The “Alternative for Germany” began its political life as a softly eurosceptic breakaway from the political mainstream but has changed beyond all recognition. Using a very large dataset covering the full 2013-17 period, Carl Berning and I trace the transformation of the AfD’s electorate, which now fits the somewhat stereotypical radical right template. Read the full article, or watch the highlights in just under 90 seconds.
The AfD was founded near Germany’s financial centre of gravity (Frankfort) by members of the old western elites. But early on, the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia became important for the further development of the party. It was here, during the 2014 state election season, that the AfD began to toy (very reluctantly at first) with anti-Muslim sentiment. And the ensuing radicalisation of the AfD was pushed by leaders from these three states (Gauland, Höcke, and Petry).
In the process, the south-east of the former GDR has become the AfD’s heartland. When Andre Poggenburg, another hardliner, broke away over the AfD’s alleged compromises (and his personal finances and conduct), he set up a new party for “Mitteldeutschland” – the ill-defined and sometimes ill-reputed part at the south-eastern edge of the country.
In the 2017 federal election, the AfD did extraordinarily well here. Most of the wards in which the AfD is the dominant party can be found in this corner of Germany.
The results of yesterday’s European election are similarly revealing. While their national performance – almost two points below their 2017 national result – must look disappointing from their point of view, they polled up to 33 per cent in some of the south-eastern districts, making them by far the strongest party. And the next round of voting (and government formation) in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia will be interesting, to say the least. If the cordon sanitaire holds, it could result in truly awkward coalitions. And if it doesn’t, all bets are off.
But quite apart from these more practical consequences, such levels of disparity are quite something to behold.
It will take some time to get nearly-final results for Germany, let alone for the EU, but the picture emerging from the exit polls in Germany is reasonably clear. So, in time honoured tradition, here are my hot takes:
- News of a far-right takeover were exaggerated, to say the least. The only relevant Eurosceptic party, the radical right AfD, performed a the lower band of expectations. While their vote share increased by three percentage points compared to 2014, they remained two points below their result in the 2017 Bundestag election. Given the EP elections are supposed to be second-order contests in which Eurosceptics in general and righ-wingers in particular vent their anger, this is really a bit embarrassing. Journalists will pin it on Ibiza-Gate, but the declining salience of migration, their string of funding scandals and last not least the AfD’s veering to the right that puts off more moderate voters are better explanations.
- Left-libertarian, pro-European views can be a vote winner. The Greens, who dared to propose “more Europe” and who put two prominent sitting MEPs on top of their list that, for want of a better word, could be described as “critical left”, doubled their vote share, winning as many votes as the two more traditional parties on the left combined.
- Multi-partyism is doing well in Germany. The party system may look more fragmented than it would in a federal contest because there is no threshold in place, but the drop is massive: in 2009, the two historically big parties CDU/CSU and SPD had a combined vote share of nearly 59 per cent. In 2014, this number was even higher at 63 per cent. Now we are looking at something in the range of 44 per cent. There also seems to be a massive increase in votes for “other” parties, but I have no details on this yet.
- It sucks to be a Social Democrat. The Christian Democrats are not doing terribly well, but they managed to remain the strongest parties by quite a margin. The SPD on the other hand have dropped well below a result of 20 per cent that was rightfully seen as disappointing in 2009 (in 2014, they clearly benefited from Martin Schulz being the leading candidate for the S+D). I know I keep banging on about this, but the result neatly illustrates the argument that Kitschelt made 25 years ago: Social Democrats are fighting a losing battle against New Left parties on the one hand and New Right parties on the other. At least in the German case, they are also competing with the Christian Democrats. It will be interesting to see to what degree this pattern applies to other countries, too.
Germany – no EP electoral threshold for the last time
There are currently 111 ‘political associations’ registered with Germany’s federal electoral commission. 41 of them (counting the CDU and the CSU separately) are fielding candidates in the upcoming European elections.Why are they doing it? Narcissism aside, this is a national election that is held without an explicit electoral threshold (this is going to change), so even fringe parties have a real chance of winning a seat. Plus (and this is a big plus), if they manage to win at least 0.5 per cent of the vote, they qualify for Germany’s very generous system of public party funding.An even bigger plus is that regular participation in elections turns a mere ‘association’ into a proper party that enjoys a special privilege: it can only be banned by a super-majority in the Constitutional Court.This latter point is particularly relevant for parties at the the far-right of the far-right end of the political spectrum.
