The impact of Populist Radical Right Parties
on socio-economic policies
AND DENNIS C.SPIES
Cologne Center for Comparative Politics, University of Cologne, Köln, Germany
Institute of Public Administration –Campus den Haag, Leiden University, The Hague, The Netherlands
Because they are now members of most Western European parliaments, Populist Radical Right
Parties (PRRPs) have the potential to inﬂuence the formulation of socio-economic policies.
However, scholarly attention so far has nearly exclusively focussed on the impact of PRRPs on
what is considered their ‘core issue’, that is migration policy. In this paper, we provide the ﬁrst
mixed methods comparative study of the impact of PRRPs on redistributive and (de-)regulative
economic policies. Combining quantitative data with qualitative case studies, our results show
that the participation of PRRPs in right-wing governments has noteworthy implications for
socio-economic policies. Due to the heterogeneous constituencies of PRRPs, these parties not
only refrain from welfare state retrenchment but are also less inclined to engage in deregulation
compared with right-wing governments without PRRP participation.
Keywords: Populist Radical Right Parties; social spending; economic liberalization;
Populist Radical Right Parties (PRRPs) have successfully evolved from ‘pariahs to
power’(De Lange, 2008). At ﬁrst ostracized by other parties, they are now repre-
sented in the parliaments of most Western European countries, have taken part in
government in a number of them, and therefore inﬂuence policymaking. Accord-
ingly, scholarly attention has slowly started to move its focus from explaining their
electoral fortunes to analysing their impact on public policies (Akkerman and
De Lange, 2012; De Lange, 2012).
With a few exceptions (e.g. Verbeek and Zaslove, 2015), however, previous
studies have so far mostly focussed on the impact of PRRPs on policies within their
‘core domains’, such as migration and integration policy (e.g. Akkerman, 2012).
However, achieving parliamentary or executive representation also gives PRRPs
potential inﬂuence in other core areas of state intervention, including economic and
social policies. This article offers the ﬁrst systematic comparative study of their
impact on both redistributive (i.e. social spending and welfare generosity) and
regulative (i.e. market-making) economic policies in Western Europe.
In order to analyse the impact of PRRPs on socio-economic policies, we combine
quantitative and qualitative methods (Lieberman, 2005). We ﬁrst address the
* E-mail: email@example.com
European Political Science Review, page 1 of 26
European Consortium for Political Research
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impact of the parliamentary representation of PRRPs and their government partici-
pation on socio-economic policy formulation between 1970 and 2010 in 17 West
European countries. Using a matching tool for case selection, we complement our
statistical analysis with a case study of PRRP government participation in Austria
in the 1990s and 2000s in order to gather insights into the policy-making processes
PRRPs and socio-economic policy
The last three decades have witnessed the strengthening and ‘mainstreaming’of
PRRPs within West European party systems (Mudde, 2007). While the electoral
fortunes of parties within this family vary greatly, many have managed to establish
themselves as relevant actors in government coalitions in countries such as Austria,
the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, and Italy. As their electoral success hinged
on stricter immigration controls, tougher law and order policies, and restrictive
welfare provision for immigrants in particular (Van der Brug and Fennema, 2003;
Betz and Johnson, 2004; Mudde, 2007), it has naturally raised the question of their
impact on policy formulation (see Mudde, 2013 for a recent review).
Previous studies have understandably focussed on the impact of PRRPs on the
policy domains that they are considered to ‘own’, such as immigration, integration,
and law and order (Minkenberg, 2001; Zaslove, 2004; Bale, 2008; Akkerman,
2012; Mudde, 2013). Indeed, research has shown that these parties mobilize
voters primarily along the value/identity dimension and not so much on the
socio-economic dimension of electoral politics (Gabel and Huber, 2000; Arzheimer
and Carter, 2003; Kriesi et al., 2006; Van der Brug and Van Spanje, 2009).
However, this does not mean that they cannot affect socio-economic policies,
especially as coalition politics involves complex negotiations about different policy
issues with other parties. Yet, no systematic large-Nanalysis has been conducted on
the socio-economic policy impact of PRRPs and the number of qualitative case
studies explicitly addressing this question is limited (see, however, Afonso, 2015;
Afonso and Papadopoulos, 2015). This is somewhat surprising because the role and
preferences of PRRPs in the socio-economic domain have been the subjects of sharp
controversies, depending on the alleged preferences of their voters (vote-seeking
strategies) and the autonomy of PRRP party elites towards them when it comes to
coalition formation (ofﬁce-seeking strategies).
