The potential of immigrant parties: insights from the Dutch case


A new party led by politicians of immigrant background entered Dutch parliament with three seats after the March 2017 national elections. This article investigates the success of DENK—an immigrant party promoting a clear pro-diversity agenda—and shows how this success is largely thanks to Dutch voters of Turkish and Moroccan background, using polling data by Ipsos and ScoRE. It also illustrates how these votes disproportionally increased with the number of residents of Turkish and Moroccan background in a neighborhood, using aggregate voting data from the statistical bureaus of Amsterdam and Rotterdam and the Dutch press agency ANP. That said, immigrant background does not fully explain the party’s success; DENK voters’ distinct ideological profile melds progressive and conservative attitudes in a combination thus far underrepresented among other parties’ followers, which is illustrated by additional analyses of the polling data. Similar immigrant electorates exist elsewhere in Western Europe. Meanwhile, mainstream parties have turned sharply to the right on immigration, integration, and Islam, alienating substantial segments of this electorate. Whether these circumstances lead to the rise of more successful immigrant parties depends on how open political institutions are and how mainstream parties behave.

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    The Netherlands’ first Turkish and Moroccan immigrants arrived in the 1970s under the “guest labor” program, but immigration continued, initially often through marriage and nowadays for myriad reasons. The Netherlands’ population comprises 391,088 people of Moroccan background and 400,367 of Turkish background, including both first and second generations, with and without Dutch passports (CBS figures for 2017).

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    Standing for green/alternative/libertarian versus traditional/authoritarian/nationalist.

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    Report in Dutch:

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    Data collection for the SCoRE survey was made possible by an NWO ORA grant (project number OND1363737). For more information, see

  7. 7.

    We do not discuss Artikel 1 votes. Theoretically, Artikel 1 does not present itself to be as much as an immigrant party as DENK. Empirically, our individual-level data would not allow us to make reliable statements about Artikel 1 voters. The aggregated analysis shows that Artikel 1 was electorally successful in a couple areas where a large number of residents of Surinamese background live. At the same time, the support base was generally more geographically scattered, meaning that we find support for Artikel 1 in a large number of neighborhoods in which the percentage of residents of immigrant background is low.

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    We distinguish domestic economic items from international trade, because the latter possibly relates to the globalization dimension as well.

  9. 9.

    We also explored whether some attitudes were better predictors among respondents with an immigrant background than among respondents without such background. In “Appendix 4” we show the interactions between immigrant background status and three variables, one for each dimension (economic, old cultural, and new cultural). This shows that immigration attitudes are a better predictor among respondents with an immigration background. This suggests that this topic was especially salient among this group in driving support for DENK. We conclude that the same set of variables explains DENK support regardless of immigrant background status, albeit with somewhat different relative weights.

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  11. 11.

    The reliability of the economic scale and order and discipline scale is low. However, we decided to keep these items because they are theoretically related and common in other studies.


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Correspondence to Floris Vermeulen.


Appendix 1: Indicators

Appendix 1.1: Overview of variables

Economic dimension

Economic left-wing (α = 0.50)Footnote 11

  • The less that government intervenes in the economy, the better it is for [country].

  • The government should take measures to reduce differences in income levels.

  • Employees need strong trade unions to protect their working conditions and wages.

Free trade

  • International free trade is an opportunity for economic growth in the Netherlands.

‘Old’ cultural dimension (morality)

RWA (right-wing authoritarianism): order and discipline (α = 0.55)

  • What our country really needs instead of more ‘‘civil rights’’ is a good stiff dose of law and order.

  • What our country needs most is disciplined citizens, following national leaders in unity.

LGBT emancipation (α = 0.67).

  • Homosexuals and feminists should be praised for being brave enough to defy “traditional family values.”

  • Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.

  • It’s a good thing that same-sex marriage is equal to opposite-sex marriage in the eyes of the law.

‘New’ cultural dimension (globalization)

Anti-immigration (α = 0.742)

  • Would you say that [country]’s cultural life is generally undermined or enriched by people coming to live here from other countries?

  • “It is better for a country if almost everyone shares the same customs and traditions.”

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

Islamophobia (α = 0.80)

  • Islam is an archaic religion, unable to adjust to the present.

  • Islam is compatible with our democracy.

  • There are violent aspects to Islam which predispose it towards terrorism.

European Unification

  • Now thinking about the EU, some say European unification should go further. Others say it has already gone too far. What number on the scale best describes your position?

Anti-establishment attitudes

Populism scale (α = 0.86)

  • “The politicians in Parliament need to follow the will of the people.”

  • “The people, and not politicians, should make our most important policy decisions.”

  • “The political differences between the elite and the people are larger than the differences among the people.”

  • “I would rather be represented by a citizen than by a specialized politician.”

