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Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
Research proposal v1.0
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Research proposal v1.0

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  • 1. Succes and Failure on the (Populist) Right: The Case of Wilders and Verdonk<br />Research Proposal<br />Matthijs van Tuijl<br />0850845<br />Master Thesis Political Behaviour and Communication<br />Leiden University<br />18-03-2011<br />Prof. Dr. Galen Irwin<br />‘I want to be Prime-Minister’ was Rita Verdonk’s claim on October 18 2007, when she founded her movement Trots op Nederland (TrotsNL, Proud of the Netherlands). At that point in time not an unrealistic claim, with the opinion polls having her at 25 seats. Geert Wilders with his Partij Voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Freedom Party), lost half of his supporters to Verdonk when she announced her party. However, on June 9 2010, the day of the Dutch General election, Wilders managed to secure 24 seats and Verdonk was voted out completely by the people. How is it possible that Rita Verdonk could not win any seats in the end and that Geert Wilders showed a significant growth? <br />That there was a potential for Verdonk to be successful was clear from the previous general election in 2006, when she was involved in a fierce battle for the leadership of the Liberal party (VVD) with now Prime-Minister Mark Rutte. She just lost, but did manage to get more votes during that election than Rutte. With 620,555 votes, she got almost 100,000 votes more than her party leader. Verdonk was forced to leave the VVD after an internal dispute, with the leadership contest, in practice, still going on after the elections. When she left, as figure 1 shows, she remained popular and was therefore for a while seen as a serious force within Dutch politics. Geert Wilders, himself also a former VVD MP, having left the party a few years earlier, enjoyed growing support after the elections until Verdonk founded her new movement. At that point in time there were two new right wing parties looking for the favour of the Dutch voter, only one was capable of claiming victory in the end. <br />Verdonk and Wilders have often been called populists, due to their approach to politics (Lucardie 2007; Vossen 2010). While the reasons behind the political success of populist parties have been studied in detail, focusing on elements as political leadership (or charisma), protest voting and issue preferences (Eatwell 2005; Van der Burg and Mughan 2007), there is still no definite answer on how they managed to succeed and what elements are most important. While there are many examples in Western Europe of populist parties effectively claiming an influential position within their countries’ politics, the parties that do not make it have received less attention. <br />What is interesting about the movements of Rita Verdonk and Geert Wilders, as figure 1 shows us, is that it was not just success or only failure. There were many ups and downs in popularity in the years between elections. What happened during these years? Why Verdonk did not make it in the end and Wilders did, will therefore be the puzzle of this thesis. The findings of this study could contribute to a better understanding of the development of populist parties in general. What explains the differences in electoral outcome for them? It leads to the research question of this study.<br />What explains the success of the PVV and the failure of Trots op Nederland in the period 2006-2010?<br />Theory<br />In order to find an answer to the research question it is necessary to look at what these parties or movements actually are. It is claimed that Wilders and Verdonk are populists, but what that is still remain ambiguous. Even though it is not the focus of this study to define populism, it is important to know what we are actually dealing with. When that definition is more clear, characteristics of the PVV and TON can be compared to that to see if they fit the picture. If they can be qualified as populist parties, there is a possibility to look at explanations for success and failure of populist parties and test these for Verdonk and Wilders.<br />Populism<br />Especially in Europe there is a growing number of right wing populist parties entering the arena and successfully claiming a position in parliament. According to some, the de-alignment process that took place across Europe, led to the rise of these new parties, focusing more on party leaders and less on a fixed ideology (Dalton et al., 2002: 22, 31-32). The FPÖ in Austria and the Danish People’s Party are just a few examples of parties that even managed to participate, in some form, in their countries’ government. <br />Populism is a concept that is not that easy to define in terms of when a party can be called a populist party. It is a concept that has many features and is has developed over time. In his study on Populism, Paul Taggart (2000) describes this process and defines modern populism as the New Populism, which has its roots in Western Europe. He sees it as a movement of multiple parties across countries with some defining characteristics. First of all, it is reaction to bureaucratised welfare states and corruption within the existing political parties. Secondly they reconstruct politics around a key issue, either taxation, immigration and nationalism or regionalism. Thirdly, they organise themselves differently from existing parties, as a result from