In this study, we examine the role of social trust as an individual and a neighborhood-level determinant for radical right-wing populist party preferences. We argue that high social trust decreases radical right-wing populist party preferences and that this relationship is essentially mediated by negative attitudes toward immigrants. Using data from the Netherlands’ Life Course Study, we employ multilevel structural equation modeling to test our argument on support for the Party for Freedom (PVV). The results reveal that individual social trust decreases radical right-wing populist party preferences. Beyond the micro-level relationship, we find that neighborhood social trust decreases radical right-wing populist party preferences. In either case, the effects are mediated by anti-immigrant sentiments. Our findings provide evidence for the importance of social trust as a multilevel construct in explanations for radical right-wing populist party preferences.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
The PVV, founded in 2006 by its leader Geert Wilders, gained major electoral support. From 2010 until 2012, the PVV propped up a minority government. Even though the discussion about terminology and common features of far right parties continues, the PVV is seen as a radical right-wing populist party (for example, Immerzeel et al, 2011; Vossen, 2011).
As an individual characteristic social trust is determined by socialization and experiences over the life course. While Uslaner (2008) argues that trust is formed in early socialization, recent evidence from longitudinal data demonstrates that trust is shaped by informal social connections (Glanville et al, 2013) as well as changes in income and occupational status (Brandt et al, 2014; Laurence, 2015).
One might raise the question of reversed causality. Previous research provides evidence that preferences for the radical right-wing populists are based on the minimization of distance between voters’ and parties’ position on relevant issues by choosing a party which represents similar positions (Tillie and Fennema, 1998; van der Brug et al, 2000) and not vice versa (Mughan and Paxton, 2006; Berning and Schlueter, 2016, p. 346). Regarding the causal order of social trust and anti-immigrant sentiment, we follow previous research (Kehrberg, 2007; Herreros and Criado, 2009; Rustenbach, 2010) by considering social trust as predisposition of sentiments towards immigrants.
It is noteworthy that there is limited evidence on the causal mechanism underlying this assertion, namely whether bonding ties lead to exclusionary attitudes, or people high in outgroup resentment are more prone to join bonding networks, or both.
Dutch: De Nederlandse Levensloopstudie. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.17026/dans-zha-esnc.
We reproduced our analyses with all districts available. The results are similar to those reported.
We reran all of our analyses using one of the three items for anti-immigrant sentiments. The analyses based on single manifest items produce similar results to those reported. Nevertheless, we proceed with a latent factor based on multiple indicators in order to appropriately account for measurement error.
Note that the design weighted group means are based on all respondents; that is, respondents with and without immigration background.
Altemeyer, B. (1988) Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right-Wing Authoritarianism. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Arzheimer, K. (2008) Protest, neo-liberalism or anti-immigrant sentiment: What motivates the voters of the extreme right in Western Europe? Zeitschrift für vergleichende Politikwissenschaft 2(2): 173–197.
Arzheimer, K. (2009) Contextual factors and the extreme right vote in Western Europe, 1980–2002. American Journal of Political Science 53(2): 259–275.
Arzheimer, K. (2012) Electoral sociology: Who votes for the extreme right and why – And when? In: U. Backes and P. Moreau (eds.) The Extreme Right in Europe: Current Trends and Perspectives. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 35–50.
Arzheimer, K. and Carter, E. (2006) Political opportunity structures and right-wing extremist party success. European Journal of Political Research 45(3): 419–443.
Berning, C.C. and Schlueter, E. (2016) The dynamics of radical right-wing populist party preferences and perceived group threat: A comparative panel analysis of three competing hypotheses in the Netherlands and Germany. Social Science Research 55(1): 83–93.
Betz, H.-G. (1994) Radical Right-Wing Populism in Western Europe. New York: St. Martins Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge.
Brandt, M.J., Wetherell, G. and Henry, P.J. (2014) Changes in income predict change in social trust: A longitudinal analysis. Political Psychology, doi: 10.1111/pops.12077.
Brehm, J. and Rahn, W. (1997) Individual-level evidence for the causes and consequences of social capital. American Journal of Political Science 41(3): 999–1023.
Caiani, M., Della Porta, D. and Wagemann, C. (2012) Mobilizing on the Extreme Right: Germany, Italy, and the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Christ, O. et al (2014) Contextual effect of positive intergroup contact on outgroup prejudice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(11): 3996–4000.
Coffé, H., Heyndels, B. and Vermeir, J. (2007) Fertile grounds for extreme right-wing parties: Explaining the Vlaams Blok’s electoral success. Electoral Studies 26(1): 142–155.
Coffé, H. and Voorpostel, M. (2010) Young people, parents and radical right voting. The case of the swiss people’s party. Electoral Studies 29(3): 435–443.
Coleman, J.S. (1988) Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology 94(supplement): 95–120.
Coleman, J.S. (1990) Foundations of Social Capital. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Cutts, D., Ford, R. and Goodwin, M.J. (2011) Anti‐immigrant, politically disaffected or still racist after all? Examining the attitudinal drivers of extreme right support in Britain in the 2009 European elections. European Journal of Political Research 50(3): 418–440.
