A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of the new extreme right. Contrary to the communism, that Marx was referring to in his original quote, the new extreme right seems to build up a broader societal base in Western Europe. In recent years the new extreme right (ER) parties have experienced an upsurge in popularity and electoral support. However, research on this group of parties could not establish a conclusive list of factors that are conducive for generating a high share of votes for the extreme right. This essay attempts to assess one factor that might benefit the ER, namely unemployment. By following the assumptions of economic interest theory the author wants to investigate whether unemployment rates and the support for radical right parties stand in a relationship to each other and if so, in what kind of relationship. Thus, this essay will analyse the election results of the ER in German and Italy, both on the national and one regional level for each country and will examine whether they are related to the corresponding unemployment rates in the years 2000 to 2014. Lastly, the findings will then be assessed in a broader frame of existing literature.
Scheuch and Klingemann (1967) were considered the first political scientists that engaged with the new ER’s electorate scientifically. Furthermore, they emphasized that “right-wing radicalism represents a ‘normal pathology’ in all rapidly changing industrial societies” (Wilcox, Weinberg and Eubank, 2003:129). In other words, the ER necessarily emerges in societies moving from an industrial to a post-industrial state and is thus, a consequence of this development. In that sense they have the same starting point for their analysis as Betz since they also identify the economic modernisation process as initial position for an analysis of ER parties. With the development from an industrial to a post-industrial society in Western Europe not only did the economy change but also its societal structure. Scheuch and Klingemann drew a relationship between the occurring individual uncertainties resulting from the changes in society, whilst Betz went a step further and classified the vote for the ER as the vote of the ‘losers of modernity’ (1994, 1998).
According to Betz (1994, 1998) the modernization losers are those who have been employed in the traditional industrial sectors and are not necessarily required in the labour force anymore. Since their skills are no longer required in a post-industrial economy they find themselves disengaged from their traditional subcultures. Although not empirically tested Betz draws a relation between the rising levels of unemployment and the vote for the ER (Betz 1994, 1998). The assumption this analysis is making is that although the transformation from industrial to post-industrial society is completed in Western Europe the category of ‘losers of modernity’ still exists. Even though the author would not agree with the label ‘losers’, existing literature might refer to this social class ‘precariat’ for instance. The point, this paper is trying to make is that a social group whose skills are not required in a post-industrial world did not only exist in the time Betz wrote his study but in fact, never ceased to exist.
Several studies have shown that especially manual workers and less well educated people are more likely to vote for ER parties (Scheepers, Eisinga & Lammers 1993; Falter & Klein 1994; Kitschelt 1995; Eisinga, Lammers, Lubbers & Scheepers 1998). Following the theory of economic interest which refers to a “competition over scarce resources, which may consequently result in intergroup conflicts” (Lubbers & Scheepers, 2000:65), it is especially blue-collar workers that are attracted to the ER parties since they are promised an end to immigration and thus ultimately less competition in the scarce labour market. This assumption is shared by Lubbers and Scheepers (2000) who state that “in circumstances of scarcity an extreme right-wing party may become a more attractive voting option.” (Lubbers & Scheepers, 2000:66). If people vote for the ER because they fear the competition with immigrants for jobs the question comes up whether unemployed people are not more likely to vote for the ER. Since they have already ‘lost’ the competition for jobs the author believes that they ought to be even more likely to vote for the ER since they are expecting to benefit from their proposed policies, especially in terms of curbing immigration.
These two assumptions lead the author to expect to find a positive relationship between the overall level of unemployment in a country and the share of votes for the ER. Based on previous studies that found that economic conditions influence how people vote (e.g. Tufte 1978; Lewis-Beck 1988), this paper aspires to establish a relationship between one economic condition, namely the rate of unemployment, and the vote for the ER on both, a macro and meso level. Therefore, the level of unemployment is treated as independent variable and the vote share of the extreme right as the dependent one.
This essay used the national unemployment statistics from the years 2000 to 2014, available through Eurostat which are accessible online. The used data is however, not completely free of methodological issues. One restriction is, that this paper is only examining countries that have also been included in the course. Among these countries the choice was made to focus specifically on Italy and Germany since these are the countries with the highest and lowest unemployment rates in Europe amongst the ones considered, according to the Eurostat statistics. However, these countries, do not have the highest and lowest unemployment rates if you consider all countries in Europe.
There is a methodological problem here. Since the German authorities define unemployment different than the Eurostat agency, an international comparison with them is complicated. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition which is used for EUROSTAT analyses defines unemployed persons as 15-74 years aged, that are not employed, who have been looking for employment in the past four weeks and who could start an employment within two weeks. However, in Germany, a considerable amount of people are not categorized in this way even though they ought to be following the ILO definition. So are for example participants of state-initiated labour market instruments that are aiming at passing on labour market relevant skills to unemployed people not considered as unemployed.
Furthermore, the EUROSTAT data are generated through a random sampling process which is by definition not as exact as the national registers. Moreover, the regional unemployment statistics have been taken from both national statistics agencies, Istat and the Statistisches Bundesamt.
The general election results have been acquired from the Bundeswahlleitung in Germany and the Ministry of the Interior in Italy. Additionally, this essay is using the regional/state-level election results publicized by the Statistical State Department Saxonia and the Italian Ministry of the Interior . In the case of Germany, this paper is only considering the secondary votes [Zweitstimmen], since they are the ones that decide about the party’s overall representation in parliament.
This paper is considering the Lega Nord, the Tricolour Flame and the New Force as the main ER parties. The NPD and the Republikaner will be included as ER parties in Germany. Although the AfD can nowadays certainly be considered as extreme right party, as some studies suggest (e.g. Bebnowski 2015), this paper does not consider the party here. This is due to the reasoning that the the most important step towards the development towards an extreme right party was performed with the recent split of the party. Since then the party has not yet competed in elections. Before the split, the party did not “qualify as radical” (Arzheimer, 2015:551), since it is lacking concepts of populism and nativism (Arzheimer, 2015). Thus, since it does not qualify as being extreme right for the whole period considered in this analysis, it is neglected here.
Following Betz’ theory regarding the voters of the ER being ‘losers of modernity’ one can assume that ER parties draw a significant share of their electoral support from the unemployed sector. They are classified as the ‘losers of modernity’ since their skills are most likely not required anymore in the post-industrial world. Thus, a rise in the level of unemployment could lead to an increase in support for ER parties since their electorate potential, that is, the amount of people that can imagine themselves to vote for that party, increases as well.
Thus, the hypothesis to be examined in this paper is: The national/regional unemployment levels and the share of votes for the ER parties are related to each other in a direct proportional manner. In times of high unemployment rates the ER is electorally more successful. Once the level of unemployment decreases, so does the vote share of the ER.
On the contrary, the antithesis is: The national/regional unemployment levels and the share of votes for the ER parties are related to each other in an inversely proportional manner. In times of high unemployment rates the ER is electorally less successful. Once the level of unemployment decreases, the vote share of the ER increases.
In order to examine this hypothesis, this paper will first of all look at nationwide elections and see whether they correspond to the levels of unemployment. Starting with the Italian national case it will proceed with Germany and then consider the regions of Venetia and Saxonia.
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Table 1: Unemployment and the vote for the extreme right in national elections in Italy, 2000-2014
- Quote paper
- Felix Wiebrecht (Author), 2015, Who votes for the Extreme Right? An analysis of the relationship between unemployment and the electoral success of extreme right parties, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/319109