distrust of political institutions. Party membership is only active and direct in the form of elected officials and personalised leadership is prevalent. Fourth, they like to establish a link between the people and them and place themselves outside of the centre of the political spectrum (Taggart, 2000: 75). <br />Canovan explains this link to the people more clearly by distinguishing between three different types: the united people (as in a nation), our people (in an ethnic sense) and the ordinary people (against the privileged) (Canovan, 1999: 5). These separate types make the faces of populism more clear. It can focus on a certain ethnic group and be an excluding factor or it can rebel against the elite and be the voice of the common man. The elite is seen as corrupt and going against the general will. Cas Mudde considers that to be the centre piece of populism, the restoration of the will of the people in a country. In that way, populism is a very moralistic ‘ideology’ (Mudde, 2004: 543-544). In this view, the common man is no longer in power, the elite is and that is de facto a bad thing. Populist parties are there to restore popular control over a nation. <br />The important thing to realise from the New Populism of Taggart is that these parties are effectively trying to find a niche in politics based on dissatisfaction with modern politics. They see politics as no longer representing the people and try to re-establish that link with them by focusing on issues that appeal to certain groups in society. As Taggart explains, the people are here portrayed as an unity within a heartland. That heartland can best be seen as an imaginary place that emphasises all the good and virtues aspects of life. It is however not all inclusive. It is to a large extent based on nationalism of an ‘organic community’, excluding certain groups in society (Taggart, 2000: 95, 97). Related to this is the creation of conspiracy theories. The elite conspires together, no longer protects the heartland and there should be something done about that. This is argued to be a major factor to mobilise support (Ibid.: 105).<br /> Leadership is also a defining feature of populist parties. With populist parties you can have two types of leadership. Most common is the type based on charisma, centred around leaders with a large popular appeal. When this is however not present, it is argued that in that case it tends to be authoritarian (Ibid.: 103). The result of this leadership is the creation of a populist mood. The idea that something needs to change fundamentally and the country needs to be reshaped. This mood has the power to encourage otherwise non active citizens to participate in politics and to get out and vote (Canovan, 1999: 6). <br />Interesting points are raised by Mudde in clarifying some basic elements of populism, related to democracy and leadership. As he argues, when it comes to democracy, populist parties want responsive government not necessarily direct democracy. They want the outcome to be representing the will of the people, but those people do not have to participate directly, as long as they are heard. On the point of leadership, he says that the people want their leaders to be in touch, but not be one of them (Mudde, 2004: 558-559). This marks some interesting aspects of populist parties and can explain for the apparent paradox of authoritarian leadership and listening to the will of the people. That will needs to be represented by the political leaders, but the people should not take over from them. Although some other scholars present a somewhat more different picture and argue that populist parties will demand more direct democracy. Democracy should in that view be seen as an ideal that includes ‘referenda, popular consultation and direct elections of office- holders (Keman and Krouwel, 2007: 25). What we see is that the concept of populism is not unambiguous. However, as seen above, there are still some defining features of these parties. <br />Wilders and Verdonk as Populists<br />In order to analyse the success and failure of populist parties in the case of Wilders and Verdonk, it is important to establish what kind of characteristics they share with this populist image as sketched above. If they are populist leaders, then it is possible to test explanations of success and failure of populism for them. If they differ from the ideal populist picture, then this can be taken in account when conducting this study. <br /> Koen Vossen, comparing Wilders and Verdonk in terms of populist tendencies, distinguished seven features of populism comparable to the points mentioned above. Some of them, the ‘folksy style’ and ‘voluntarist approach’, are somewhat similar to other points. The folksy style more or less relates to how politicians act, being one of the people, speaking with the same language. The voluntarist approach relates to politics not having to be as complex, the peoples’ qualities are enough to govern (Vossen, 2010: 25). These two points clearly focus on the incompetent elite in comparison to the people. It again stresses the fact that the political organisation has become filled with an unnecessary bureaucracy that needs to be fixed. The voluntarist approach also moves away from a politician as a professional. The common man should be represented and therefore there is no need for professionals. <br />(Vossen, 2010: 34)<br />Wilders<br />As shown in table 1, there are some doubts with Vossen about the basic idea of Geert Wilders as a populist in the traditional way. He calls