Employment fears may explain rise of extremist parties across Europe

The rise of popular extremist parties across Europe may be explained by exonomic
The rise of popular extremist parties across Europe may be explained by exonomic insecurities

Fears over job security and quality of work for a new class of disaffected citizens - the ’precariat’ - could explain the rise of popular extremist parties across Europe, according to a new study.

Studying the 2017 national elections in France and the Netherlands, researchers discovered a link between electoral support for radical populist parties of both the right and left and ’precarity’ - a lack of economic security and stable occupational identities.

Precarity also dissuaded this new class of citizens - people who felt ’left behind’ and the insecure ’squeezed middle’ facing declining work and living conditions - from voting for traditional parties in both countries.

The state of precarity is associated with voting for radical populist parties, such as the Front National, in France, and Partij voor de Vrijheid, in the Netherlands, as well as radical left parties - for example, La France insoumise and the Socialistische Partij (Netherlands).

Led by experts at the University of Birmingham, the international research team published its findings in Sociological Research Online - outlining how they measured precarity using new contributory factors such as autonomy at work, satisfaction with job advancement, work-life balance, and cognitive employment insecurity.

Researchers found two main factors that drive precarity: ’precarity at work’ grouping items about subjective insecurity in working conditions; and ’precarity of tenure’ which measures job insecurity.

Study lead Dr. Lorenza Antonucci , Associate Professor at the University of Birmingham, commented: "We found that the policy trend of flexibilisation - and the related declining quality of work experienced by workers in France and the Netherlands - has political effects.

"Radical populist parties exploit the insecurity felt by people who make up the ’precariat’, with parties on the left proposing an anti-austerity solution to labour market insecurity and those on the right promoting a form of chauvinist labour market protection for citizens.

"Precarity of work conditions could also potentially explain populist voting in other European countries."

The study highlights ’precarity of tenure’ concerns such as fear of dismissal, worries about not working hard enough and reductions in working hours. ’Precarity at work’ issues include not being paid for missing a day’s work, lack of career advancement opportunities, work-life balance concerns, and unfulfilled salary expectations.

The researchers found that precarity at work increased the likelihood of people voting of voting for both the radical populist right and the radical left by a factor of two to three in both France and the Netherlands.

Precarity of tenure increases the odds of voters choosing the radical right in particular - an effect that is particularly pronounced in France, where likelihood of voting for the radical right is raised by a factor of 7.5.

"Since 2016, scholars have been discussing the economic and cultural origins behind the so-called ’Brexit effect’ - the rise of populist and radical voting in Europe," added Dr. Antonucci. "We have shown that precarity, in particular the subjective insecurity of work conditions, can explain voting patterns."

Researchers are now building on the study’s findings through the PRECEDE project - a consortium backed by 1 million funding from Volkswagen.