Delhey, J. and Newton, K. (2005) Predicting cross-national levels of social trust: Global pattern or nordic exceptionalism? European Sociological Review 21(4): 311–327.
Delhey, J., Newton, K. and Welzel, C. (2011) How general is trust in ‘most people’? Solving the radius of trust problem. American Sociological Review 76(5): 786–807.
Dinas, E. and van Spanje, J. (2011) Crime story: The role of crime and immigration in the anti-immigration vote. Electoral Studies 30(4): 658–671.
Duckitt, J. and Sibley, C.G. (2010) Personality, ideology, prejudice, and politics: A dual-process motivational model. Journal of Personality 78(6): 1861–1894.
Eger, M.A. and Valdez, S. (2015) Neo-nationalism in Western Europe. European Sociological Review 31(1): 115–130.
Fitzgerald, J. and Lawrence, D. (2011) Local cohesion and radical right support: The case of the Swiss people’s party. Electoral Studies 30(4): 834–847.
Fukuyama, F. (1995) Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. New York: Free Press.
Gijsberts, M., van der Meer, T. and Dagevos, J. (2012) ‘Hunkering down’ in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods? The effects of ethnic diversity on dimensions of social cohesion. European Sociological Review 28(4): 527–537.
Givens, T.E. (2004) The radical right gender gap. Comparative Political Studies 37(1): 30–54.
Glanville, J.L., Andersson, M.A. and Paxton, P. (2013) Do social connections create trust? An examination using new longitudinal data. Social Forces 92(2): 545–562.
Graaf, P.M., de Kalmijn, M., Kraaykamp, G.L.M. and Monden, C.W.S. (2008) Netherlands Longitudinal Lifecourse Study – NELLS First Wave – 2009 – versie 1.3.
Granovetter, M.S. (1973) The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology 78(6): 1360–1380.
Green, E.G.T. and Staerklé, C. (2013) Migration and multiculturalism. In: L. Huddy, D.O. Sears and J. Levy (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 852–889.
Helliwell, J.F. (2006) Well-being, social capital and public policy: What’s new? The Economic Journal 116(510): C34–C45.
Herreros, F. and Criado, H. (2009) Social trust, social capital and perceptions of immigration. Political Studies 57(2): 337–355.
Hox, J. (2002) Multilevel Analysis: Techniques and Applications. New York: Routledge.
Hu, L. and Bentler, P.M. (1999) Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal 6(1): 1–55.
Immerzeel, T., Lubbers, M. and Coffé, H. (2011) Expert Judgement Survey of European Political Parties 2010. Utrecht, The Netherlands: NWO, Department of Sociology: Utrecht University.
Ivarsflaten, E. (2008) What unites right-wing populists in Western Europe?: Re-examining grievance mobilization models in seven successful cases. Comparative Political Studies 41(1): 3–23.
Jesuit, D.K., Paradowski, P.R. and Mahler, V.A. (2009) Electoral support for extreme right-wing parties: A sub-national analysis of Western European elections. Electoral Studies 28(2): 279–290.
Kehrberg, J.E. (2007) Public opinion on immigration in Western Europe: Economics, tolerance, and exposure. Comparative European Politics 5(3): 264–281.
Laurence, J. (2015) (Dis)placing trust: The long-term effects of job displacement on generalised trust over the adult lifecourse. Social Science Research 50(1): 46–59.
Legge, S., Davidov, E. and Schmidt, P. (2008) Social structural effects on the level and development of the individual experience of anomie in the German population. International Journal of Conflict and Violence 2(2): 248–267.
Lubbers, M., Gijsberts, M. and Scheepers, P. (2002) Extreme right‐wing voting in Western Europe. European Journal of Political Research 41(3): 345–378.
Lubbers, M. and Scheepers, P. (2000) Individual and contextual characteristics of the German extreme right-wing vote in the 1990s. A test of complementary theories. European Journal of Political Research 38(1): 63–94.
Lucassen, G. and Lubbers, M. (2012) Who fears what? Explaining far-right-wing preference in Europe by distinguishing perceived cultural and economic ethnic threats. Comparative Political Studies 45(5): 547–574.
Malecki, E.J. (2012) Regional social capital: Why it matters. Regional Studies 46(8): 1023–1039.
Marsh, M. (2002) Electoral context. Electoral Studies 21(2): 207–217.
Morenoff, J.D., Sampson, R.J. and Raudenbush, S.W. (2001) Neighborhood inequality, collective efficacy, and the spatial dynamics of urban violence. Criminology 39(3): 517–558.
Mudde, C. (2007) Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mughan, A. and Paxton, A. (2006) Anti-immigrant sentiment, policy preferences and populist party voting in Australia. British Journal of Political Science 36(2): 341–358.
Muthén, L.K. and Muthén, B.O. (2012) Mplus User’s Guide, 7th edn. Los Angeles: Muthén & Muthén.
