Andrej Kokkonen: Inclusion or exclusion? Mainstream parties’ reaction to populist party success and its consequences for political support
Andrej Kokkonen, associate professor at the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University presented this Tuesday.
The increasing support for radical right populist parties (RRPP) is often interpreted as a crisis of democracy. In this paper we explore the link between the growth of RRPPs and political trust in Europe. In prior research, support for RRPPs has mostly been depicted as a consequence of democratic discontent rather than the other way around. However, recently it has been suggested that RRPPs not only thrive on, but also fuel, democratic discontent, which implies that levels of support will decline as RRPPs win over a growing proportion of a country’s electorate. However, aggregated trend data actually shows the opposite pattern: Satisfaction with the way democracy works (SWD) has increased in the countries where RRPPs have been most successful. We reconcile these seemingly contradictory findings by exploring whether voters’ responses to RRPPs’ electoral successes, in terms of satisfaction with democracy and the government, depend on whether established parties respond to the successes by including or excluding the RRPPs. Our results show that nativists and non-nativists converge in satisfaction when established parties include RRPPs in government cooperation. Nativists become more and non-nativists less satisfied with the way democracy and government works. However, there is a net increase in total SWD as the former effect is larger in magnitude than the latter. This general trend is confirmed in a more stringent test on panel data in the Netherlands. Our findings highlight the dilemma faced by mainstream parties. Strategies of inclusion increase the legitimacy of the system among nativist voters. At the same time, it somewhat decreases SWD among non-nativist voters. The fact that the overall effect is positive because former reaction is stronger than the latter, however, provocatively points to the conclusion that SWD will increase if established parties continue their inclusive strategies towards RRPPs. At least in the short term.