The fight on the right: what drives voting for the Dutch Freedom Party and for the Forum for Democracy?


In 2017, the Forum for Democracy (FvD) and the Freedom Party both won seats in the Dutch parliament. Both of these parties are radical right-wing populist parties. It does not happen often that two radical right-wing populist parties gain seats in the same election. The question is to what extent these two radical right-wing populist parties have been able to carve out different niches for themselves. This paper examines the competition between these two parties looking at three surveys spanning between 2017 and 2019, when FvD became the largest party in the Dutch Senate. The paper finds that there are social-economic differences between the two electorates in terms of economic policy preferences and education level. The electorate of the FvD is also more libertarian where it comes to moral issues than PVV voters are. The paper concludes that despite not having the manifesto of a neo-liberal populist party, in electoral terms FvD is the functional equivalent of one.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Source Louwerse (2019)

Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. 1.

    The Senate is indirectly elected by provincial councils. These were elected in 20 March 2019. FvD became the largest party in these elections. In the Senate election on 27 May 2019, the Liberal VVD and the FvD both won twelve seats.

  2. 2.

    Some like Otjes (2019) argue that the PVV is primarily concerned with the “deserving poor.” When we use an item to test this using the DPES, we find a significant difference in line with the results presented elsewhere in the paper: FvD attracts more economically libertarian voters, whereas the PVV attracts those who show greater concern for people who could be considered deserving poor.

  3. 3.

    Since there were no questions about class in the 2018 or 2019 LISS, a class hypothesis could not be tested. Model A9 and A18 consider the effects of class on voting for and sympathizing with the PVV and FvD in 2017. It finds no significant effect of class. We also look at the effect of income. This is available in the LISS but only for part of the DPES. We find no significant effect of having an income above or below the median.

  4. 4.

    The French-speaking Front National and the Flemish-speaking Vlaams Belang in the Belgian parliament are not included in the table, as these two parties are not competing for the same votes. The presence of the Alleanze Nationale and Lega Nord in the Italian party system between 1994 and 2008 is also excluded because the AN is a post-fascist national conservative party rather than a populist party. We do not list the Schweizer Demokraten and the Schweizerische Volkspartei because the SVP only became a truly radical right-wing populist party after the SD was already in parliament.

  5. 5.

    Smouter, K. (23/2/2011) “Excellentie is belangrijker dan gelijkheid” De Groene Amsterdammer.

  6. 6.

    Baudet, T., Broers, V., Mujagic, E. and Wellens, A. (30/5/2015) “Een oproep voor de democratie en dus tegen de Europese Unie” NRC Handelsblad.

  7. 7.

    De Overnachting NPO Radio 1 20/9/2015.

  8. 8.

    Schimmelpennick, S. (14/4/2017) “Dit is Quote mei; een glaasje met Thierry Baudet”

  9. 9.

    The 2017 survey had a pre-election wave and a post-election wave, the 2018 and 2019 survey were split into three parts. The fieldwork for the first part was held in December and January; for the second part in January and February and the for the third part in February and March.

  10. 10.

    It consists out of two subsamples, which were ran in different polling databases. Not all questions were asked in each subsample, leading to a significant decrease in the N if one combines certain items in the same analysis.

  11. 11.

    The LISS was one of the two databases used for the DPES. Regrettably, the overlap between the DPES and the LISS is too small to meaningfully analyze the support of the FvD, which only got 2% of the vote in that election.

  12. 12.

    In the DPES, there are multiple items on income redistribution. The item with the least missing values is selected in order to minimize the number of respondents lost.

  13. 13.

    The robustness test shows weaker results, in particular in 2017 where N is smaller: the results are not significant when an alternative economic indicator picking up on the “deserving poor” is included in the analysis of sympathy (Model A4), when populism is included in the analysis of vote choice (Model A14) and when class included in the analysis of vote choice (A18). This shows that in 2017 the economic differences between FvD and PVV voters were weaker then in 2018 and 2019.

  14. 14.

    The robustness tests in the Appendix support this result in every analysis.

  15. 15.

    This pattern is corroborated in all of the robustness tests.

  16. 16.

    The robustness tests support this pattern.

  17. 17.

    In no robustness test there is a significant difference between PVV and FvD voters.

  18. 18.

    The robustness tests support this pattern. Only in 2018 is there some sign of a difference on this variable. It is also not the case that the pattern was stronger when political cynicism was replaced by populism.


  1. Akkerman, T. 2005. Anti-immigration parties and the defence of liberal values: The exceptional case of the List Pim Fortuyn. Journal of Political Ideologies 10 (3): 337–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Akkerman, T. 2015. Gender and the radical right in Western Europe: a comparative analysis of policy agendas. Patterns of Prejudice 49 (1–2): 37–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Akkerman, A., C. Mudde, and A. Zaslove. 2014. How populist are the people? Measuring populist attitudes in voters. Comparative Political Studies 47 (9): 1324–1353.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bakker, R., C. de Vries, E. Edwards, L. Hooghe, S. Jolly, G. Marks, J. Polk, J. Rovny, M. Steenbergen, and M. Vachudova. 2015. Measuring party positions in Europe: The Chapel Hill expert survey trend file, 1999-2010. Party Politics 21 (1): 143–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Baudet, T.H.P. 2012. The Significance of Borders: Why Representative Government and the Rule of Law Require Nation States. PhD-Thesis: Leiden University.