Wilders a half-hearted populist, mainly because he is a professional politician and he is not glorifying the people to the extent that a true populist would do. Instead he also criticizes them on occasions (Vossen, 2010: 30). The interesting thing about this is that Wilders is a former MP for the VVD, as is Rita Verdonk, but in contrast to her, he spend quite some more time there. He had been active for the parliamentary party since 1990, working as a policy advisor. Known as a hard worker, Wilders was living politics. This is illustrated by the fact that when he was forced to leave parliament after the 2002 elections, he was devastated, having no alternative for politics whatsoever (Fennema, 2010: 66). Wilders can therefore with reason be called a professional politician and not so much a ‘common man’. It might be this background that prevents him from actively calling on the people as a source of wisdom and more relying on his own mind. <br />In contrast to not glorifying the people, Wilders does denounce the elite and rises up against them. He has managed to create a link between progressive politics and the anti-establishment idea of populism. He has created an image of the Dutch elite as a leftis elite with an inclination for cultural and moral relativism (Vossen, 2010: 27 ). It might be this explicit definition of the elite that explains how being a professional politician at the one hand but mixing that with some form of populism at the other. It is just a certain part of the political spectrum that is completely on the wrong path. Wilders wrote a ‘declaration of independence, his starting point for his movement. In this he explicitly mentions that elite let ‘this’ happen and now hold their hands in the air and say there is nothing they can do about it anymore (Fennema, 2010: 103). <br />With this he focused on the cultural aspects. This also shows his focus on the progressive elite, conspiring against society. He made a distinction between the Labour party of Wouter Bos, which he thought to be pampering, and the VVD. The people that did not want it to go completely wrong, should vote VVD (Ibid., 105). The exponent of this focus on the cultural and moral relativism of the Dutch elite, is his own conspiracy theory about Islam taking over Europe (Eurabia). As Vossen shows, Wilders actively spreads this image of islamification, referring to many experts in the field. With this he is trying to give weight to his claims and focus his campaign on the issue of immigration of Moslim immigrants (Vossen, 2010: 27). <br />Vossen gives no definite answer on whether Wilders is a charismatic leader, calling it difficult to measure in his case because of the closed nature of the party. However according to him the style of leadership is more important in his case. Wilders is the only member of his party, trying to control the internal decision making (Ibid.:28). This relates to the points made by Taggart on authoritarian leadership. Wilders, whether charismatic or not, should then more be seen as an authoritarian leader. <br />Paul Lucardie (2007), also shows the special position Wilders has put himself in. He qualifies Wilders as a right-wing, semi- hearted liberal nationalist and populist (181). As well as Vossen, he acknowledges that Wilders his behaviour is not one of standard populism. Wilders focuses on freedom, but it is limited and very inconsistent with respect to (Islamic) religion. The populism, although by some seen as limited is according to Lucardie clearly noticeable in his reference to the people and the corrupt elite (2007: 179-180). Geert Wilders, although not being the ideal type can therefore be characterised as a populist politician. Especially his anti-elite politics and the focus on Islam as the key issue around immigration are clear indicators. The leadership elements can also be found. What is however clear is that Wilders has some points that distinguish him from an average populist.<br />Verdonk<br />Where Wilders is a somewhat more complicated story in terms of populism, Verdonk seems all the more fulfilling the standard definition of a populist. As can be seen in table 1, she scores on all the criteria that are outlined. Research on her speeches and interviews show a clear distinction between the corrupt elite and the people as the virtuous element in society. There is a distrust of the people caused by the elite (Vossen, 2010: 30). Note here that Verdonk does not care for the elite being left or right wing, it is just the elite. Unlike Wilders she tries to take on the entire establishment and does not even leave out her own former party. She mentioned Mark Rutte as being too left wing and therefore also being out of touch with the people. When founding her movement she did not want to take sides either and think in the old way of how the political spectrum was divided. She did not want to be mentioned left or right, but wanted to think in old and new (Lucardie, 2007: 181). With this she cannot be seen as more distinguishing herself from the establishment or elite and taking the side of the people. From her history it does make sense for her not just to criticise the left, since she was ousted by the VVD party leaders, but favoured by the people during the elections. In general we can see Verdonk trying to frame that image of her party taking on politics in general. <br />The other important point to qualify Verdonk as a populist is that she emphasises vigorously on voluntarism and direct democracy. In her view the people should govern and we do