Wall Street Journal, September 21, 2011
Populist extremist parties threaten the process of European integration, but may well gain support in coming years as dissatisfaction with the mainstream alternatives grows, according to a report published Thursday by Chatham House.
The report said the sources of support for populist extremist parties, or PEPs, is widely misunderstood, and primarily reflects fears that Europeans will lose their cultural identity in the face of immigration and in particular, settled Muslim groups.
And it found that far from being limited to a small part of European society, those concerns were widely shared, suggesting that PEPs could gain support in future elections.
Far-right parties have generally performed well in recent European elections, making inroads in most countries, with the exceptions of Germany, Ireland, Spain and Portugal.
Based on surveys of PEP voters in a number of European countries, the report concluded that their support was spread across a number of groups, many of which didn’t fit the stereotypical profile of being among globalization’s losers, although they are “deeply pessimistic about their economic prospects.”
“The citizens who turn out for PEPs at elections tend to be men; they are either very young or very old; have no or only a few educational qualifications [and] come from the lower middle classes or working classes,” wrote the University of Nottingham’s Matthew Goodwin, the report’s author.
“Anti-Muslim sentiment has become an important driver of support for populist extremists,” Goodwin wrote. “This means that appealing only to concerns over immigration–for example calling for immigration numbers to be reduced or border controls to be tightened–is not enough.”
Those who vote for PEPs are frequently seen as driven by primarily economic motives, such as competition for jobs and housing. But Goodwin said that is a misunderstanding of their motives.
“These feelings of threat do not stem simply from economic grievances,” he wrote. “They appear to stem from a belief that immigrants, minority groups and rising cultural diversity are threatening the national culture, community and way of life.”