Prosecuted, yet popular? Hate speech prosecution of anti-immigration politicians in the news and electoral support

Abstract

Prosecuting anti-immigration party leaders for hate speech is theorized to yield electoral ramifications. We assess to what extent these trials are mediatized and whether news visibility of hate speech prosecution affects levels of anti-immigration party support. We compare four Western European countries (Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands) for which aggregate-level media and public opinion data are combined. We find that hate speech trials were highly mediatized, and dominated the headlines for protracted periods. This short-term news attention drives general news visibility for anti-immigration party actors. Thus, news about hate speech prosecution of anti-immigration politicians creates a reinforcing spiral of attention by increasing the general newsworthiness of a political actor. The findings seem to point to the cautious conclusion that hate speech prosecution is either directly or indirectly related to increased electoral support. While in France and Germany, general news visibility of anti-immigration party actors is associated with higher levels of electoral support, in the Netherlands and Belgium, news about hate speech prosecution has a weak and direct positive relationship with anti-immigration party support. This finding yields implications for political communication strategies of parties by suggesting that hate speech prosecution does not undermine the electoral performance of anti-immigration parties. In fact, initiating legal actions yields unintended effects by granting these parties a media platform.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    By anti-immigration parties, we refer to parties that have adopted restrictions on immigration inflow as one of their core political demands (Fennema 1997; Van Spanje 2011).

  2. 2.

    Countries also have other forms of legal actions to eradicate discrimination at their disposal, e.g. party bans (which have been used in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands), which are rather infrequent (de Leeuw and Bourne 2019). Prosecution of institutional actors is typically approached with caution as it poses normative dilemmas from a democratic viewpoint and is a highly repressive, far-reaching measure. Possibly, due to these reasons, legal prosecution of individual politicians has been more common.

  3. 3.

    We refer to the Belgian Front National and the French Front National: although both parties changed their names recently, these were their names at the time of prosecution.

  4. 4.

    While one could argue that other types of media (e.g., social media) could also be relevant, for three out of four of our observation periods, social media were not as popular yet which is why we focus on traditional news media.

  5. 5.

    The correlations between news coverage of the FN between Le Monde and other newspapers that are available for a limited time period (Le Figaro, Le Parisien, Les Echos and La Croix) exceed 0.75. Since including these newspapers yields nearly identical results, but drastically decreases our sample size, we have opted to only include Le Monde.

  6. 6.

    The reliance on the polling data and the necessity of sufficient observations makes that we could not include AfD in Germany, and could not focus on the prosecution of Marine Le Pen in France.

  7. 7.

    Peil.nl polls are conducted on a regular basis on fixed dates (Sundays) and are consecutively measured, which makes matching the news data with the polling data straightforward. Correlations between peil.nl and alternative polling data, such as Political Barometer (which has a large number of missing time points), exceed 0.90, suggesting that other sources yield similar results, speaking to the reliability of the data (see Van Heerden and Van der Brug 2017).

  8. 8.

    This has been based on data collected by Geys and Vermeir (2008) and on an update of this dataset as reported upon in Dassonneville et al. (2017).

  9. 9.

    For Germany, we study the period 1994 until 2006, because we do not have newspaper data available for the Süddeutsche Zeitung from 2006 onwards; this period covers the dates when the party leaders were prosecuted.

  10. 10.

    The modalities of the Belgian GoPress database made it impossible to only select headline news, so all news stories in which the FN or Daniel Féret were mentioned have been included. Still, the authors did a manual check to ascertain that they deal with the FN and with Féret’s prosecution respectively as the main topic. News stories which dealt with the French FN were excluded too. For the year 2006, some newspapers (e.g., Le Soir) were not available, so here the numbers are based on fewer newspapers. The same holds for the selection through the Süddeutsche Zeitung archives. Manual scrutiny strengthens our confidence that we were able to obtain a reliable sample of news about the NPD, their leaders and the prosecution of Deckert and Voigt.

  11. 11.

    We used a validated search string for immigration news based on Van Klingeren et al. (2015).

  12. 12.

    For three out of four countries, goodness of fit statistics indicate a good model. For Germany, however, the model fit indicators remain somewhat below the commonly used criteria. This is partly due to the skewed distribution of the variable ‘electoral support for NPD’. Hence, the results should be interpreted with caution.

