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Conditions Favouring Parties of the Extreme Right in Western Europe

  • Robert W. Jackman and Karin Volpert

We examine the systemic conditions that have influenced the electoral success of parties of the extreme right in West European politics from 1970 through 1990. Empirical estimates based on 103 elections in sixteen countries suggest that electoral and party-system factors interact with each other to generate conditions conducive to these parties. Specifically, increasing electoral thresholds dampen support for the extreme right as the number of parliamentary parties expands. At the same time, multi-partism increasingly fosters parties of the extreme right with rising electoral proportionality. Our analyses also indicate that higher rates of unemployment provide a favourable environment for these political movements. These results suggest that levels of electoral support for the extreme right are sensitive to factors that can be modified through policy instruments.

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1 See, e.g., Bell, Daniel, The End of Ideology (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1960); Bell, Daniel, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (New York: Basic Books, 1973); Inglehart, Ronald, The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977).

2 Straussman, Jeffrey D., ‘What Did Tomorrow's Future Look Like Yesterday?Comparative Politics, 8 (1975), 166–82.

3 Kitschelt, Herbert, ‘Left-Libertarian Parties: Explaining Innovation in Competitive Party Systems’, World Politics, 40 (1988), 194234.

4 Maddison, Angus, Dynamic Forces in Capitalist Development: A Long-Run Comparative View (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 167.

5 Castles, Francis G. and Mair, Peter, ‘Left-Right Political Scales: Some Expert Judgements’, European Journal of Political Research, 12 (1984), 7388.

6 Ignazi, Piero, ‘The Silent Counter-Revolution: Hypotheses on the Emergence of Extreme Right-Wing Parties in Europe’, European Journal of Political Research, 22 (1992), 334.

7 Husbands, Christopher, ‘The Other Face of 1992: The Extreme-Right Explosion in Western Europe’, Parliamentary Affairs, 45 (1992), 267–84.

8 Hainsworth, Paul, ‘The Cutting Edge: The Extreme-Right in Post-War Western Europe and the USA’, in Hainsworth, Paul, ed., The Extreme Right in Europe and the USA (London: Pinter, 1992), pp. 128, at p. 7.

9 The government formed after the 1994 Italian general election included the National Alliance Party, successor to the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI). This inclusion of the National Alliance in the ruling coalition elicited considerable criticism from other European governments (‘Mussolini is dead – for the moment’, The Economist, 11 06 1994, p. 46).

10 Taylor, Michael and Herman, V. M., ‘Parly Systems and Government Stability’, American Political Science Review, 65 (1971), 2837; Powell, G. Bingham Jr, ‘Extremist Parties and Political Turmoil: Two Puzzles’, American Journal of Political Science, 30 (1986), 357–78; Laver, Michael and Schofield, Norman, Multiparty Government: The Politics of Coalition in Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); and Warwick, Paul V., ‘Ideological Diversity and Government Survival in Western European Parliamentary Democracies’, Comparative Political Studies, 25 (1992). 332–61.

11 Warwick, , ‘Ideological Diversity and Government Survival’, p. 347. See also Warwick, , ‘Economic Trends and Government Survival in West European Parliamentary Democracies’, American Political Science Review, 86 (1992), 875–87; Sartori, Giovanni, Parties and Party Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

12 Schain, Martin A., ‘The National Front in France and the Construction of Political Legitimacy’. West European Politics, 10 (1987), 229–52, at p. 242. In 1976. the Gaullist bloc became the Rassemblement pour la république (RPR), while the Union pour la démocratic français (UDF) emerged in 1978 from a federation of centrist and conservative groups.

13 Bréchon, Pierre and Mitra, Subrata K., ‘The National Front in France: The Emergence of an Extreme Right Protest Movement’, Comparative Politics, 25 (1993), 6382, at p. 80.

