Income inequality, status decline and support for the radical right

  • Sarah EnglerEmail author
  • David Weisstanner


Support for the radical right has risen in most Western democracies. Globalization and modernization processes are usually seen as the source of this development, reshaping political conflicts and producing new groups of people that feel ‘left behind’. However, few studies test how the relatively common trends in globalization shape the variation in the timing and extent of radical right support across countries. Focusing on the economic dimension of the ‘losers of globalization’ theory, we argue that income inequality is a suitable indicator to measure the extent to which some groups have fallen behind and to capture the fear of decline in material well-being of people not (yet) at the bottom of the income distribution. The relative deterioration in material conditions, we argue further, translates into a lower subjective social status of vulnerable groups who then turn towards the radical right. By cultivating nativism and thus providing non-economic criteria of social status, the radical right becomes more attractive as societies become more unequal. We show evidence for our hypothesis by comparing vote shares for radical right parties in 20 Western democracies between 1980 and 2016. The findings indicate that rising income inequality substantially increases support for the radical right in the long run. In addition, rising inequality translates into lower subjective social status of nontertiary educated men and this process of status decline further contributes to radical right support. Hence, there are both material and non-material linkages between income inequality and radical right support.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universität ZürichBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.University of OxfordBernSwitzerland

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