  13. 13.

    We also tested all models with quarterly data resulting in largely identical findings for all countries, although the effects become—due to the reduction of observations—weaker and in some cases statistically insignificant.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to express our gratitude to Rens Vliegenthart for his valuable feedback and suggestions.

Funding

This work was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) with a VIDI grant of Dr. Joost van Spanje (Project Number: 452-14-002).

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Search strings of keywords

Search string for news visibility anti-immigration parties and party leaders
The Netherlands PVV OR “Partij voor de vrijheid” OR “Geert Wilders”
Belgium FN OR “Front National” OR “Daniel Féret”
France France: FN OR “Front National” OR “Jean-Marie Le Pen”
Germany NPD OR “Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands” OR “Günter Deckert” OR “Udo Voigt”
Search string for legal prosecution  
The Netherlands (Dutch)  
 (“Geert Wilders” OR PVV OR “Partij voor de vrijheid”) AND (vervolgd OR “te vervolgen” OR “het vervolgen” OR vervolging! OR proces! OR rechtsza! OR strafza! OR rechtspraak OR advoca! OR rechter! OR gerechtsho! OR aanklacht! OR klacht! OR “openbaar ministerie” OR strafvervolging OR “artikel 12 procedure” OR juridisch! OR strafproces! OR vonnis!) AND (“aanzetten tot discriminatie” OR “aanzetten tot haat” OR “aangezet tot haat” OR “aangezet tot discriminatie” OR rassenhaat OR “aanzetten tot racisme” OR “aangezet tot racisme” OR “aanzetting tot discriminatie” OR “aanzetting tot haat” OR haatzaai! OR haatspraak OR haatzaaier! OR groepsbelediging)  
Belgium (French)  
 (“Daniel Féret” OR FN OR “Front National”) AND (poursui! OR proces! OR litige! OR justice! OR jurispruden! OR jurisdiction! OR avocat! OR juge! OR magistrat! OR inculp! OR “ministère public” OR “action pénale” OR “procedure pénale” OR juridique! OR “proces pénale” OR jugement! OR verdict!) AND (“incitation à la haine” OR “incite à la haine” OR “inciter à la haine” OR “incitation à la discrimination” OR “incite à la discrimination” OR “inciter à la discrimination” OR “haine raciale” OR “incitation au racisme” OR “incite au racisme” OR “inciter au racisme” OR “discours haineux” OR “discours de haine”  
France  
 (“Jean-Marie Le Pen” OR FN OR “Front National”) AND (poursui! OR proces! OR litige! OR justice! OR jurispruden! OR jurisdiction! OR avocat! OR juge! OR magistrat! OR inculpation! OR “ministère public” OR “action pénale” OR “procedure pénale” OR juridique! OR “proces pénale” OR jugement! OR verdict!) AND (“incitation à la haine” OR “incite à la haine” OR “inciter à la haine” OR “incitation à la discrimination” OR “incite à la discrimination” OR “inciter à la discrimination” OR “haine raciale” OR “incitation au racisme” OR “incite au racisme” OR “inciter au racisme” OR “discours haineux” OR “discours de haine”)  
Germany  
 (NPD OR “Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands”) AND (verfolg! OR strafverfolg! OR Anklage! OR Klage! OR Kläger! OR Prozess OR Prozeß OR Urteil! OR Verurteil! OR Anwalt OR Anwältin OR Staatsanwalt OR Staatsanwältin OR Richter! OR Gericht! OR Bundesverfassungsgericht OR Bundesverfaßungsgericht OR Rechtsprechung OR Strafsache OR Karlsruhe OR Verdikt OR Strafe OR Strafmaß) AND (“Anstiftung zur Diskriminierung” OR “anstiften zur Diskriminierung” OR “Anstiftung zu! Hass” OR “Anstiftung zu! Haß” OR “anstiften zu! Hass” OR “anstiften zu! Haß” OR “angestiftet zur Diskriminierung” OR “angestiftet zu! Hass” OR “angestiftet zu! Haß” OR Rassenhass OR Rassenhaß OR Fremdenhass OR Fremdenhaß OR Rassis! OR Fremdenfeindlich!)  
Search string for immigration news
The Netherlands migrant! OR migratie! OR immigrant! OR immigratie! OR gastarbeider! OR vluchteling! OR asielzoeker! OR allochtoon! OR allochtonen! OR buitenlander! OR vreemdeling!
Belgium and France migrant! OR migrat! OR immigrant! OR immigrat! OR “ouvrièr étranger” OR “ouvrièrs étrangers” OR ‘travailleur immigré” OR “travailleurs immigrés” OR “travailleur étranger” OR “travailleurs étrangers” OR réfugié! OR “demandeur d’asile” OR “demandeurs d’asile” OR étranger! OR allochto!
Germany Migrant! OR Migration! OR Immigra! OR Gastarbeiter! OR Flüchtling! OR Asylbewerber! OR Asylsuche! OR Ausländer! OR Zuwander! OR Einwander!

