extremism & populism



Voices which caution against success of extreme and populist parties in parliamentary elections have been resonating throughout Europe in recent years. They started appearing during the economic crisis which struck Europe in 2008 and resulted in a significant decline in GDP, growing unemployment and general government gross debts. The Coalition of Radical Left (called SYRIZA) became the second largest party in Greek parliament when it won 71 seats in the lower chamber in July 2012. The far-right Swedish Democrats won 12.9% of the vote in the parliamentary election of 2014. In the same year in Hungary, the Movement for a Better Hungary (called JOBBIK) surprisingly received 20.5% of the vote in the parliamentary election. Extreme and populist parties won an average of 21.4% of the vote in all countries of the European Union in the 2008-2014 period, with populist parties winning 10.8%, far-right parties 6.9%, and far-left parties 3.8%. Compared to the 2000-2007 period, the vote share of extreme and populist parties increased by 3.3%. The downturn in economic activity was prolonged when several European countries recorded the threat of indebtedness. Latvia, Greece, Ireland, and Portugal had to ask international organizations for a bailout. Standard of living in these countries deteriorated. A possible explanation is that voters of the affected countries did not have positive expectations of the future. They were likely to blame the mainstream parties for the economic hardship (either for causing it or not being able to resolve it).

Graph: Average vote share of far-righ, far-left and populist parties in the EU28 countries in the 2000-20174 period

Source: Database of Political Parties (2015)

Based on these findings, our project analyses how the economic crisis influenced changes in the vote share of extreme and populist parties. The research includes all 28 European Union member countries in the concerned 2008-2014 period.  It also takes into consideration previous years. In this respect, there is no consensus on whether the relation between economic indicators and electoral results of extreme and populist parties is direct or indirect. The economic crisis could serve only as means of uncovering stronger tensions in the European society which had existed for a longer time. Therefore, the project draws on the theoretical and empirical findings of economics and also other social science disciplines. Researchers from three faculties of Masaryk University (the Faculty of Economics and Administration, the Faculty of Law, and the Faculty of Social Science) and five disciplines (economics, law, politics, social psychology, and sociology) cooperate in the project. The interdisciplinary approach to the project may be found innovative even from an international point of view. In adddition, the project has important practical consequences. The findings of the analysis will be presented at meetings of international organizations (Radicalisation Awareness Network at the European Commission, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance). They will be offered to public authorities (Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, and the Police of the Czech Republic). It is not sufficient to rely on present legislature in the fight against negative consequences of extremism and populism. It is necessary to prevent them. The government should be active in implementing changes to economic policy, in approaching minorities and immigrants, in the enforcement of independent judicatory, and in dealing with the legacy of Communism. The government cannot implement these measures without the knowledge of the determinants of growth in extremism and populism. The project strives to detect them.

Graph: Vote share of far-left parties in debtor countries in the European Union, economic growth and unemployment rate

Source: Database of Political Parties (2015); IMF (2016)

Note: There were five debtor countries in the European Union: Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, and Portugal.