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The demand side of support for radical right parties

Abstract

This study examines the link between individual attitudes and voting for radical right parties in 16 European countries, using the European Social Survey (ESS). This study includes, in a single model, several different components of the radical right political platform in order to test which components are more strongly found among radical right voters. Using the initial assumption that the anti-immigrant message of radical right parties should be attractive to individuals with similar predispositions, I use the ESS to find evidence that radical right voters are attracted to these parties because of the political message of immigration attitudes and anti-democratic attitudes. Further, depending on the context, social conservatism is associated with radical right support. In sum, radical right support is based on multiple factors with immigration attitudes as the primary consideration, with populism and social conservatism playing a minor but significant role.

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Figure 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Norris (2005) uses variables that ask about the economic and cultural impact of immigration to create a immigration variable that is described ‘as tapping instrumental, pragmatic, or resource-based evaluations of the expected consequences of population migration, resting upon perceptions of threats to the material interests of white Europeans’ (p. 178). The constructed variable is later described as confirming ‘the significance of all the cultural attitudes’ (Norris, 2005, p. 182).

  2. 2.

    Maintaining security and resolving uncertainty are believed to be important characteristics of conservative ideology (Conover and Feldman, 1981).

  3. 3.

    Bjorklund (2007) finds mixed results for the relationship between unemployment and radical right support in Scandinavian countries that varies from one country to the next.

  4. 4.

    Each of these studies uses aggregate data and unemployment to measure economic conditions.

  5. 5.

    Similar results have been found in the scholarship studying individual attitudes on immigration (Hernes and Knudsen, 1992; Quillian, 1995; Scheepers et al, 2002).

  6. 6.

    Portugal is excluded from the analysis since the ESS failed to sample any individuals willing to indicate support for Partido Nacional Renovador. The lack of supporters for the Partido Nacional Renovador is within the margin of error for the 2006 ESS survey as the party received 9374 votes or 0.2 per cent of the votes cast in the 2005 Assembly of the Republic elections.

  7. 7.

    See Golder (2003), Mudde (2007) or Norris (2005) for a further review of this debate.

  8. 8.

    The ESS did not include all active radical right parties in the studied countries. It is possible that some of the individuals who indicated a vote choice of ‘other’ may have voted for an unlisted radical right party. Therefore, it is possible that a small number of radical right supporters could be coded as 0’s in the dependent variable. I suspect the number of individuals selecting an unlisted radical right party to be small and insignificant, especially when one considers that the parties not included in the survey received very little electoral support in recent elections.

  9. 9.

    A multinominal model is the ideal approach without condensing all non-radical right parties into a single group. As Lubbers et al (2002) note, a ‘cross-national comparison makes it impossible to distinguish the same party families in each country without too many empty cells’ (p. 374). Further, the use of a left–right scale is problematic due to significant differences between countries (Iganzi, 2003).

  10. 10.

    Previous literature has criticized the study of radical right support on the individual level due to the small sample size of radical right voters (see Givens, 2005, pp. 48–49). A small number of observations can result in unreliable inferences. Radical right voters in the World Values Survey range from 4 to 9 per cent, in the 2006 ESS they range from 0 to 22.8 per cent. Further the number of countries in the ESS with radical right parties is larger. One method to correct for the small number of observations is to use a rare events logistic regression (Tomaz et al, 1999; King and Zang, 2001). The results from the rare events model are available upon request and do not significantly vary from the logistic regression presented in the article.

  11. 11.

    Bulgaria and Lativa reported a larger percentage of respondents than vote share by the radical right party in the last national legislative election.

  12. 12.

    The independent and control variables are detailed in the Appendix, including both question wording and code changes.

  13. 13.

    Norris (2005) found that immigration questions concerning economics and/or culture can be combined together on a single dimension using factor analysis.

  14. 14.

    ESS Question B 39 ‘And, using this card, would you say that [country]’s cultural life is generally undermined or enriched by people coming to live here from other countries?’ I coded the question with ‘undermined’ as being higher values, ranging from 0.6 to 1, ‘enriched’ as ranging from 0 to 0.4, and 0.5 as neutral.

  15. 15.

    ESS Question B 38 ‘Would you say it is generally bad or good for [country]’s economy that people come to live here from other countries?’ I coded the question with ‘bad for the economy’ as being higher values, ranging from 0.6 to 1, ‘good for the economy’ as ranging from 0 to 0.4, and 0.5 as neutral.

  16. 16.

    Question B 25 – ‘On the whole how satisfied are you with the present state of the economy in [country]?’ was coded to a 0 (more satisfied) to 1 (more dissatisfied) scale.

  17. 17.

    ESS Question B 30 – ‘Using this card, please say to what extent you agree or disagree with each of the following statements … The government should take measures to reduce differences in income levels’. I coded the variable as disagree strongly (0) to agree strongly (1).

  18. 18.

    Two survey questions are used to form the measure of social conformity. For both questions respondents were prompted by ‘Now I will briefly describe some people. Please listen to each description and tell me how much each person is or is not like you. Use this card for’. The first question, G p, asks ‘It is important to her/him always to behave properly. She/he wants to avoid doing anything people would say is wrong’. The second question, G g, asks ‘She/he believes that people should do what they‘re told. She/he thinks people should follow rules at all times, even when no-one is watching’. My measure of social conformity takes the mean value between the two questions and places the value on a 0–1 scale.