The ﬁrst comparative studies in the ﬁeld already pointed out that the Radical Right
was not only interested in culturally related issues, but also in socio-economic
questions as a result of the realignment of the economic preferences of working-
class voters towards pro-market agendas. One of the most prominent advocates of
this view was Kitschelt (1995), who argued that the electoral success of PRRPs
2LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
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hinged on a combination of nationalism and neoliberalism (see also Betz, 1994).
According to Kitschelt, PRRPs were indeed radical with regard to their culturally
authoritarian stance, but also in their demand for laissez-faire policies aiming at less
redistribution, lower taxation, and reduced welfare expenditures. They supported
the deregulation of state monopolies and the dismantlement of neo-corporatist
arrangements perceived to beneﬁt the political establishment. Following this view,
we would then expect PRRPs to support measures of liberalization once in
In recent studies, the market-liberal character of PRRPs has been questioned,
especially by those interested in the political attitudes of PRRP voters. These studies
convincingly show that PRRP supporters share similar concerns about cultural
identity and especially immigration control (Van der Brug and Fennema, 2007;
Arzheimer and Carter, 2009; Van der Brug and Van Spanje, 2009) but are
profoundly divided in their socio-economic preferences. This divide exists in parti-
cular between their two traditional core clienteles, the anti-state petite bourgeoisie
on the one hand and the traditionally left-leaning working class on the other (Ignazi,
2003; Ivarsﬂaten, 2005; Mudde, 2007; Spies, 2013; Afonso and Rennwald, 2017).
In the face of these divisions, PRRPs are believed to follow strategies of ‘position
blurring’, either presenting ‘vague or contradictory positions’(Rovny, 2013: 6) or
downplaying their socio-economic programme (Cole, 2005; Spies and Franzmann,
2011; Afonso, 2015), which some authors see as essentially subordinate to their
nationalist ideology (Mudde, 2007: 119). However, such electoral strategies are of
limited value once PRWPs are in ofﬁce because their position on these matters
becomes much more difﬁcult to obscure, when laws have to be voted and budgets
allocated. Then, strategies of position blurring might translate into inconsistent
socio-economic policy reforms, for example, by mixing up general liberalization
with ‘speciﬁc (often purely symbolic) protectionist measures and new programmes
for selected groups (small business owners, families with children and so on)
deemed vital to the political success of the government”(Heinisch, 2003: 103).
Finally, different expectations of the policy impact of PRRPs appear in several
studies where PRRPs are presented as new working-class parties (Ignazi, 2003;
Arzheimer, 2012). These studies either show that working-class voters are already
the most important group in PRRPs or claim that working-class support for the
Radical Right is steadily increasing (Betz, 2002; Spies, 2013; Afonso and Rennwald,
2017). The common inference from these electoral changes is that PRRPs have
abandoned their former market-liberal positions in favour of more centrist agendas,
in line with the preferences of their now more left-leaning supporters (Kitschelt,
2004; McGann and Kitschelt, 2005; De Lange, 2007; Kitschelt, 2007; Van Spanje
and Van der Brug, 2007; Aichholzer et al., 2014; Schumacher and Kersbergen,
2014). This re-orientation of PRRPs should express itself especially with regard to
redistributive social policies as the working-class still has a strong interest in the
preservation of traditional social insurance schemes (Häusermann et al., 2013: 229;
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 3
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Summarizing the arguments on the policy preferences of PRRPs derived from
their electoral constituencies, the theoretical expectations are mixed. On the one
hand, even the initial advocates of the ‘winning formula’(Kitschelt, 2004; McGann
and Kitschelt, 2005; Kitschelt, 2007) acknowledge that the socio-economic proﬁle
of PRRP voters today is much more left-leaning than in the early 1990s. On the
other hand, PRRPs do not seem to follow a clear socio-economic agenda and the
salience of these issues in their programmes remains low. Their policy stance is
therefore unclear both during electoral campaigns, when they try to diffuse their
positions, and in government, when they seem to advocate somewhat inconsistent
So far, we have derived our arguments on the policy impact of PRRPs from the
socio-economic proﬁle of their voters. However, as far as Western Europe is
concerned, PRRPs have been able to enter national government coalitions only with
other right-wing (Conservative, Christian-democratic, or Liberal) political parties
generally holding market-liberal views on the economy.
The participation of these
parties in government is hence embedded in intricate processes of coalition forma-
tion and logrolling with centre-right parties. According to De Lange (2012: 907),
right-wing coalitions are an attractive option for mainstream right parties because
PRRPs enable them to form politically viable and ideologically cohesive coalitions.
