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Radical Right Parties in Office: Incumbency Records and the Electoral Cost of Governing 1

  • Tjitske Akkerman and Sarah L. de Lange


Radical right parties are becoming increasingly likely candidates to participate in government coalitions in Western Europe. Comparative research on the electoral performance of these parties in government is still scarce. Our overview of the electoral effects of government participation of six parties in national governments shows that they do not run a higher risk of losing votes after government participation than other parties. There is considerable variation, however. Some radical right parties experienced great losses, while others won additional support. Focusing on the ways in which radical right parties conducted themselves in government, we explore why some parties won votes and others lost in post-incumbency elections. We compare their policy achievements with regard to immigration and integration policies, the performance of their ministers, and the party coherence of the six parties in office. Our analysis shows that policy records do not fully explain the variation in post-incumbency electoral results. Weak performance and internal party conflict prevent parties from credibly laying claim to the policy achievements of coalition governments and demonstrate that some of these parties were not ready for office.



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This work is part of the research programme ‘Newly Governing Parties: Success or Failure?’ (dossiernummer 013-115-060), which is financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).



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2 de Lange, Sarah L., ‘From Pariah to Power: Explanations for the Government Participation of Radical Right-wing Populist Parties in West European Parliamentary Democracies’, disseration, University of Antwerp, 2008.

3 Mudde, Cas, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

4 Fennema, Meindert, ‘Some Conceptual Issues and Problems in the Comparison of Anti-immigrant Parties in Western Europe’, Party Politics, 3: 4 (1997), pp. 473492.

5 Radical right parties that support minority governments are de facto coalition members, because they are part of ‘a more or less permanent coalition that ensures acceptance of all or almost all government proposals’ (de Swaan, Abram, Coalition Theories and Cabinet Formations: A Study of Formal Theories of Coalition Formation Applied to Nine European Parliaments after 1918, Amsterdam, Elsevier, 1973, p. 85). From 2001 to 2005 the Norwegian Fremskrittspartiet (FRP) also supported a minority government, but its position was less formalized than that of its Danish counterpart. This case is therefore not included in this article.

6 The LN also joined the first Berlusconi cabinet in 1994. However, the party was primarily a regionalist party at the time. The issue of autonomy for northern Italy received more attention than immigration and integration in the electoral programme of the LN in 1994. See Fella, Stefano and Ruzza, Carlo, ‘Changing Political Opportunities and the Re-invention of the Italian Right’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 8: 2 (2006), pp. 179200.

7 A new electoral system introduced in Italy in 2005 makes it difficult to compare the electoral results.

8 Dunphy, Richard and Bale, Tim, ‘The Radical Left in Coalition Government: Towards a Comparative Measurement of Success and Failure’, Party Politics, 17: 4 (2011), pp. 488504.

9 Rüdig, Wolfgang, ‘Is Government Good for Greens? Comparing the Electoral Effects of Government Participation in Western and East-Central Europe’, European Journal of Political Research, 45 (2006), p. 132. Cf. Elias, Anwen and Tronconi, Filippo, ‘From Protest to Power: Autonomist Parties in Government’, Party Politics, 17: 4 (2011), pp. 505524.

10 Rose, Richard and Mackie, Thomas T., ‘Incumbency in Government: Asset or Liability?’ in Daalder, Hans and Mair, Peter (eds), Western European Party Systems: Continuity and Change, London, Sage, 1983, pp. 115137; van Spanje, Joost, ‘Keeping the Rascals In: Anti-Political-Establishment Parties and their Cost of Governing in Established Democracies’, European Journal of Political Research, 50: 5 (2011), pp. 605635.

11 Rüdig, , ‘Is Government Good for Greens’, pp. 127145; Dorussen, Han and Taylor, Michaell (eds), Economic Voting, London, Routledge, 2002.

13 Narud, Hanne M. and Valen, Henry, ‘Coalition Membership and Electoral Performance’, in Strøm, Kaare, Müller, Wolfgang C. and Bergman, Torbjörn (eds), Cabinets and Coalition Bargaining: The Democratic Life Cycle in Western Europe, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 369402; Fiorina, Morris P., Retrospective Voting in American National Elections, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1981; Frölich-Steffen, Susanne and Rensmann, Lars, ‘Conditions for Failure and Success of Right-Wing Populist Parties in Public Office in the New European Union’, in Delwit, Pascal and Poirier, Philippe (eds), Extrême Droite et Pouvoir en Europe, Brussels, Editions de L'Université de Bruxelles, 2007, pp. 117139.

14 Budge, Ian and Farlie, Dennis, Voting and Party Competition, London, Wiley, 1983.

15 Petrocik, John R., ‘Issue Ownership in Presidential Elections, with a 1980 Case Study’, American Journal of Political Science, 40 (1996), pp. 825850.

