“There is no far-right or extremist wave in Europe.”

Just before the Dutch elections, the debate seems to have returned to the political centre: the domain of the three major parties. The political wings, which had the upper hand for a while, have become less involved. Some people seem surprised by this. But Larry Bartels, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, is not. The book was written at the end of last year Democracy is eroding from the top; Leaders, citizens and the challenge of populism in Europewhere he argues that most voters in the Western world are in the political center, and even in times of crisis, it is difficult or impossible to escape.

Bartels looks only at political polls and not at the results, because in his view they only reflect a reaction to the political offer available.

“Everywhere in the Western world, there is a stock of people who support anti-democratic parties,” Bartels says during a long video call. According to my research based on opinion polls in several European countries, this stock remains fairly constant. There is no doubt that there is a far-right or extremist “wave” that some people think they see in Europe. What you see is that during the euro crisis, the migration crisis and other difficult times, citizens temporarily lost a little bit of their trust in politics, in politicians, and sometimes in democracy. But these were always lows. Significantly small and short dips. They also recover very quickly. So we are dealing with a tank, not a wave. In this regard, voters appear to be more consistent than many think. There is little difference. “What is different is the politicians.”

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What do you mean by that?

It is political leaders who manage the stock of potential anti-democratic voters in each country. They are the ones who determine whether this potential will be fully or only partially used. By “branding” themselves as far-right or anti-democratic and deploying charismatic leaders, parties mobilize the potential in such a reservoir. Some do it better than others. They are helped by the media. They are good at exaggerating the success of anti-democratic parties. Even if this success is limited, many media outlets exaggerate it. I saw it in Spain during the elections this summer. Everywhere I saw front pages about the far-right Vox party, and about the question of why the “populist wave” has finally arrived in Spain. New York times I did that, for example. But what turns out is: Fox He didn’t score well at all. That message was in New York times On page 6. I also recently saw some interesting research on the UK Independence Party. It showed that increasing support for UKIP in opinion polls was not followed by massive media interest, but rather the opposite was true. “The huge media interest has led to the growth of UKIP.”

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Doesn’t this example prove that the far right can actually grow?

“No, the opposite. Here we saw a skilled politician who not only moved voters in favor of Brexit, but also seduced other politicians from their centrist position. To be sure, not everyone promoted Brexit. But almost no politician advocated for European Union membership. And when they did it, it was done without much conviction. And here I saw clearly that it is the political presentation, or the politicians with their message, that determines the outcome of the referendum. Then it collapsed like candy again. And the citizens see how wonderful the idea of ​​UKIP leaving the European Union is And what you did to their country.”

Populists always say they follow “the people.” But in your opinion, this is not true. Voters follow politicians, even though they are charlatans.

“Yes. The position of the centrist parties is crucial. They are always afraid that they will lose votes to the extreme parties. In Sweden, the centrist parties have had discipline for a long time.” [radicaalrechtse] Sweden Democrats (SD) to impeach. No one wants to be ruled with SD. None of these parties adopted the ideas of SD. They kept their distance, also in terms of content. In the last elections you saw that the Social Democratic Party did not grow.”

But the SD party now tolerates the government, right?

“Not because they grew enormously, but because the right wanted to rule and did not have a majority. “There is no doubt that there will be a far-right breakthrough or wave.”

I have studied the impact of the euro crisis on several European countries and concluded that it has only led to dissatisfaction in democracy and the European Union. how is that possible?

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“Yes, you would expect the dissatisfaction to be much stronger. And in Greece, where the economic distress was severe, there was of course a backlash. But soon the Greeks started thinking: the only way that could help us get back on the right track is the European Union.” And soon Confidence in the European Union has risen again from what it was before the euro crisis. We have seen the same thing in other countries that suffered badly from the euro crisis. Citizens often have more confidence in the European Union than in their government.

To keep far-right parties at bay, many European governments are now calling for restrictions on immigration. Germany does it, the Netherlands does it, Italy does it, it’s a trend. Does it work too?

“My research on the impact of the 2015/16 migration crisis showed that everything depended on the political leaders. In Germany, support for immigration remained very stable during that period. Chancellor Angela Merkel sat there, who said,”Wir chaffen dasThe opposite happened in Hungary. There, Hungarians became anti-immigration because Prime Minister Orbán criticized refugees.

If more and more European politicians talk about walls, deterrence and return, will citizens follow them?

“That’s to be expected, yes.”

Do you agree with political scientist Daniel Ziblatt that the center-right is more important to the survival of democracy than the center-left?

“The most important factor is not left or right, in my view. It is ‘performance’. Performance. What the party says and does. For example, the founding of the Vox party in Spain was partly a response to the social democratic Workers’ Party, which sought a rapprochement with the Catalan nationalists.” This happened at a time, which is interesting, when the populist sentiment that arose during the euro crisis was on the decline. So the Vox party was born not out of dissatisfaction with the euro crisis, but out of dissatisfaction with the policies of the left-wing prime minister. the middle.

You write in your book: It is a myth that the will of the people is decisive in a democracy.

“They are the leaders who direct policy in the direction they want it to go.”

Aren’t Hungary and Poland examples of the opposite?

“No. People did not vote for Fidesz in 2010 because they wanted to undermine democracy, but because the previous government that had been in place since 2002 had performed poorly and even created chaos. In those days, Viktor Orbán was just a conservative politician. He did not start “In undermining democracy and subjugating the electoral system only after he came to power to the point that it would be difficult for him to face any electoral competition. It was his idea to weaken democracy, not the voters.”

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If it’s that simple, why don’t so many leaders in democracies do it?

“That’s the main question for me! Why don’t so many do it, if it’s so easy? Maybe it has to do with culture and political values. Hungary is very dissatisfied with its place in the world. Many Hungarians feel like victims of domination in the distant past and loss of territory.” [na het verdrag van Trianon in 1920]. They want to return to some kind of imaginative and idyllic past. This feeds the behavior of politicians like Orbán. From the Law and Justice Party in Poland. We must bear in mind that, unlike Orbán, most far-right parties will never obtain an overwhelming majority and, like him, will never be able to decide for themselves what to do with the country. In Europe, most of these parties have to rely on coalitions with parties that want to support democracy and respect the rules they agreed to in the European Union.

Is a proportional system, as in the Netherlands, better in this regard?

“In such a system, because of the formation of the coalition, it is very important what the other parties want from democracy. If other parties do not join the anti-democratic discourse, anti-democratic ideas will not become a majority. In the system we live in in America, the far right cannot seize parliament, but it can seize the presidency. This is how Trump came to power. How can you prevent this? Many of the problems in my country stem from the fact that Republican leaders do not stand up for democracy. In other words, the fate of democracy depends not on what American voters want, but on the position of the Republican Party apparatus. “I’m afraid that won’t change.”

Does this mean Donald Trump has a chance to become president again?

“Yes, I think he still has a chance.”

Will American voters, unlike voters in Poland recently, intervene now that they have become aware of what is on a man’s mind regarding democracy?

“The optimistic note for me is that young people don’t have a Republican mindset right now. It’s mainly older people who vote Republican. Research shows that voters find abstract democratic principles important. But it’s also not just those principles that determine their voting behavior. And they have “Always other, more practical considerations: taxes, inflation, other things that they personally want are different. It’s always a trade-off. And that’s exactly what politicians use, in good faith or in bad faith.”

Megan Vasquez

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