As far as the mainstream right is concerned, political deals with PRRPs can draw on
giving them concessions in the domain of immigration control (which PRRPs ‘own’
and on which mainstream right parties have converged anyway) in exchange for
their support for liberalizing socio-economic reforms (which are more important for
mainstream right parties than for PRRPs). This kind of political deal, however, may
be dangerous for PRRPs if one considers their strong working-class base. Indeed,
cutting welfare programmes on which many of their voters rely can translate into
severe electoral losses. How can this trade-off be resolved?
We argue that this is possible only by differentiating socio-economic policies
between those concerning redistribution (welfare state retrenchment being the most
prominent among these) and those concerning the deregulation of former regulated
markets, including ﬁnancial liberalization, privatization of former state-owned
companies, and the labour market (see Lowi, 1972; Aranson and Ordeshook,
1981). While their mainstream right coalition partners generally have a strong
interest in both kinds of liberalization (see Bale, 2003; Giger and Nelson, 2011), we
argue that PRRPs might have incentives to support (or consent to) deregulation but
are more hesitant to support policies of welfare retrenchment once in government.
One exception is the Syriza-Independent Greeks coalition formed in Greece in 2015, and Swiss gov-
ernments where the radical right shares ofﬁce with all major parties. The radical right has also held ofﬁce
with left-wing parties at the sub-national level in a number of countries.
4LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
Starting with redistribution, supporting welfare retrenchment might be a serious
problem for PRRPs because at least part of their electoral base has a strong interest
in traditional social insurance programmes, such as pensions (Häusermann et al.,
2013: 229; Afonso, 2015). Welfare reforms can be expected to be salient issues, and
strategies of position blurring which can be successful during electoral campaigns –
are very difﬁcult to carry out when in government. Thus, PRRPs face a potential
trade-off between ofﬁce and votes when it comes to redistribution (Afonso, 2015):
supporting the policies of their liberal and conservative coalition partners may harm
their own working-class electorate, while defending the interests of their own
electorate may jeopardize alliances with their mainstream right partners. If PRRPs
focus on votes, they should be more likely to defend the status quo when it comes
HYPOTHESIS 1: Centre-right governments with PRRP participation will pursue more
redistributive economic policies compared with centre-right govern-
ments without PRRP participation.
As far as deregulation is concerned, we argue that the picture is different than
this for redistributive issues, and that this domain is less problematic in terms of
coalition bargaining and electoral effects. We see three main reasons for this. The
most straightforward can be found in the interests of their potential mainstream
right coalition partners. If PRRPs demand tougher immigration legislation but do
not consent to welfare retrenchment, deregulation in other less salient domains
becomes the only concession which can be offered.
Besides this coalition-based logic, PRRPs themselves might have a direct interest
in deregulation given their general hostility to organized interests, especially to trade
unions. This widespread critique of neo-corporatism among PRRPs is rooted in
their anti-elite ideology (see Heinisch, 2003; Mudde, 2007). PRRPs as ‘outsider’
political actors may also favour deregulation because they have not been part of the
state-market networks (including connections between parties, trade unions, and
employers) that have governed many European market economies. Therefore,
policies that might break up these corporatist networks and undermine the power of
interest groups and established parties can be expected to ﬁnd PRRP support. Trade
unions, in particular, are among the most purposeful defenders of regulation
(Davidsson and Emmenegger, 2013) because both labour market deregulation and
privatization of formerly state-owned enterprises directly concern their own power
base (Obinger et al., 2014). Hence, the deregulation of these domains should be in
the direct interest of both PRRPs as well as pro-business mainstream right parties.
Finally, PRRPs might prefer deregulation to retrenchment because it is surely less
salient in the eyes of their voters. Deregulation often appears rather technical and
usually demands a higher degree of information to assess its outcomes, making such
policies less conﬂictual in electoral terms than policies with clearer distributional
effects. Therefore, support for deregulation might be more compatible with PRRPs’
electoral strategy of ‘position blurring’. Taking the three arguments together, we
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 5
expect PRRPs in government to support policies of deregulation, or at least to
consent to such reforms introduced by their centre-right coalition partners:
HYPOTHESIS 2: Governments with PRRP participation will support deregulatory
economic policies. This results in deregulatory economic policies
comparable to these of centre-right governments without PRRP
Finally, the potential policy impact of PRRPs does not only hinge on their conﬂict
between vote- or ofﬁce-seeking strategies but also on the opportunity structures they
face once in government. This involves, for instance, cabinet duration and the size of
cabinet majorities. While the lack of adequate majorities and of sufﬁcient time for
the implementation of reforms are restrictions for any kind of government –be it
with or without PRRP participation –for the analysis of PRRPs this argument is
arguably even more important. Empirically, governments with PRRP participation
tend to be less stable, and are signiﬁcantly shorter than other governments.
