How to Build a Tolerant Society
Electoral support for populist, radical right-wing parties was almost null at the beginning of the 1980’s in (established) European democracies but has risen steadily to 16 percent of the vote in national elections across current democracies as of 2020. Since 2014, the number of European governments that include right-wing populist parties has doubled to 33 percent. How can this trend be stopped? With immigrant resentment as an example, I look at the short- and long-term possibilities for governments to affect the prevalence of resentment across specific voter groups with a broad spectrum of social policies, party campaigns, etc. helped by mass media, political systems, and historic factors (excluding policies to prevent extremism or to explicitly further democratic values). This view builds on comprehensive but underutilized research produced by sociology, political science, psychology, urban and rural studies, economics, and other disciplines (it also includes some of my own). Connecting these insights further to research on the party-dynamics that contribute to the rise of populist/radical right-wing parties reveals an underlying pattern: The shift from economic issues (e.g. redistribution) to cultural issues (e.g. minority rights, gender equality, immigration) in western political discourse in the 1980s has allowed certain right-wing parties to inflict hardship on voter groups/constituencies and get rewarded with electoral support not only from other voter groups but, with some constraints, the very same voters.
Katja Salomo is Research Fellow of the WZB President's Research Group.
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