Contextual Factors and the Extreme Right Vote in Western Europe, 1980-2002

Over the last 7 years or so, much of my work has focused on the question of why support for the Extreme Right is so unstable over time and so uneven across countries. In a recent paper on Contextual Factors and the Extreme Right Vote in Western Europe, 1980-2002, I estimate a model that aims at providing a more comprehensive and satisfactory answer to this research problem by employing a broader database and a more adequate modelling strategy, i.e. multi-level modelling. The main finding is that while immigration and unemployment rates are important, their interaction with other political factors is much more complex than suggested by previous research. Moreover, persistent country effects prevail even if a whole host of individual and contextual variables is controlled for. Replication data for this article is available from my dataverse.

The final version of the paper will appear in the April issue of the American Journal of Political Science, which is obviously great.

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Christian Religiosity and Voting for West European Radical Right Parties

Does religion make you a better or worse human being? More specifically, does Christian religiosity reduce or increase the likelihood of a radical/extreme right vote in a West European context? This is the question Liz and I are trying to address in our latest paper on “Christian Religiosity and Voting for West European Radical Right Parties“.

There are a number of reasons why good Christians could be more likely to vote for the Right than agnostics: American research starting in the 1940s has linked high levels of church attendance and a closed belief systems to support for rightism. More over, contemporary Radical Right parties try to frame the issue of immigration in terms of a struggle between Christian/Western values and Islam.

On the other hand, many of the most radical parties (e.g. the Austrian FPÖ) have anti-clerical roots. Moreover, the Churches give support and shelter to refugees/immigrants in many countries, and some pro-immigrant movements are inspired by Christian values. Finally, religious voters are often firmly tied to Christian-Democratic parties and will therefore not be available for the Radical Right.

We develop a theoretical model that incorporates these mechanisms and use Structural Equation Modelling to test this model in eight countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Norway. As it turns out, religious people do not differ from their more agnostic compatriots in terms of their attitudes towards immigrants. They are, however, less likely to vote for the radical right because they often identify with Christian Democratic/Conservative parties. The final version of the paper will appear in West European Politics.

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Call for Papers: Perspectives on the Radical Right

Finally, the call for papers for the ECPR’s 5th conference (at Potsdam, September 10-12 2009) is out. Our section on the Radical Right will consist of the following nine panels:

  • The Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe
  • The Internationalisation of the Radical Right
  • Will Fascism return?
  • On the Borderline Between Protest and Violence: Political Movements of the New Radical Right
  • Consequences of the surge of anti-immigration parties
  • The Radical Right in Western Europe
  • Inside the Radical Right: An Internalist Perspective
  • Party-based Euroscepticism in Western and Eastern Europe
  • Neighbourhood Effects Revisited: the Visualisation of Immigrants and Radical Right-Wing Voting

Each panel can have up to five paper givers, so the section offers us a chance to bring together cutting edge research on the Populist/Extreme/Radical Right from various subfields (parties, voters, rational choice, normative theory – you name it). Please submit your abstract via the the electronic submission system to the appropriate panel(s).

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Austrian Extreme Right Leader Jörg Haider dies in car crash

Jörg Haider 1950-2008

“Colourful” did not even begin to describe him. If Bill Clinton was America’s first rock&roll president, Jörg Haider, who died in a car crash early on Saturday morning, was Austria’s first pop politician. Apt for a future right-winger, Haider was born into a national-socialist family. A gifted public speaker, he was active in right-wing circles and in Austria’s national-liberal party FPÖ from an early age on. In 1986, he rose to international prominence when he won (with the support of the party’s nationalist wing) a leadership contest against the FPÖ’s liberal figurehead Norbert Steger. Within months, Haider transformed the slightly dusty FPÖ into one of the most modern, controversial, populist and electorally successful parties of the European Extreme Right.
Under his leadership, the party went from strength to strength. In 1999, the FPÖ won over 20 per cent of the popular vote and entered a coalition with the Christian Democrats, thereby bringing Haider one step closer to his life-long ambition: to become chancellor (prime minister) of Austria. However, his involvement with the Austrian government triggered international backlash and the European Union’s ill-advised “sanctions” against Austria. Subsequentially, the party lost much of its support.
Haider retreated to subnational politics (he was “Landeshauptmann” (minister president) of the state of Carinthia from 1989-91 and then again from 1999 on). In 2005, he and a group of supporters left the FPÖ and formed a new party, the BZÖ. Considered a one-man show by many, Haider and the party garnered almost 11 per cent of the national vote in the general election two weeks ago, and Haider seemed destined to return to the forefront of Austrian politics.
Like many politicians, Haider was many things to many persons. His remarks on the “reasonable” economic and social policies of the Nazis predictably led to an international outcry. He was famous for political gaffes and insults but was described as courteous and friendly once the cameras were switched off. He also played an instrumental role in a referendum campaign against a nuclear power plant in 2002. Of course, he claimed the plant was insecure by definition because it was Czech, allowing Haider to play the national card and to exploit animosities that go back to the days of the Hapsburg Empire. Oddly enough, he also supported Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union.
Haider carefully controlled his public image. Papers haven been written (and published) on his attractiveness for both male and female voter. Back in the 1980s, Austria’s other international pop star Falco quipped that people liked Haider because he was sexy and right-wing. At 58, Haider still projected the image of a youthful sportsman, which might explain that Austrians are so shocked by his sudden death. Politicians from all political parties are now praising his more positive qualities. Carinthia, where he was genuinely popular with large parts of the population, is rife with conspiracy theory.
Oddly enough, the death of its most prodigious leader might make Austria’s Extreme Right even stronger: without him, the BZÖ is an orphan that might soon be brought back into the FPÖ fold.
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Does Immigration help or hurt the Front National in France?

