Acta Politica

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 60–82 | Cite as

Explaining the strange decline of the populist radical right Vlaams Belang in Belgium: The impact of permanent opposition

  • Teun Pauwels
Original Article


Despite the proliferation of studies exploring the success of the populist radical right, there is a lack of research on why these parties decline or fail. And when this question is addressed, the literature focuses on supply-side variables such as leadership battles or a lack of organizational structure. These explanations largely fall short, however, in understanding the strange decline of the Belgian Vlaams Belang at the latest elections. Instead, it is argued that there is less space available for the populist radical right. Survey data suggests that two competing parties succeeded in exploiting issues that were previously owned exclusively by the Vlaams Belang (VB). More surprising, however, is the impact of the cordon sanitaire on the decline of the VB. This study shows that although populist radical right parties might not perform well in government, they will face difficulties too if they stay in permanent opposition, because they become perceived as irrelevant in the long run.


populist radical right Vlaams Belang electoral opportunity structure issue ownership permanent opposition 



An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2009 ECPR general conference in Potsdam. I thank Elisabeth Carter, Sarah de Lange and the other participants for their valuable comments. I am also grateful to Jean-Benoit Pilet, Pascal Delwit and the anonymous referees for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. The research for this article was made possible by the generous support of the Belgian science policy (Interuniversity Attraction Pole on Participation and Representation,


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teun Pauwels
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre d’Etude de la Vie Politique, Université Libre de BruxellesBruxellesBelgium

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