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ECPR Virtual General Conference 2020

Social Democratic Parties Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Political Competition
Political Parties
Sarah De Lange
University of Amsterdam
Sarah De Lange
University of Amsterdam
Eelco Harteveld
University of Amsterdam

Radical right-wing populist parties have more or less continuously grown since the 1980s in most West European countries. It has been claimed that their success especially goes at the expense of the support for social democratic parties. As a result social democratic parties face complex strategic, programmatic, and electoral challenges when radical right-wing populist parties manifest themselves (e.g. Bale et al. 2010; Rydgren 2013). This paper problematizes these claims. It demonstrates that under the high correlation between the aggregate gains and losses of radical right-wing populist parties and social democratic parties complex patterns of voters switching parties can be observed. It argues that social democracy's strategic precariousness originates from changing in the political space at large, rather than from the rise of one particular party family. The paper examines the ways in which voters for the social democrats in the Netherlands (the Partij voor de Arbeid or PvdA) switched their allegiance over time. We use two kinds of survey data collected in the Netherlands. First, we use the LISS panel, which allows the tracking of voter preferences between 2006 and 2015; and second, we use a unique survey with 7000 respondents of which vote intentions were recorded in the 2012 and 2017 elections (without relying on recall information). Our paper investigates which (groups of) social democratic voters deserted the PvdA at which point in time, and for which parties. It studies which (groups of) voters were most likely to defect to a radical right-wing populist parties immediately, and which (groups of) voters switched to the radical right after casting a ballot for a left-wing populist party first, or after abstaining.
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