14 The country studies include Betz, Hans-Georg, ‘Politics of Resentment: Right-Wing Radicalism in West Germany’, Comparative Politics, 23 (1990), 4560; Mayer, Nonna and Perrineau, Pascal, ‘Why Do They Vote for LePen?European Journal of Political Research, 22 (1992), 123–41; Minkenberg, Michael, ‘The New Right in Germany’, European Journal of Political Research, 22 (1992), 5581; Mitra, Subrata, ‘The National Front in France: A Single-Issue Movement?’ in von Beyme, Klaus, ed., Right-Wing Extremism in Western Europe (London: Frank Cass, 1988), pp. 4764; Schain, Martin A., ‘Immigration and Changes in the French Party System’, European Journal of Political Research, 16 (1988), 597621; Voerman, Gerrit and Lucardie, Paul, ‘The Extreme Right in the Netherlands’, European Journal of Political Research, 22 (1992), 3554; and Westle, Bettina and Niedermayer, Oskar, ‘Contemporary Right-Wing Extremism in West Germany’, European Journal of Political Research, 22 (1992), 83100. For more general studies, see, e.g., Betz, , “The New Politics of Resentment: Radical Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe’, Comparative Politics, 25 (1993), 413–27; Falter, Jürgen W. and Schumann, Siegfried, ‘Affinity Towards Right-Wing Extremism in Western Europe’, in von Beyme, Klaus, ed., Right-Wing Extremism in Western Europe (London: Frank Cass, 1988), pp. 96110; Husbands, Christopher T., ‘Contemporary Right-Wing Extremism in Western European Democracies: A Review Article’. European Journal of Political Research, 9 (1981), 75100; Ignazi, , ‘The Silent Counter-Revolution’; and von Beyme, Klaus, ‘Right-Wing Extremism in Post-War Europe’, in von Beyme, Klaus, ed., Right-Wing Extremism in Western Europe (London: Frank Cass. 1988), pp. 118.

15 Betz, , ‘Politics of Resentment’, pp. 47–8.

16 Westle, and Niedermayer, , ‘Contemporary Right-Wing Extremism in West Germany’, p. 95.

17 Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, else, Levinson, Daniel J. and Sanford, R. Nevitt, The Authoritarian Personality (New York: Harper & Row, 1950); Kornhauser, William, The Politics of Mass Society (Glencoc, III., The Free Press, 1959); Martin, SeymourLipset, Political Man: The Social liases of Politics (New York: Anchor Books, 1960).

18 See especially Hamilton, Richard F., Who Voted for Hitler? (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982); and Brustein, William and Falter, Jürgen W., ‘The Sociology of Nazism: An Interest-Based Account’, Rationality ami Society, 6 (1994), 369–99.

19 Westle, and Niedermayer, , ‘Contemporary Right-Wing Extremism, in West Germany’.

20 Mitra, , ‘The National Front in France’; Lewis-Beck, Michael S. and Mitchell, Glenn E. II, ‘French Electoral Theory: The National Front Test’, Electoral Studies, 12 (1993), 112–27.

21 More generally, this is a key distinction between institutional explanations and those that are cast in terms of political culture, a societal, grass-roots concept. See Jackman, Robert W. and Miller, Ross A., ‘A Renaissance of Political Culture?American Journal of Political Science, 40 (1996), in press.

22 Duverger, Maurice, Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State (New York: Wiley, 1963).

23 Lijphart, Arend, Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945–1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994). See also Rae, Douglas W., The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws, revised edn (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971); Riker, William H., ‘The Two-Party System and Duverger's Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science’, American Political Science Review, 76 (1982), 753–66; Duverger, Maurice, ‘Duverger's Law: Forty Years Later’, in Grofman, Bernard and Lijphart, Arend, eds, Electoral Laws and Their Political Consequences (New York: Agathon, 1986), pp. 6984; and Sartori, Giovanni, ‘The Influence of Electoral Systems: Faulty Laws or Faulty Method?’ in Grofman, and Lijphart, , eds, Electoral Laws and Their Political Consequences, pp. 4368.