Appendix 2: Overview included key events (dummies) hate speech prosecution

The Netherlands: Prosecution Wilders
 Decision to prosecute on January 21 2009 January 21, 2009; December 18, 2014 June 23, 2011 (acquittal)
 Outcome trial December 6, 2016 (conviction)
Belgium: Prosecution Féret
 Decision to prosecute June, 2002
Outcome trial (convictions) April 2006 (first conviction), October 2006 (conviction in appeal), July 2009 (conviction in appeal)
Germany: Prosecution Deckert and Voigt
Deckert:
 Decisions to prosecute August 1994; May 1995; November 1995
 Outcome trial (convictions) April 1995; December 1995; March 1996
Voigt
 Outcome trial (convictions) August 2005
France: Prosecution Jean-Marie Le Pen
 Decisions to prosecute March 1990; September 1996; December 1997; January 1998; April 2003; January 2005
 Outcome trial (convictions)a May 1990; March 1991; July 1991; March 1993; December 1993; December 1995; December 1997; November 1998; June 1999; September 1999; April 2004; February 2005; March 2006; May 2006; February 2008; March 2008
  1. There are more key dates for the outcome of the trial compared to dates on which the decision to prosecute became known, because appeals are also included

Appendix 3: Descriptives

The Netherlands (NWeekly: 619) M SD Min Max
Party support PVV (number of seats) 22.94 8.59 2 42
General news visibility PVV and Wilders 21.65 22.85 0 129
News visibility prosecution Wilders 2.36 5.82 0 49
News visibility immigration 26.70 21.39 4 177
Election 0.006 0.08 0 1
Decision 2009 0.002 0.04 0 1
Decision 2014 0.002 0.04 0 1
Acquittal 2011 0.002 0.04 0 1
Conviction 2016 0.002 0.04 0 1
Wallonia, Belgium (NQuarterly = 47)
 FN party support (percentage) 5.53 2.07 1 10
 News about FN and Féret 136.1 150.3 38 976
 News about prosecution Féret 2.63 4.45 0 25
 News about immigration 376.6 136.9 80 776
 Elections 0.15 0.36 0 1
 Decision to prosecute 0.02 0.15 0 1
 Conviction 0.06 0.25 0 1
France (NMonthly =223)
 Favorable opinion FN (percentage) 11.4 2.93 6 28
 News about FN and Le Pen 25.1 33.2 0 245
 News about prosecution Le Pen 0.97 2.67 0 31
 News about immigration 21.7 12.3 0 76
 Elections 0.04 0.21 0 1
 Decision to prosecute 0.03 0.16 0 1
 Conviction 0.07 0.26 0 1
Germany (NMonthly = 156)
 NPD support (percentage) 0.001 0.002 0 0.009
 News about NPD, Deckert and Voigt 18.7 25.3 0 162
 News about prosecution Deckert and Voigt 5.41 7.04 0 68
 News about immigration 363.7 70.1 204 729
 Elections 0.03 0.16 0 1
 Decision to prosecute 0.03 0.15 0 1
 Conviction 0.02 0.14 0 1

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Jacobs, L., van Spanje, J. Prosecuted, yet popular? Hate speech prosecution of anti-immigration politicians in the news and electoral support. Comp Eur Polit (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-020-00215-4

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Keywords

  • Anti-immigration party
  • Hate speech
  • Legal prosecution
  • Time-series analysis
  • Media effects
  • Freedom party
  • Front national