AbstractsPolitical Science

Voting for a change : The democratic lure of populist radical right parties in voting behavior

by T. Immerzeel

Institution: Universiteit Utrecht
Year: 2015
Keywords: Populist radical right; Democracy; Electoral turnout; Social cleavages; Voting behavior; Volatility
Record ID: 1257716
Full text PDF: http://dspace.library.uu.nl:8080/handle/1874/308501


With the entrance and growing popularity of populist radical right parties (PRRs) in Western and Eastern European democracies in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the scientific and public debate has recently focused on the ‘threatening’ and ‘corrective’ consequences of the PRR for contemporary democracies. Some have claimed that the PRR constitutes a serious threat to democracy because its leaders employ a radical notion of democracy that emphasizes a homogeneous voice —the ‘voice of the people’— and excludes minorities. Others have noted that these PRRs actually correct democratic deficiencies by speaking to a large group of citizens disillusioned with mainstream politicians. Citizens believe that there is someone who ‘listens to their grievances’ and who has enabled them to become passionately involved in politics. This dissertation contributes to the ongoing public and scholarly debate about the consequences of PRR popularity on democracy, and more specifically its influence on the voting behavior of European citizens. The central aim of this study was to gain insight into the extent to which popular PRRs influence (1) the decision of non-voters to vote (again), and (2) the decision of cleavage voters, who are known for their voting stability, to reconsider their habitual votes. This dissertation shows that despite anecdotal evidence that certain PRR leaders seemed able to fuel popular engagement with politics, this is not a shared phenomenon typical of the European PRR family. Departing from the notion that popular PRRs bring more electoral competition and polarization by introducing a different political style and party program, this dissertation shows that in general, nonvoters and cleavage voters do not reconsider their party choice. Nonvoters generally remain nonvoters, religious people remain Christian-Democrat voters, and women remain non-PRR voters. These findings highlight the importance of providing empirical scrutiny to the often-repeated claims in the media that the PRR forms either a ‘threat’ or a ‘corrective’ to democracy. Interpreting the European PRR and its politicians as radical democrats that know how to lure nonvoters and cleavage voters to change their normal voting behavior is difficult to reconcile with the main results of this dissertation.