2016 has been a year of rising populism for Europe and the world. From Brexit to Trump, from UKIP to the AfD, it seems that pandering to emotions instead of appealing to facts has become more and more a winning strategy. This seems to be especially true for European politicians, such as Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage or Geert Wilders. We want to know why. In a comparison of four distinct studies, this blogpost summarizes the most recent findings to try to explain the rise and appeal of populism in Europe.
This Blogpost in short:
- The share of voters holding authoritarian populist views is on a highpoint throughout Europe
- Studies find a strong correlation between the fear of globalization and support for right wing populist parties
- Still, negative trade consequences and globalization fears alone seem not be able to explain the rise of European populism
Authoritarian Populism an emerging threat?
The Brexit and the election of Donald Trump prove that “authoritarian populism” is an emerging force in Europe and the United States. Parties like the UKIP in the UK, the AfD in Germany, and the Front National in France are attracting more and more voters. A survey by YouGov published on November 16th used an Exploratory Factor Analysis on a series of variables associated with the theoretical foundations of Authoritarian Populism to see how many voters hold Authoritarian Populist views. Such views, in the context of this study, were associated with basic factors and attitudes such as anti-human rights, anti-EU, anti-immigration and pro-strong foreign policy stands. The results are drastic. The study shows that in “eight of the twelve countries, almost half of voters – if not more – hold authoritarian populist views”. While only 18 percent of German voters are susceptible to authoritarian populist views, the number is much higher in France where 63 percent of voters are likely to hold authoritarian populist views (See figure 1).
Why do people vote for right-wing populist parties?
The program “Europe’s Future” of the Bertelsmann Stiftung published a study titled “Globalization anxiety or value conflict? Who in Europe votes for the populist parties and why?” that surveyed nearly 11,000 people in all 28 EU countries and concluded that Europeans vote for right-wing populist parties due to a fear of globalization. The results show that 55 percent of EU citizens fear globalization, whereas 45 percent see it as an opportunity. On a country level these numbers vary significantly. In Austria and France a majority of the people see globalization as a threat (55 percent, 54 percent), whereas in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom the percentage of people seeing globalization as a threat is much lower (39 percent, 39 percent, 36 percent). The Netherlands, Germany and Hungary are in the midfield with 40 percent, 45 percent and 47 percent of people seeing globalization as a threat.
The study further shows that educational level, income and age are affecting how people perceive globalization: the lower the educational level, the lower the income and the older the people are, the more likely they are to perceive globalization as a threat. Similarly, Europeans who affiliate themselves with right-wing parties show a strong fear of globalization: 78 percent of AfD voters, 76 percent of FN voters, 69 percent of FPÖ voters, 66 percent of Lega-Nord voters, 57 percent of PVV voters, 58 percent of PiS voters, 61 percent of Fidesz voters, 50 percent of Jobbik voters and 50 percent of UKIP voters perceive globalization as a threat. Left-wing parties, such as Die Linke, Movimento 5 Stelle and Podemos similarly attract people who fear globalization, but to a lesser extent than right-wing parties do.
What aspect of globalization is prompting people to turn to right-wing parties?
In accordance with the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s results, the Institute for the World Economy also found that certain aspects of globalization strengthen right-wing parties. The study looked at different regions in Germany and asked whether the rise of right-wing populism is associated with an increase in international trade. The study found that employees from regions who are negatively affected by import competition from low-wage countries are turning to support right-wing extremist parties with an anti-globalisation standpoint, whereas those employees from regions who actually benefit from improved export opportunities abstain from supporting right-wing parties. Generally speaking electoral support of right-wing parties significantly correlates with international trade: An increase in trade exposure with negative effects leads to an increase in votes for right-wing parties.