16 Anderson, Christopher, ‘The Dynamics of Public Support for Coalition Governments’, Comparative Political Studies, 19 (1995), pp. 151170; Bélanger, Éric and Meguid, Bonnie M., ‘Issue Salience, Issue Ownership, and Issue-based Vote Choice’, Electoral Studies, 27: 3 (2008), pp. 477491; Green, Jane and Hobolt, Sara B., ‘Owning the Issue Agenda: Party Strategies and Vote Choices in British Elections’, Electoral Studies, 27: 3 (2008), pp. 460476.

17 Petrocik, , ‘Issue Ownership’.

18 Fennema, , ‘Some Conceptual Issues’; Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties.

19 Ivarsflaten, Elisabeth, ‘What Unites Right-wing Populists in Western Europe? Re-examining Grievance Models in Seven Successful Cases’, Comparative Political Studies, 41: 1 (2008), pp. 323.

20 Carter, Elisabeth, Extreme Right Parties in Western Europe: Success or Failure? Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2005; van der Brug, Wouter, Fennema, Meindert and Tillie, Jean, ‘Anti-immigrant Parties in Europe: Ideological or Protest Vote?’, European Journal of Political Research, 37: 1 (2000), pp. 77102.

21 In the 1999 elections the FPÖ had beaten the ÖVP by a small margin. However, the two parties gained an equal number of parliamentary seats and the ÖVP took the lead in the coalition negotiations. The FPÖ was forced to acknowledge the strong bargaining position of the Christian Democrat Party and had to grant it the chancellorship. The Swiss situation is even more complicated, since Switzerland is not a parliamentary democracy. The country is not ruled by a government coalition, but by the Swiss Federal Council, in which no distinction is made between senior and junior coalition members. Thus, even though the SVP emerged as the largest party after the Swiss election of 19 October 2003, it only appoints two of the seven members of the Swiss Federal Council.

22 Smith, Gordon, ‘The Search of Small Parties, Problems of Definition, Classification, and Significance’, in Müller-Rommel, Ferdinand and Pridham, Geoffrey (eds), Small Parties in Western Europe: Comparative and National Perspectives, London, Sage, 1991, pp. 2340.

23 Bolleyer, Nicole, ‘The Organizational Costs of Public Office’, in Deschouwer, Kris (ed.), New Parties in Government: In Power for the First Time, London, Routledge, 2008, pp. 1745.

24 De Lange, , ‘From Pariah to Power’.

25 McCurley, Carl and Mondak, Jeffrey J., ‘The Influence of Incumbents’ Competence and Integrity in U.S. House Elections’, American Journal of Political Science, 39: 4 (1995), pp. 864885; Bellucci, Paolo, ‘Tracing the Cognitive and Affective Roots of “Party Competence”: Italy and Britain, 2001’, Electoral Studies, 25 (2006), pp. 548569.

26 Rüdig, , ‘Is Government Good for Greens’, pp. 127145.

27 Bianco, William T., Trust: Representatives and Constituents, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1994; Heinisch, Reinhard, ‘Success in Opposition – Failure in Government: Explaining the Performance of Right-wing Populist Parties in Public Office’, West European Politics, 26: 3 (2003), pp. 91130.

28 Art, David, Inside the Radical Right: The Development of Anti-immigrant Parties in Western Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011; de Lange, Sarah L. and Art, David, ‘Fortuyn versus Wilders: An Agency-based Approach to Radical Right Party Building’, West European Politics, 24: 6 (2011), pp. 12291249.

29 Heinisch, , ‘Success in Opposition’.

30 Minkenberg, Michael, ‘The Radical Right in Public Office: Agenda-setting and Policy Effects’, West European Politics, 24: 4 (2001), pp. 121.

31 Akkerman, Tjitske, ‘Anti-immigration Parties and the Defence of Liberal Values: The Exceptional Case of the List Pim Fortuyn’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 10: 3 (2005), pp. 337354; Betz, Hans-Georg, ‘Xenophobia, Identity Politics and Exclusionary Populism in Western Europe’, in Panitch, Leo and Leys, Colin (eds), Fighting Identities: Race, Religion and Ethno-Nationalism, London, Merlin, 2003, pp. 193210; Mudde, , Populist Radical Right Parties, pp. 1132.

32 Howard, Marc M., ‘The Impact of the Far Right on Citizenship Policy in Europe: Explaining Continuity and Change’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36: 5 (2010), p. 747.

33 That is with the exception of dual nationality for residents who belong to the nation but live abroad. They should not be required to discard their original citizenship status.