Who is more right-wing than the AfD?
There are several parties to the right of the AfD. The most prominent of these parties is the NPD. The Constitutional Court has ruled that their ideology closely resembles that of the original Nazi party but still refused to ban them, essentially because they are electoral irrelevant (they still managed to win a seat in the EP in 2014). In 2014, they garnered 301.139 votes (1%), which was enough to secure them a seat – currently their last one outside of local councils. Their lone MEP is former party leader Udo Voigt, a convicted Holocaust denier and Nazi apologist. I’m not in favour of using terms like “neo-fascist” with abandon. It’s misleading and hence bad science. But the NPD is literally a neo-Nazi party.
And then there is “Der Dritte Weg” (“The Third Way” – sorry, Anthony Giddens) – a party for people who think that the NPD is too modern and wimpish. Many of its ~500 members used to belong to militias that could be dissolved much more easily by the authorities than an organisation recognised as a party. They are a bunch of hyper-traditional right-wing street-fighters.
In terms of electoral support, the Third Way is less than irrelevant. They don’t even exist as a party in the northern states. In the most recent state election down here, they scored a cool 0.1 per cent, and I don’t think they have any candidates in this year’s local elections. But they have managed to draw up a list for the EP 2019. And, more specifically, they managed to put up a number of posters around our commuter rail station.
Right-wing extremist campaign posters from hell
These posters make it wonderfully clear what the Third Way is all about, and so I’ll cap off this year’s election posters from hell series with them. They are truly hellish, but in a different way. Here is the first one:
“Defend Europe – close the borders”. This one is a bit of disappointment. First, why defend “Europe”? Sure, there is the blackboard-style font which dropped out of favour in adverts ca 1955, urging as to “vote German”. There are also the oak leaves around the Roman numeral, but they are still in use by German authorities today. The silver-black thingy could be the muzzle of a gun or a surveillance camera or perhaps a modern take on the Volksempfänger radio. But all in all, the message is a bit too 21st century. So let’s move on.
This next first exhibit is much more exciting. We learn that the Third Way is both ‘national’ and ‘socialist’. So national-socialist. It does not get any clearer. And they are also ‘revolutionaries’ – all super obvious references to ‘leftist’ wing of the Nazi movement. Extra points for the hammer/sword combination, which represents the unity of workers and soldiers. It was used, inter alia, by left-leaning Nazis and the Hitler Jugend. Then, in the 1990s, it was adopted by the autonomous neo-Nazi groups (“freie Kameradschaften”) from which the Third Way emerged. Unlike other extreme right symbols, its use is also legal in Germany.
Next is this one:
So: multi-culturalism kills. How exactly? Presumably by diluting the pure blood of the in-group. Because apparently, it also leaves bloody hand-prints on freshly painted walls. A very similar poster by the NPD (“immigration kills”) was banned by the authorities for inciting hatred. Presumably, the Third Way got away (hah!) because they were overlooked.
Speaking of reasons for banning, there is this one:
A picture of a prison cell that it reserved for “traitors of the people” – yet another term that was used by he Nazis to justify violence and murder. I was mildly shocked that they stopped at the German version of “lock her up” and refrained from depicting a gallows.
If you are equally shocked and also confused to who exactly the traitors might be, in a bid to clarify the situation they present a handy list of traitors that need to be stopped:
The dots refer to the colours usually associated with German parties. And so the CDU/CSU are traitors b/c “asylum flood”, the SPD introduced the “Hartz IV” flexicurity legislation, the Greens are behind “gender madness”, and the Liberals want to unleash capitalism. So they want to put almost anybody in prison. Somewhat surprisingly, the Left and the AfD were not given any attention, perhaps because the colour-in thing became too confusing?
Two questions remain. First, how are these guys legal? The short answer is that banning a party is complicated and risky, and so for the time being, they are kept under observation and members will be prosecuted individually for stuff like breaking the peace. Second, where are your youthful neighbourhood anti-fascists when you need them? I have no answer to that.
Drei Jahrzehnte nach der Wiedervereinigung unterscheiden sich Lebensumstände, Erfahrungen, Einstellungen, Wertorientierungen und politische Verhaltensweisen von Ostdeutschen und Westdeutschen immer noch deutlich. Im Wahlverhalten zeigt sich dies unter anderem darin, dass in den neuen Ländern Nichtwähler- und Wechselwähleranteile höher sind als im Westen. Auch bei der Wahlentscheidung gibt es fast schon klischeehafte Unterschiede: im Westen schneiden die “Bonner Parteien” besser ab, im Osten die Linkspartei und seit 2014 auch die AfD.