Norris, P. (2005) Radical Right: Voters and Parties in the Electoral Market. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Portes, A. (1998) Social capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology. Annual Review of Sociology 24: 1–24.
Poznyak, D., Abts, K. and Swyngedouw, M. (2011) The dynamics of the extreme right support: A growth curve model of the populist vote in Flanders-Belgium in 1987–2007. Electoral Studies 30(4): 672–688.
Preacher, K.J., Zyphur, M.J. and Zhang, Z. (2010) A general multilevel SEM framework for assessing multilevel mediation. Psychological Methods 15(3): 209–233.
Putnam, R.D. (1993) Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Putnam, R.D. (2000) Bowling Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Putnam, R.D. (2007) E pluribus unum: Diversity and community in the twenty‐first century. The 2006 Johan Skytte prize lecture. Scandinavian Political Studies 30(2): 137–174.
Radkiewicz, P., Skarżyńska, K. and Hamer, K. (2013) The influence of the big two: The perception of people in relation to negativistic beliefs about the social world. Social Psychology 44(2): 75–83.
Rustenbach, E. (2010) Sources of negative attitudes toward immigrants in Europe: A multi‐level analysis. International Migration Review 44(1): 53–77.
Rydgren, J. (2007) The sociology of the radical right. Annual Review of Sociology 33(1): 241–262.
Rydgren, J. (2009) Social isolation? Social capital and radical right-wing voting in Western Europe. Journal of Civil Society 5(2): 129–150.
Rydgren, J. (2011) A legacy of ‘uncivicness’? Social capital and radical right-wing populist voting in Eastern Europe. Acta Politica 46(2): 132–157.
Sampson, R.J., Raudenbush, S.W. and Earls, F. (1997) Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277(5328): 918–924.
Schlueter, E. and Scheepers, P. (2010) The relationship between outgroup size and anti-outgroup attitudes: A theoretical synthesis and empirical test of group threat and intergroup contact theory. Social Science Research 39(2): 285–295.
Sidanius, J. and Pratto, F. (1999) Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sullivan, J.L. and Transue, J.E. (1999) The psychological underpinnings of democracy: A selective review of research on political tolerance, interpersonal trust, and social capital. Annual Review of Psychology 50(1): 625–650.
Tillie, J.N. and Fennema, M. (1998) A rational choice for the extreme right. Acta Politica 3(33): 223–249.
Tolsma, J., van der Meer, T. and Gesthuizen, M. (2009) The impact of neighbourhood and municipality characteristics on social cohesion in the Netherlands. Acta Politica 44(3): 286–313.
Uslaner, E.M. (2008) Where you stand depends upon where your grandparents sat. The inheritability of generalized trust. Public Opinion Quarterly 72(4): 725–740.
Uslaner, E.M. (2012) Segregation and Mistrust: Diversity, Isolation, and Social Cohesion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
van der Brug, W., Fennema, M. and Tillie, J. (2000) Anti‐immigrant parties in Europe: Ideological or protest vote? European Journal of Political Research 37(1): 77–102.
van der Meer, T. and Tolsma, J. (2014) Ethnic diversity and its effects on social cohesion. Annual Review of Sociology 40: 459–478.
van Deth, J.W. (2003) Measuring social capital: Orthodoxies and continuing controversies. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 6(1): 79–92.
van Deth, J.W. and Zmerli, S. (2010) Introduction: Civicness, equality, and democracy – A ‘dark side’ of social capital? American Behavioral Scientist 53(5): 631–639.
van Kempen, R. and Bolt, G. (2009) Social cohesion, social mix, and urban policies in the Netherlands. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 24(4): 457–475.
Vossen, K. (2011) Classifying wilders: The ideological development of Geert Wilders and his party for freedom. Politics 31(3): 179–189.
Werts, H.A.F.H., Scheepers, P.L.H. and Lubbers, M. (2013) Euro-scepticism and radical right-wing voting in Europe, 2002–2008: Social cleavages, socio-political attitudes and contextual characteristics determining voting for the radical right. European Union Politics 14(2): 183–205.
Whiteley, P.F. (2000) Economic growth and social capital. Political Studies 48(3): 443–466.
Zak, P.J. and Knack, S. (2001) Trust and growth. The Economic Journal 111(470): 295–321.
Ziller, C. (2015) Ethnic diversity, economic and cultural contexts, and social trust: Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from European regions, 2002–2010. Social Forces 93(3): 1211–1240.
Ziller, C. and Schübel, T. (2015) ‘The pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’? Political corruption, political trust and the success of radical right parties in Europe. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 25(3): 368–386.
Zmerli, S. and Newton, K. (2008) Social trust and attitudes toward democracy. Public Opinion Quarterly 72(4): 706–724.
About this article
Cite this article
Berning, C., Ziller, C. Social trust and radical right-wing populist party preferences. Acta Polit 52, 198–217 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/ap.2015.28
- far right
- social trust
- anti-immigrant sentiment
- multilevel analysis
- structural equation modeling