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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
What’s the matter with Höcke?
A party tribunal in his home state of Thuringia has ruled that Björn Höcke has not violated the party’s fundamental principles in his so-called “Dresden speech“. In January 2017, Höcke had demanded a “U-turn” in German memory politics, which he deemed “stupid”. In the same speech, Höcke called the Berlin Holocaust memorial “a monument of shame” that Germans had installed in their capital. He later claimed that “shame” had been a reference to the Holocaust, not to the monument, although this interpretation would contradict everything else he said on this occasion.
The old party executive under Frauke Petry had asked for Höcke to be expelled on the grounds that his views were akin (“wesensverwandt”, a judicial term) to National Socialism, and that his behaviour had been harmful to the party. Even then, the motion was controversial and may have contributed to Petry’s downfall.
In theory, the national executive has four weeks to appeal the tribunal’s decision and take the case to the federal party court. In practice, this is not going to happen. Gauland, and Meuthen, the new party leaders, have come out to support Höcke in the past. The AfD’s hard right is well-represented in the new executive, and while his views may not (yet) be mainstream, Höcke’s ability to speak to the ultra right is widely seen as an asset. In all likelihood, the leadership will just keep shtum and let it lie. Both Lucke and Petry have tried and failed to oust Höcke, and Höcke was instrumental in bringing down both. The tribunal’s ruling formally confirms his ongoing role as an
evil spirit eminence grise.
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.
- Once more, Ben Stanley has pooled the poles’ polls (TM). The result? Some movement, but no crisis.
- Neat: Alexandre Afonso tracks British parties’ positions on European integration from 1999 to 2017 using Chapel Hill data
- Feeling paranoid? Here is an article about “white nationalists infiltrating our workplaces as secret agents”. Actually, it’s mostly about a single agent, but still an interesting article.
- Almost by definition, my Radical Right Research Robot posts oodles of interesting links (if you are into that stuff), but here is a favourite that I read with my students just a few weeks ago:
the effect of immigration and the #RadicalRight T. Akkerman. “Gender and the Radical Right in Western Europe. A Comparative Analysis of Policy Agendas”. In: Patterns of Prejudice 49.1-2 (2015), pp. 37-60. https://t.co/fhatSkdV48. pic.twitter.com/Ay1mFUMBIe
— Radical Right Research Robot (@RRResRobot) April 5, 2018
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.
Spring is the new winter
A mere four months ago I asked you to send me your favourites for the autumn/winter edition of the ever popular Extreme Right bibliography, and send you did – so many references that it took me a bit longer than expected, and now it’s time for the spring edition. But since it is still cold outside, this problem’s solved. Sort of. So here it is: the latest edition of the Eclectic, Erratic Bibliography on the Extreme Right in Western Europe
118 new titles
Last year’s update was big (117 new titles), but this year’s update is bigger (118). I’m not making this up, it’s a simple, strange coincidence. And most of the new titles are, well, new.
There are even 13 titles that were published in 2018. With online first publications (a good thing in itself) that are turned into “real” (who reads printed journals?) articles much later, keeping track of publication years and page numbers is not a fun exercise. Speaking of not having fun: Is anyone publishing these things ever thinking of the poor sods who have to/want to read all this?
The article rules, OK?
Books are so long. Book chapters are still long, but more fun: people actually have the space to develop an idea, or to give a proper, detailed overview. But in most departments, neither counts for much, and we all have little time and so much to read. Here’s the result:
Kids, don’t do books.
The top ten journals
Which brings me to my final point: What are the ten most important (or rather most prominent) journals for scholars of the Radical/Extreme Right? Not much has changed since I ran this analysis for the first time in October 2016. The European Journal of Political Research and West European Politics are still leading the pack. Acta Politica and Party Politics have swapped places and there are some other minor adjustments. Political Psychology has pushed Government and Opposition out of the top ten, but Government and Opposition is hovering in the eleventh spot, so again, no big change here
|Journal||No. of articles|
|European Journal of Political Research||46|
|West European Politics||43|
|Comparative European Politics||14|
|Patterns of Prejudice||13|
|Comparative Political Studies||12|
Once more, I’m wondering if we as profession are wasting too much time and resources on these parties. At the same time, I’m eagerly waiting for the printed edition of the Oxford Handbook on the Radical Right, have wasted some more time and resources on creating a little twitter bot that promotes the fruit of our labours, and wonder if, how, and why I could text mine all those PDFs that I have collected over the years. Go figure.