Blog posts on the Extreme Right

The Extreme Right (or Radical Right, New Right, Populist Right) is one of my main research interests. Here is a collection of blog posts on the Extreme Right (i.e. parties, voters, policies) that I have written over the years. If this is relevant for you, you might also be interested in the 400+ titles bibliography on the Extreme Right that I maintain and in this page, which summarises much of my work on the Extreme Right.

Dec 162018
 

Christmas comes early this year for political scientists, sociologists, social psychologists, and anyone else interested in research on the Extreme Right/Radical Right: the winter 2018 edition of the Extreme Right Bibliography is here. The latest iteration brings the total to 808 titles: 539 journal articles, 102 monographs, and 167 chapters.

Since the April edition, there have been 75 additions. About half of these, an unusually large number, are book chapters. This is because I have included just about every contribution to the excellent Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (edited by Jens Rydgren), including my own chapter on Explaining Electoral Support for the Radical Right.

Most new titles (56) have appeared only this year. Seven were published in 2017, and three are from 2016. The rest are older vintages (2006-2015) but have only recently come to my attention. I’m grateful to the many folks who sent me references, even if some of them did not make the list.

What are the prominent themes in these 75 additional contributions?

  • Only one is about euroscepticism
  • One other deals with gender issues, a venerable but still somewhat under-researched topic
  • Two more are about Social Media/Facebook
  • 11 have “immigration” in their title. No big surprise here
  • Populism features prominently, i.e. in more than 25 titles
  • Country/single party studies (including studies that look at a country and aim to generalise) abound, but there is comparative stuff, too.

In short, the field is thriving – just like the objects of our research 😠.

The usual disclaimer applies: I maintain this list primarily for my own research but hope that others may find it useful, too. If you think that something should be on the list but currently isn’t (including your own research – don’t be shy), please send me an email, DM, or leave a comment here.

Dec 132018
 

Reprise: The co-citation network in European Radical Right studies

In the last post, I tried to reconstruct the co-citation network in European Radical Right studies and ended up with this neat graph.

Co-citations within top 20 titles in Extreme / Radical Right studies

Co-citations within top 20 titles in Extreme / Radical Right studies

The titles are arranged in groups, with the “Extreme Right” camp on the right, the “Radical Right” group in the lower-left corner, and a small number of publications that is committed to neither in the upper-left corner. The width of the lines represents the number of co-citations connecting the titles.

What does the pattern look like? The articles by Knigge (1998) and Bale et al. (2010) are both in the “nothing in particular” group, but are never cited together, at least not in the data that I extracted. One potential reason is that they are twelve years apart and address quite different research questions.

Apart from this gap, the network is complete, i.e. everyone is cited with everyone else in the top 20. This is already rather compelling against the idea of a split into incompatible two incompatible strands. Intriguingly, there are even some strong ties that bridge alleged intellectual cleavages, e.g. between Kitschelt’s monograph and the article by Golder, or between Lubbers, Gijsberts and Scheepers on the one hand and Norris and Kitschelt on the other.

While the use of identical terminology seems to play a minor role, the picture also suggests that co-citations are chiefly driven by the general prominence of the titles involved. However, network graphs can be notoriously misleading.

Modelling the number of co-citations in European Radical Right studies

Modelling the number of co-citations provides a more formal test for this intuition. There are \frac{20\times 19}{2}=190 counts of co-citations amongst the top 20 titles, ranging from 0 to 5476, with a mean count of 695 and a variance of 651,143. Because the variance is so much bigger than the mean, a regression model that assumes a negative binomial distribution, which can accommodate such overdispersion, is more adequate than one built around a Poison distribution. “General prominence” is operationalised as the sum of external co-citations of the two titles involved. Here are the results.

VariableCoefficientS.E.p
external co-citations0.0004.00002<0.05
same terminology0.4240.120<0.05
Constant2.8520.219<0.05

 

The findings show that controlling for general prominence (operationalised as the sum of co-citations outside the top 20), using the same terminology (coded as “extreme” / “radical” / “unspecific or other” does have a positive effect on the expected number of co-citations. But what do the numbers mean?

The model is additive in the logs. To recover the counts (and transform the model into its multiplicative form), one needs to exponentiate the coefficients. Accordingly, the effect of using the same terminology translates into a factor of exp(0.424) = 1.53.

What do these numbers mean?

But how relevant is this in practical terms? Because the model is non-linear, it’s best to plot the expected counts for equal/unequal terminology, together with their areas of confidence, against a plausible range of external co-citations.

