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'A New Electoral Winning Formula?' Beyond the Populist Radical Right: Center Right Party Electoral Success, 'Strategic Emphasis' and Incumbency Effects on Immigration in the 21st Century

Downes, James F. (2017) 'A New Electoral Winning Formula?' Beyond the Populist Radical Right: Center Right Party Electoral Success, 'Strategic Emphasis' and Incumbency Effects on Immigration in the 21st Century. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:63950)

Language: English

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Contemporary center right parties in Europe are often known for their ideological focus on 'bread and butter' issues such as the free market economy and law and order, alongside their promotion of traditional institutions and values in society. However, the strategies they use to emphasize the immigration issue are less discussed in academic literature, as are the issue's electoral implications for this party family in different economic contexts across the 21st century. The central research question of this dissertation investigates the electoral success of center right parties and how they are able to prosper electorally from emphasizing immigration in different economic contexts, often at the expense of populist radical right parties. The dissertation focuses on center right parties rather than the center left, as the center right is spatially and ideologically closer to the populist radical right on a number of issues.

This dissertation tests an original aggregate level theoretical framework of 'strategic emphasis' that features a dynamic game of party competition. The theory argues that immigration is not an issue 'owned' solely by populist radical right parties, but one that can also help today's center right parties to prosper electorally. This theory proposes a discussion of the relative electoral success of center right parties in two different economic contexts, showing how in certain situation they can perform better electorally than the radical right when they emphasize immigration, as opposed to adopting specific positional stances on immigration. The central story in this dissertation is not about spatial positions in the form of anti-immigrant sentiment driving electoral success for center right parties. Rather, it is about issue salience and the emphasis that center right parties place on immigration in their party strategies that determines their electoral fortunes in the 21st century.

This theory is then tested in three separate empirical chapters (Chapters 5, 6 and 7), which draws on the ParlGov dataset on European national parliamentary elections that has been merged with the Whitefield-Rohrschneider expert survey on party positions. The Chapel Hill Expert Survey data is also utilized. Chapter 7 comprises a case study analysis of four research cases derived from the results of the large N comparative analysis in Chapter 5.

Chapters 5 and 6 set out an original contribution to knowledge in two different economic contexts, demonstrating through statistical models the electoral success of the center right. The findings show that when they emphasize the immigration issue, center right parties tended to perform better than populist radical right parties in different contexts, in times of economic crisis (2008-13) and particularly in times of economic stability (1999-2007). Drawing on a research design consisting of four case studies (Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland and France), Chapter 7 investigates qualitatively how center right parties' emphasis on immigration affects their electoral success in economic bad times and how in some cases, this strategy allows them to perform better electorally than the populist radical right. However, the case studies show that there are restrictions to center right party electoral success. For example, when center right parties are (i) incumbents and (ii) do not emphasize immigration; this allows the populist radical right to achieve electoral success at their expense. 'Challenger' center right parties (specifically non-incumbents and those in opposition) tended to perform better electorally and further underlined incumbency-punishment patterns in the context of greater voter volatility.

The dissertation argues that there may be a 'new electoral winning formula' in the 21st century, whereby specific center right parties profit electorally through strategically emphasizing the immigration issue, rather than on traditional issues such as law and order alongside the free market that the center right tend to be more historically associated with. These findings have implications for contemporary party politics, in showing the potential for center right parties to perform electorally well on the immigration issue and has important implications for the state of contemporary liberal democracy across Europe.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Seyd, Ben
Thesis advisor: Morgan-Jones, Edward
Uncontrolled keywords: Center Right Parties Far Right Parties Immigration Economic Crisis Context Party Competition 21st Century
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2017 11:31 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 21:38 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Downes, James F..

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