Recently, scholars have shown a growing interest in radical left parties (RLPs). In terms of electoral success, the rise of the KPÖ Graz, the Communist Party in Austria’s second biggest city, represents perhaps the most counterintuitive case in Western Europe. Adding to previous studies, the rise of the KPÖ Graz contradicts many of the claims made and patterns found about the conditions for the electoral success of RLPs. While the national KPÖ was voted out of parliament in 1959, the Graz branch has been a member of local government since 1998. Since then, the party has managed to gain 20 per cent of the vote in three out of four elections. In 2017, the KPÖ defended its place as the second largest party in local legislature and stayed ahead of the radical right FPÖ, on the rise at the national level. In stark contrast to the Communists’ current strength, however, they did not gain even 2 per cent of the vote in 1983. This analysis shows how the party has managed to ‘own’ the issue of housing and to exploit local political opportunities in order to be electorally successful. The findings point to the importance of agency and the subnational level for RLPs, and highlight more general questions in the study of this party family.
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