Political economy of Far-right party support

A group of people protesting Front National

Project outline

This project explores the drivers of the electoral success of radical right populist parties in many European countries. It examines the role of economic and cultural insecurity as well as the previously unexplored importance of social policies.

 

Vlandas, T. and Halikiopoulou, D. (2021) “Moderating the ‘insecurity effect’? Social risks, Welfare State Policies and Far Right Party Support in Western Europe”, West European Politics. [PDF]

This article examines the interplay between social risks, welfare state policies and far right voting. Distinguishing between compensatory and protective policies and using data from seven waves of the European Social Survey (ESS) and social policy datasets, the article tests a range of hypotheses about the extent to which welfare state policies moderate the insecurities that drive particular social groups to vote for the far right. Empirical findings confirm theoretical expectations that several welfare state policies reduce the likelihood of supporting the far right among individuals exposed to high risks including the unemployed, pensioners, low-income workers, employees on temporary contracts, individuals in large families, and individuals who are disabled/permanently sick. These findings suggest that in order to understand why some individuals vote for the far right, one should not only focus on their risk-driven grievances, but also on policies that may moderate these risks. 

Halikiopoulou, D., Stockemer, D., and Vlandas, T. (2020) “‘Birds of a feather’? Assessing the prevalence of anti-immigration attitudes among the far-right electorate”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies [PDF]

This article focuses on the prevalence of anti-immigration attitudes among the far-right electorate. Drawing on the distinction between the predictive power of immigration concerns, and the question of how widespread these concerns are among the far-right voter pool, we proceed in two steps. First, we assess the extent to which anti-immigration attitudes are a necessary condition for voting far right; and second we examine whether far right voters with different levels of anti-immigration attitudes exhibit similar individual and attitudinal characteristics. Using data from the 8th wave of the European Social Survey (ESS) we find that, surprisingly, anti-immigration attitudes are not a necessary condition for voting for the far right as approximately one third of far-right voters have no concerns over immigration. We further show that far-right voters with different levels of immigration concerns have different profiles when it comes to other predictors of the far right-vote including ideological affinity, attachment to the EU and government satisfaction. Our contribution is significant as we suggest that there are different routes to voting for the far right by groups with different grievances, including non- immigration related.  

Halikiopoulou, D. and Vlandas, T. (2020) “When economic and cultural interests align: the anti-immigration voter coalitions driving far right party success in Europe” European Political Science Review [PDF]

This article contests the view that the strong positive correlation between anti-immigration attitudes and far right party success constitutes evidence in support of the cultural grievance thesis and against the economic grievance thesis. We argue that far right party success depends on the ability to mobilise a coalition of interests between their core supporters, i.e. voters with cultural grievances over immigration and the, often, larger group of voters with economic grievances over immigration. Using individual level data from 8 rounds of the European Social Survey (ESS), our empirical analysis shows that while cultural concerns over immigration are a stronger predictor of far right party support, those who are concerned with the impact of immigration on the economy are important to the far right in numerical terms. Taken together, our findings suggest that economic grievances over immigration remain pivotal within the context of the transnational cleavage.  

Halikoupoulou, D. and Vlandas, T. (2018) “What is new and what is nationalist about Europe’s new nationalism? Explaining the rise of the far right in Europe”. Nations and Nationalism [PDF]

Political parties pledging to speak on behalf of the ‘pure people’, restore national sovereignty, ‘take back control’ from supra-national institutions and promote the ‘national preference’ through strict immigration and citizenship policies are often described as part of a phenomenon termed ‘the new nationalism’ (Economist 2016). In other words, this phenomenon, understood as fairly new and uniform, is characterised by the rise of parties whose key features include nationalism and populism. Examples include the French Front National (FN) (now Rassemblement National), the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the Austrian Party for Freedom (FPÖ), the Norwegian Progress Party (FrP) and the German Alternative for Germany (AfD) whose populist-nationalist platforms have allowed them to mobilise voters, significantly increasing support in domestic electoral arenas.  In 2017 these parties performed well, often occupying first, second or third place and in some cases joining governing coalitions (see figure 1). This trend was continued in 2018. During the March 2018 Italian elections, the Lega Nord (LN) occupied third place with 17.69% of the votes cast and subsequently formed a populist coalition government with the Five Start Movement (M5S). This phenomenon is often understood as the product of a ‘cultural backlash’ caused by immigration within the context of a new transnational cleavage (Inglehart and Norris 2016). The argument is that within the context of this cleavage, value orientations have become the key drivers of voting behavior, pitting those with universalist beliefs against those who reject multiculturalism and seek to preserve the established value consensus and traditional ways of life. 

