This article examines how and why the covid-19 pandemic featured as a central issue in the Alternative for Germany's 2021 Bundestag election campaign. Using a wide range of political communication tools, the radical right party's opposition to public health policies against the pandemic ranged from a critique of hygienic measures to hosting coronavirus denialism and conspiracy myths suggesting that “the elite” had manufactured “corona hysteria” to subjugate the German people. Mirroring its general radicalization process toward an anti-system movement party, the AfD's campaign primarily gave voice to an ideologically driven, conspiracist, and authoritarian-nationalist core electorate, which has its center of gravity in the East. In the environment of an emerging “pandemic divide,” the party also sought to appeal to a robust minority of corona skeptics. More generally, the AfD's campaign points to the still underresearched role of science denialism and conspiracy myths in radical right mobilizations of a counterfactual age.
Lars Rensmann is a Professor of Political Science and Comparative Government at the University of Passau. From 2016 to 2022, he was a Professor of European Politics and Society at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, where he also served as Founding Director of the Research Centre for the Study of Democratic Cultures and Politics. Prior to this, he taught at John Cabot University in Rome, the University of Michigan, the University of Vienna, and the Freie Universität Berlin. He has published widely on right-wing extremist and populist parties in Europe and around the globe. His most recent book is The Politics of Unreason (2017).
Thijs de Zee is a Researcher and Education Officer at the Centre for International Relations Research, University of Groningen. His research interests revolve around radical right-wing and populist parties in Europe, European integration, democratic backsliding, and human rights.