not need politicians to sort out the best solutions. This is best illustrated by the fact that she wanted citizens to discuss with each other what the best solutions to certain problems are. The real knowledge of ordinary people would improve this country (Vossen, 2010: 31). What we see here is Verdonk going away from the politician as a professional in politics. Politicians should listen to the people and she goes to extremes to establish that link. She also did not present a real party manifest until very late. Just a couple of months before the elections, she presented her plans to the public. She then focused on taxation, subsidies and other public spending. <br />The personality of Verdonk was therefore very important. As Vossen stresses, she mainly relied on her own popularity and her image she had built during the years before. Trots op Nederland is very apolitical, in that way and more a feeling. (Vossen, 2010: 32-33). Because of that lack of content of what the party is really about, it is difficult to clearly explain what kind of party or movement it is. It could only somewhat be qualified as a nationalist party. She does emphasize Dutch culture and the relevance of putting that up front, but not as extreme as Wilders does it. She could therefore best be seen as a populist liberal-conservative (Lucardie 2007: 182). The clear difference here is that Wilders actually wants to tackle the influence of Islam in society, whereas Verdonk does not see that danger. She sees it more in terms of not letting the Dutch society fade away in general. By focusing on taxation and more power to the people, she fits very clearly in the classic image as depicted by Taggart. <br />Success and Failure<br />With this outline of populism and Wilders and Verdonk as populist leaders it is now possible to look at the elements that explain success and failure. In general there are three reasons that can be defined why people vote for populist parties: The protest vote, in reaction to other parties; voting for the charisma or leadership or voting for substance of policy preferences. <br />The protest vote comes from what Immerfall sees as a neo-populist agenda. He focuses on what the emphasize is of a populist party and sees its appeal accordingly. He argues it to be important for such a party to hold together what he calls, a neo-populist coalition. This is aimed at exploiting country specific issues, mainly focused on the economic situation of the nation, in order to attract voters (Immerfall, 1998: 250). Populism here is seen as a reaction to what is happening in a country and the reason of existence is an appeal to the people. Populist parties, by showing what is wrong, have a reason to exist. Voters then react to this by seeing the establishment as incompetent who fail to take care of the nation and vote for the party that raised those questions (Ibid., 258). This explanation of the populist vote has nothing to do with the appeal of leadership or what plan are presented to the people. It is the basic idea of framing the image of the corrupt elite that let the people down and is not representing the general will anymore. <br />As Taggart explains, there are a problems with the way populist parties behave or are organised, especially in this way. One of those things is their critique on established parties. They want to distance themselves from them, but are forced, by the way politics is organised, to behave in a similar way. As a consequence, they have a large risk of internal conflicts or collapsing (Taggart, 2000: 100). In practice it comes down to a very simple logic. At first a populist party successfully explains why the old parties are not the right choice for the voter. With this they create momentum for them to grow support. However, since this is not based on concrete plans or policy they fall in the trap they have created for themselves. Once the people notice that they are not capable of fulfilling their needs either, the image of a strong counter party disappears and the party collapses. <br />Roger Eatwell sees the importance of charisma in leaders for explaining the success of populist parties. Whereas it is a concept that cannot be defined very easily and can take on many forms, he focuses on the personal presence of the leader. It is about being able to create the right image on television and to catch the right sound bite and not so much about the physical attraction of the party leader. The focuses of the publicity tend to be on the personality of the leader and this creates electoral appeal (Eatwell, 2005: 108). This approach takes away the idea of charisma just being about the leader and puts the emphasis on the actions of him or her. It still remains a personalised attraction, but of a different nature. <br />Taggart sees the problems with charismatic leadership in the long run. He argues it to be unstable and not very reliable. Politicians can never be certain how to effectively sustain their charisma and it is therefore very unstable (Taggart, 2000: 102). As long as politicians are seen to be charismatic and are capable to catch the eye of the people, they will continue to be popular. However relying on charisma alone seems to form a problem in the long run. A new contender can come along and take away the support or people will start to see through the charismatic mask. <br />Van der Burg and Mughan (2007) conclude from their study of Dutch populist leaders, that they do not have a greater effect on the voting behaviour than their counterparts from the