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.

Dec 022020

Conflict in the hood

It’s week four of my reading course on political participation, and we are tackling this one:

Nijs, T., Stark, T. H., & Verkuyten, M. (2019). Negative intergroup contact and radical right-wing voting: the moderating roles of personal and collective self-efficacy. Political Psychology, 40(5), 1057–1073.

The research question is quite specific. The authors start with the reasonable assumption that negative inter-ethnic contacts could lead to threat perceptions, which in turn make radical right voting more likely, then turn to psychological factors (individual and collective self-efficacy) that could moderate this effect.

What we liked

Students do not get enough of radical right research, and they found these quite fascinating. They liked that the items were tailored to the research question and were very much in favour of including, you know, psychology in the equation(s). They also argued that the authors’ fielding an online survey was particularly apt, because there is less reason to worry about reactivity. And finally, they gave extra points for the authors’ candid assessment of their work’s limitations.

What we are reading: Negative intergroup contact and radical right voting 1

What we did not like so much

Not much, actually. Students and I asked for interaction plots. They found the terminology somewhat complicated (comes with the territory) and thought that the presentation of the results was a bit on the short side (due to Political Psychology’s strict word limit). By and large, we were quite happy.

Nov 252020

What has salience to do with it?

In the third week of my reading class, we read this recent paper

Dennison, J. (2020). How issue salience explains the rise of the populist right in western europe. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 32(3), 397–420.

The author argues that various explanations for radical right support are all linked to the salience of their issues (first and foremost immigration).

What we liked

The students (and I) thought this was an interesting new approach to an already crowded (but still interesting) field. Students found the text accessible and well-structured, liked the models (particularly the presentation of the fixed effects approach, which was new to most of them) and the literature review. They also said the benefited from the carefully written introduction and the extensive conclusions.

What we did not like so much

There was not much we did not like, but some minor points were raised. The figures were less than perfectly readable. The argument for aggregating individual data was not immediately obvious (but became clear once we discussed the alternatives). Students would have liked some explanations re the random effects specification and asked for replication data.

What we are reading: Issue salience and the rise of the radical right 2

We also wondered if it would have been possible/necessary to include fixed effects in the structural equation model. And finally, the students were a bit disappointed that the only case for which individual data were available was the UK, arguably an unusual case in the larger far-right landscape. But at the end of the day, we very much enjoyed reading this text.

Nov 182020
brown wooden jigsaw puzzle piece

What motivated the members of UKIP?

In the second week of my reading class, we had a go at this one.

Whiteley, P., Larsen, E., Goodwin, M., & Clarke, H. (2019). Party activism in the populist radical right: the case of the uk independence party. Party Politics, online first.

Big guns, and Paul Whiteley was the friendliest next-door (office) neighbour I could wish for in a previous life. Apart from that, the research question is intriguing: are/were members of UKIP motivated by the same factors as members of more “normal” parties? Or are/were UKIP members different, because their party was a (self-styled) outsider? The text is also a convenient introduction to the subfield of party member studies/surveys, something my students were not really aware of.

What we liked

The data set is amazing: thousands of UKIP members, many of them without doubts graduates from the school of hard knocks, were willing to talk to, you know, boffins. Students really liked that. They also appreciated the choice and framing of the research question, and that the authors tried to address the issue of relative deprivation (though the students pointed out that they were talking about a macro concept while using micro data).

What we did not like so much

Having said that, students were quite critical. They kicked off by pointing out that the general incentives model is not so totally different from but rather a special case of the Civic Voluntarism model. So a bit of a straw man/false dichotomy to start with?United Kingdom Flag Map

The text is rather short (less than 8,000 words including the tables but excluding the references). Cynics might think that students would like that, too, but some of them actually complained that they wanted more information on the wording of the items and the construction of the variables, something that they could not even find in the online appendix (yes, they are perverted like that). More generally, they felt that one or two extra pages would have been required for the presentation of the findings and a fuller discussion of their implications.

They also said that additional factors such as religiosity and Islamophobia should have been included in the model and were concerned that UKIP and the UK were not necessarily very representative of the Radical Right and Western Europe. All good points.

And I’m really proud that they spotted one major issue: Whiteley et al. find that the same general incentives that work for other parties also explain variation in participation levels within the UKIP membership. But a more interesting question is perhaps whether they also explain the decision to join a party, and more specifically UKIP. Which reminds me of another piece that I could have selected for this course:

Poletti, M., Webb, P., & Bale, T. (2019). Why do only some people who support parties actually join them? evidence from britain. West European Politics, 42(1), 156–172.

do exactly this: by comparing party members and non-members, they show that general incentives can explain the crucial step of joining. Then again, they have a much smaller sample of UKIP members.

All that ends well…

In the end, students said they had learned a lot from the text, even if they disagreed with some of the authors’ choices. What more can you ask for?

Oct 142020

I had a chat with the Financial Times about the current woes of the AfD and some other Radical Right parties. As journalists are prone to do, they somehow managed to bury the lede. But it still makes for an interesting read (I think). BTW, the first time you click on the link, you should be through the paywall. Might be a good idea to open it in an anonymous tab.

May 292020


I’m currently working on a paper that looks into the role that Germany’s eastern states (aka “the new Länder”, the ex-GDR …) played for the breakthrough and the consolidation of the “Alternative for Germany” party. This figure shows support for the AfD from 2013 to 2020.

