Thursday, August 28, 2014

Are the Dutch heading for a far-right landslide?

Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders is a fairly well known figure, even outside the Netherlands. His polarising policies have split his home country, and he has attracted both fans and protesters in many other places.
However, after a disappointing showing in the European Parliament election, it may be time to take a look at exactly how Wilders is performing in his home country, and whether he is actually likely to win government or have any influence on politics there.

The last election

At the last Dutch general election, the results were not exactly good for Wilders. His Party for Freedom secured 10.1% of the vote, down from about 15.4%. The rest of the results are below.

After this election, a coalition was formed between Labour and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). This coalition replaced the previous alliance between the VVD and Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) with outside support from the Party for Freedom (PVV).


After the election, the government peformed poorly in the polls. A drop in support for the VVD allowed Labour to take the lead during late 2013, but the VVD came back, and, despite only polling an average of about 20%, managed to take the lead until September, where a resurgent PVV, polling at about 18%, overtook them. During this period, Labour plummeted, falling from 22% to just 10.8% (3/10/2013).  Little else happened during this period, other than an increase for 50PLUS to about 7% (with a peak of 12.5% in March), and a small bounce for Democrats '66 (D66) (8% at election to about 14% at that point)

Even when the PVV were in the lead during this period, they would only have had 27 seats, which is hardly a basis for government. A pro-euro coalition of VVD+Labour+D66+CDA would still have 80 seats, a safe basis for a government.

But, things have happened since last October. A meeting in March in which Wilders attacked Moroccan immigration, despite not having an instant negative impact on PVV polling, appears to have set off a slide of some sort, and PVV dropped from 17.7% in February to just  14.5% in the most recent polls (31 July).

In fact, the only party that has experienced some sort of bounce in the past two years is the D66 (8% at election, 15.7% at most recent poll), which is rather moderate and pro-Euro.


While the PVV are unlikely to become the cornerstone of any government any time soon, the fact is that the Dutch political landscape is going to become much more fragmented after the next election.

A useful measure of fragmentation is the so-called 'effective number of political parties'. In order to calculate this, all of the percentages of the party votes (or seats) are squared, and added together. The number 1 is than divided by this figure.

At the 2012 election, this figure was 5.94. According to the most recent Ipsos poll, this number will balloon to 7.70 at the next election. With the largest party at only 20%, this will make the Netherlands political system much more like Israel's, with broad coalitions that are designed more to avoid certain ideologies, rather than small coalitions of large parties. A pro-EU coalition of VVD+D66+CDA+Labour would still have a majority, but this is more of an Israel-style coalition government than is normal in the Netherlands.


  1. This type of fragmentation has of course already been reached once - in 2010. Am I right to understand 'Israeli-style' coalition as having more than 4 partners? Then you would be right about the Netherlands (at least since the founding of the CDA in 1980ish). However, that may not necessarily be as a result of fragmentation only. I think a major factor may be polarisation, in that Dutch coalitions have always consisted mostly of the major centrist parties (CDA, PvdA, VVD) in different combinations, sometimes crossing traditional left-right divisions. In Israel that has happened more rarely, so coalitions have often consisted of the largest party on the right or left, alongside increasingly small parties of the same camp - rather than reaching across the centre as in Holland.

    Also, as a result of fragmentation in the Senate, the current government is already co-operating with three extra parties (D66, GL, CU and SGP) to pass its bills there, just as the previous government co-operated with the SGP for the same reason. - JD

    1. Looking at compositions of past Israeli governments, I've probably overstated the tendency to divide into camps. Particularly the religious parties have participated in coalitions led by both Likud and Labour (and their predecessors), while coalitions combining strongly ideological elements from both blocs have been more common that I thought.

      An important factor to be remembered in relation to all this is the direct election of PMs from 1996 to 2001, which drove fragmentation and unwieldy coalition-forming to new heights - JD

    2. Yes. Israeli coalitions tend to be very inclusive, and only the Arab parties are normally excluded. By 'Israeli-style' coalition, I don't really mean a specific number of parties; I mean a coalition where there is not one large party and some other small ones, but three, four or five medium-sized parties. To put it into words, think of a coalition where no party has a majority of seats within it. These coalitions have become more common since direct elections of prime ministers, as you say.


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