The Causes & Consequences of Extreme Party Entry

I was awarded a SNSF Ambizione grant to study the rise and entrance of extreme parties in contemporary democracies. Extreme candidates and parties are on the rise in advanced democracies. Most recently, Germany experienced the entry of the extreme right party AfD into parliament (2017), while in Spain (Podemos) and Greece (Syriza) extreme left parties have entered parliament or enjoy governmental office. Such events of extreme party entry are destined to have crucial consequences for the political landscapes in modern democracies: established parties might adapt their agendas and positions in an effort to contain the voter potential of the new extreme competitor; extreme parties could influence media agendas in a disproportionately severe way; and public priorities and positions are likely to polarize as a result. While a rich and burgeoning literature has emerged investigating the rise of extreme parties (e.g. Kitschelt and McGann 1995; Mudde 2007; March 2011; Dunphy and Bale 2011), until today conceptual, theoretical and empirical challenges remain to be addressed.

First, the current literature focuses predominantly on the incremental rise of extreme parties. However, empirically extreme parties’ electoral success frequently occurred sudden and unexpectedly (e.g. “Lijst Pim Fortuyn” in the Netherlands). Therefore, I argue that scrutinizing the moment of extreme party entry into parliament is conceptually closer to the empirical development of extreme party success. In line with this first point, my project will advance existing research by providing a new theoretical perspective on these shock-like events. Theoretically I build on existing research in law and social psychology (Paluck, Shepherd, and Aronow 2016; Dahl 1957) to provide new arguments and mechanisms about the causes and consequences of extreme party entry. I argue that the electoral success of extreme parties leads to shifting norms and a legitimization of extreme views. Thus, successful elections of extreme parties are likely to have severe consequences for party systems, the public and the media. Third, as Mudde (2013: 2) put it: “[…] in most cases the evidence (for the consequences of radical right party emergence) is illustrative at best, and correlation is taken for causation.’’ I seek to address this methodological concern by providing causal identification strategies to rigorously test my causal claims. Investigating Western European democracies since 1945 I will exploit the discontinuities created by electoral systems to provide causal evidence for my theoretical arguments (e.g. by exploiting the discontinuities created by electoral thresholds and using Regression Discontinuity Design (Imbens and Lemieux 2008) and Synthetic Control Methods (Abadie, Diamond, and Hainmueller 2010)). To this end, the project aims to collect a rich amount of primary and secondary data on political parties, their lifetime cycles, electoral results and political institutions.

The novel theoretical perspective on extreme party success as well as the data and methods employed in my project will provide a rich and comprehensive understanding of the causes and consequences of extreme party entry. Therefore, I expect that the results of my research will diversify both political scientists’ and the media’s understanding of the role extreme party entry plays for the contemporary developments of Western democracies.

  1. with Markus Wagner. “Do voters polarize when extreme parties enter parliament?” American Journal of Political Science: conditional accept.
  2. “How Extreme Party Entrance Legitimizes Extreme Ideologies: The Case of the German AfD” (with Markus Wagner).
    • ongoing paper project
  3. “The Randomness of Issue Ownership Theories: How External Shocks Drive Public Perception of Extreme Party’s Competence.”
    • ongoing paper project
  4. with Markus Wagner. “How Elections Legitimize Radical Ideologies: A Survey Experiment.”
    • project idea
  5. “How the entry of extreme parties into parliament affects the media agenda”
    • paper idea
  6. Book manuscript planed
  1. SNSF Ambizione grant (CHF 696’283)
  2. SNSF Scientific Exchanges (CHF 10’200)