They might therefore simply lack the time to implement either redistributive or
deregulatory reforms. To account for this, we will compare their policy impact
depending on government duration and expect for both Hypotheses 1 and 2 that
PRRP governments will have the most pronounced impact in the long run.
Research design, method, and data
To investigate our hypotheses, we combine a statistical analysis with case study
evidence. We ﬁrst conduct a large-Nquantitative analysis investigating the average
effect of PRRP government participation on redistributive and regulative economic
policies. In a second step, we quantitatively compare the impact of governments
with PRRP support with comparable market-liberal governments depending on
how much time the respective governments had to implement redistributive and
deregulative reforms. Third, we select two cases (one with and one without a
PRRP in cabinet), based on the distribution of the statistically most important
variables. This within-case comparison provides us with evidence to establish
the inference from the statistical analysis and weakens the power of alternative
We start by calculating several time-series cross-sectional regression models.
In the ﬁrst series, we analyse PRRPs’impact on welfare generosity.
second part, we estimate their impact on deregulative economic policies. All
models are based on data for 17 Western European countries
for the period
In addition, we also report models with welfare spending as the dependent variable in the Online
Appendix of this paper (see Table C). In essence, these models show very comparable effects on the impact
of PRRPs on welfare generosity.
These are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy,
Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.
6LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
1970–2010 (see Table 1). The sample selection is intended to cover the whole
range of countries within Western Europe for the entire period since the rise
of the ﬁrst PRRPs.
Table 1. Populist Radical Right Parties (PRRPs) in government from 1970 to 2010
Country PRRP Government participation (formal or informal) Duration
Austria Freedom Party (since Formal: 04.02.2000–24.11.2002 (Schüssel I) 1
1986 PRRP) 24.11.2002–28.02.2003 (Schüssel II) 1
28.02.2003–05.04.2005 (Schüssel III) 1
Alliance for the Future
of Austria (BZö)
Formal: 05.04.2005–11.01.2007 (Schüssel IV) 0
Denmark Danish People’s Party Informal: 27.11.2001–18.02.2005 (Rasmussen F I) 2
18.02.2005–23.11.2007 (Rasmussen F II) 1
23.11.2007–05.04.2009 (Rasmussen F III) 1
05.04.2009-02.10.2011 (Rasmussen L) 1
Italy Northern League Formal: 11.05.1994–17.01.1995 (Berlusconi I) 0
11.06.2001–28.05.2005 (Berlusconi II) 2
28.05.2005–17.05.2006 (Berlusconi III) 0
08.05.2008–16.11.2011 (Berlusconi IV) 1
National Alliance Formal: 11.05.1994–17.01.1995 (Berlusconi I) 0
11.06.2001–28.05.2005 (Berlusconi II) 2
28.05.2005–17.05.2006 (Berlusconi III) 0
The Netherlands List Pim Fortuyn Formal: 21.07.2002–27.05.2003 (Balkenende I) 0
Norway Progress Party Informal: 08.09.1985–09.05.1986 (Willoch III) 1
16.10.1989–03.11.1990 (Syse) 1
19.10.2001–17.10.2005 (Bondevik II) 2
Sweden New Democracy Informal: 03.10.1991–06.10.1994 (Bildt) 1
Switzerland Swiss People’s Party Formal: 15.12.1999–10.12.2003 (Bundesrat 1999) 2
(since 1999 PRRP) 10.12.2003–12.12.2007 (Bundesrat 2003) 2
10.12.2008–14.12.2011 (Bundesrat 2008) 1
Reports only PRRPs that have attained informal or formal representation at national govern-
ment level prior to 2010. While most of these cases have also been included in previous studies
on the policy impact of PRRPs (De Lange, 2012; Rovny, 2013), the Syse (Norway), and Bildt
(Sweden) governments might call for further explanation, as there were no ofﬁcial coalition
agreements between the PRRPs and the government parties. Concerning Syse, Narud (1995:
10–11) explains that the centre-right coalition parties were ‘dependent on the support of the
Progress Party’and that the good experiences with this support paved the way for the Progress
Party’s inclusion in later governments. With regard to Sweden, the Bildt government ‘was
dependent on the New Democracy’s support to pass its legislation’making this party also a
‘veto player’for the reform of social policy (Anderson and Immergut, 2007: 370). Government
duration is coded categorically: 0 if the government lasted less than 12 months; 1 if between
12 and 36 months; 2 if for more than 36 months.