Although fringe right-wing parties are unlikely to come into power, moderate parties might strategically react to the anti-globalization sentiments of their voters by promising to reduce further international integration. This would come at a high cost with substantial welfare losses, since economic theory suggests that positive labour market effects outweigh negative ones. Hence the study concludes that “policy must help those who lose from globalization to cushion the effects of trade exposure” in order to counter the recent trends of anti-globalization sentiments and the emergence of right-wing populism.
Is trade liberalization really the cause for authoritarian populism?
Daniel Gros from the Centre for European Policy Studies comes to a slightly different conclusion. In his study “Is globalisation really fuelling populism?” he investigates the link between the fear of globalization and populism further. Gros explains the common logic behind the “globalization loser” argument the following way: “By pursuing successive rounds of trade liberalisation, leaders in the US and Europe ‘hollowed out’ the domestic manufacturing base, reducing the availability of high paying jobs for low-skilled workers, who now have to choose between protracted unemployment and menial service-sector jobs. Fed up, those workers are now supposedly rejecting establishment parties for having spearheaded this ‘elite project’.” This argument falls in line with the study of the Institute for the World Economy which also argues that “globalization losers” – the employees who are negatively affected by international trade- are the ones who vote for right-wing parties.
Without a doubt globalization has substantially altered economies and sent some jobs to developing countries. There is also a strong relationship between educational attainment and labor market performance as well as income. In Europe for example, graduates of universities are three times more likely to find a job than those who finished secondary school only. Similarly, the income levels of those who graduated are much higher. These ideas also fall in line with the Bertelsmann study which found that people with a lower educational level and income level are more likely to fear globalization, as well as economic theory which suggests that jobs of low skilled manufacturing workers are affected the most by import competition from low-wage countries.
So in order to explain the rise of populism, argues Gros, the above mentioned factors must have intensified by a great extent in the last months. Gros shows however that in the last decade the wage premium for workers in occupations that require high levels of education has been roughly constant in Europe. Also the difference in employment rates of the highly educated and the less educated has remained relatively constant in Europe. Finally, the share of low-skilled workers who have not completed secondary education declined rapidly in the last years: While there were over 50 percent more low-skilled workers at the turn of the century, today university graduates nearly outnumber low-skilled workers. Therefore, Gros expects that the share of European voters who support anti-globalization movements actually should have decreased. Based on this study it seems that the explanation of why people fear globalization is much more complex.
Gross argues that “in the midst of relative economic stability, rising real wages, and low unemployment rates, grievances about the economic impact of economic globalization are simply not that powerful”. He believes that right-wing parties attract more votes by playing on popular fears and frustrations, such as the “anti-immigration” rhetoric which is mirrored all across northern Europe, embracing so-called identity politics. His study concludes that “calling the rise of populism in Europe a revolt by the losers of globalization is not just simplistic; it is misleading”. He believes that other, more complex, forces are driving the rise of authoritarian populism in Europe.
First of all, the recent YouGov survey shows that many voters in Europe hold authoritarian populist views: in eight of the twelve countries surveyed, almost half of voters – if not more – hold authoritarian populist views. Secondly, the Bertelsmann Stiftung study further concludes that Europeans vote for right-wing populist parties due to a fear of globalization: the lower the educational level, the lower the income and the older the people are, the more likely they are to perceive globalization as a threat. Next, the Institute for the World Economy finds in an empirical study that an increase in trade exposure can lead to an increase in votes for right-wing parties: employees from regions who are negatively affected by import competition from low-wage countries are turning to support right-wing extremist parties. Daniel Gros from the Centre for European Policy Studies rejects this idea that “globalization losers” are the driving force behind populism, arguing that the answer is more complex. Based on the available data he argues that in Europe the share of low-skilled workers who have not completed secondary education declined rapidly and that the difference in employment rates of the highly educated and the less educated has remained relatively constant in Europe. Therefore the share of European voters who support anti-globalization movements should have decreased. This brings along an interesting debate and probably more studies that will try to address what drives the fear of globalization and the resulting increase in authoritarian populist views. The GED team will continue to work on this important topic and keep you, our faithful audience, informed.