The graph is a teeny-weeny bit busy, so here is the extended legend 👉 Circles are results from state (Länder elections), labelled with state codes. Squares are Bundestag, diamonds are European parliamentary elections. Filled symbols represent eastern Länder, or partial results for the eastern states only (Bundestag and EP elections). Hollow symbols represent the western states/partial western results. The blue line is the (locally smoothed) average over about 200 national elections polls from the Politbarometer (FGW) and Deutschlandtrend (Infratest-dimap) series. There are four main observations.

Graph showing electoral support for the AfD by region (east vs west) and level

Source: official results; Politbarometer & Deutschlandtrend polls

The eastern vote share is consistently at least two times as high as the western vote share

Not exactly a new finding, but the AfD does much better in the east than in the west. In fact, so much better that some observers see the party as specifically eastern problem. This is not correct, but the difference is striking. Even in the 2013 Bundestag election (when the AfD campaigned as a soft-eurosceptic, “liberal-conservative” outfit), the party was clearly more popular in the east. Possible reasons: fewer partisans, lower levels of institutional trust, more xenophobia.

The AfD might not have survived 2015 without the eastern states

Almost exactly 5 years ago, the AfD was almost falling apart (also see just about every other of my blog posts from that period). Support for the party fell below 5 per cent (also see the section after the next), prominent members threatened to leave or simply went. The FAZ called them, in their professional journalistic assessment, “a laughing stock”. Radically transformed (see what I did here?), the party bounced back in 2016, but during this period, their only full-time politicians with access to funding and the media (apart from two remaining MEPs) were about 30 state-level MPs who had won seats in the 2014 series of elections in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia – incidentally on platforms that presaged the AfD’s trajectory towards the Radical Right.

Eastern state MPs outnumbered their western counterparts until 2017

It’s not directly visible in the graph, but: the higher vote share in the east (combined with the electoral calendar, the relatively large number of eastern states, and the disproportionate size of small-state legislatures) meant that until the Bundestag election in September 2017, there were twice as many AfD (state) MPs in the east. Although the east has just over one fifth of the population and about the quarter of the AfD members, a large chunk of the party elite was recruited (though not necessarily born) in the east. Even after the 2017 election, about half of the MPs (state and federal) were eastern.

The AfD’s downward trend began long before Corona

Journalists love a good story, and they like to link the AfD’s current underwhelming performance in the polls to the fact that people are weary of populists in a crisis, and the AfD’s mixed messages on COVID. But it is also clear that the AfD’s support in national polls peaked in 2018. The declining salience of immigration and the revelations on right-wing extremists within and around the AfD have not exactly helped. Support for the party has ebbed and flowed before, and local polynomial regression by design tends to exaggerate trends at the margins of a plot, but it is clear that support began to fall months before Corona became the dominant issue in Germany and elsewhere.

May 252020

Die Umfragewerte der AfD sind vergleichsweise schlecht, in der Corona-Krise ist die Partei kein relevanter Akteur. Die Gründe dafür sind nicht ganz neu. Mit dem Kurier aus Wien habe ich über die strukturellen Probleme der Partei gesprochen.

May 172020

Das Handelsblatt hat mit Politikern und Politikwissenschaftlern über den Ausschluss von Andreas Kalbitz aus der AfD gesprochen.

May 122020
Who are the Germans protesting against the COVID-19 measures, and who is benefiting? 3

Last weekend, thousands of Germans took to the streets to protest against the anti-Corona policies. The scenes were quite extraordinary and were widely reported in German and in international media, not least because the rallies were attended by far-right actors and conspiracy theorists.

The good folks at Handelsblatt interviewed some colleagues and me, and someone on the other side of the channel asked me to translate my part. For what it’s worth, here it is 👇

“What do you make of the ”new“ disaffection with the government’s COVID-19 policies and the anti-lockdown protests?”

First, a degree of disaffection is perfectly understandable. Also, critiquing the government is part of returning to normality. However, if you look a bit closer, many of the actors involved in the recent protests are part of the radical right or even belong to outright right-wing extremist groups. Like they did with the 2014 “vigils for peace” movement, far right groups are trying to build an alliance with their opponents at the opposite end of political spectrum, not least by appealing to the legacy of the peaceful revolution in the GDR. Well-known merchants of conspiracy theories and esoterics are also part of the package.

“Will the AfD [the major radical right party in Germany] benefit from this? Is this the beginning of a new political movement, comparable to the 2014/15 vigils or the anti-asylum demonstration in 2015/16?”

The 2014/15 cross-spectrum alliance never really took off in terms of popular support. The 2015 anti-asylum protests, on the other hand, were part of the bigger far right movement that had existed for decades. The AfD has been building bridges to this movement since 2015 and, insofar, is already benefiting from it. At the moment, I don’t think that there is much additional potential that they could tap into.

“What is the implication of this for the wider German society, and how should politicians respond?”

It was always clear that the rally ’round the flag effect would not last for ever. A return of dissent and (partisan) conflict over the right strategy and measures was to be expected, and is also necessary for a liberal democracy.

But these demonstrations are only a small and by no means the most significant part of this conflict. For various reasons, they attract a lot of media attention: people openly break the rules on social distancing, there is not much else to report about, and some of the claims and slogans are really out of this world. But actors within parties, civil society, and the media should think long and hard if these demonstrators are really suitable allies for them, and whether they should be paid much attention at all.