established parties. Even for Pim Fortuyn, arguably a very charismatic man, there was not to be found any significant difference between his leadership appeal and that of other politicians (Van der Burg and Mughan, 2007: 44). This further puts pressure on the effectiveness, if any, of just the leader as a token to attract votes. Even though in a best case scenario it helps to improve voting for the party, it seems to be the case that a populist party cannot rely on the leader alone. <br />There is more to it and Mughan and Paxton (2006) try to explain this with a case study of anti-immigrant feelings in Australia. What they find is that policy preference is highly significant as an explanation for the populist vote. Only if there is correspondence between what voters want and what parties offer them, will they vote for them (Mughan and Paxton, 2006: 354, 357). It seems that voters have an idea of what they want to happen in a country and need parties to defend this or to bring this forward. It can effectively boost the claim made by many populists that the old parties are not representing the will of the people. It could be the case that it is then more than a protest vote and basic rhetoric and gives a chance for parties that can actually find a niche in politics to grow and become important. <br />Ivarsflaten, shows the volatility of populist parties when it comes to issues and thereby also acknowledges the importance. She shows that the saliency of (especially the economic) issue is important (Ivarsflaten, 2005: 489). The populist voter does look at issues and does take in account the state of the nation and is not simply affected by rhetoric or leadership appeal. Van der Burg and Fennema (2003) firmly support this conclusion and state that conclude from their analyse on the development of anti-immigrant parties, that voters vote according to their issue preferences. They argue that voters for those parties vote for the same reasons on a party as any other voter does. Some evidence even hints that they are even more ideological voters. (Van der Burg and Fennema, 2003: 66. 70-71). It seems that we should not underestimate the voters for populist parties. There is evidence that they are not the simplistic voters as some people hold them to be. The strength of a party does not just rely on the leadership or on a protest vote. It depends heavily on which issues are salient and whether a party manages to bring them forward in a right way. There are therefore many ways for a populist party to go wrong and it depends on the context whether such a party is successful or not. <br />Sub-questions/Expectations<br />Based on the literature and the characterisation of both Wilders and Verdonk, it is possible to formulate some sub questions to analyse the success and failure of their parties. As seen above there are three main reasons for the success of populist parties, these will serve as a guide for explaining the differences between the two parties and finding an answer to the research question. From this it is possible to distinguish between the following sub questions. <br />Q1: What was the influence of the ‘protest vote’ for Wilders and Verdonk? <br />It follows from the literature that the protest vote can be one of the reasons why people vote for populist parties. The protest vote is a result of the party emphasising the difference between the old and the new. The establishment has failed the people and the new (populist) party is there to re-establish the link between the people and the government. For the protest vote explanation to contribute as an important factor of success, we would expect to see the populist party to rally against the old parties and their politics. Furthermore the emphasis would be on the old elite that has failed the people and the importance of restoring that faith and giving power back to the people. An important explanation for failure here is the inherent implications of this strategy. When parties run into problems themselves (mostly internal), this will backfire and the protest vote will no longer be of any use to the populist party. If they no longer have the image of being the new that will get rid of the habits of the old, we will expect to see failure. <br />Q2: What was the influence of leadership as an explanation for success and failure?<br />A second explanation of success can be found in the leadership appeal or personification of politics. It works either through charisma or authoritarian leadership. Whereas charisma is not an easy concept to define, for the purpose of this study it will be operationalised in a comprehensive way. Here it will just mean the personal appeal of a leader to attract voters. For this to work out, we will expect to see less or none emphasizing on issues or ideas, but attention for the leader in general. It is expected that voter appeal will go up when a lot of attention is given to the populist leader. The danger here is the unstable factor of charismatic leadership. It seems that emphasising on just the personal appeal of the leader for too long can pose a problem and an unstable basis for a party to continue to grow further or hold its position. Authoritarian leadership can be a further explanation for a populist party to maintain a strong position. This type of leadership is expected to be very important for holding the party together and we are expected to see differences with regards to voter preferences for parties. <br />Q3: What is the influence of issue preferences and saliency?