The contextual-level unemployment rate is often adduced to explain radical right support. It has been assessed before that research findings are mixed, but it is unknown why the association is so different across studies. Our meta-analysis examined 162 effects from 49 studies, and indicated a positive overall effect, as predicted by main theories, but it was rather small. The positive effect was predominantly found among studies that theorized the effect, possibly indicating publication bias. The effect was positive in Western and Eastern Europe, but absent in Northern Europe. The positive effect was furthermore evident only after 2008, when the economic crisis hit Europe. Findings on the effect of unemployment being dependent on immigration were mixed as well. Our study calls for more comprehensive studies that bypass the focus on the main effect of unemployment and extend theorizing about the conditions under which unemployment affects support for the radical right.
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Only two studies included non-European countries. One study on Australia (Gibson et al. 2002) and one study included Australia, Canada and New Zealand next to some European countries (Norris 2005). Our results did not change when these two studies were excluded from our sample (results available upon request).
We also used other search engines, such as Sociological Abstracts, but this did not result in additional unique hits. We did not use Google Scholar because of the unfeasibility of reviewing the endless number of hits.
Since books are not included in the citation index of Web of Science, books were only retrieved by ancestry approach. Not all books were available, but we included the most relevant books in the field, namely those that were cited 100 times or more in Google Scholar as on March 21, 2016.
We excluded studies that estimated an interaction effect between unemployment and another variable and did not report the direct effect of unemployment in a separate model. An exception is made for Knigge (1998). The interaction effect reported in this study is not significant, and the variables for unemployment and immigration rate are mean-centred. The main effect of unemployment on radical right support would be the same in a model without the interaction term.
The following countries are included per category. Northern Europe: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden; Western Europe: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom; Eastern Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine; Other: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom.
Whether studies control for other political variables (e.g. disproportionality, other parties’ toughness on immigration issue and turnout) or not did not affect the results. Because we have no clear theoretical reasoning why the effect of unemployment would differ between these studies, we decide not to report the results (results are available upon request).
See Breen (1996) for an introduction to Tobit models.
The number of cases for which the level of unemployment was measured varied markedly between samples, as it ranged from 9 to 5668. Five samples were relatively large, with sample sizes of 5668, 2705, 1836, 1450 and 1245, compared to the sixth-largest sample size, which was 435. Following Pettigrew and Tropp (2006), we capped these former sample sizes to, respectively, 1000, 850, 750, 700, and 650 and tested whether effect sizes from these studies disproportionately affected the mean effect sizes. Neither capping the samples sizes nor deletion of the studies with large sample sizes affected our results.
The ICC for the nesting of effect sizes in studies is 0.635. We consider samples a more relevant second-level than studies, because effect sizes are more likely to correlate if they are based on the same sample than if they are based on different samples, also when those samples are included in the same study. A three-level model will be too demanding regarding the number of cases.
This results was consistent across types of economic variables (results available upon request).
The effect of period appeared significant after combining it with region. Studies after 2008, when there was a relatively strong positive mean effect, were mostly condutcted in Northern European, where there was a no positive mean effect. The effect of period was surpressed by the effect of region, and only became visible when both variables were included in the same model. The effect of controlled for economic variables became significant after including measurement of voting, because studies that controlled for economic variables (with a weak effect) were mostly based on election results (with a strong effect). The significant effect of studied party family disappears after including controlled for economic variables and used measurement. The strong mean effect for radical right was present because almost all these studies were based on election results. The weak effect for studies that employed the anti-immigrant label was present, because almost all these studies did not control for other economic variables.
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We thank Sacha Sillekens for support in locating and coding the studies.
This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
See Table 5.
Appendix B: Converting formulas (Borenstein et al. 2009)
Probit to Logit (Amemiya 1981)
LogOdds to Cohen’s d
Cohen’s d to Pearson’s r
Pearson’s r to Cohen’s d
Unstandardized regression coefficient to T-value
T-value to Pearson’s r
Variance of Pearson’s r
Variance of Cohen’s d
See Table 6.
See Table 7.
See Table 8.
See Table 9.
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Sipma, T., Lubbers, M. Contextual-level unemployment and support for radical-right parties: a meta-analysis. Acta Polit 55, 351–387 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-018-0120-2
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