Effect of external co-citations and use of terminology on predicted number of co-citations within top 20

Effect of external co-citations and use of terminology on predicted number of co-citations within top 20

As it turns out, terminology has only a small effect on the expected number of co-citations for works that have between 6,000 and 8,000 external co-citations. From this point on, the expected number of co-citations grows somewhat more quickly for dyads that share the same terminology. However, over the whole range of 6,000 to 12,000 external co-citations, the confidence intervals overlap and so this difference is not statistically significant.

Unless two titles have a very high number of external co-citations, the probability of them being both cited in a third work does not depend on the terminology they use. Even for the (few) heavily cited works, the evidence is insufficient to reject the null hypothesis that terminology makes no difference.

While the analysis is confined to the relationships between just 20 titles, these titles matter most, because they form the core of ERRS. If we cannot find separation here, that does not necessarily mean that it does not happen elsewhere, but if happens elsewhere, that is much less relevant. So: no two schools. Everyone is citing the same prominent stuff, whether the respective authors prefer “Radical” or “Extreme”. Communication happens, which seems good to me.

Are you surprised?

Got to the first part of this mini series, or read the full article on concepts in European Radical Right research here:

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of European Radical Right Studies.” Demokratie und Entscheidung. Eds. Marker, Karl, Michael Roseneck, Annette Schmitt, and Jürgen Sirsch. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2018. 23-40. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3
    [BibTeX] [Download PDF] [HTML]
    @InCollection{arzheimer-2018,
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of
    European Radical Right Studies},
    booktitle = {Demokratie und Entscheidung},
    publisher = {Springer},
    address = {Wiesbaden},
    pages = {forthcoming},
    year = 2018,
    url =
    {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/conceptual-confusion-european-radical-right-studies.pdf},
    doi = {10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3},
    pages = {23-40},
    html =
    {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/conceptual-confusion-european-radical-right-studies},
    editor = {Marker, Karl and Roseneck, Michael and Schmitt, Annette and Sirsch,
    Jürgen},
    dateadded = {01-06-2018}
    }

Dec 082018
 

Research question

For a long time, people working in the field of European Radical Right Studies could not even agree on a common name for the thing that they were researching. Should it be the Extreme Right, the Radical Right, or what? Utterly unimpressed by this fact, I argue in a in-press contribution that this sorry state has not seriously hindered communication amongst authors. Do I have any evidence to back up this claim? Hell yeah! Fasten your seatbelts and watch me turning innocent publications into tortured data, or more specifically, a Radical Right network of co-citations. Or was it the Extreme Right?

How to turn citations into data

Short of training a hypercomplex and computationally expensive neural network (i.e. a grad student) to look at the actual content of the texts, analysing citation patterns is the most straightforward way to address the research question. Because I needed citation information, I harvested the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) instead of my own bibliography. The Web of Science interface to the SSCI lets you save records as plain text files, which is all that was required. The key advantage of the SSCI data is that all the sources that each item cites are recorded, too, and can be exported with the title. This includes (most) items that are themselves not covered by the SSCI, opening up the wonderful world of monographs and chapters. To identify the two literatures, I simply ran queries for the phrases “Extreme Right” and “Radical Right” for the 1980-2017 period. I used the “TS” operator to search in titles, abstracts, and keywords. These queries returned 596 and 551 hits, respectively. Easy.

But how far separated are the two strands of the literature? To find out, I first looked at the overlap between the two. By overlap, I mean items that use both phrases. This applies to 132 pieces, or just under 12 per cent of the whole stash. This is not a state of zilch communication, yet by this criterion alone, it would seem that there are indeed two relatively distinct literatures. But what I’m really interested in are (co-)citation patterns How could I beat two long plain text lists of articles and the sources they cite into a usable data set?

When you are asking this kind of question, usually “there is an R package for that”™, unless the question is too silly. In my case, the magic bullet for turning information from the SSCI into crunchable data is the wonderful bibliometrix package. Bibliometrix reads saved records from Web of Science/SSCI (in bibtex format) and converts them into data frames. It also provides functions for extracting bibliometric information from the data. Before I move on to co-citations, here’s the gist of the code that reads the data and generates a handy list of the 10 most-cited titles:

library(bibliometrix)
  D <- readFiles("savedrecs-all.bib")
  M <- convert2df(D, dbsource = "isi", format = "bibtex")
# remove some obviously unrelated items
  M <- M[-c(65,94,96,97,104,105,159,177,199,457,459,497,578,579,684,685,719,723),]
  M <- M[-c(659,707),]
  M <- M[-c(622),]

  results <- biblioAnalysis(M, sep = ";")
  S=summary(object = results, k = 10, pause = FALSE)
  #Citations
  CR <- citations(M, field = "article", sep = ".  ")
  CR$Cited[1:10] 

So what are the most cited titles in Extreme/Radical Right studies?

