Peter Kreko argues that social demand for radical right ideologies not only works to increase the electoral base of support for radical right parties, but also shifts the overall political landscape in a more authoritarian, more nationalistic and more chauvinistic direction. Most “attitude radicals” are not found in the ranks of the radical right, but in the base of parties that are located in the centre of the political spectrum, and among undecided voters. The latter group can be the most important target of radical right forces and messages in their hunt for votes.
In Hungary, the rise of the Jobbik party was clearly preceded by a sharp rise in xenophobic prejudice and general anti-establishment attitudes in Hungarian society. Based on our own calculations using the database of the European Social Survey (ESS), our results show that the level of predisposition to far-right ideas among Hungarians has been on an uninterrupted incline since 2003.
The ratio of “attitude radicals” (a term that was developed within the DEREX-project, and which describes voters who have a mindset that combines various radical right-wing ideological elements) more than doubled from 10 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2009. Growth in the proportion of prejudiced, especially xenophobic voters has been a major contributor, with their ratio shooting up from 37 percent of respondents in 2003, to 52 percent in 2009. The proportion of people who were angry with the establishment nearly quadrupled from 12 to 46 percent between 2003 and 2009. Public morale deteriorated, driven by anger towards politicians along with mounting dissatisfaction with the government and the democratic system. U.S. Health Secretary Gardner’s observation on extremists’ penchant for “simple diagnoses” rings especially true here: Hungary’s extreme right-wing could create a popular ideology out of the growing sentiment that “everything and everyone is bad.”
The Hungarian story gave us the idea to elaborate a comparative measurement tool -the Demand for Right-Wing Extremism Index (DEREX)- in order to follow the tendencies of the radical right. According to our results which are based on data gathered in more than 30 countries, Hungarian tendencies are not extraordinary. Most far-right forces are able to exploit rising anti-immigrant, anti-establishment and authoritarian attitudes while building their base of support at elections. This tendency was clearly visible during the last ten years in Austria, France, Greece, Hungary and Slovakia. Of course, the overall picture is complicated: in the Netherlands for example, the rise of Geert Wilders was not preceded by any spectacular rise in anti-immigrant or anti-establishment attitudes.
This does not mean, however, that voters of right-wing radical or populist parties and so-called “attitude radicals” are completely equivalent. Attitude radicals have mindsets that match the ideology of the radical right, and they account for between 0 and 27% of radical right electorates in European countries (see the map below). The proportions of attitude radicals are also far greater in Eastern and Southern Europe than in the Western half of the continent.
Figure 1: The Ratio of Attitude Radicals in Europe
Again, it it important to note that attitude radicals are not identical to the far-right’s electoral base; yet clearly there is a partial overlapping between the two sets. The distinction between “political radicalism” (radical right forces and organizations) and “attitude radicalism” (radical tendencies in public opinion) is crucial. And here comes possibly the most surprising, and surely the most important point: while we can find higher ratios of attitude radicals in radical right camps, the majority of those who are susceptible to far-right ideologies support moderate parties or do not vote at all.
In Hungary for example, where the overall ratio of attitude radicals was 11% in 2011, only 16 percent of them voted for Jobbik, while 34% voted for other parties (especially the currently governing Fidesz party), and 50% of them remained undecided and consequently did not vote. In France, among attitude radicals (6% of the overall population) only 9% voted for the Front National (FN), whereas 36% voted for other parties, and 55 percent remained undecided.
On the one hand, this tendency could also seem to be re-assuring: the majority of those who hold more extreme views in society are politically passive or ultimately don’t vote for radical parties. On the other hand, these tendencies may have some serious ramifications. As representative democracies are “demand-driven” political systems (politicians are competing for the votes of the electorates), rising demand can have a far-reaching impact on the supply side, i.e. the political players as well.
First, under pressure to meet the demands of attitude radicals in their own camp, or with a view to target attitude radicals in other voter camps, moderate political forces may decide to alter their agenda. A prejudicial, nationalist and anti-establishment public can push the main parties and political leaders toward a more radical position.
Mainstream efforts to court voters who harbour contempt against minorities and political elites were made by way of re-phrasing a number of populist messages during electoral campaigns throughout Europe. The campaign against “multiculturalism” by leading politicians such as Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron are clear signs of the practice of courting “attitude radicals” (we could see the rise of anti-immigrant attitudes in Germany, France and the UK as well in the last few years). Playing tunes that can be attractive to attitude radicals is especially typical during electoral campaigns: Antonis Samaras (and also PASOK) included anti-immigrant messages in their own agenda as a response to the huge rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in Greece, and in trying (however to no avail) to weaken the electoral chances of Golden Dawn.
Second, undecided voters, who account for a considerable part of electorates in all European countries, may provide some reserves for radicalisation. The undecided group can be most exposed to radical right forces and messages in the future. As undecided attitude radicals are more susceptible to messages coming from the far-right, they can easily be seduced by far-right political forces. The passivity of the undecided camp is, in a lot of cases, a result of their discontent with the goings-on and the overall establishment. They can become easy targets for radical right forces, as Counterpoint have put it, “reluctant radicals”.
And here lies a major challenge for mainstream, democratically committed forces: they must ask themselves the question how to mobilize and channel these voters without using anti-establihment, anti –immigrant rhetorics that seem more attractive to them? This is a topic to be discussed in a further blogpost.
 Demand for Right-Wing Extremism Index (DEREX) measures the size of the group in a given country susceptible to far-right ideologies and political messages. A country’s DEREX score is determined by the rate of respondents who belong to at least three of the four categories (prejudices, anti-establishment attitudes, right-wing value orientation and fear, distrust and pessimism) all at once. Using these strict criteria, the DEREX Index examines the percentage of people (the “attitude radicals”) whose radical views could destabilize a
country’s democratic political system and free-market economy – if these views continue to gain credence.See the details here: http://www.riskandforecast.com/post/in-depth-analysis/back-by-popular-demand_411.html