  • “Elected officials talk too much and take too little action.”

  • “What people call “compromise” in politics is really just selling out on one’s principles.”

Appendix 1.2: Descriptives of variables used in regression (before standardization)

Variable Obs Mean SD Min Max
Propensity to vote DENK 8013 0.678273 1.530624 0 10
Non-Western immigrant status 8013 0.0842381 0.2777619 0 1
Left-wing on economy 7884 2.938134 1.316746 − 6 7
Pro-free trade 7397 5.575098 1.335415 1 8
Pro-law and order 7740 4.573385 1.413451 1 7
Pro-LGBT emancipation 7845 5.601593 1.477609 1 7
Nativism 7897 5.765565 1.554191 0 14
Islamophobia 7675 2.123974 1.969375 − 7 7
Pro-EU integration 7380 3.70813 1.730811 1 7
Populism 7846 3.60712 0.9165728 1 5
  1. Source SCoRE (

Appendix 2: Macro-level models

  Municipalities coefficient (SE) Rotterdam n’hoods coefficient (SE)
% Turkish 0.491*** (0.021) 0.950* (0.412)
% Turkish2 0.016*** (0.003) 0.004 (0.009)
% Moroccans 0.420*** (0.023) − 0.657 (0.388)
% Moroccans2 − 0.001 (0.003) 0.042* (0.016)
% Surinamese 0.032 (0.028) 0.022 (0.518)
% Surinamese2 0.001 (0.003) − 0.005 (0.024)
% non-migrant − 0.019 (0.025) − 0.099 (0.213)
% non-migrant2 0.000 (0.000) 0.001 (0.002)
Population size 0.000 (0.000) − 0.013 (0.009)
Density of population − 0.000** (0.000) − 0.000 (0.000)
Value of houses − 0.000 (0.000) 0.024 (0.017)
Share of household on social minimum 0.001 (0.002) 0.000 (0.008)
Income 0.003 (0.008) − 0.203 (0.208)
Household size 0.020 (0.094) − 2.079 (2.528)
Intercept 0.401 (1.005) 13.059 (9.508)
R 2 0.977 0.915
N 382 68
  1. Source Kiesraad; Rotterdam municipality
  2. *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001

Appendix 3: Regression on propensity to vote (PTV) DENK

  b (SE)
Economic left-wing 0.011 (0.019)
Pro-free trade − 0.038 (0.020)
Pro-law and order 0.094*** (0.023)
Pro-LGBT emancipation − 0.071** (0.022)
Anti-immigration − 0.089*** (0.026)
Islamophobia − 0.095*** (0.023)
Pro-EU unification 0.158*** (0.023)
Populism scale 0.217*** (0.025)
Non-Western immigrant background 0.655*** (0.101)
Main activity (ref.: in education)  
 Having a job − 0.144 (0.197)
 Unemployed − 0.124 (0.215)
 Cannot work − 0.254 (0.211)
 Pensioner − 0.236 (0.216)
 Housekeeper − 0.089 (0.221)
Education (years) − 0.012** (0.004)
Religiosity 0.049*** (0.011)
Sex (female) 0.043 (0.040)
Year of birth 0.012*** (0.002)
Intercept − 22.278*** (4.234)
R 2 0.079
N 6552
  1. Source SCoRE data (, University of Amsterdam

Appendix 4: Regression on propensity to vote Denk, including interactions

  b (SE)
Economic left-wing 0.019 (0.019)
Non-western immigrant background 0.431*** (0.094)
Economic left-wing × immigrant background − 0.119 (0.104)
Pro-free trade − 0.038 (0.020)
Pro-law and order 0.071*** (0.021)
Pro-law and order × immigrant background 0.220 (0.121)
pro-LGBT emancipation − 0.069** (0.022)
Anti-immigration − 0.043 (0.024)
Anti-immigration × immigrant background − 0.501*** (0.122)
Islamophobia − 0.091*** (0.023)
Pro-European unification 0.161*** (0.023)
Populism scale 0.211*** (0.025)
Main activity (ref.: in education)  
 Having a job − 0.049 (0.095)
 Unemployed 0.112 (0.221)
 Cannot work − 0.032 (0.126)
 Pensioner − 0.165 (0.109)
 Housekeeper − 0.139 (0.097)
Education (years) − 0.012** (0.004)
Religiosity 0.047*** (0.011)
Sex (female) 0.045 (0.040)
Year of birth 0.011*** (0.002)
Intercept − 21.779*** (4.113)
R 2 0.086
N 6552

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Vermeulen, F., Harteveld, E., van Heelsum, A. et al. The potential of immigrant parties: insights from the Dutch case. Acta Polit 55, 432–453 (2020).

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  • Immigrant voters
  • DENK
  • The Netherlands
  • 2017 Dutch national elections