Have the Populist Right reached their Peak?

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It was remarked countless times that 2016 was a year like no other when it came to political results. In British minds, there is no escaping the EU Referendum or the 2016 US Presidential Election, both of which were gigantic victories for the populist right which ultimately realised the ambition of two men: Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. Of course, these events are neither the only events of the populist wave of 2016, nor are these two men the sole reasons for their respective election outcomes. However, they are indicative of the feeling that the political ascendancy and momentum is owned by those who are able to control a strong anti-outsider sentiment being felt throughout Europe and America.

This view is the prevailing one, but the possibility for the populist right to lose their momentum could come within the next two years, and by the 2020 Presidential Election Donald Trump could be the last bastion of his kind. The boom and bust cycle is quick for parties who have very little groundwork historically, and populist right-wing parties tend to have very poor infrastructure.

In the UK the United Kingdom Independence Party has abysmal ground game in elections, and beyond Nigel Farage they have struggled to maintain a leader, which the country really cares about. Paul Nuttall is currently sitting at a -22% satisfaction rating, even though only 44% of those asked had a view on him. Their electoral chances are slim, and the upcoming by-elections in Stoke Central and eventually in Leigh may prove this. Therefore they may be consigned to sit as a fringe party, occasionally getting air time when a Brexit discussion comes up. The Conservatives largely do what UKIP does, but they are organised and powerful electorally, so UKIP becomes defunct.

Headlines were made in France last year when several mayors attempted to ban the burkini because it did not fit with French values. This was said to be a symptom of France’s populist right wing attitudes, and would suggest great possible victories in 2016 for the Front National. However, whilst Le Pen commonly has the single highest support of any candidate in the French Presidential election, the French Presidential Election is based on a runoff of the top two candidates, and here she is yet to be ahead in a single poll no matter if she is compared to Emmanuel Macron or Francois Fillon. She even loses to the socialist Manuel Valls, which is incredible given he is dogged by the mightily unpopular Hollande administration.

Le Pen’s problem indicates a common issue that parties as controversial as UKIP or the Front National are. As soon as they get even slightly close to winning any sort of power, they are faced with mass tactical voting to stop them. In Le Pen’s case, Macron’s and Fillon’s voters are almost certainly destined to support each other over Le Pen, and Le Pen would have to break open a completely new section of the electorate, which is unlikely to happen in the next few months, and this does not seem likely, as Le Pen would have to upkeep further time in opposition and wait for a crisis of the same type and of an even greater magnitude than the refugee crisis.

The same can be said for Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom who are unpalatable for a coalition, and so have to get many more votes than any other party to get a foothold on power.

By 2016 the refugee crisis had sparked anti-immigration parties that finally had a serious ferocity and support with them. The Austrian Presidential Election saw Norbert Hofer’s Freedom Party of Austria win the first round in much the same way as Le Pen is projected to in France, different from Le Pen however, is that he was actually in the lead in the Presidential runoff before postal votes had been taken into account. His opponents dramatic win by just 30,863 votes by the final tally was so small that the election was annulled for fears that the number of voting irregularities was actually twice the winning margin, and the wrong person may have actually won. However, this is not the interesting part of the Austrian Presidential Election, the interesting part is that when the run-off between Van Der Bellen and Hofer was held again in December 2016, Hofer lost by 348,231 votes, and Hofer’s vote share decreased. The polling actually overestimated Hofer considerably, which meant for the first time we can see the power really slipping away from the populist right during the refugee crisis.

It is possible that this is not indicative of a trend, but simply a symptom of having an election re-done bringing less support for more radical right-wing parties. It cannot be denied that this result could be significant, and herald the start of the downfall of anti-immigration and in Europe anti-European Union parties.

Right now right wing populist support will require a new foreign affairs crisis to breathe new life and new electoral chances into them otherwise they will slowly fade out of public view and popularity towards oblivion. The next important election to judge this matter on will be the German Presidential Election where the Alternative for Germany (AfD) who will seek to make their mark in the Bundestag, the way that the party’s support changes from now to the election will be one of the most important political indicators of 2017.

To finish we must return to the single biggest character of 2016 once again: Donald Trump. Trump enters office as having the lowest job approval rating of any US president in the modern era in the immediate aftermath of his inauguration at 45%, compared to Obama’s 67% in 2009, whilst he may wish to dismiss this as ‘fake news’ he is almost certainly misguided in this label. Given that four years in office are unlikely to improve his popularity, then he is unlikely to win in 2020 when he runs for re-election, however, by then the wheels of public opinion may have turned against his ilk anyhow, with decreasing electoral support in key countries. The 2020 Presidential Election may be the vote that brings an end to a brief and ferocious political era in the western world. However the evidence either way is as of yet not conclusive.

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