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The populist radical right in government: The structure and agency of success and failure

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Abstract

Since the 1990s populist radical right (PRR) parties have experience considerable electoral success. With political success the PRR has also gained formal political power by participating in coalition governments in Austria, Switzerland and Italy, as well as informal power, by supporting center-right governments in Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. This article examines the conditions that shape the success and failure of PRR in their attempts to transition from opposition to government. The article focuses on four cases: three successes – the Swiss People's Party, the Lega Nord and the Danish People's Party and one failure – the Austrian Freedom Party. In order to explain the success and failure of the PRR in government, this articles combine insights from structure and agency approaches. Structural approaches focus on three aspects of the party environment: the PRR's electoral success relative to other parties; policy convergence between PRR and established parties; and the growing numerical importance of the PRR for coalition formation, especially within the context of close elections and, in some cases, bipolarizing party systems. However, the article argues that the structural approach, on its own, does not explain the electoral success and failure of the PRR parties in government. In order to explain success and failure in government, insights from agency approaches are required. Three criteria are crucial: ‘keeping one foot in government and one foot out’, maintaining control over their policy agenda, and a well-organized party.

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Notes

  1. Calculated from www.parties-and-elections.de/

  2. For a good discussion see McDonnell and Newell (2011). They refer to such parties as outsider parties.

  3. A note on case selection: I do not include the LN in the 1994 government and the LPF in the 2002 government since I consider them to be populist but not PRR parties in this particular point in time. For the LN, due to space considerations I only focus on the 2001–2006 government and not on the LN's re-entry into government in 2008. In addition, I have not included the Dutch Party for Freedom's support of the center-right government since 2010 since it is too early to judge whether its support has been successful.

  4. In 2007, the SVP lost its extra seat; this was due to a split within the party between the more moderate Bern-wing and the rest of the party. During elections for Federal Council, the more moderate candidate was elected by the other mainstream parties. This caused considerable turmoil within the party and frustration with the Council, and resulted in the SVP proclaiming that it would become an opposition party. However, this strategy proved unsuccessful; even though the SVP did not suffer at the polls, the party decided to renounce its opposition stance in 2009. It currently holds a single seat in the Federal Council (Church and Vatter, 2009).

  5. In addition, the party was not able to exploit its opposition to EU integration.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their very helpful and constructive comments. And I would also like to thank Karen Anderson, Tim Bale, Linn Clark, Sarah De Lange, Kristof Jacobs, Triadafilos (Phil) Triadafilopoulos and Liz Root for their comments on earlier drafts. I would also like to thank Anders Ravik Jupskås for his clarifications on several details regarding the Danish case. Earlier versions of this article were presented at Oxford-Brookes University, 24 August 2010, the SHIFTS research seminar at Radboud University, 10 June 2010, and the ECPR Joint Sessions, Münster, Germany, 22–27 March 2010. I would like to thank those in attendance for their helpful comments.

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Zaslove, A. The populist radical right in government: The structure and agency of success and failure. Comp Eur Polit 10, 421–448 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1057/cep.2011.19

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