  6. Betz, H.G. 1993. The two faces of radical right-wing populism in Western Europe. Review of Politics 55 (4): 663–685.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Betz, H.G., and S. Meret. 2013. Right-wing populist parties and the working-class vote: what have you done for us lately? In Class Politics and the Radical Right, ed. J. Rydgren, 107–121. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  8. De Lange, S.L. 2007. A new winning formula? The programmatic appeal of the radical right. Party Politics 13 (4): 411–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. De Lange, S.L., and L.M. Mügge. 2015. Gender and right-wing populism in the Low Countries: ideological variations across parties and time. Patterns of Prejudice 49 (1–2): 61–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. De Vries, C.E. 2018. The cosmopolitan-parochial divide: changing patterns of party and electoral competition in the Netherlands and beyond. Journal of European Public Policy 25 (11): 1541–1565.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Eger, M.A., and S. Valdez. 2015. Neo-nationalism in Western Europe. European Sociological Review 31 (1): 130–151.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Elshout, S. 2018. Politics and values. Tilburg: CentERdata.

  13. Elshout, S. 2019. Politics and Values. Tilburg: CentERdata.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Green-Pedersen, C., and Otjes, S. 2017. A hot topic? Immigration on the agenda in Western Europe. Party Politics, Published online ahead of print.

  15. Hakhverdian, A., and W. Schakel. 2017. Nepparlement? Een pleidooi voor politiek hokjesdenken. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Harteveld, E. 2016. Winning the ‘losers’ but losing the ‘winners’? The electoral consequences of the radical right moving to the economic left. Electoral Studies 44: 225–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Jacobs, K. 2018. Referendums in times of discontent. Acta Politica 53 (4): 489–495.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Jacobs, K., W. Van der Brug, and H. Van der Kolk. 2018. Het WIV-referendum: Nationaal Referendum Onderzoek 2018. Den Haag: Ministry of the Interior.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Kemmers, R., J. Van der Waal, and W. De Koster. 2018. Burgers op afstand? Naar een beter begrip van ontevreden burgers. In #WOEST: De kracht van verontwaardiging, ed. S.L. De Lange and J. Zuure, 72–87. Amsterdam: Raad voor het Openbaar Bestuur/Amsterdam University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Kitschelt, H., and A.J. McGann. 1995. The radical right in Western Europe. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Kofman, E. 1998. When society was simple: Gender and ethnic divisions and the far and new right in France. In Gender, Ethnicity and Political Ideologies Basingstoke: Routledge, pp. 103–118.

  22. Lefkofridi, Z. and E. Michel. 2014. The electoral politics of solidarity. The Welfare state agendas of radical right. In: Banting, K. and Kymlicka, W. (eds.). The strains of commitment. The political sources of solidarity in diverse societies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 233–267.

  23. Lipset, S.M., P.F. Lazerfeld, A.H. Barton, and J. Linz. 1954. The psychology of voting. An analysis of political behaviour. In: G. Lindzey (ed.) Handbook of social psychology. Reading: Addison-Wesley.

  24. López, I.H. 2014. Dog Whistle Politics. How coded racial appeals have reinvented racism and wrecked the middle class. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Louwerse, T. 2019. Peilingwijzer. Leiden: Leiden University.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Lubbers, M., M. Gijsberts, and P. Scheepers. 2002. Extreme right-wing voting in Western Europe. European Journal of Political Research 41 (3): 345–378.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lucardie, P. 2017. Luisterende Sociologen. Sociologie 13 (1): 125–128.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Lucardie, P., and G. Voerman. 2012. Populisten in de polder. Amsterdam: Boom.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Minkenberg, M. 2000. The renewal of the radical right: Between modernity and anti-modernity. Government and Opposition 35 (2): 170–188.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Mudde, C. 1996. The war of words defining the extreme right party family. West European Politics 19 (3): 225–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Mudde, C. 2007. Populist radical right parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Mudde, C. 2010. The populist radical right: A pathological normalcy. West European Politics 33 (6): 1167–1186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Otjes, S. 2019. What is left of the radical right? The economic agenda of the dutch freedom party 2006–2017. Politics of the Low Countries 1 (2): 81–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Otjes, S., and T. Louwerse. 2015. Populists in parliament: Comparing left-wing and right-wing populism in the Netherlands. Political Studies 63 (1): 60–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Pauwels, T. 2010. Explaining the success of neo-liberal populist parties: The case of Lijst Dedecker in Belgium. Political Studies 58 (5): 1009–1029.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Pirro, A.L., and S. Van Kessel. 2017. United in opposition? The populist radical right’s EU-pessimism in times of crisis. Journal of European Integration 39 (4): 405–420.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Polk, J., Rovny, J., Bakker, R., Edwards, E., Hooghe, L., Jolly, S., Koedam, E., Kostelka, F., Marks, G., Schumacher, G., Steenbergen, M., Vachudova, M., and Zilovic, M. 2017. Explaining the salience of anti-elitism and reducing political corruption for political parties in Europe with the 2014 Chapel Hill Expert Survey data. Research and Politics: 1–9.

