Posted on February 14, 2023

Austria’s Far-Right Freedom Party Regains National Momentum

Emily Schultheis, Associated Press, February 1, 2023

Nearly four years ago, Austria’s populist far-right Freedom Party was ousted from the national coalition government over a major corruption scandal, and voters punished it at the ballot box.

But the party’s nearly double-digit gains in Sunday’s regional election in the province of Lower Austria confirmed a political trend on the national level. In recent months, the Freedom Party has regained its previous momentum — and, according to recent polls, is now the strongest party in the small Alpine nation.

In Lower Austria it won 24.2% of the vote, up 9.4 percentage points from the last state-level election in 2018. The conservative People’s Party, meanwhile, which leads the national government, lost its long-held absolute majority in the region and dropped 9.7 percentage points to 39.9%.

Nationally, the Freedom Party’s growth is even more pronounced. The party has led national polls since this fall, averaging around 27% in most surveys ahead of the center-left Social Democrats with around 25% and the People’s Party at around 21%.


Experts say the party has managed these gains by applying its populist, Austria-first rhetoric to the various crises hitting Europe in recent months and years. Its leaders criticize European Union sanctions against Russia, stress the impact of inflation and rising energy prices, express skepticism about vaccines and pandemic-related restrictions, and hold hardline positions on migration.


The far-right party has also benefited from the troubles of Austria’s other major parties. The governing People’s Party, in particular, has been embroiled in a long-standing corruption scandal that has made the Freedom Party’s own past issues with graft less salient.


Back in 2017, the Freedom Party won nearly 26% in parliamentary elections and became the junior governing partner of the People’s Party under then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

But in May 2019, secret video recordings emerged of the Freedom Party’s leader appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor in a villa on the Spanish island of Ibiza. The so-called “Ibiza affair” brought down the governing coalition and triggered elections in which the Freedom Party dropped to 16%.


The Freedom Party’s own past scandals didn’t seem to bother Lower Austria voters on Sunday. Its top candidate, Udo Landbauer, had resigned his post in 2018 over his ties to a far-right fraternity that used an antisemitic songbook.