Als ich den Pre-Print zur (vermeintlichen) Stellung der AfD als ostdeutsche Regionalpartei online gestellt habe, ist mir aufgefallen, dass der Vorgängerbeitrag zum Wahlverhalten bei der Bundestagswahl 2013 in Ost-West-Perspektive im digitalen Nirwana gelandet war. Das ist nun korrigiert.
Die AfD: in Ostdeutschland erfolgreich
Seit 2014 ist die “Alternative für Deutschland” bei Landtagswahlen in Ostdeutschland sehr viel erfolgreicher als im Westen. Auch bei der Bundestagswahl 2017 wurde die AfD in weiten Teilen Ostdeutschlands zur stärksten Kraft. Nicht zuletzt aufgrund dieses sehr guten Abschneidens im Osten ist die AfD im Bundestag stärker vertreten als die Linke. 31 der AfD-Abgeordneten im Bundestag kommen aus Berlin oder den neuen Bundesländern. Vor dem Parteiaustritt von Frauke Petry und Mario Mieruch waren es sogar 33. Bei der Linken sind es nur 26. In allen ostdeutschen Bundesländern außer Berlin hat die AfD teils deutlich mehr Stimmen erzielt als die Linke. Hat also die AfD die Linkspartei als ostdeutsche Regionalvertretung abgelöst?
“Alternative für Deutschland” noch ohne Ost-Bonus
In einem aktuellen Buchkapitel zur Rolle der AfD im Osten argumentiere ich, daß dies (noch) nicht der Fall ist. Warum nicht? Anders als bei der Linken läßt sich die Dominanz der AfD in Ostdeutschland fast vollständig durch die Verteilung der Einstellungen zur Zuwanderung erklären. Diese sind in den neuen Ländern deutlich negativer ausgeprägt, und davon profitiert die AfD. Kontrolliert man dies statistisch, dann zeigt sich kein signifikanter Regionaleffekt mehr. Außerdem schwanken die Ergebnisse der AfD in Ostdeutschland und im alten Westen sehr stark über die Wahlkreise hinweg. Ihre Schwerpunkte hat die AfD vor allem im vorstädtischen und ländlichen Sachsen und in Teilen Thüringens und Sachsen-Anhalts. Bei der Linkspartei gilt das nicht im gleichen Maße.
Die AfD ist stark im Osten, vor allem in Sachsen
Zwar gibt es auch für die Wahl der Linkspartei eine zentrale Einstellung, nämlich die Frage nach Steuern und Sozialleistungen. Hält man diese konstant, schneidet die Partei in den neuen Ländern trotzdem sehr viel besser ab, als dies eigentlich der Fall sein sollte. Mit den vorhandenen Daten läßt sich nicht klären, ob dies auf die Organisationsstruktur der Linken, eine DDR-Nostalgie oder andere Faktoren zurückgeht. Sicher ist aber, daß die Linkspartei noch immer in besonderer Weise den Osten repräsentiert.
Das Kapitel zur Stellung der AfD in Ostdeutschland ist noch nicht druckreif, aber im wesentlichen abgeschlossen. Es soll im nächsten Band der Reihe Wahlen und Wähler erscheinen, der sich mit dem Ergebnis der Bundestagswahl 2017 befassen wird.
What’s new in the bibliography?
It’s that time of the year again. Once more, I have updated the Erratic Extreme/Far/Radical/Populist Right Bibliography. After the book-chapter heavy winter update, we are back to normal: the spring update brings four books, two chapters, and 45 journal articles. Most of these were published in 2018, but some are almost two decades old. Please keep pointing out relevant publications to me.
Who has written all the new stuff?
You know what they say about pictures and words. I thought I should give the new-ish wordcloud2 package a spin. Here is the result. Before you get too envious (or too haughty), please remember that scale is proportional to the number of publications, not the word count, and that additions to the bibliography happen on a non-systematic and utterly eccentric basis: if I come across something that interests me, it gets in, whether it is your very first article or your whole back catalogue.
What is this new far right research about?
