Pim Fortuyn: The Evolution of a Media Phenomenon


Theoretical background and objectives

In the campaign leading up to the Dutch parliamentary elections of May 2002, a new political entrepreneur, Pim Fortuyn, running on a platform in which immigration and Islam in particular were central, rose like a comet in the polls. He was shot by a left-wing activist a week before the elections but nonetheless won fifteen percent of the votes in an election that saw the greatest voter movements in Dutch parliamentary history (and that was the fourth most volatile election in European history). In spite of his death and the subsequent complete disintegration of his party, his rise marks the beginning of a new era in European right-wing politics, which fuses liberal elements (defence of gay – Fortuyn himself was a flamboyant homosexual – and women's rights, freedom of speech, opposition to anti-Semitism) with a critique of what is seen as the cultural threat to these liberal values of particular groups of immigrants, particularly Muslims. Meanwhile Fortuyn has found a successful heir in the Netherlands (Geert Wilders) and similar shifts within the populist right can be observed in Scandinavia, and in more incipient stages in Germany and the United States. Fortuyn's rise is remarkable because he achieved it without any party organisation at his disposal and with very limited financial resources, relying almost entirely on media attention. In that sense, the analysis of the rise of Fortuyn is also a case study of electoral politics under conditions of increased mediatisation (Hallin and Mancini 2004). The project asks by which mechanisms Fortuyn managed to mobilise so much attention and support so suddenly and so rapidly, relying on theoretical work on 'discursive opportunities' and evolutionary dynamics of feedback and reinforcement in public debates (Koopmans 2004; Koopmans and Olzak 2004).

Research design, data and methodology

Data are drawn from a day-to-day content analysis of three Dutch newspapers including all statements by and about Fortuyn, as well as statements about his most important issues, immigration and Islam, for the period between July 2001 (shortly before Fortuyn, who was a sociology professor and media columnist before, announced that he would enter politics) and May 2002, the month of the elections. The data are analysed using ARIMA time series and negative binomial regression, with the number of media statements by Fortuyn, and his results in the weekly election polls as dependent variables.


The results so far show that Fortuyn's media career was only to a limited extent generated by direct media attention for his own statements. Most of the media attention was generated by the reactions of other politicians, which inadvertently raised his public visibility and the prominence of the issues he addressed. This media attention proved crucial in the mobilisation of voter support, and voter support in turn enhanced media attention and the intensity of other political actors' reactions to Fortuyn. Thus, we find evidence of a dynamic feedback process that explains how a seemingly stable political situation suddenly spiralled out of equilibrium.

Main content

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Muis, Jasper (2012): Pim Fortuyn. The Evolution of a Media Phenomenon. Asterdam: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Koopmans, Ruud/Muis, Jasper (2009): The Rise of Right-Wing Populist Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands. A Discursive Opportunity Approach. In: European Journal of Political Research, vol. 48, no. 5, pp. 642-664.