24 Duverger, , Political Parties, p. 226.

25 Blais, André and Carty, R. K., ‘The Psychological Impact of Electoral Laws: Measuring Duverger's Elusive Factor’, British Journal of Political Science, 21 (1991), 7193.

26 Lijphart, , Electoral Systems and Party Systems, p. 76.

27 Lijphart, , Electoral Systems and Party Systems, pp. 76–7.

28 Mitra, , ‘The National Front in France’, p. 51.

29 Betz, , ‘The New Politics of Resentment’, p. 416.

30 The most thorough treatment of these issues is offered by Layard, Richard, Nickell, Stephen and Jackman, Richard, Unemployment: Macroeconomic Performance and the Labour Market (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), who compare unemployment trends across the EC, EFTA, the United States and Japan on p. 2 (EFTA includes Austria, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland). Age and gender differences in unemployment are reported on p. 7, and differences by occupational standing are shown on pp. 288–90 (in most cases, the ratio of manual to non-manual unemployment rates is approximately 2:1).

31 Indeed, it has been described as ‘Europe's most pressing domestic problem’ (‘Getting Europe back to work’, The Economist, 28 08, 1993, pp. 43–4. See also ‘Jobless Europe’, The Economist, 26 06, 1993, p. 17).

32 See, e.g., Mitra, , ‘The National Front in France’; Westle, and Niedermayer, , ‘Contemporary Right-Wing Extremism in West Germany’; and Lewis-Beck, and Mitchell, , ‘French Electoral Theory’.

33 Kinder, Donald R. and Kiewiet, D. Roderick, ‘Sociotropic Politics: The American Case’, British Journal of Political Science, II (1981), 129–61, at p. 132.

34 A parallel argument is made by Lewis-Beck and Mitchell (‘French Electoral Theory’) in their analysis of support for the French National Front. Comparing aggregate data across departments, they find that support for the Front National (FN) is a function of unemployment and immigration levels, along with crime rates.

35 Castles, and Mair, , ‘Left-Right Political Scales’. These authors report that respondents were able to assign numerical values to their country's parties according to instructions even though this procedure does not take into account the possible multi-dimensional meaning of the left-right language. For a summary and evaluation of various methods of constructing policy scales, see Laver, and Schofield, , Multiparty Government, Appendix B, and for evidence of the salience of left-right orientations to voters, see Huber, John D., ‘Values and Partisanship in Left-Right Orientations: Measuring Ideology’, European Journal of Political Research, 17 (1989), 599611.

36 Ignazi, , ‘The Silent Counter-Revolution’, p. 12.

37 Ignazi, , ‘The Silent Counter-Revolution’; and Taggart, Paul, ‘New Populist Parties in Western Europe’, West European Politics, 18 (1995), 3451. It is thus not surprising that, following its participation in the Berlusconi government in 1994, the Italian Social Movement was officially replaced by the National Alliance in 1995 in a formal effort to sever the link between the extreme right and the Mussolini legacy (‘Fini snuffs out fascist flame to try to boost party’, Financial Times, 26 01 1995, p. 2).

38 In addition to Taggart, , ‘New Populist Parties in Western Europe’, these supplementary sources involve country studies that appeared in a special issue of Parliamentary Affairs 45 (07 1992); Hainsworth, , ed., The Extreme Right in Europe and the USA; and Merkl, Peter and Weinberg, Leonard, eds, Encounters with the Contemporary Radical Right (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1992).

39 Mackie, Thomas M. and Rose, Richard, The International Almanac of Electoral History, 3rd edn (London: Macmillan, 1991). Additional information is from Mackie, , ‘General Elections in Western Nations During 1989’, European Journal of Political Research, 19 (1991), 157–62, and Mackie, , ‘General Elections in Western Nations During 1990’, European Journal of Political Research, 21 (1992), 317–32.

