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One in 10 EU voters back far-right populists

April 26, 2019

When Europeans head to the polls next month to elect a new Parliament, most will vote based on whom they oppose rather than whom they support, according to a new study. Extremist, populist parties stand to benefit.

AFP posters in Oberhausen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Revierfoto

Around 10% of voters plan to use their vote in the European Parliament elections to back far-right or right-wing populist parties, according to a study published by the Bertelsmann Foundation on Friday.

Most other EU citizens will use their ballots to thwart parties they oppose rather than support a particular group. The researchers said this type of "negative" voting could benefit political movements on the fringes and make it more difficult to form a majority in Parliament.

Read more: Get ready for the end of the EU as we know it, says Ivan Krastev

Training camp for populists in Italy

What the study found:

  • 10.3% of voters said they would back right-wing populist or extreme-right parties — the highest level of voter approval of any single political grouping.
  • 6.2% said they positively identified with the radical left and 4.4% with a Greens party.
  • A large portion of voters were driven by whom they opposed — only an average 6.3% identified positively with a party, compared to the 49% who named a party they would never vote for.
  • 52% said they would never vote for extremist parties on either end of the political spectrum.
  • While 50.7% said they would never vote for the business-aligned Free Democrats (FDP), 47.8% wouldn't vote for conservatives like the Christian Democrats, and 42% rejected the center-left Social Democratic SPD and socialist parties.
  • Two-thirds of all Europeans, and three-quarters of Germans, polled said they planned to participate in the vote.

Read more: Germany's AfD joins Italy's League in new populist coalition

Representation gap = support for populists

The researchers argued that voters who feel the mainstream pro-European parties no longer represent their interests tend to engage with populist messages.

"The populist parties have managed to create a stable and loyal voter base in a relatively short space of time," study co-author and Bertelsmann democracy expert Robert Vehrkamp said. "But the high level of rejection (of these parties) also shows how dangerous it would be for other parties to imitate them."

"Many citizens no longer choose to back one party, but rather vote against parties they oppose the most," he added.

Bertelsmann CEO Aart De Geus said the populist parties' success in rallying supporters means voter turnout will "be crucial in determining the election results and the future of Europe."

"The mobilization of the predominantly pro-European center is an important prerequisite," for creating working majorities in the new European Parliament, he added.

Read moreCenter-right projected to remain biggest group in EU Parliament

Polling institute YouGov interviewed 23,725 voters in 12 EU member states for the survey, which analyzes how Europeans intend to vote in the parliamentary elections on May 26.

nm/rc (AFP, dpa)

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