Lauren McLaren, writing in 2002, using data from 47.1 Eurobarometer conducted in 1997. As they say: nothing new under the sun
90 minutes after closing time, the exit polls and models are converging on a result for the AfD of about 11 per cent. The party has entered the 15th of 16 state parliament and is about to enter the final one (Hesse) in two weeks’ time. Predictably, the party is presenting this as a huge success, claiming that they have come from nowhere (“aus dem Stand”) and gone double-digit, first try. And, equally predictably, the media are repeating this narrative.
But after five years in politics, and a four-year string of successes in state politics, the AfD is no longer an unknown quantity. More importantly, they were operating in a nearly optimal scenario. The CSU, in its desperate bid to out-AfD the AfD (I’m getting this trademarked very shortly), has relentlessly pushed the AfD’s one and only issue, immigration & asylum, back on the agenda for months and months. Moreover, Bavaria is famously conservative and right-leaning, and the state’s border with Austria was the setting for most of the disorderly arrivals in 2015.
And yet, even under these favourable conditions, the AfD managed to get just 11 per cent of the vote. That is roughly five per cent less than what they are polling nationally at the moment, less than what they got in the two (south)-Western states, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in 2016 (15.1 and 12.6, respectively), and less what they achieved back in 2014 (!), when they were truly a new party, in the Eastern state of Brandenburg (12.2).
So we should put this into perspective. The Bavarian result is remarkably for a number of reasons including the heavy losses of the CSU (which is still the strongest party by far), the implosion of the SPD, the meteoric rise of the Greens (in Bavaria!), and the strong showing of the “Free Voters”, for many intents and purposes as CSU-breakaway. In this context, a result of 11 per cent for the AfD is not particularly remarkable but a mere fact of political life in Germany. The AfD came fourth. It should be treated accordingly.
Probably it’s never been away. Equally probably, I’m overgeneralising from personal experience (can you see what I’m doing here?): within less than 48 hours:
- I heard this podcast featuring the excellent John Hibbing (the research discussed in the show was published a while ago) on brain differences and political preferences (red brain / blue brain)
- Read this post on Steve Greene’s blog, which points to a new book by Marc Hetherington about basic worldviews, life choices, and partisanship in the US and
- Came across this article (ungated), which links preferences for abstract art to voting “Remain” in the Brexit referendum. The background variable in this article is of course personality. I don’t understand why the authors did not simply measure traits in the first place, but their approach makes for an interesting title.
Image credit: Elisa Riva via Pixabay
The other day, an American journalist wanted to talk about the Sweden Democrat’s role in the upcoming Swedish election. Being no country specialist, I tried to deflect the request, but he sent me some more specific questions anyway, which I tried to answer to the best of my abilities.
Unsurprisingly, I provided too much detail, so my comments disappeared from the published piece. Since it is Friday afternoon and all the stuff is on file anyway, for your edification, here’s our virtual conversation:
Would you characterize the Sweden Democrats as a radical right party? How similar are they to other radical right parties in Europe? What is different about them?
Yes, I the Sweden Democrats fit well into the family of Radical Right parties that have emerged in most West European countries since the 1980s. The most unusual thing about the SD is perhaps that they started out as a pretty militant group, with uniforms reminiscent of the 1930s. Many modern European Radical Right parties have carefully avoided this association from the start.
It seems to me that the Sweden Democrats have done a lot of “soften” their image, with their flowery logo and the party leader’s choice of clothes. Is this something you would agree with? Is this something other radical right parties have adopted?
That’s correct. The new-ish leadership has banned the uniforms, purged the ranks of Neo Nazis, and replaced the fierce Viking warrior of their original logo with a flower. Their relatively moderate appeal is very much in line with other Radical Right parties.
How important is this election in Sweden in determining the future of the European Union?
For the time being, no other party will form a coalition with the SD, so their likely success will have no direct short-term impact on the EU. However, having a strong Radical Right party in the Swedish parliament will make it more difficult to form a stable government and will likely lead to Swedish mainstream parties adopting more nationalist and restrictive positions.
Do you think the Sweden Democrats are further evidence of a rising tide of nationalism across Europe? What is behind this rise? Immigration? Neo-liberal economic policies? Economic hardships? Changes in society?
Radical Right Parties that poll between 10 and 25 per cent are now a fact of political life in most West European countries, and in all likelihood, these parties will also do well in the 2019 EP elections, where the barriers to entry are particularly low. One important but often overlooked factor behind this rise is dealignment, i.e. the slow but steady decline of the long standing ties between large social groups such as workers, farmers, or religious groups on the one hand and traditional parties on the other. Through dealignment, voters have become available for new parties including, but not limited to, the Radical Right.
