Netherlands’ Wilders Bleeds Support to Christian Democrats, Socialists

Dutch Freedom Party voters are defecting to what may look like opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Dutch Christian Democrat leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma arrives in Brussels for a summit of European conservative party leaders, October 15, 2015
Dutch Christian Democrat leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma arrives in Brussels for a summit of European conservative party leaders, October 15, 2015 (EPP)

I reported here the other day that Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party is losing support in the Netherlands.

Now we know where his voters are going.

The national broadcaster NOS reports that the nationalists are bleeding support to the Christian Democrats on the one hand and the far-left Socialists on the other.

That might seem odd, given that those parties are opposites in many ways.

But it makes sense when we look at these movements through the prism of the Netherlands’ “blue-red” culture war.

Movement in the polls

Support for Wilders, who wants to take the Netherlands out of the European Union and stop immigration from Muslim countries, has come down from a 21-percent high in December to 14-16 percent today, according to an average of election polls.

That would give him no more than 25 out of 150 seats in parliament after the election next week.

The Christian Democrats have climbed up to the equivalent of fifteen to seventeen seats, which could make them the third largest party.

The Socialists are neck and neck with Labor, traditionally the largest party on the left, polling at the equivalent of twelve to fourteen seats.

This still implies a gain of around ten seats for the Freedom Party compared to its 2012 election result.

Nonetheless, the movement in the polls is notable, because it suggests the Christian Democrats’ and the Socialists’ strategy is working.

Dutch identity

Many new Christian Democrat voters are actually coming home.

In the last two elections, Wilders parked his tanks on the Christian Democrats’ lawn: the historically Catholic and socially more conservative south of the Netherlands. Now voters there are switching back.

We can only speculate at this point as to the reasons.

I argued here earlier in the week that Wilders made a mistake by skipping the first two election debates. Now Christian Democrat leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma has been the most reactionary candidate on television.

He has also shifted his party in Wilders’ direction, for example, by arguing that the Dutch ought to stand up for their Judeo-Christian heritage and by expressing reservations about Islam.

Radicalized

Wilders, by contrast, has become more radical.

Whereas he once argued for a ban on the building of new mosques, he now wants to shut down all existing mosques in the country.

Whereas he previously maintained there was a difference between rejecting Islamic thought and rejecting Muslims, in the 2014 local elections he outright demanded “fewer Moroccans” in the city of The Hague, where his Freedom Party competed. This earned him a guilty verdict for discrimination two years later.

Wilders has also gone from proposing a Dutch exit from the euro to calling for an exit from the EU.

This may all be going too far for so-called status-quo conservatives: voters who, as Jonathan Haidt has argued, can be drawn into an alliance with authoritarians when they feel progressives have subverted the nation’s identity and traditions so badly that dramatic political action is only way they can stand athwart history anymore yelling “Stop!”

These voters now have a respectable alternative in the Christian Democrats.

Left behind

The Socialists are on the other end of the left-right spectrum, yet they share views with the Freedom Party.

Both are protective of the welfare state. Both opposed raising the pension age. Both resist cutting unemployment benefits. Both want to spend more on elderly care.

The Socialists are also mildly Euroskeptic, calling the EU a neoliberal project that has done more for businesses than workers.

Specifically, they agitate against the free movement of labor in Europe, which they see as unfair competition for low-skilled workers in high-income countries.

Unlike their friends on the left, the Socialists appeal to voters without a college education who feel left behind in the globalized economy.

Two-pronged attack

It seems unlikely that the Freedom Party will be diminished in a week’s time. But the Christian Democrats and Socialists are eating away at the margins of its base. Long term, this two-pronged attack against the nativists may just make Wilders irrelevant.

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