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Are Right-Wing Populist Parties a Threat to Democracy?


Whether right-wing populist parties pose a threat or a corrective for democracies has been a matter of extensive theoretical debate. This chapter examines the effect these parties exert on democratic quality by means of a comparative quantitative analysis. Focusing on democracies in Western and Eastern Europe, it takes a closer look at democracy’s partial regimes, such as the rule of law, representation, the public sphere, and participation. The results are twofold: First, in line with the theoretical expectations, right-wing populists have a negative effect on democratic quality when they are in government. Second, indirect effects caused by populists’ electoral successes are rare. While the presence of populists enhances participation and aspects of representation, they have a negative influence on the public sphere.

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Fig. 5.1
Fig. 5.2


  1. 1.

    For a recent argument to the contrary, see Aslanidis (2016).

  2. 2.

    For the effect of populist radical right parties on socioeconomic issues, see Röth et al. (2017).

  3. 3.

    Moreover, European populists invariably portray themselves as the only “true democrats” (Canovan 2004). In their view, they are the only saviors of democracy against political and economic elites, whom they accuse of betraying “the people” (Albertazzi and Mueller 2013, 345).

  4. 4.

    Due to missing values, Romania before 1995, Croatia before 2000, and Cyprus had to be excluded from the analysis.

  5. 5.

    Cabinets, which were still in office at the end of 2014, were not included in the analysis to ensure case comparability, as we include government duration in the model.

  6. 6.

    The starting year for Hungary is 1990; for Bulgaria and Poland 1991; for Estonia, Lithuania, and Romania 1992; and for the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovenia, and Slovakia 1993.

  7. 7.

    The appendix includes a complete list of parties coded as right-wing populist. Please note that the Croatian HDZ is coded only until 2000 as right-wing populist.

  8. 8.

    For a more detailed description of the Democracy Barometer, see also Heyne in this volume.

  9. 9.

    In model 1 we only distinguish between no government involvement and any form of involvement, whereas in model 2 we combine minor party in government and government leadership in order to explain the additional explanatory power of a more distinct measurement.

  10. 10.

    Nevertheless, we have computed all models with the vote share data available and did not observe differences in terms of significant effects.

  11. 11.

    All empirical analysis in this paper has been conducted with the statistical software environment R. The syntax used and a prepared dataset are available upon request.


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Correspondence to Marcus Spittler .

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Right-wing populist parties

Country Initials Party name Years included (first and last election results recognized)
Austria FPÖ Freedom Party of Austria 1990–2013
BZÖ Alliance for the Future of Austria 2006–2013
Belgium VB Flemish Interest 1991–2014
FN/NF National Front 1991–2010
Bulgaria Ataka Attack Coalition 2005–2014
Croatia HDZ Croatian Democratic Union 1990–2000
HSP Croatian Party of Rights 1992–1995
HSP/ZDS Croatian Party of Rights/Zagorje Democratic Party 2003
HSP AS Croatian Party of Rights Dr. Ante Starcevic 2011
Czech Republic SPR-RSC Rally for the Republic – Republican Party of Czechoslovakia 1992–2010
Úsvit Dawn of Direct Democracy 2013
Denmark DF Danish People’s Party 1998–2011
Estonia ERSP Estonian National Independence Party 1992
EK Estonian Citizens Coalition 1992
Finland PS True Finns 1991–2011
France FN National Front 1993–2012
Great Britain UKIP United Kingdom Independence Party 1997–2010
Greece LAOS Popular Orthodox Rally 2007–2012
Hungary FIDESZ-MPP Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union 1990–2014
MIéP Hungarian Justice and Life Party 1994–1998
Jobbik The Movement for a Better Hungary 2010–2014
Italy LV Venetian League 1992–2001
LN Northern League-Federal Italy 1992–2013
Casa House of Freedom 1994–2001
MS Social Movement-Flame Tricolore 1996–2006
FI Forward Italy 2006
M5S Five Star Movement 2013
Latvia TB Union For Homeland and Freedom 1993–1995
NA National Alliance “All For Latvia!”—“For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK” 2010–2014
Netherlands CD Centre Democrats 1994–1998
LPF List Pim Fortuyn 2002–2003
PVV Party for Freedom 2006–2012
Poland PX Party X 1991
KPN Confederation for Independent Poland 1991–1993
ROP Movement for Rebuilding Poland 1997
PiS Law and Justice 2001–2011
LPR League of Polish Families 2001–2007
Romania PUNR Party of Romanian National Unity 1992–1996
PRM Greater Romania Party 1992–2008
Slovakia SNS Slovak National Party 1990–2010
OLaNO Ordinary People and Independent Personalities 2012
Slovenia SNS Slovenian National Party 1996–2008
Sweden NyD New Democracy 1991–1998
SD Sweden Democrats 1991–2014
Switzerland SD Swiss Democrats 1991–2007
FPS Freedom Party 1991–2003
SVP/UDC Swiss People’s Party 1991–2011

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Spittler, M. (2018). Are Right-Wing Populist Parties a Threat to Democracy?. In: Merkel, W., Kneip, S. (eds) Democracy and Crisis. Springer, Cham.

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