One second important point to note is that the Radical Right vote is driven by perceptions of migration as an economic and cultural threat. While these perceptions are by no means confined to the Radical Right’s electorate, they seem to constitute a necessary pre-condition for Radical Right support: unless someone is seriously worried about immigration, it is highly unlikely that they would ever vote for the Radical Right. Third, economic decline plays a role, but many Radical Right voters are relatively well of themselves. What worries them is a feeling that their native compatriots get less than they deserve, that the country is going into a negative direction because of immigration, and the (often irrational) fear that immigration might hurt their own economic prospects in the future. It is also worth noting that the Radical Right is particularly strong in the rich and stable countries of Scandinavia and in Austria and Switzerland, whereas it is surprisingly weak in crisis-hit Greece and nonexistent in Spain and Portugal.
Here’s a question unrelated to Sweden … How significant of a role do you think Steve Bannon can play in Europe?
Bannon plays no role whatsoever. Populist Radical Right Parties have thrived in Europe since the 1980s. International co-operation amongst them has proven difficult time and again because of their inherently nationalist agendas, but they were quite good at learning from each other and swapping ideas long before Bannon began his European tour. In my view, Bannon hugely overplays his influence in Europe, and American media sometimes fall for his spiel.
Hey twitter, the CSU’s current anti-refugee line may be inspired by rise of AfD and upcoming elections, but it is hardly new. Lubbers et al. 2002 report (for the 1990s) that the CSU was responsible for Germany having one of the most restrictive “anti-immigrant climates” in Western Europe, that the CSU they were the most anti-immigrant Christian Democratic party in the sample, and that they outscored the Italian AN (then still a borderline case for Radical Right membership).
Lubbers, Marcel, Mérove Gijsberts, and Peer Scheepers. “Extreme Right-Wing Voting in Western Europe.” European Journal of Political Research 41 (2002): 345–378.
Received September 5, online first June 5, and at least six more months until the piece is assigned to an issue and is paginated. A neat illustration of (some of) the problems with the current system. And no, I don’t have an easy solution.
Update February 5, 2018
In March 2017, I posted a graph which shows how the AfD’s Facebook posts moved away from euroscepticism and Greece-bashing towards immigration and Islamophobia. But trends can change, and local regression smoothers have a habit of behaving strangely at the borders. So I downloaded another year’s worth of Facebook posts and reran the scripts:
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the new graph confirms for 2017 what we have seen for 2016: Muslims and immigrants are all the rage, whereas the Euro crisis is so 2014. I leave the old graph/post below as is for comparison.
Elections in Europe: great expectations.
2017 was a year of high-profile national elections in Europe, in which the Radical Right was expected to do particularly well. Balanced and neutral as ever, the Express claimed that the votes in France, Germany, and the Netherlands could DESTROY the EU. The Independent also flagged up the Dutch, German, and French elections, but added the Italian referendum, the Austrian presidential elections (both actually in 2016), and the British local elections, which, in hindsight, seems particularly quaint. Most observers missed the much more problematic Austrian parliamentary elections, and no one (arguably including the PM) expected Britain to go the polls, again.
SCoRE election data from four European countries
For better or worse, the individual-level data collection for our project on sub-national context and radical right support in Europe (SCoRE) was scheduled for 2017 anyway. In SCoRE, we try to bring together particularly fine-grained official data on living conditions (including immigration, unemployment, local economic growth, and access to basic services) with survey data on right-wing attitudes and other attitudinal and behaviour variables that are geo-referenced. In other words: we can see how the way people think is linked to where they live, and what it is like there. And with the British PM’s decision to have a snap election, we became an election study on the side.
All politics is local: a close look at regional patterns of radical right voting in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK
What sets SCoRE apart from other projects is its focus on regional and even local patterns of voting. To showcase this, my colleagues have produced a series of reports on the elections in Europe from this particular angle.
Will Allchorn and Jocelyn Evans (University of Leeds) study the switch from UKIP to the Conservatives in the 2017 election. One of their most interesting findings (I think) is that “the switchers are more strongly anti-European suggesting a tactical preference for a governing party able to deliver Brexit.
Eelco Harteveld and Sarah de Lange show that support for the Dutch Radical Right is not strongly correlated with a rural-urban divide. The PVV thrives in areas that are economically deprived and suffer from demographic stagnation, independent of urbanisation.
In Germany, the AfD is very much an eastern party. However, Carl Berning demonstrates that in the 2017 election, the
AfD did also well in the south-western states. A (perceived) sense of local decline seems to be a major factor.
Finally, a strong rural/urban divide sets in radical right voting is characteristic for France. Gilles Ivaldi and Jocelyn Evans show that support for the Front National was broken up into two distinct clusters, one in the northern rust belt, the other in the south.
Back in March 2018, the Montreal Holocaust Museum invited me to an expert panel that they were organising as part of their Action Week against Racism. The topic: the resurgence of aggressive right-wing politics in Europe. Speaking on this issue, at this institution, was both poignant and humbling. Here are my slides.