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 900+ titles bibliography on the Extreme Right that I maintain and in this page, which summarises much of my work on the Extreme Right.

Jan 182022

The good folks at Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin have invited me for a talk about our ORA project on subnational contexts and the Radical Right in general, and some findings on the German case in particular. Here, our research question is whether the striking spatial differences in voting behaviour (including but not limited to the disproportionate strength of the AfD in the eastern states) are just the result of sorting (people being selected and self-selecting into certain places), or whether we can find evidence of true contextual effects and spatial clustering. It is all still very much work in progress, but if you are interested, here are my slides.

Sep 142021

Does radical right success lead to mainstream re-positioning?

Radical right parties have existed for decades now, but most of them are still seen as challengers, because they aim to disrupt the (liberal democratic) consensus in their respective societies. Existing parties can react by digging their heels in, or by accommodation. As I have argued elsewhere, their best bet might even be to ignore the challenge. But if they chose accommodation, it is by no means clear whether this position shift was caused by the emergence of a radical right party: mainstream parties could simply react to the perceived shift in the preferences of their electorate. They might even try to preempt the rise of the radical right.

One new and very cool paper that tries to shed some light on these questions of causality is Abou-Chadi & Krause (2020), which we read this summer.

Abou-Chadi, T., & Krause, W. (2020). The causal effect of radical right success on mainstream parties” policy positions: a regression discontinuity approach. British Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 829–847.

What we liked

My students had rarely seen difference-in-difference and discontinuity designs in the wild. They were hugely impressed by this elegant (and quite conservative) setup. Obviously, they thought this was interesting and politically relevant research. More generally, they liked the idea (new to many) of investigating inter-party strategic behaviour.

File:Matthias Laurenz Gräff, 'Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube. Sebastian Kurz, Der Große Diktator, Opportunist, Putschist'.jpg

“File:Matthias Laurenz Gräff, ‘Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube. Sebastian Kurz, Der Große Diktator, Opportunist, Putschist’.jpg” by Matthias Laurenz Gräff is licensed under CC by-sa-4.0 What we are reading: Causal Effects on Mainstream Parties' Positions 1 What we are reading: Causal Effects on Mainstream Parties' Positions 2 What we are reading: Causal Effects on Mainstream Parties' Positions 3

What we did not like so much

There was not much we did not like much. Students wondered whether the assumption of continuity around the threshold is defensible, and whether the various parties are comparable. More importantly, they suggested that in the real world, parties might chose mixed strategies (e.g. introduce tougher rules on immigration to drive down numbers whilst also trying to reduce the salience of immigration and going all-out liberal on other “cultural” issues). Finally, they would have liked the authors to talk even more about the political implications of their findings.

Sep 142021

Something good in everything?

Could radical right-wing populism be a (whispers) good thing? Of course it all depends on what we mean by “good”. Backlund and Jungar have a modest proposal: they suggest that radical right success could improve the representation of policy preferences in parliament. Using data from both expert and voter surveys in ten (West) European countries, they find that radical right parties occupy an almost unique position (both against immigration and against the European Union). They provide a good fit for their voters in this respect. On the other hand, most radical right parties are socially conservative (and more specifically homophobic), which many of their voters are not.

Backlund, A., & Jungar, A. (2019). Populist radical right party-voter policy representation in western europe. Representation, 55(4), 393–413.

What we liked

Students liked that Backlund und Jungar disaggregate “left” and “right” into policy positions. Most of them had also never seen work based on expert surveys (!) and were duly impressed. They found the derivation of the hypotheses convincing and praised the effective tables and graphs. Students also said that a lot of useful information was found in the appendix, then realised that this was a double-edged compliment.

demonstration, fridays for future, climate change

Photo by dmncwndrlch on Pixabay

What we did not like so much

Students were a bit disappointed that populism did not really feature while nativism was really prominent in the analysis. Given the Muddean concept of populism and the Chapel Hill-based measurement effort, this is hardly surprising, but they were still somewhat disappointed. They also said that they would have liked to see data for more countries as well as a clearer rationale for country selection, and harboured doubts about the validity/comparability of the gay rights-items in the EES/CHES. Finally (and this may well be a Mainz thing), they said that representation/representative and responsive(ness) were used more or less interchangeably by the authors. While I’m not sure whether this is really true, I’m happy to see that my students strife for conceptual clarity (at least as far as other people’s work is concerned). Having said that, we thought that this is a fresh, almost unique take.

Jun 242021

Something new about protest voting and the radical right?

The debate about the role of discontent/protest for the radical right vote is somewhat stale, to say the least. For literal decades, van der Brug/Fennema/Tillie (2000) and van der Brug/Fennema (2003) have been my go-to references.

Their story is roughly this: yes, radical right voters are dissatisfied, but their unhappiness is ideological. They crave even tougher immigration policies (and possibly a more generally illiberal setup of politics and society).

While Wouter and friends were writing about West European countries of the 1990s, their core findings have been confirmed time and again with newer data. End of story.

