invasion of Russia. What more can I say!