Right-wing parties frequently position themselves as opposed to government power — in particular, reducing the state is rhetorically linked with the Republican Party in American politics.
But as Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou explained in an analysis for the Washington Post, a close examination of the voting patterns in Europe reveal a different, more complicated picture.
“Europe’s economic crisis in 2008 was socially disruptive,” they wrote. “This might have been expected to lead to increased support for left-wing populist parties that promised to look after voters’ material needs. But instead, it was far-right populists who have won over voters, by promising to restore national sovereignty and govern in the name of the people. This has been true of the National Rally (RN) in France (formerly the National Front), the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the Austrian Party for Freedom (FPÖ), the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Italian Northern League, among others.”
The truth is, they argue, that right-wing populists don’t dislike government power — they just prosper politically when people are dissatisfied with how it’s being used.
“Citizens interact with state institutions every day. They need to navigate public benefits. They worry about the quality of local hospitals and schools, corruption, neighborhood crime levels, and the conditions determining job security. When citizens see these institutions as legitimate and working well, they are less likely to be discontent with society. These routine interactions with the state shape both the economic and cultural dimensions of discontent,” they wrote.
“The far right has risen in Europe because of changes in how citizens view the government,” they continued. “When citizens are critical of the state’s capacity to deliver, they tend to resort to protest. Protest voting implies punishing those who are held responsible, and therefore accountable, for poor policies that lack legitimacy. The ‘punished’ tend to be the incumbent or mainstream parties, associated with existing state policies. When citizens vote for protest parties, they are saying that they are unhappy with how the state is working.”
Immigration, they argued, touches on a huge number of state programs and functions, and thus serves as a “litmus test” for many voters about whether the government is working at all.
“However, not all voters are equally skeptical of immigration,” they wrote. “Voters with strong anti-immigrant views are the far right’s core electorate, but to win elections they also need to appeal to voters with more-moderate anti-immigrant views. This is where perceptions of the state come in. Our research shows that as the electorate becomes more content with the government, those with more-moderate views over immigration are less likely to support the far right and have fewer incentives to cast a protest vote. However, even if improving the government drives moderate voters away from the far right, it makes strongly anti-immigrant voters more likely to vote for extreme right-wing parties. This seems like a puzzling finding, but it may suggest that these anti-immigrant voters want to restrict access to state benefits so that they are provided only to their own in-group.”
“Unpopular state institutions make far-right nationalism more appealing to those with both moderate and extreme views on immigration,” they concluded. “However, when citizens trust the state, immigration moderates are less likely to support far-right parties. That makes it harder for these parties to appeal to voters outside their regular voting base.”
You can read more here.