So I was quite intrigued when I saw this new paper:

Cohen, D. (2020). Between Strategy and Protest. How Policy Demand, Political Dissatisfaction and Strategic Incentives Matter for Far-Right Voting. Political Science Research and Methods, 8(4), 662–676.

Cohen’s argument is that both policy demands and discontent are relevant motives, whose relative importance depends on the circumstances, i.e. radical right representation in parliament and government participation. What’s also novel is that the students tasked with introducing the text got in touch with Cohen, who sent us a video showcasing the article’s highlights and some of his other research. That’s pandemic political science for you.

What we liked

We found the model/method slightly demanding, but quite elegant and intriguing. The main attraction is that the author tries to factor in the incentives and opportunities arising from the political context in which the radical right tries to mobilise their potential voters.

Picture of Marine Le Pen

Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick / Lille – Meeting de Marine Le Pen pour l’élection présidentielle, le 26 mars 2017 à Lille Grand Palais (069) / Wikimedia Commons

This is something which is often talked about but that is rarely implemented in practice. Perhaps the most obvious distinction is between situations where the radical right is in office/opposition (the latter still very much the rule).

What we did not like so much

Students were not sure whether the (changing) indicator for disaffection is really valid, and pointed out that one should distinguish between mere dissatisfaction and demands for a fundamentally different political system. They also argued that propensity to vote is a useful indicator in general, but that an argument about strategic considerations really should be tested based on (reported) electoral choices.

Our main criticism was that legislative strength is measured by seat share in the last national (first order) election, whereas the dependent variable is voting behaviour in European (second order) elections. This seems conceptually dubious and also transforms parties operating under non-proportional national electoral systems (think UKIP and Rassemblement National) into outliers.

But even so, we liked the focus on the political context and opposition/government party status.

Jun 012021

Why are women (mostly) immune to the radical right?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a good brain is rarely in want of a male-dominated, chauvinist, sexist radical right party. Or something along these lines. Austen aside, for most radical right parties in (Western) Europe, the male-to-female ratio in their respective electorates is roughly 2:1. As far as I know, this is more than any other party family has to offer. In this 2015 paper, the authors (none of them of the female persuasion) argue that there are two complementary mechanisms that could account for this finding:

  1. Mediation: men/women hold different attitudes (towards immigration/immigrants)
  2. Moderation: the importance of such attitudes varies by gender

Their main result is that both mechanisms seem to contribute in roughly equal parts to the observable gender differences in far right support.

Harteveld, E., Brug, W. V. D., Dahlberg, S., & Kokkonen, A. (2015). The gender gap in populist radical-right voting: examining the demand side in western and eastern europe. Patterns of Prejudice, 49(1-2), 103–134.

What we liked

Students really, really liked the topic of this paper. They were also intrigued that the authors name-checked the social construction of gender, but slightly disappointed that this had very little tangible consequences, as far as the analysis was concerned. Following our reading of Brils, Muis, and Gaidyte (2020), they also appreciated that the authors differentiate between the relatively well-known state of affairs in Western Europe and the potentially very different CEE world. They thought that the idea of moderation-by-gender (and more generally the idea of voter heterogeneity) was quite innovative and said that the authors’ interpretation of their tables was clear and easy to follow.

Picture of Marine Le Pen

Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick / Lille – Meeting de Marine Le Pen pour l’élection présidentielle, le 26 mars 2017 à Lille Grand Palais (069) / Wikimedia Commons

What we did not like so much

In some (rare) instances, the interpretations were less than lucid. More importantly, a lot of stuff is happening in this paper, which is perhaps too much and results in a somewhat complex structure (where did the perceived left-right distance come from, and what do these findings mean, exactly?). After I have supplied them with industrial quantities of the Brambor-et-al. Kool Aid, my students are also allergic to any statements about the significance or insignificance of terms in interactive models and demand margins plots, fast. And are these really enough countries for multi-level modelling, particularly after splitting the sample?

But by and large, we were quite happy. This is an important topic, and the paper provides bold answers to some of the big questions attached to it.

May 142021

The gamification of our personal and professional lives is a terrible idea. Elsevier is evil. More generally, the current model of academic publishing is unsustainable. And I’m a very happy chappy this afternoon. All these statements can be (and indeed are) simultaneously true.

Our article on the changing electorate of the AfD is currently the most cited recent article in Electoral Studies
Achim Goerres just sent me this little gem, which makes my Friday.

So our article on the changing motives of people voting for the AfD during a period in which the AfD radicalised quite a bit has been frequently cited (about 30 times) over the last months. Yay us!

Obviously, the 2018-2021 window is totally arbitrary. Also, comparing an article to others published in the same journal makes kind of sense (they should be, well, comparable), but the group of all Political Science articles published in the same year (or quarter) would probably be a more useful point of reference. Moreover, German universities are still sort-of-boycotting Elsevier, so I feel mildly bad about publishing with them. Plus we could not benefit from the DEAL agreements that would have waived the fees for going Open Access, because there is still no DEAL with evil Elsevier.

