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Sarah de Lange: "The end of the PVV? Dispelling common beliefs about the decline of radical right-wing populist parties"

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Sarah de Lange: "The end of the PVV? Dispelling common beliefs about the decline of radical right-wing populist parties"

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Positionspapier zum Vertiefungsangebot "Die rechtspopulistische Offensive" im Rahmen der Fachtagung "Entgrenzter Rechtsextremismus? Internationale Perspektiven und Gegenstrategien" der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung in München, 09.-10.02.2015.

In the 2012 national elections Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) lost one-third of its electoral support. Many commentators argued that the Dutch radical right-wing populist party had been exposed as irresponsible and unwilling to compromise after it had toppled the Rutte I cabinet in the Spring of that year. The decline of the PVV continued in 2014, when it lost almost 4% in the elections for the European Parliament. Again, many commentators were quick to announce the beginn of the end for the party, this time arguing that the radical statements the party had made in the election campaign ("what do we want?" "fewer Moroccans") had alienated voters.

Research into the success of radical right-wing populist parties, however, nuances or even dispels those claims. Many radical right-wing populist parties are capable of taking up responsibility in office and are not punished by voters for making compromises (see Table 1). Moreover, when government participation does create electoral setbacks, these are often temporary and most radical right-wing populist parties manage to recover after one or two elections (see the example of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Incumbency effect for radical right-wing populist parties
CountryRadical right partyElection yearIncumbency effect

Radical statements are usually also not the reason for the electoral decline of radical right-wing populist parties. Instead, these statements might expose factionalism within these parties, highlighting ideological and strategic differences between ‘fundis’ and ‘realos’. If these differences lead to conflict and party splits, as was for example the case when Bruno Mégret left the National Front (FN) in France, this might generate electoral losses. Voters tend to dislike internal strife, irrespective of the party in which this takes place. Radical right-wing populist parties are equally affected by this phenomenon as social-democratic, liberal, conservative or Christian-democratic parties.

The decline of Geert Wilders’ PVV in the 2012 and 2014 elections is an example that perfectly illustrates these dynamics. The departure of several prominent MPs and MEPs after the fall of the Rutte I cabinet and the "fewer Moroccans" statements contributed greatly to voters’ disaffection with the Dutch radical right-wing populist party. However, over the course of the past year this disaffection has disappeared and the PVV is currently the largest party in the polls, supported by roughly a fifth of Dutch voters. The end of radical right-wing populist parties should therefore not be predicted to early or eagerly.

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