Vlandas, T. and Halikiopoulou, D. (2018) “Does unemployment matter? Economic insecurity, labour market policies and the far right vote in Europe”. European Political Science [PDF]

Political parties pledging to speak on behalf of the ‘pure people’, restore national sovereignty, ‘take back control’ from supra-national institutions and promote the ‘national preference’ through strict immigration and citizenship policies are often described as part of a phenomenon termed ‘the new nationalism’ (Economist 2016). In other words, this phenomenon, understood as fairly new and uniform, is characterised by the rise of parties whose key features include nationalism and populism. Examples include the French Front National (FN) (now Rassemblement National), the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the Austrian Party for Freedom (FPÖ), the Norwegian Progress Party (FrP) and the German Alternative for Germany (AfD) whose populist-nationalist platforms have allowed them to mobilise voters, significantly increasing support in domestic electoral arenas.  In 2017 these parties performed well, often occupying first, second or third place and in some cases joining governing coalitions (see figure 1). This trend was continued in 2018. During the March 2018 Italian elections, the Lega Nord (LN) occupied third place with 17.69% of the votes cast and subsequently formed a populist coalition government with the Five Start Movement (M5S). This phenomenon is often understood as the product of a ‘cultural backlash’ caused by immigration within the context of a new transnational cleavage (Inglehart and Norris 2016). The argument is that within the context of this cleavage, value orientations have become the key drivers of voting behavior, pitting those with universalist beliefs against those who reject multiculturalism and seek to preserve the established value consensus and traditional ways of life. 

Halikiopoulou, D. and Vlandas, T. (2016) “Risks, Costs and Labour Markets: Explaining Far Right-Wing Party Success in European Parliament Elections” Journal of Common Market Studies [PDF]

Does the economy affect patterns of far-right party support across countries? This article reconceptualizes micro-level analyses that focus on the effect of unemployment through a framework of costs, risks and the mediating role of labour market institutions. It then derives several hypotheses and tests them on the results of the previous three EP elections in all EU Member States. Findings from multiple regression analyses indicate that unemployment, real GDP growth, debt and deficits have no statistically significant effect on far-right party support at the national level. By contrast, labour market institutions influence costs and risks: where unemployment benefits and dismissal regulations are high, unemployment has no effect, but where either one of them is low, unemployment leads to higher far-right party support. This explains why unemployment has not led to far-right party support in some European countries that experienced the severity of the 2008 eurozone crisis.

Vlandas, T. and Halikiopoulou, D. (2016) “Why far right parties do well at times of crisis: bringing labour marker institutions back in the debate” European Trade Union Institute working paper [PDF]

The  far  right  is  on  the  rise  in  many  western  and  eastern  European  countries. The 2008 Eurozone crisis  is  an obvious  source  of  blame for  this  phenomenon; indeed,  a  large  body  of  literature  suggests  that  economic  malaise  prompts support  for  far  right  parties.  This  conventional  wisdom,  however,  is  not consistent  with  cross-national  patterns  of  unemployment  and  far  right  votes in  the  last  three  European  Parliament  (EP)  elections.  To  solve  this  puzzle,  we argue  that  it  is  specific  labour  market  policies  rather  than  the  economic  crisis itself  that  are  more  likely  to  facilitate  the  rise  of  the  far  right.  In  many  countries over  the  past  three  decades,  governments  have  deregulated  employment protection  legislation  (EPL)  and  reduced  unemployment  benefits;  but  it  was precisely  these  labour  market  institutions  that  offered  protection  from  the insecurity  and  deprivation  that  economic  malaise  imposes on societies.  We test our  hypothesis  on  the  last  three  EP  elections  and  find  that  unemployment  and GDP  growth  have  not  played  a  role  in  far  right  support,  while  labour  market institutions  have  had  an  impact  that  is  both  direct  and  indirect,  by  limiting  the effect  of  unemployment.  Studying  unemployment  benefits  also  revealed  a similar  phenomenon  of  direct  and  indirect  correlation:  where  unemployment benefits  are  generous,  unemployment has no association with the far right, but where  they  are  not,  unemployment  correlates  with  higher  far  right  support. Employment  protection  legislation  has  only  an  indirect  association  that  is conditional  on  unemployment  benefits.  Where  unemployment  benefits  are low,  EPL  mediates  the  impact  of  unemployment,  but  where  unemployment benefits  are  generous,  there  is  no  mediating  impact  of  EPL.  This  suggests  that the  policies  of  austerity  are  likely  to  intensify  support  for  the  far  right  in  EP elections,  therefore  undermining  the  European  integration  project  itself. 

Halikiopoulou, D. and Vlandas, (2015) “The Rise of the Far Right in Debtor and Creditor European Countries: The Case of European Parliament Elections” The Political Quarterly [PDF]

Does the economy affect patterns of far-right party support across countries? This article reconceptualizes micro-level analyses that focus on the effect of unemployment through a framework of costs, risks and the mediating role of labour market institutions. It then derives several hypotheses and tests them on the results of the previous three EP elections in all EU Member States. Findings from multiple regression analyses indicate that unemployment, real GDP growth, debt and deficits have no statistically significant effect on far-right party support at the national level. By contrast, labour market institutions influence costs and risks: where unemployment benefits and dismissal regulations are high, unemployment has no effect, but where either one of them is low, unemployment leads to higher far-right party support. This explains why unemployment has not led to far-right party support in some European countries that experienced the severity of the 2008 eurozone crisis.