Democratic or Not: Patterns of Public Acceptance of Far Right Initiatives in Contemporary Western Europe Lars Erik Berntzen, Lise Lund Bjånesøy & Elisabeth Ivarsflaten
Abstract The scholarly literature on the far right in Western Europe has repeatedly noted how a significant segment of these initiatives, often termed populist radical right parties, have performed well in elections and have risen to significant political influence roughly since the 1980s. By contrast, another segment, often termed the old extreme right, have not done so. The literature has attributed this pattern to a broadly based public rejection of the old-school extreme right, such as the Nazi and fascist parties of the 1930s, in contemporary Western Europe. Here we agree that public rejection of such groups is an important contemporary feature of democracies in Western Europe. Nevertheless, we argue that conceiving contemporary far right movements as either "new" or "old" has clouded rather than clarified the debate. We propose instead to include two, not one, aspect of these organizations when accounting for patterns of public acceptance: (1) their relation to historical fascism; (2) their position in the institutions of democracy. From this new theoretical framework, we predict patterns of public acceptance of a variety of far right organizations. These expectations are tested and largely supported by comparative survey experimental data collected in five countries—France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden—in 2017 as part of the European Internet Panel Study (EIPS). The implications of the theoretical account and empirical findings proposed here are, we argue, quite unsettling.
Ivarsflaten specializes in the study of public opinion and political parties. Much of Ivarsflaten research, teaching and writing explores radical extreme right parties and social movements. She has also been engaged for many years in the development and application of innovative survey research.