In a recent article in the European Journal of Political Research, Kestilä and Söderlund claim (amongst other things) that in the French regional elections of 2004, turnout and district magnitude have significant negative effects oDepartements in Francen the extreme right vote whereas the effects of the number of party lists and unemployment are positive and significant. Most interestingly, immigration (which is usually a very good predictor for the radical right vote) had no effect on the success of the Front National. More generally, they argue that a subnational approach can control for a wider range of factors and provide more reliable results than cross-national analyses (now the most common approach to this phenomenon). My colleague Liz Carter and I disagreed and engaged in a massive replication/re-analysis endeavour. The outcome is a critique of the KS model of subnational political opportunity structures in regional elections. In this paper, we dispute Kestilä’s and Söderlund’s claims on theoretical, conceptual and methodological grounds and demonstrate that their findings are spurious. Today, the European Journal has accepted the article for publication (probably in 2009) 🙂

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What Drives the Extreme Right Vote: Protest, Neo-Liberalism or Anti-Immigrant Sentiment?

Everyone just seems to know that the voters of the Extreme Right hate foreigners in general and immigrants in particular, but robust comparative evidence for the alleged xenophobia – Rad"Our own people first"ical Right vote link is scarce. Moreover, many of the published analyses are based on somewhat outdated (i.e. 1990s) data, and alternative accounts of the extreme right vote (the “unpolitical” protest hypothesis and the hypothesis that the Far Right in Western Europe attracts people with “neo-liberal” economic preferences, championed by Betz and Kitschelt in the 1990s) do exist. Just a few days ago, a journal has accepted a paper by me in which I test these three competing hypotheses using (relatively) recent data from the European Social Survey and a little Structural Equation Modelling. As it turns out, protest and neo-liberalism have no statistically significant impact on the Extreme Right vote whatsoever. Anti-immigrant sentiment, however, plays a crucial role for the Extreme Right in all countries but Italy. Its effects are moderated by party identification and general ideological preferences. Moreover, the effect of immigrant sentiment is moderate by general ideological preferences and party identification. I conclude that comparative electoral research should focus on the circumstances under which immigration is politicised. Wasn’t it blindingly obvious?

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Section: Perspectives on the Radical Right

Over the last 25 years, the study of the extreme / radical / populist right
has blossomed as a sub-discipline of both party and electoral research.
As well as becoming the focus of significant case-specific and
comparative work in stable democracies, the end of communism and the
integration of the New Democracies in Central and Eastern Europe into
the European Union has further spurred interest in these parties and
their voters. Equally, additional subdisciplinary literatures including
political communication, political economy, public opinion and
political theory now constitute a core part of the corpus of work on
these organizations.

In a bid to bring together state-of-the-art research from these approaches, Liz Carter and I will organise a section titled “Perspectives on the Radical Right” during the ECPR’s 5th General Conference at the University of Potsdam in Germany in September 2009. The section will consist of eight panels, each with slots for 4-5 papers. A few days ago, a formal call for Panels within this section on the Extreme / Radical / Populist Right was issued. Panel chairs do not have to be members of ECPR institutions, so anyone interested in organising a panel can submit a proposal through the website. The deadline for panel proposals is September 1, 2008. A call for papers will be issued in November 2008.

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