  38. Rooduijn, M. 2017. What unites the voter bases of populist parties? Comparing the electorates of 15 populist parties. European Political Science Review 10 (3): 351–368.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Schmuck, D., J. Matthes, and H. Boomgaarden. 2016. Candidate-centered and anti-immigant right-wing populism. In Populist communication in Europe, ed. T. Aalberg, F. Esser, C. Reinemann, J. Strömbäck, and C.H. De Vreese. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Schumacher, G., and M. Rooduijn. 2013. Sympathy for the ‘devil’? Voting for populists in the 2006 and 2010 Dutch general elections. Electoral Studies 32 (1): 124–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Spierings, N., and A. Zaslove. 2015. Gendering the vote for populist radical-right parties. Patterns of Prejudice 49 (1–2): 135–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Stanley, B. (2008). The thin ideology of populism. Journal of Political Ideologies, 13(1), 95–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Van der Brug, W. 2003. How the LPF fuelled discontent: Empirical tests of explanations of LPF support. Acta Politica 38 (1): 89–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Van der Brug, W., and F. Fennema. 2003. Causes of Voting for the Radical Right. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 19 (4): 474–487.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Van der Brug, W., and J. Van Spanje. 2009. Immigration, Europe and the ‘New’ cultural dimension. European Journal of Political Research 48 (3): 309–334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Van der Meer, T., Van der Kolk, H., and Rekker, R. 2017. Dutch Parliamentary Election Study 2017 (DPES/NKO 2017). DANS.

  47. Van der Woude, M. 2017. Zorgen over migratie en grenzen. Een opzwepende tango tussen securitisering van migratie en de politisering van Europa. Sociologie, 13(1): 61–72.

  48. Van Kessel, S. 2015. Populist Parties in Europe: Agents of Discontent?. New York: Springer.

  49. Van Spanje, J., and Van der Brug, W. 2009. Being intolerant of the intolerant. The exclusion of Western European anti-immigration parties and its consequences for party choice. Acta Politica, 44(4), 353–384.

  50. Voerman, G., and K. Vossen. 2019. Wilders Gewogen. 15 jaar reuring in de Nederlandse Politiek. Amsterdam: Boom.

  51. Vossen, K. 2016. The power of populism: Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis.

  52. Weyland, K. 1999. Neo-liberal populism in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Comparative Politics 31 (4): 379–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The author would like to thank the reviewers of Acta Politica, Rens Vliegenthart, Gerrit Voerman, Wouter van der Brug, André Krouwel and Kristof Jacobs for their comments and suggestions and Niki Haringsma for his excellent editorial assistance.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Simon Otjes.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.



See Table 9.

Table 9 Additional sympathy differential models

Tables 9 and 10 present robustness tests.

Table 10 Additional vote choice models
  • Model A1 and A10 are models with an additional item tapping into the “deserving poor.” These items concern the policy deductible for healthcare costs (“eigen risico”) that hits “deserving poor” groups (elderly and handicapped people) harder than other groups. In the model analyzing the sympathy differential, egalitarianism is no longer significant once this item is included. This may imply that it was concern for the “deserving poor” rather than concern for the income distribution in general which differentiated FvD and PVV sympathizers. Due to a lack of items, we cannot test this for 2018 and 2019.

  • Model A2, A3, A11, and A12 include a populism item instead of a political cynicism item. This item was not available in the 2019 survey. Their effect is similar to the effect of political cynicism. Now, when analyzing vote choice, egalitarianism no longer differentiates the FvD and PVV voters in 2017.

  • Model A4, A5, A13, and A14 add a law and order authoritarianism item. The item relates to punishment for 2017 and to surveillance for 2019. This item was not available in the 2019 survey. Preferences about punishment or surveillance do not significantly differentiate FvD and PVV voters.

  • Model A6 and A15 include a class item. It does not significantly affect the choice of vote between PVV and FvD. If this variable is included, the effect of egalitarianism is weakened.

  • Model A7, A8, A9, A16, and A17 include an item whether a respondent’s income is greater than the median. This is not a significant difference between the groups. If this variable is included, the results are in line with the models in the paper. The Vote Choice Model for 2017 did not converge, in Model A10, we can already see how including this variable reduces the number of cases.

  • Model A18, A19, and A20 look at sympathy not in terms of the sympathy differential but like the vote choice model in stacked set-up. These results are in line with the models in the paper.

See Tables 10 and 11.

Table 11 Used items

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Otjes, S. The fight on the right: what drives voting for the Dutch Freedom Party and for the Forum for Democracy?. Acta Polit 56, 130–162 (2021).

Download citation


  • Radical right-wing populism
  • Neo-liberal populism
  • Economic policy
  • Moral issues
  • Freedom Party
  • Forum for Democracy