The ten most cited sources in 726 SSCI items
SourceNumber of times cited
Mudde (2007)160
Kitschelt (1995)147
Betz (1994)123
Lubbers et al. (2002)97
Norris (2005)90
Golder (2003)86
R.W. Jackman & Volpert (1996)77
Carter (2005)66
Arzheimer & Carter (2006)65
Brug et al. (2005)65
Importantly, this top ten contains (in very prominent positions) a number of monographs. The SSCI itself only lists articles in (some) peer-reviewed journals. Without the citation data, we would have no idea which non-peer-reviewed-journal items are important. Having said that, the situation is still far from perfect: We only observe co-citation patterns through the lens of the 1,000+ odd SSCI publications. But that’s still better than nothing, right? What about the substantive results of this exercise? The table clearly shows the impact that Cas Mudde’s 2007 (“Populist Radical Right”) book had on the field. It is the most cited and at the same time the youngest item on the list, surpassing the much older monographs by Betz (“Radical Right Wing Populism”) and Kitschelt (“Radical Right”). Two other monographs by Carter (“Extreme Right”) and Norris (“Radical Right”) are also frequently cited but appreciably less popular than the books by Betz, Kitschelt, and Mudde. The five other items are journal articles with a primarily empirical outlook and mostly without conceptual ambitions. Taken together, this suggests that the “Extreme Right” label lacked a strong proponent whose conceptual work was widely accepted in the literature. Once someone presented a clear rationale for using the “Radical Right” label instead, many scholars were willing to jump ship.

Getting to the co-citation network: are the Extreme / Radical Right literatures separated from each other?

If this was indeed the case, the literature should display a low degree of separation between users of both labels. Looking for co-citation patterns is a straightforward operationalisation for (lack of) separation. A co-citation occurs when two publications are both cited by some later source. By definition, co-citations reflect a view on the older literature as it is expressed in a newer publication. When two titles from the “Extreme Right” and “Radical Right” literatures are co-cited, this small piece of evidence that the literature has not split into two isolated streams. The SSCI aims at recording every source that is cited, even if the source itself is not in the SSCI. This makes for a very large number of publications that could be candidates for co-citations (18,255), even if most of them are peripheral European Radical Right studies, and a whopping 743,032 actual co-citations.

To get a handle on this, I extracted the 20 publications with the biggest total number of co-citations and their interconnections. They represent something like the backbone of the literature. How did I reconstruct this network from textual data? Once more, R and its packages came to the rescue and helped me to produce a reasonably nice plot (after some additional cleaning up)

NetMatrix <- biblioNetwork(M, analysis="co-citation",network = "references", sep = ".  ")
# Careful: we are not interested in loops and not interested in separate connections between nodes. We convert the latter to weights 
g <- graph.adjacency(NetMatrix,mode="max",diag=FALSE)
# Extract the top 20 most co-cited items
f <- induced_subgraph(g,degree(g)>quantile(degree(g),probs=(1-20/ length(V(g)))))
# Now build a vector of relevant terms (requires knowledge of these titles)
# 1: extreme, 2: radical, 3:none/other
# Show all names
V(f)$name
term <- c(3,2,1,1,2,1,1,2,1,2,3,2,2,2,3,1,1,1,1,1)
mycolours <- brewer.pal(3, "Greys")
V(f)$term <- term
V(f)$color <- mycolours[term]

Co-citation analysis: results

So, what are the results? First, here is the top 20 of co-cited items in the field of Extreme/Radical Right studies:

The twenty most co-cited sources in 726 SSCI items
SourceCo-citations within top 20Total co-citations
Kitschelt (1995)7457700
Mudde (2007)7408864
Lubbers et al. (2002)6005212
Norris (2005)5685077
Golder (2003)5644687
Betz (1994)5426151
R.W. Jackman & Volpert (1996)4774497
Brug et al. (2005)4623523
Arzheimer & Carter (2006)4603551
Knigge (1998)4453487
Carter (2005)3893291
Arzheimer (2009)3763301
Ignazi (2003)3442876
Ivarsflaten (2008)3343221
Ignazi (1992)3313230
Rydgren (2007)3003353
Bale (2003)2973199
Brug et al. (2000)2762602
Meguid (2005)2462600
Bale et al. (2010)1342449

