To the Right, To the Right

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Silent minorities are becoming disgruntled majorities as far-right populist parties crop up throughout Europe

By: Katie Carlton

2016 shook the political establishment of Western nations to the very core. Brexit in June was a shocking vote against the popular force of globalization within Europe. Donald Trump’s election in November rattled conventional notions about right-wing politicians and the establishment. This continued in 2017 as Marine Le Pen’s power to make it to the final round of the French presidential election signified a growing movement among the right.

These powerful events challenged preconceived notions about the far-right populist movement and it’s growing impact on Western politics. The far-right populist movement has now solidified itself as a driving force in the current political climate.

Although the far-right populist movement has become relevant in the media, it is still difficult to define. Far-right populist parties vary widely in views and practices depending on their country of origin in Europe.

Drake University Comparative Politics professor, Kieran Williams, has studied a variety of sources on emerging populist movements.

“Populist parties have a basic dichotomy of us and them, while leaving the categories very vague,” Williams said.

A central aspect of populist movements is the capitalization on a dynamic of a division in society. The division allows the parties to entice voters by placing blame onto an enemy.

“Populism doesn’t have to be exclusionary and it doesn’t have to be ethnically exclusive,” Williams said.

Likewise, while populism and far-right parties may be related, they are not exclusive.

“Far-right has more concern with traditional, moral issues,” he said.

So, far-right populist parties have a platform of traditionalism, in which the parties may advocate against changes in social progress and prefer old-fashioned morals.

Far-right populist parties in Europe have a growing presence, with many of them gaining recognition within their countries. The French National Front is a right-wing party that criticizes the political elite and minorities owing to its anti-globalization ideals. The party has a history of being on the fringe. However, platform changes in recent years have helped the party appeal to a broader audience, even resulting in the party making it to the final round of the French presidential election in 2017.

“The French National Front has populist roots, as [they present a] dichotomy between them and the elite,” Williams said.

In spite of the party having been excluded from mainstream politics in the past, it was able to solidify a strong voter base to compete with mainstream parties in France.

“Populist parties may provide a spectacle and give you a show,” Williams said.

This ‘show’ may be the parties engaging in political grandstanding, which could be through derogatory statements in the public eye using language that is not considered politically correct. The platform that they may use to put on the ‘show’ is commonly a protest or rally. “Rallies play an important role [in recruitment],” Williams said. The rallies grab the attention of common people and local media with the ‘show’ the party puts on.

European populist parties have rapidly growing bases of voters, which is largely due to strategic targeting of specific groups of voters and their ability to resonate with those groups.

“Populist politicians seek an unclaimed constituency,” Williams said. “As an example, UKIP [the UK Independent Party] voters are labor voters often in areas that are not thriving and post-industrial.”

Populist party voters look to the parties to provide a new choice in creating policies that relate to them.

“The root is the sense of feeling unrepresented. It is usually a reaction to modernization,” Williams said.

As Europe shifts toward globalization, there are many residents that are unhappy with the change. The changes cause those particular voters to feel left out of the political system, as the mainstream political movements within Europe tend to support globalization.

“The parties are deliberately outside of the system; they are extra-systemic,” Williams said. The far-right populist parties seek to be different from the established parties in Europe, as the far-right wish to capitalize on a voting bloc that has dissociated themselves with the globalist movement.

While far-right populist parties have a growing base in Europe, the majority of mainstream European society has not seen a great effect. Far-right populist movements still have a niche base and have not found sufficient support to enact their own policy changes.

“[The] majority of mainstream society is not seeing the parties as legitimate and do not think they offer credible policy proposals,” Williams said.

The movements are having difficulty in appealing to broader society however, which is necessary to create a large enough voting bloc to secure a majority in government. This creates a challenge for the far-right populist parties in implementing the policies that are a part of their platform.

Despite this problem, their presence in government may be enough to affect mainstream parties in policy-making.The parties may have little influence in creating their own agenda, but they are able to make it difficult for the dichotomized mainstream parties in governance to advance their agendas.  

European far-right populist movements represent a growing, yet still uncommon ideal of turning against globalization. If the movements continue to grow and the parties take power, then there is a chance that anti-globalist policies could become the norm in European governance. In theory, this could lead to the end of the European Union and shock international markets. European countries would adopt stricter immigration policies and turn their backs on leading social progress. A Europe without a European Union would rattle life, not only for European citizens, but for the entire world.

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