Skip to main content

Photo: “Demonstration against Morten Kjærum in Vienna“, by Ataraxis1492 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Hue modified from the original

Oesch, Daniel. “Explaining workers’ support for right-wing populist parties in Western Europe: Evidence from Austria, Belgium, France, Norway, and Switzerland.” International Political Science Review 29, no. 3 (2008): 349-373.


During the 1990s, the working class has become the core clientele of right-wing populist parties in Western Europe. This article empirically examines the motives of workers for supporting a right-wing populist party. Based on data from the European Social Survey for Austria, Belgium, France, Norway, and Switzerland, three different sets of explanations are tested: (1) hypotheses stressing economic determinants, that is, the fear of wage pressure and competition over welfare benefits; (2) hypotheses emphasizing cultural determinants, that is, the perception of immigration as a threat to national identity; and (3) hypotheses focusing on social alienation, that is, dissatisfaction with the way the country’s democracy works and the nonintegration into intermediary networks (trade unions). We find questions of community and identity to be clearly more important than economic grievances. Hence, in Austria and Switzerland, the electoral success of right-wing populist parties among workers seems primarily due to cultural protectionism: the defense of national identity against outsiders. In Belgium, France, and Norway, cultural protectionism is complemented by deep-seated discontent with the way the countries’ democracies work.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.