Many of these titles are familiar, because they also appear in the top ten of most cited titles and are classics to boot. And here is another nugget: for each title, a substantial share of about 10 per cent of all co-citations happen within this top twenty. This is exactly the (sub)network of co-citations I’m interested in. So here is the plot I promised:

Co-citations within top 20 titles in Extreme / Radical Right studies

Co-citations within top 20 titles in Extreme / Radical Right studies

But what does it all mean? Read the second part of this mini series, or go to the full article (author’s version, no paywall):

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of European Radical Right Studies.” Demokratie und Entscheidung. Eds. Marker, Karl, Michael Roseneck, Annette Schmitt, and Jürgen Sirsch. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2018. 23-40. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3
    [BibTeX] [Download PDF] [HTML]
    @InCollection{arzheimer-2018,
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of
    European Radical Right Studies},
    booktitle = {Demokratie und Entscheidung},
    publisher = {Springer},
    address = {Wiesbaden},
    pages = {forthcoming},
    year = 2018,
    url =
    {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/conceptual-confusion-european-radical-right-studies.pdf},
    doi = {10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3},
    pages = {23-40},
    html =
    {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/conceptual-confusion-european-radical-right-studies},
    editor = {Marker, Karl and Roseneck, Michael and Schmitt, Annette and Sirsch,
    Jürgen},
    dateadded = {01-06-2018}
    }

Dec 052018
 

What (is) right?

These days, the (Populist) Radical Right is all the rage. But when I started out as a young Padawan an unspecified number of decades ago, we were working on the Extreme Right as a matter of course. A few years down the line, a dear co-author asked me whether we should switch terminology, but I was all against it,stubborn bugger that I was. My own conversion came in the early 2010s or so, when we were organising a section and younger people were not sure what the oldtimers were talking about.

Besides the Extreme and the Radical, there is the Far Right, the New Right (not so new anymore, eh?), and the Populist Radical Right. What does it all mean? Is it all the same? And where did it come from? And when did Radical become de rigeur?

What does the (meta) science say?

For a forthcoming chapter, I have looked at the distribution of these and other phrases in the titles and abstracts of the (then) 650+ titles in my bibliography on the (Insert as Appropriate) Right. Note that I used wildcards to find some common variations. This is the distribution that I found:

Distribution of various phrases in the literature
Phraseper cent
Any Phrase61
Radical Right*27
Extreme Right*21
Right-Wing Populis*10
Populist Radical Right*7
Far Right*6
Right-Wing Extrem*5
Populist Right*3
New Right*1
Radical Populist Right*0
Right-Wing Radic*0

From the table, it’s easy to see that more than half of the publications use at least one of the phrases in a prominent position. While number of publications uses two or more different phrases, the average number is just 1.3. Two phrases stand out: “Radical Right” and “Extreme Right” (and some derivatives) collectively show up in the titles and abstracts of nearly half of the items in the bibliography. But how has their use changed over time? Well, that’s an easy one.

Extreme vs Radical Right over time

Extreme Right vs Radical Right over time

Extreme Right vs Radical Right over time

In the figure, I have plotted their respective shares for every year. Because the number of publications per year is often low, the numbers vary wildly, so I used a local scatter smoother. As you can see, both the Extreme and the Radical Right were equally popular (or unpopular) in the early 1990s, but then the Extreme Right took the lead. Around the turn of the century, as many as 40 per cent of the publications in the bibliography used the phrase.

But then the tide turned. I blame Cas Mudde, or rather his 2007 book. In 2008, the two trajectories crossed, and the use of “Extreme” began to decline quickly. “Radical”, on the other hand, rose to dizzying heights. For the 2008-2017 period, “Radical Right” outnumbers the use of “Extreme Right” by a factor of 2.2.