40 On the link between effective thresholds and disproportionality, see Lijphart, , Electoral Systems and Party Systems, pp. 107–13. Further evidence on this linkage comes from our own results: when a direct measure of disproportionality is substituted for the electoral threshold measure, the estimates are very similar to those we report below. On the measurement of disproportionality, see Gallagher, Michael, ‘Proportionality, Disproportionality and Electoral Systems’, Electoral Studies, 10 (1991), 3351, at pp. 3840. Note that the number of electoral systems is greater than the number of cases because the key features of electoral systems are not time-invariant.

41 Laakso, Markku and Taagepera, Rein, ‘“Effective” Number of Parties: A Measure with Application to West Europe’, Comparative Political Studies, 12 (1979), 327.

42 Economic Commission for Europe, Economic Survey of Europe in 1990–1991 (New York: United Nations. 1991), Appendix table A. 12. The only case for which unemployment data are missing is Switzerland, 1971. We substituted the Swiss unemployment figure for 1975 for the missing 1971 value, but none of the results below hinge on this interpolation.

43 See, for example, Stimson, James A., ‘Regression in Space and Time: A Statistical Essay’, American Journal of Political Science, 29 (1985), 914–47.

44 In addition to the raw unemployment rates we use, OECD reports a series of ‘standardized’ unemployment rates which are intended to control for small cross-country differences in the reporting of unemployment. Unfortunately, the spatial and temporal coverage of the standardized figures is limited. Since the standardization is intended to minimize cross-country differences in reporting, however, any such differences are also controlled with the country dummy variables that we employ. A more complete series based on the standardized figures that covers all of the countries we examine except for Greece and Portugal is provided by Layard, , Nickell, and Jackman, , Unemployment. pp. 526–9. A regression of our measure on the standardized version (N = 89) yields an estimated constant of 0.01 (standard error, 0.11), a slope of 1.01 (standard error. 0.01), and an R2 of 0.98. Thus, it is not surprising that substituting the standardized figures for those we use below (and thereby excluding Greece and Portugal from the analysis) provides estimates very similar to those reported in ‘Tables 2 and 3 below. We therefore conclude that the standardization procedure involves quite minor adjustments.

45 See. for example. Stimson, , ‘Regression in Space and Time’.

46 Amemiya, Takeshi, ‘Tobit Models: A Survey’, Journal of Econometrics, 24 (1984), 361; Kmenta, Jan, Elements of Econometrics, 2nd edn (New York: Macmillan, 1986).

47 On selection bias, see e.g., Berk, Richard A., ‘An Introduction to Sample Selection Bias in Sociological Data’, American Sociological Review, 48 (1983), 386–98; Geddes, Barbara, ‘How the Cases You Choose Affect the Answers You Get: Selection Bias in Comparative Politics’, Political Analysis, 2 (1990), 131–50.

48 The Tobit model was first used by Tobin, James, ‘Estimation of Relationships for Limited Dependent Variables’, Econometrica, 26 (1958), 2436, after whom it is named, in an analysis of the purchase of consumer durables. Useful discussions are available in Amemiya, , ‘Tobit Models: A Survey’, and Kmenta, , Elements of Econometrics.

49 These procedures are discussed by Berk, Richard A., ‘A Primer on Robust Regression’, in Fox, John and Long, J. Scott, eds, Modern Methods of Data Analysis (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1990), pp. 292324, and Western, Bruce, ‘Concepts and Suggestions for Robust Regression Analysis’, American Journal of Political Science, 39 (1995), 786817. The robust estimator is a maximum-likelihood procedure that downweights observations according to the size of their estimated residuals and thereby allows an evaluation of whether a small minority of observations are exerting a disproportionate effect on the estimates. The median regression estimator (also known as least-absolute value regression) is an alternative maximum-likelihood procedure that fits by minimizing the sum of absolute (as opposed to squared) residuals, and is thus less sensitive to extreme values on the dependent variable. All calculations were made with the STATA statistical package.