<br />The final sub question relates somewhat to the second. What is more important, having a leader with a big charismatic appeal or talking about the issues and focusing on improving specific things? For this question we would expect to see attention to issues relating to voter appeal. It is also expected that certain issues will result in more support of voters than others. When parties talk more about salient issues or create saliency for an issue they are expected to increase their voting potential. Failing here could be the result of two different things. First of all, it could mean that the specific party is unable to create any substance to link themselves to. This could mean that the party focuses more on leadership potential or has other reasons not to focus on the issues. The other explanation is that a party emphasises an issue that apparently is not that salient to the general public or where they take a (in the eyes of the public) wrong stand on.<br />Methodology<br />This will be an qualitative research on the success and failure of Wilders and Verdonk in the period between 2006 and 2010. The reasons to focus on Wilders and Verdonk are clear. They both have clear elements of populism in them and both had a large (initial) appeal to the public. In the period between 2006 and 2010, as seen in figure 1, some interesting developments took place with respect to the voting potential of the two politicians/parties. Verdonk joined the race for the populist vote. Verdonk and Wilders both had their ups and downs in the polls, eventually resulting in Verdonk dropping to nothing and Wilders reaching an all-time high. It can therefore be qualified as a period with many changes and different sides. This makes it an interesting period to analyse, for it can test on different moments in time the different expectations as outlined above. <br /> A newspaper analysis of De Telegraaf will be carried out of this period. The reason to take De Telegraaf as the focus of this study is that this paper is well known for its right wing, often populist, sympathies. The long-time motto of the paper: ‘De krant van wakker Nederland’, relating to the newspaper being there for the (active) Dutch people, is also a reference to this populist appeal. If any it will be this paper that follows the development of these populist parties closely. They will also be more likely to portrait a certain picture of the parties with respect to their potential of representing the people. By analysing newspaper content through Nexis Lexis, a reconstructing will be made of the selected period. With this reconstruction we can see what actually happened and what explanations are more important for the success and failure. Note here that the aim of this research is not to establish causality between media coverage and populist success. Rather the media coverage is used to create the essential narrative. <br />The searchterm ‘Rita Verdonk’ for the period September 21, 2007 (the day before the 2006 general election) to June 10, 2010 ( the day after the 2010 general election) resulted in 649 De Telegraaf hits. A similar search for ‘Wilders OR PVV’ resulted in 2378 hits. In order to analyse importance of these articles, the polls as indicated in figure 1 will be followed. Several points in time, as seen in the figure, are indicated as crucial moments or periods. These crucial moments are operationalised as moments where major changes occurred in the opinion polls. Some of them are periods where both Wilders and Verdonk fluctuated, these are indicated with black arrows. The red ones refer to the period of change for Verdonk and the blue arrows to crucial periods for Wilders. The articles will be grouped in the time frames of these periods giving the advantage of seeing differences in style, magnitude and issue v leadership. <br />Next to the media narrative of the Telegraaf, there is also some interesting data that can be linked to the opinion polls. Peil.nl carried out separate small researches on important moments over these four years. Many relate to the confidence in the party leaders over time, but they also focus on specific issues when they appeared to be more salient or played a role in decision making on that moment in time. The Dutch election study 2010 can also be used to back up the story. Sympathy scores for the parties (both TON and the PVV) and the sympathy scores for the party leaders (both Wilders and Verdonk) were generated with these surveys, providing us with data on the importance of both. For Wilders some additional questions were asked: What issue comes to mind when thinking of the PVV and do you agree with the PVV on that issue? What other issue comes to mind when thinking of the PVV and do you agree with the PVV on that issue? How much would you trust Geert Wilders with being Prime-Minister?<br />The advantage of doing this qualitative research over a more quantitative approach is that a better understanding can be acquired about the circumstances under which the shifts in popularity took place. This can then be linked to the theory on populist support, sub-questions can be answered on the basis of the relevant narrative. This in-depth approach can shed more light on what factors are different for these two parties and should therefore not be limited to raw data. It could provide for a more comprehensive explanation of why one populist party fails and the other succeeds. In a nutshell that is the aim of this study. <br />List of References <br />Canovan, M. 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