So …

Once more, my own experience was not special at all. Many more jumped ship. Or, to put a more positive spin on it: the field has finally overcome its most blatant shortcoming: the inability to agree at least on a common label for its object. If you find this as fascinating as I do, you should get a life read the full chapter here, for free (author’s version):

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of European Radical Right Studies.” Demokratie und Entscheidung. Eds. Marker, Karl, Michael Roseneck, Annette Schmitt, and Jürgen Sirsch. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2018. 23-40. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3
    [BibTeX] [Download PDF] [HTML]
    @InCollection{arzheimer-2018,
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of
    European Radical Right Studies},
    booktitle = {Demokratie und Entscheidung},
    publisher = {Springer},
    address = {Wiesbaden},
    pages = {forthcoming},
    year = 2018,
    url =
    {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/conceptual-confusion-european-radical-right-studies.pdf},
    doi = {10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3},
    pages = {23-40},
    html =
    {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/conceptual-confusion-european-radical-right-studies},
    editor = {Marker, Karl and Roseneck, Michael and Schmitt, Annette and Sirsch,
    Jürgen},
    dateadded = {01-06-2018}
    }

Dec 012018
 
Free Book Chapter

Clearly defined concepts are certainly necessary for any kind of scientific progress, right? Who could possibly disagree with that? Yes, you guessed right: me, your friendly neighbourhood contrarian, begs to differ. In a forthcoming chapter, I argue that conceptual confusion has at least not hampered progress in one field close to my heart: European Radical Right Studies™. On the contrary: I think that a certain openness (laxness?) has drawn at least some people to the field. It has also allowed for a quantum of cross-pollination that might have been difficult to achieve otherwise. The author’s version/pre-print is here, but if that’s all too much to read, I’ll blog about some of the findings over the next days.

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of European Radical Right Studies.” Demokratie und Entscheidung. Eds. Marker, Karl, Michael Roseneck, Annette Schmitt, and Jürgen Sirsch. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2018. 23-40. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3
    [BibTeX] [Download PDF] [HTML]
    @InCollection{arzheimer-2018,
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {Conceptual Confusion is not Always a Bad Thing: The Curious Case of
    European Radical Right Studies},
    booktitle = {Demokratie und Entscheidung},
    publisher = {Springer},
    address = {Wiesbaden},
    pages = {forthcoming},
    year = 2018,
    url =
    {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/conceptual-confusion-european-radical-right-studies.pdf},
    doi = {10.1007/978-3-658-24529-0_3},
    pages = {23-40},
    html =
    {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/conceptual-confusion-european-radical-right-studies},
    editor = {Marker, Karl and Roseneck, Michael and Schmitt, Annette and Sirsch,
    Jürgen},
    dateadded = {01-06-2018}
    }

Nov 102018
 

The other day, I had a chat about the extent of the Far Right’s rise in Europe and the structural factors behind that with Courthouse News. Here’s the article, with some choice quotes by me.

Oct 142018
 

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.

 

Oct 052018
 

Back in August, Franziska Schreiber made quite a splash with her memoir of the four years she spent inside Germany’s not-so-new-anymore Radical Right party. Schreiber was in her mid-twenties when she joined only weeks after the party was founded. She helped building up the AfD’s youth organisation – controversial even within the party – in the key state of Saxony and became a confidant of Frauke Petry, the former party leader. Appalled by the AfD’s radicalisation (to which she has contributed, albeit on a small scale), Schreiber left the party just before the 2017 federal election. Reviews of her inside story were mixed, but hey, does this sound like the perfect complement to a long day on the beach? Turns out the book is light and short reading, so here are my five random observations to cap off the day.

  1. Cheap opening shot: confidants were allowed to call Petry “little star” (a common term of affection in German). Yes, you read that right. A few pages later, we learn that Schreiber had a bit of a crush on Petry. No big surprise here.
  2. Schreiber estimates that in 2017, Neo-Nazis made up 15 per cent of the membership, whereas” liberals” comprised 50 per cent. The first number looks a bit off to me while the second number seems way too high. But she’s the insider, right?
  3. Schreiber mostly writes about individuals, and from the point of view of one of many warring factions. That makes for juicy bits and potentially dodgy analyses. But she’s adamant that the rank-and-file’s continous shift to the right has forced various people within the leadership to become ever more radical, lest they lose their credibility with the party faithful.
  4. She also claims that many in the AfD now aim for a revolutionary transformation, something that seems more plausible now than it did before the Chemnitz events.
  5. Schreiber (who apparently has some background in Political/Social Science) describes her own trajectory like an induction into a cult – the alienation from family and former friends, the confirmation biases, the gradual shifting of what is considered normal – it’s all there. This perspective may provide her current self with a very convenient excuse for things she did in the past and now regrets, but it’s nonetheless credible. She also highlights the importance of internal & external communication via social media, and the force of negative emotions, and something that squares with the motives of the AfD’s voters.
  6. And yes, there is the famous claim that the now former boss of Germany’s secret service advised Petry as to how to avoid the attention of his people.

So, all in all, this book provides some interesting background on persons and events, but nothing that is exactly new.

Sep 072018
 

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.

May 142018
 

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.

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