50 On this general issue, see, e.g., Friedrich, Robert J., ‘In Defense of Multiplicative Terms in Multiple Regression Equations’, American Journal of Political Science, 26 (1982), 797833.

51 Bell, , The End of Ideology; Bell, , The Coming of Post-Industrial Society; Inglehart, , The Silent Revolution.

52 Kitschelt, , ‘Left-Libertarian Parties’.

53 Sartori, Giovanni, ‘Political Development and Political Engineering’, in Montgomery, John D. and Hirschman, Albert O., eds, Public Policy, XII (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 261–98, at p. 273. This claim is of more than academic interest. The view that electoral laws can be manipulated to secure political goals is, of course, widespread (see, e.g., ‘Electoral reform: Good government? Fairness? Or vice versa. Or both’, The Economist, 1 05 1993, pp. 1921).

54 See, e.g., Alesina, Alberto, ‘Politics and Business Cycles in Industrial Democracies’, Economic Policy, 4 (1989), 5598; Alt, James E., ‘Party Strategies, World Demand, and Unemployment in Britain and the United States’, American Political Science Review, 79 (1985), 1016–40; Hibbs, Douglas A. Jr, The Political Economy of Industrial Societies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987); and Korpi, Walter, ‘Political and Economic Explanations for Unemployment: A Cross-National and Long-Term Analysis’, British Journal of Political Science, 21 (1991), 315–48.

55 See, e.g., Calmfors, Laers and Nymoen, Ragnar, ‘Real Wage Adjustment and Employment Policies in the Nordic Countries’, Economic Policy, 5 (1990), 397448; Jackman, Richard, Pissarides, Christopher and Savouri, Savvas, ‘Labour market policies and unemployment in the OECD’, Economic Policy, 5 (1990), 449–90; Layard, , Nickell, and Jackman, , Unemployment.

56 See, e.g., Shugart, Matthew S., ‘Electoral Reform in Systems of Proportional Representation’, European Journal of Political Research, 21 (1992), 207–24; Lijphart, , Electoral Systems and Party Systems, pp. 139–52.

57 At first sight, the results from the 1994 general election in Italy might seem to contradict our argument, given the success of the National Alliance (successor to the MSI) following electoral reforms designed to restrict smaller parties. However, it is important to note that, because of the reforms, the National Alliance formed a pre-election coalition with the Northern League and Forza Italia which allowed them, among other things, to field joint candidates throughout Italy (on these developments, see ‘The rise of Italy's right’, The Economist, 19 02 1994, pp. 55–6). The reforms themselves are discussed in ‘Italy: Rules of the new game’, The Economist, 26 06 1993, pp. 56–8, and by Calise, Mauro, ‘Remaking the Italian Party System: How Lijphart Got It Wrong by Saying It Right’, West European Politics, 16 (1993), 545–60.

58 Sartori, Giovanni, ‘Representational Systems’, in Sills, David L., ed., International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 13 (New York: Macmillan, 1968), pp. 465–74, at p. 469. See also Sartori, Giovanni, Comparative Constitutional Engineering: An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes (New York: New York University Press, 1994), especially chap. 4. A further distinction has recently been offered between proportionality from the perspective of (a) political parties (the conventional approach) and (b) individual voters. For an analysis of the possible trade-offs between these two forms of proportionality, see Riedwyl, Hans and Steiner, Jürg, ‘What Is Proportionality Anyhow?Comparative Politics, 27 (1995), 357–69.

* Department of Political Science, University of California, Davis. We would like to thank Donna Bahry, Mary Jackman, Ross Miller, Subrata Mitra, Jeannette Money, Randolph Siverson, Albert Weale and a referee of the Journal for their helpful comments. We would also like to acknowledge support from the Center for German and European Studies at UC Berkeley and the Academic Senate at UC Davis. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 1995 Annual Meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Portland, Oregon.

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