  19. 19.

    ESS Question B 27 – ‘And on the whole, how satisfied are you with the way democracy works in [country]?’ I coded this variable to range from satisfied (0) to dissatisfied (1).

  20. 20.

    I coded females as 0 and males as 1.

  21. 21.

    ESS Question F 6 – ‘What is the highest level of education you have achieved?’ I coded ‘Not completed primary education’ (0) to ‘Second stage of tertiary’ (1).

  22. 22.

    Additional models were estimated for this study with slight changes from the baseline models presented in Table 4. The first of these models included a control for electoral institutions, logged district magnitude. The findings are the same for the individual level variables reported in this article. The one difference is that logged district magnitude is not a significant predictor of radical right vote choice when all parties are included in the model, but logged district magnitude is positively and significantly correlated to radical right support when the other parties are limited to mainstream conservative parties. The second model estimates the baseline model but excludes the United Kingdom and Germany due to the low number of radical right supporters in these countries. The results are the same. Third, I compared authoritarian xenophobic with neoliberal xenophobic radical right parties (see Art, 2011, p. 19 for a list) finding no significant differences in the attitudes of the supporters of either type of radical right party. These additional models can be found on the author’s Webpage in an online appendix at /sites.google.com/site/jasonekehrberg.

  23. 23.

    Predicted probabilities were estimated holding all continuous and ordinal variables at their mean. I held all dichotomist variables at 0.

  24. 24.

    Results unreported, but available on request.

  25. 25.

    I use the largest conservative party with the closest ideological placement to the radical right parties in Table 1 based on the country results presented in Benoit and Laver (2006). The conservative parties are OVP (Austria), VLD (Belgium), Conservatives (the United Kingdom), Union of Democratic Forces (Bulgaria), Venstre (Denmark), UMP (France), CDU/CSU (Germany), Fidesz-KDNP (Hungary), People’s Party (Lativa), VVD (the Netherlands), Conservative Party (Norway), PO (Poland), UDMR (Romania), ER (Russia), SKDU (Slovakia) and FDP (Switzerland).

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Acknowledgements

I thank Richard Arnold, Emily Beaulieu, Adam Butz, Mark Peffley, Kirk Randazzo, Tom Rice, D. Stephen Voss, Justin Wedeking and the reviewers for their suggestions and comments on earlier drafts. Any errors were the contribution and responsibility of the author.

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Appendix

Appendix

Variables and code changes

All independent variables, except age, were coded to a 0–1 scale.

Dependent variable

Question B 11 – Which party did you vote for in that election?

0 – Any non-radical right party.

1 – Radical right vote.

Independent variables

Democratic attitudes – Question B 27 – And on the whole, how satisfied are you with the way democracy works in [country]?

0 – Extremely dissatisfied (recoded as 1).

10 – Extremely satisfied (recoded as 0).

Gay/Lesbian attitudes – Question B 31 – Gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own life as they wish.

1 – Agree strongly (recoded as 0).

2 – Agree (recoded as 0.25).

3 – Neither agree nor disagree (recoded as 0.5).

4 – Disagree (recoded as 0.75).

5 – Disagree strongly (recoded as 1).

Radical right economic preferences – Question B 30 – ‘Using this card, please say to what extent you agree or disagree with each of the following statements … The government should take measures to reduce differences in income levels’. I coded the variable as disagree strongly (0) to agree strongly (1).

Social conformity – Two survey questions are used to form the measure of social conformity. For both questions respondents were prompted by ‘Now I will briefly describe some people. Please listen to each description and tell me how much each person is or is not like you. Use this card for’. The first question, asks ‘It is important to her/him always to behave properly. She/he wants to avoid doing anything people would say is wrong’. The second question, asks ‘She/he believes that people should do what they’re told. She/he thinks people should follow rules at all times, even when no-one is watching’. My measure of social conformity takes the mean value between the two questions and places the value on a 0–1 scale.

Economic satisfaction – Question B 25 – On the whole how satisfied are you with the present state of the economy in [country]?

0 – Extremely dissatisfied (recoded as 1).

10 – Extremely satisfied (recoded as 0).

Immigration attitudes

Question B 38 – Would you say it is generally bad or good for [country]’s economy that people come to live here from other countries?

0 – Bad for the economy (recoded as 1).

10 – Good for the economy (recoded as 0).

Question B 39 – And, using this card, would you say that [country]’s cultural life is generally undermined or enriched by people coming to live here from other countries?

0 – Cultural life undermined (recoded as 1).

10 – Cultural life enriched (recoded as 0).

Control variables

Male – Question F 2 1 – Code sex, respondent.

0 – Female.

1 – Male.

Education – Question F 6 – What is the highest level of education you have achieved?

0 – Not completed primary education (recoded as 0).

1 – Primary or first stage of basic (recoded as 0.16667).

2 – Lower secondary or second stage of basic (recoded as 0.33333).

3 – Upper secondary (recoded as 0.5).

4 – Post secondary, non-tertiary (recoded as 0.66667).

5 – First stage of tertiary (recoded as 0.83333).

6 – Second stage of tertiary (recoded as 1).

Age – Question F 3 1b – Age of respondent.

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Kehrberg, J. The demand side of support for radical right parties. Comp Eur Polit 13, 553–576 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/cep.2014.6

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Keywords

  • radical right parties
  • immigration
  • political parties
  • Western Europe
  • Eastern Europe