34 Bauböck, Rainer, Ersbøll, Eva, Groenendijk, Kees and Waldrauch, Harald (eds), Acquisition and Loss of Nationality: Policies and Trends in 15 European States, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2006; Odmalm, Pontus, ‘One Size Fits All? European Citizenship, National Citizenship Policies and Integration Requirements’, Representation, 43: 1 (2007), pp. 1934; Vink, Maarten, ‘Citizenship Attribution in Western Europe: International Framework and Domestic Trends’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36: 5 (2010), pp. 713734.

35 Wallace, Sara Goodman, ‘Integration Requirements for Integration's Sake? Identifying, Categorising and Comparing Civic Integration Policies’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36: 5 (2010), pp. 753772; Joppke, Christian and Morawska, Ewa (eds), Toward Assimilation and Citizenship: Immigrants in Liberal Nation-states, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2003.

36 Bauböck, Rainer and Joppke, Christian (eds), ‘How Liberal Are Citizenship Tests?’ EUI Working Paper RSCAS, 41, San Domenico di Fiesole, European University Institute, 2010.

37 Goodman, , ‘Integration Requirements’, p. 765.

38 Jacobs, Dirk and Rea, Andrea, ‘The End of National Models? Integration Courses and Citizenship Trajectories in Europe’, International Journal on Multicultural Societies, 9: 2 (2007), pp. 264283.

39 For a comparison with the policy records of cabinets that did not include radical right parties, see Akkerman, Tjitske, ‘The Impact of Radical Right Parties in Government: A Comparative Analysis of Immigration and Integration Policies in Nine Countries (1996–2010)’, West European Politics, 35: 3 (2012), pp. 511529.

40 Thompson, Elaine and Tillotsen, Greg, ‘Caught in the Act: The Smoking Gun View of Ministerial Responsibility’, Australian Journal of Public Administration, 58: 1 (1999), pp. 4857; Berlinski, Samuale, Dewan, Torun and Dowding, Keith, ‘The Length of Ministerial Tenure in the United Kingdom, 1945–97’, British Journal of Political Science, 37 (2007), pp. 245262.

41 Fallend, Fritz, ‘Are Right-wing Populism and Government Incompatible? The Case of the Freedom Party of Austria’, Representation, 40: 2 (2004), pp. 115130.

42 Albertazzi, Daniele and McDonnell, Duncan, ‘The LN in the Second Berlusconi Government: In a League of its Own’, West European Politics, 28: 5 (2005), pp. 952972; Hopkin, Jonathan and Ignazi, Pietro, ‘Newly Governing Parties in Italy: Comparing the PDS-DS, Lega Nord and Forza Italia’, in Deschouwer, Kris (ed.), New Parties in Government: In Power for the First Time, Oxford, Routledge, 2008, pp. 4564.

43 Ibid.

44 Albertazzi, Daniele and McDonnell, Duncan, ‘The Lega Nord back in Government’, West European Politics, 33: 6 (2010), pp. 13181340.

45 Albertazzi, Daniele, McDonnell, Duncan and Newell, James L., ‘Di Lotta e di Governo: The Lega Nord and Rifondazione Comunista in Office’, Party Politics, 17 (2011), pp. 471487; Albertazzi, Daniele, ‘Reconciling “Voice” and “Exit”: Swiss and Italian Populists in Power’, Politics, 29: 1 (2009), pp. 110.

46 Rihoux, Benoit and Rüdig, Wolfgang, ‘Analyzing Greens in Power: Setting the Agenda’, European Journal of Political Research, 45 (2006), p. 18.

47 Frölich-Steffen, and Rensmann, , ‘Conditions for Failure and Success of Right-wing Populist Parties’.

48 Luther, Kurt Richard, ‘Governing with Right-wing Populists and Managing the Consequences: Schüssel and the FPÖ’, in Bischof, Günther and Plasser, Fritz (eds), The Schüssel Era in Austria, Innsbrück and New Orleans, Innsbrück University Press and University of New Orleans Press, 2009, pp. 79103.

49 Luther, Kurt Richard, ‘Of Goals and Own Goals: A Case Study of Right-wing Populist Strategy for and During Incumbency’, Party Politics, 17: 4 (2011), pp. 453470.

50 Lucardie, Paul, ‘The Netherlands: Populism versus Pillarization’, in Albertazzi, Daniele and McDonnell, Duncan (eds), The Spectre of Western European Democracy, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, pp. 151166.

51 Wynia, Siep, ‘Bedreigingen Maakten einde aan Balkenende I’, Elsevier, 12: 4 (2006), at

1 This work is part of the research programme ‘Newly Governing Parties: Success or Failure?’ (dossiernummer 013-115-060), which is financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Radical Right Parties in Office: Incumbency Records and the Electoral Cost of Governing 1

  • Tjitske Akkerman and Sarah L. de Lange


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