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The Populist Challenge in Substantive Representation: Who Represented the Potential Voters of Populist Radical Right-Wing Parties in Germany, 1990-2019?

Parliaments
Populism
Representation
Geese Lucas
University of East Anglia
Geese Lucas
University of East Anglia
Thomas Saalfeld
University of Bamberg

Abstract

Populist radical right-wing parties (PRRP) are resurgent across Western Europe. They are particularly successful amongst male voters of lower socio-economic status with traditional cultural attitudes. Such groups seem to have lost their trust in the established “cartel” of political elites, especially in centre-right and centre-left mainstream parties, whom they accuse of having neglected their interests for a long time. As a result, many have turned their backs on electoral politics, leading to political apathy and low electoral turnout before they turned to support PRRPs. In this paper and against this background, we intend to test the validity of the claim that centre-right and centre-left parties, and legislators from established parties, have not represented such groups’ interests adequately and examine whether PRRPs make any difference in that respect. In short, we study the substantive representation of the “losers of modernization and globalization”. After identifying topics of substantive interest to such groups, we ask three questions: First, to what extent have established parties and legislators (under)represented the interests of voters of PRRPs in parliament since the 1990s? Second, to what extent do PRRPs actually fill any representational gaps? And third, to what extent has the surge of PRRPs affected the way established parties signal their concern for socio-economically disadvantaged and culturally traditionalist groups? Our theoretical model draws on models of party competition, particularly on the competition between mainstream and niche parties. Utilising quantitative text analyses to study party manifestos and parliamentary speeches as indicators of substantive representation in the German Bundestag, we cover the period between 1990 and 2019. This period allows us to compare different patterns of party competition and partisan responses to rapid increases in immigration during the early 1990s and from 2015.