I stuffed the titles and (where I had them) abstracts into a dataset, forgot some obvious stop words (among? much? however?) and tried some lemmatisation (with mixed success). “Party”, “populist/populism”, and “radical” come out tops. Unsurprisingly, “immigration” is also prominent. But I find some of the smaller words more interesting. “Leave” is certainly a nod to Brexit. “Nord” is considerably smaller than “Lega”, reflecting the nationalisation (or at least the aspiration) of the former regionalists. “Unemployment” is certainly smaller than it would have been a decade or two ago. So is “extreme”. If you are interested in the fine print, click on the image for a larger, high-resolution version.
Follow the robot
If you care about Extreme/Far/Populist/Radical Right research and if you are on Twitter, consider following the Radical Right Research Robot for random updates, serendipitous insights, and the occasional awkward pun.
So: what titles exactly?
Here is the update, in all its glory:
Ackermann, Kathrin, Eros Zampieri, and Markus Freitag. 2018. “Personality and Voting for a Right-Wing Populist Party – Evidence from Switzerland.” Swiss Political Science Review 24 (4): 545–64. doi:10.1111/spsr.12330.
Albertazzi, Daniele. 2006a. “‘Back to Our Roots’ or Self-Confessed Manipulation? The Uses of the Past in the Lega Nord’s Positing of Padania.” National Identities 8 (1): 21–39. doi:10.1080/14608940600571222.
———. 2006b. “The Lega Dei Ticinesi. the Embodiment of Populism.” Politics 26 (2): 133–39. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9256.2006.00260.x.
———. 2016. “Going, Going, …Not Quite Gone yet? ‘Bossi’s Lega’ and the Survival of the Mass Party.” Contemporary Italian Politics 8 (2): 115–30. doi:10.1080/23248823.2016.1193349.
Albertazzi, Daniele, and Duncan McDonnell. 2005. “The Lega Nord in the Second Berlusconi Government: In a League of Its Own.” West European Politics 28 (5): 952–72. doi:10.1080/01402380500310600.
Albertazzi, Daniele, Arianna Giovannini, and Antonella Seddone. 2018. “‘No Regionalism Please, We Are Leghisti!’ the Transformation of the Italian Lega Nord Under the Leadership of Matteo Salvini.” Regional & Federal Studies 28 (5): 645–71. doi:10.1080/13597566.2018.1512977.
Albertazzi, Daniele, Duncan McDonnell, and James L. Newell. 2011. “Di Lotta E Di Governo: The Lega Nord and Rifondazione Comunista in Office.” Party Politics 17 (4): 471–87. doi:10.1177/1354068811400523.
Arzheimer, Kai. 2018. “Conceptual Confusion Is Not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of European Radical Right Studies.” In Demokratie Und Entscheidung, edited by Karl Marker, Michael Roseneck, Annette Schmitt, and Jürgen Sirsch, 23–40. Wiesbaden: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3.
Bale, Tim. 2008. “Turning Round the Telescope. Centre-Right Parties and Immigration and Integration Policy in Europe.” Journal of European Public Policy 15 (3): 315–30. doi:10.1080/13501760701847341.
Blok, E.A. Lisanne de, and T.W.G. Tom van der Meer. 2018. “The Puzzling Effect of Residential Neighbourhoods on the Vote for the Radical Right an Individual-Level Panel Study on the Mechanisms Behind Neighbourhood Effects on Voting for the Dutch Freedom Party, 2010-2013.” Electoral Studies 53: 122–32. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2018.04.003.
Carter, Elisabeth. 2018. “Right-Wing Extremism/Radicalism. Reconstructing the Concept.” Journal of Political Ideologies 23 (2): 157–82. doi:10.1080/13569317.2018.1451227.
Dennison, James, and Andrew Geddes. 2018. “A Rising Tide? The Salience of Immigration and the Rise of Anti-Immigration Political Parties in Western Europe.” The Political Quarterly, online first. doi:10.1111/1467-923x.12620.
Downes, James F., and Matthew Loveless. 2018. “Centre Right and Radical Right Party Competition in Europe: Strategic Emphasis on Immigration, Anti-Incumbency, and Economic Crisis.” Electoral Studies 54: 148–58. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2018.05.008.
Eger, Maureen A., and Sarah Valdez. 2018. “From Radical Right to Neo-Nationalist.” European Political Science. doi:10.1057/s41304-018-0160-0.