But hey, this article is one of my favourite children. It was a long time in the making. I’m happy that it finally found a good home at Electoral Studies, and I’m even happier that people read and cite it. 30 cites within 20 months is not bad for a piece published in a specialist journal. Eat your heart out, More General Interest Journal That Rejected Its Previous Incarnation.

And while it would have been great to publish it as Open Access, the very similar pre-print is still available for your perusal: How the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and their voters veered to the radical right, 2013-2017.

May 102021
Inglehart, Maaßen, Le Pen: two links I liked & one that makes me sad 4

I’m sad to hear that Ronald Inglehart has died. Hero worshipping is worse than useless, and great man/woman theories are just very bad sociology of knowledge. Having said that, Inglehart had an impact on the field of comparative political sociology that is hard to overestimate. He was enormously productive, and his work is cited far and wide. Inglehart’s publication list kicks off with an APSR article in 1967 that discusses backlash against European integration. In 2021 alone, he has/had one article in SMR, one in Party Politics, and a book with OUP. I’m sure that more of his manuscripts, which others now will have to revise, are currently working their way through the system.

Inglehart wrote about big ideas and about trends that swept the globe. He had a penchant for discovering (or reframing) issues that subsequently became hot, and shaped the way generations (hey, pun!) of social scientists thought about social change and its roots. What made this interesting was that he always linked these ideas to actual data.

Neither the data nor his interpretations were uncontroversial. In the mid-1990s, Bürklin, Klein & Russ claimed that his critics had already “filled libraries” refuting his claims about the silent revolution, and that was probably literally true. But the man ploughed on, unperturbed.

I have only seen Inglehart once, from afar, half a lifetime ago when he was doing a whistle-stop tour of European universities promoting (I think) Modernization & Postmodernization, so I have no personal memories of him. But many others who knew him as a friend, collaborator, teacher, mentor, or even as a fellow parent from camp are paying their tributes.

Inglehart, Maaßen, Le Pen: two links I liked & one that makes me sad 5

Germany’s former top domestic spy is a controversial person for various reasons. In 2018, he left his office under a cloud (in fact, narrowly escaping a promotion) and has been commented on political issues from the sidelines ever since then. Now, a regional CDU chapter in Thuringia has selected him as a candidate for the upcoming Bundestag election. Almost everyone is unhappy, and the discussion is going on as we speak.

In Brussels, Politico is speculating about the future of the French National Rally (formerly the Front) in a world where Marine Le Pen retires from politics or is pushed out of the party. In my view, that speculation is premature, but see for yourself.

May 082021

Is anti-immigration sentiment behind the radical right vote in all of Europe?

It’s been a mere three decades since 1990, or as we old-timers are prone to say, a generation. But for some (cough) Europeanists, the CEE countries are still either terra incognita or just an extension of their western counterparts. While much of the best work on the Radical Right in Europe is comparative, this comparison is often confined to the same 12 or 15 countries that counted as European when the field emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.

In this part of the continent, the importance of nativism, and more specifically, anti-immigrant sentiment, for the Radical Right vote is well established. But how relevant are concerns over immigration in the east, where net immigration is a very recent phenomenon? That is the question that Brils, Muis, and Gaidytė are addressing in this recent contribution. Their analysis is based on ESS data from 16 European countries that were collected shortly before or during the so-called refugee crisis of 2015/16.

Brils, T., Muis, J., & Gaidytė, T. (2020). Dissecting Electoral Support for the Far Right: A Comparison Between Mature and Post-Communist European Democracies. Government and Opposition, online first.

What we liked

Students were happy that someone actually bothered to look how the immigration issue played out in different parts of Europe. They were also impressed that the authors grouped vote choices into four broad categories (far right, centre right, left, non-voters) instead of studying an alleged binary choice between the far right and everything else. Treating non-voters as a group in its own right was seen as an improvement over the analysis of a tripolar space. Using fairly recent data on an issue that is still highly salient was also seen as a plus by my students.

Victor Orban during the debate on the political situation in Hungary

“Victor Orban during the debate on the political situation in Hungary” by European Parliament is licensed under CC by-nc-nd-2.0 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 6 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 7 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 8 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 9

We also found the theoretical framework reasonably clear, appreciated the references to recent literature, found the hypotheses plausible and the definitions lucid. They were particularly happy with the tables that provided a bird’s-eye view of all the hypotheses and the related major findings.

What we did not like so much

As with Oesch and Rennwald, students argued that the there are important differences between new (green) and old (socialist, social-democratic, communist) left parties, particularly when it comes to immigration. Lumping these choices together could therefore blur the picture. As always, some parties are hard to classify. Conversely, “far right” is a very broad category that includes radicalised mainstream parties, the Radical Right and even openly extremist outfits.

Students pointed out that the Mediterranean countries where most of the refugees arrived (Greece, Italy, Malta) were not included in the sample. Spain and Portugal were also missing, although they were hit hard by the Euro crisis, too, and had also  had high levels of immigration in the past. Moreover, Greece, Spain, and Portugal only returned to democracy in the 1970s, i.e. less than two decades before the CEE countries. And finally, students said that the number of hypotheses was a bit excessive. There you go.