Dutch voters will choose their next government on 15 March 2015. Opinion polling in the run-up to the elections has seen a slump in support for the governing centre-right liberal party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Their coalition partners in government, the Labour Party, have also seen a collapse in popularity. Instead, the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders is widely expected to do very well, possibly emerging as the largest party with 18-21% of the vote and 30 seats in the 150-seat Dutch Parliament.
Why do so many Dutch voters support a far-right party? We had a comment sent in from Hayden, who said he was under the impression that the vast majority of people who vote for Mr. Wilders are not racist, but are merely “sick of the political correctness” and desperate for a voice to represent them. Is he right?
To get a response, we spoke to Matthijs Rooduijn, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Utrecht. How would he respond to Hayden?
Well, first of all, the comment that most Wilders voters are not racist is, I think, correct. Of course part of the electorate that vote Wilders are racist, but it’s not the majority. Most people who vote for Wilders do so because they are worried about immigration. To an extent, it’s also about law and order, and European integration issues. But I would say the biggest issue for them is immigration. In fact, most of them are less radical than Geert Wilders himself. They vote for him because they think the other parties don’t deal with the issues or problems that they face.
It’s important to emphasise that Wilders himself is not racist either. His politics aren’t about race. Really, he is very strongly anti-Islam. It’s not even so much about immigration as a whole, it’s really more about the immigration of Muslims and about Islam. So, it’s true that most voters for Geert Wilders are not racist.
The second point made was that they’ve had enough of the political correctness of the established parties. That is also true, although it’s more about Islam than it is about political correctness. It’s true that a large number of Wilders voters have very low levels of political trust, meaning they are very distrustful towards the most important institutions, such as political parties and politicians. So, they are not satisfied with the political culture and the way in which political parties make decisions. So, in general, I think these things are the most important for Wilders voters; the immigration issue, Islam, and the lack of political trust. These are the most important reasons why these voters support Geert Wilders.
We also had a comment from Carmela, suggesting that people were voting for nationalist, populist parties as a protest vote against the establishment. Is she right? Do PVV voters really want to see Geert Wilders in power, or is it more of a protest vote to force the mainstream parties to sit up and listen?
The idea behind ‘protest voting’ is that you vote for a party not so much because you like that party, but more because you dislike the other parties. And that might be the case for some of the Wilders voters. However, a majority of Wilders supporters vote for him because, to some extent, they agree with his policies, and especially his ideas about immigration. Some of these voters have really similar ideas to Wilders, some are even more radical, but most of them are less radical than Geert Wilders. And they vote for him because they think that by voting for him they will have an impact on eventual policymaking, either because Wilders will eventually have a place in the cabinet or because he will influence mainstream political parties.
For a majority of voters, I don’t think they would dislike a cabinet with Geert Wilders in it. Most of his votes are loyal to him, and they would like him to be in government. But they also know that there would have to be a government coalition, meaning he would have to compromise.
Finally, we had a comment from Tomasz, who said he thinks the reason people vote for Geert Wilders is because he is the only Dutch politician who “tells the truth”.
To get a reaction, we put Tomasz’s comment to Koen Vossen, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Nijmegen. What would he say?
Well, of course, that’s very difficult to respond to. What ‘truth’ is Wilders telling, exactly? You could say that what Wilders’ strength is – and what makes him very attractive to a lot of people – is that he has police protection 24-hours a day, and so people see this as a sign that he’s willing to give up his own personal freedom for his beliefs. That makes his statements, for a lot of people, seem very courageous.
But is he telling the truth? If you looks at the facts, for example, then he has said that blonde girls in the Netherlands don’t dare to show their hair anymore. Well, this is complete nonsense. Maybe there are some anecdotes of girls who don’t dare to do this, but anecdotes are not the truth… It’s also complete rubbish that there will be a Muslim takeover in the Netherlands within twenty years because of demographics. It’s not true.
When you ask people how many Muslims there are in the Netherlands, they think it’s 20%. It’s actually more like 5%. So, telling the truth, no… What makes his message so strong is that he always starts by saying: ‘You are not allowed to say this.’ Well, you’ve been allowed to say what he’s saying for years in the Netherlands, but still, he says: ‘You’re not allowed to say this. Look at me, I’m under police protection. But I’m going to say it. I’m going to tell the truth.’ It’s a very powerful strategy.
Why do people vote for Geert Wilders? Is it a protest vote? Do they believe Geert Wilders is the only person brave enough to tell ‘the truth’? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!