Elsas, Erika J. van. 2017. “Appealing to the ‘Losers’? The Electorates of Left-Wing and Right-Wing Eurosceptic Parties Compared, 1989-2014.” Electoral Studies 50: 68–79. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2017.09.013.
Ford, Robert, and Matthew J. Goodwin. 2014. Revolt on the Right. Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain. London: Routledge.
Froio, Caterina. 2018. “Race, Religion, or Culture? Framing Islam Between Racism and Neo-Racism in the Online Network of the French Far Right.” Perspectives on Politics 16 (3): 696–709. doi:10.1017/S1537592718001573.
Green-Pedersen, Christoffer, and Pontus Odmalm. 2008. “Going Different Ways? Right-Wing Parties and the Immigrant Issue in Denmark and Sweden.” Journal of European Public Policy 15 (3): 367–81. doi:10.1080/13501760701847564.
Kaufmann, Eric. 2019. “Can Narratives of White Identity Reduce Opposition to Immigration and Support for Hard Brexit? A Survey Experiment.” Political Studies 67 (1): 31–46. doi:10.1177/0032321717740489.
Krekó, Péter, and Gregor Mayer. 2015. “Transforming Hungary – Together? An Analysis of the Fidesz-Jobbik Relationship.” In The East European Radical Right in the Political Process, edited by Michael Minkenberg, 183–205. Routledge.
Olsen, Jonathan. 2018. “The Left Party and the Afd.” German Politics and Society 36 (1): 70–83. doi:10.3167/gps.2018.360104.
Rooduijn, Matthijs. 2018a. “State of the Field: How to Study Populism and Adjacent Topics? A Plea for Both More and Less Focus.” European Journal of Political Research, online first. doi:10.1111/1475-6765.12314.
Salzborn, Samuel. 2018. “Antisemitism in the ‘Alternative for Germany’ Party.” German Politics and Society 36 (3): 74–93. doi:10.3167/gps.2018.360304.
Wirz, Dominique S., Martin Wettstein, Anne Schulz, Philipp Müller, Christian Schemer, Nicole Ernst, Frank Esser, and Werner Wirth. 2018. “The Effects of Right-Wing Populist Communication on Emotions and Cognitions Toward Immigrants.” The International Journal of Press/Politics 23 (4): 496–516. doi:10.1177/1940161218788956.
Does local decline drive the radical right vote? Are recent immigrants and other minorities blamed for problems that have nothing to do with them? And, most importantly, how should policy maker address these problems?
My colleague Sarah De Lange presents and discusses headline findings from our SCoRE project at the European Policy Centre in Brussels. Also on the panel are Jolanda Jetten (University of Queensland), who looks at these questions from a social psychology perspective, Marie De Somer, who is Head of the European Migration and Diversity programme at the European Policy Centre, and Judith Sargentini, who is an MEP for GroenLinks.
The full policy brief including our main findings and recommendations is freely available from our website.
How do people in cities & the countryside react to the presence or absence of immigrants? How does local decline further radical right mobilisation? Are immigrants becoming convenient scapegoats for developments that have nothing to do with them?
Or does the daily interaction between immigrants and the native population foster positive contacts that lead to pro-immigration attitudes? And what role do self-selection of liberal-minded individuals into multi-cultural neighbourhoods on the one hand and “white flight” on the other play?
These are (I think) fascinating questions that have occupied me for a long time. Thanks to my fantastic colleagues in the SCoRE project, we are a bit closer to answering them. Tomorrow, we’ll present first findings and a couple of policy recommendations at an EPC event in Brussels. If you can’t/couldn’t make it to Belgium, watch this short video and read either the full policy brief or the executive summary.
As (West) European election years go, 2017 was quite something. The French party system changed beyond recognition. The radical right entered Germany’s national parliament for the first time. UKIP was wiped out, but May still managed to lose a comfortable majority. And very high fragmentation resulted in a coalition that looks improbable even by Dutch standards.
SCoRE is our multinational project that explores the link between local and regional living conditions on the one hand and radical right attitudes and behaviours in these four countries on the other. Sometimes, serendipity is really a thing. Because we had our individual-level data collection scheduled for this year anyway, we gained some unique insights into all four big Western European elections of 2017.
But perhaps you’re pressed for time or not sure if you really want to read four (fairly short) reports? With the European Parliamentary elections on the horizon, I made a short explainer/teaser video about them to bring you up to speed in just over two minutes. I have a hunch that afterwards, you will want to read all four pieces.