We also run all models on restricted samples focussing (1) only on the period from 1990 to 2010 and
(2) only on countries with PRRPs in parliament from 1970 to 2010. The ﬁndings of the subsample
regressions very much resemble the ﬁndings of the regressions based on the entire sample of countries from
1970 to 2010. The additional models are reported in the Online Appendix (Figures C and D).
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 7
Regarding our methodology for the quantitative part, there are often
considerable doubts about the robustness of average effects in social science studies
using macro variables (e.g. Kittel, 2006). This is because the regression results are
very sensitive to the speciﬁcation choices made and the inclusion and exclusion of
speciﬁc cases (Imbens, 2015). This problem is particularly salient in our case as well.
Technically speaking, the characteristics of governments where PRRPs participate
are far from balanced compared with those without it: PRRP governments are not
only signiﬁcantly more market liberal but also tend to govern in wealthier countries
which are already more liberalized, have weaker labour unions and considerably
higher public debts and lower levels of unemployment.
In order to deal with this, we use entropy balancing as an established and
non-parametric way to obtain regression weights (Hainmueller and Xu, 2011).
This procedure assigns higher weights to observations of governments without
PRRP membership that are more similar to governments with PRRPs. Put more
simply, more market-liberal governments in wealthier countries with low union
density and higher degrees of globalization compare closely with our governments
of interest and are consequently given higher regression weights. Theoretically,
these adjustments should make the estimators less dependent on speciﬁcation
choices, a proposition we tested with several robustness checks.
In all models,
we apply panel-corrected standard errors to avoid overconﬁdence (Beck and
Building on the tradition of two independent dimensions of socio-economic
policies –the redistribution via production of public goods and the regulation
of market externalities (Lowi, 1972; Aranson and Ordeshook, 1981) –
we differentiate between PRRPs’impact on redistributive and regulative
To capture the redistributive dimension of economic policies, we use changes in
welfare generosity (Scruggs et al., 2014) as our dependent variable. Welfare
generosity consists of the average entitlements to pensions, unemployment, and sick
leave, which are calculated as the replacement rate of the (gross) average production
worker wage. Welfare generosity takes into account both beneﬁts as well as
entitlement duration and qualiﬁcation (see Scruggs, 2014 for detailed description)
and is therefore more closely linked to the inﬂuence from political decisions than,
say, social spending as a share of GDP.
In contrast to measurements of welfare efforts, the regulative dimension of
economic policies is more challenging to measure. For our measure, we consider
three policy ﬁelds: labour market regulation, the privatization of infrastructure, and
See Table B in the Online Appendix for an overview of the distributions.
See Figure E in the Online Appendix.
8LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
the regulation of ﬁnancial markets.
Labour market regulation measures the
strictness of employment protection for permanent and ﬁxed-term contracts. It
consists of eight indicators (OECD, 2013). The privatization of infrastructure
consists of seven indicators tapping into the regulation in energy, transport, and
communications (OECD, 2011). The regulation of ﬁnancial markets is captured by
the index developed by Abiad and Mody (2005) covering six policy ﬁelds. The
presence of an underlying regulative dimension was tested via principal component
analysis and conﬁrmed with structural equation modelling. Both procedures
helped establish that the three policy areas belong to an overall regulative policy
The latent construct obtained from the structural equation model will
serve as our indicator of regulative economic policy.
For both welfare generosity and deregulation, cabinets (rather than country-
years) are the more suitable temporal and substantial units of analysis because
the preferences of political parties are expected to gain effectiveness within
governmental periods (see Schmitt, 2015). Hence, we use cabinets as our unit
Main independent variables: PRRPs in government
PRRPs are expected to inﬂuence policymaking via their participation in govern-
ment. Table 1 lists the parties we regard as being PRRPs, and the years and cabinets
in which they have achieved formal or informal government participation.We
deﬁne parties as being formal coalition partners when they are represented in the
executive decision-making body, the cabinet, and support their coalition partner(s)
in the legislative arena. In contrast, informal coalition partners are not represented
in the executive but lend support to the coalition in the legislative arena in
various forms, ranging from support for single but crucial legislative packages
(e.g. adoption of the yearly budget) to systematic legislative support via sanctioned
coalition agreements (see Bale and Bergman, 2006). With regard to our cases, all
informal PRRP governments took the form of minority governments in which the
legislative support of PRRPs was crucial for the governments’ability to pass legis-
lation. Because of this, we see PRRPs in both formal and informal governments as
being accountable in the eyes of their voters. In order to classify parties as being
PRRPs, we follow the deﬁnition of Mudde (2007) and see nationalism as their core
ideological feature, leading to the list of parties presented in Table 1. However,
a very similar list of PRRPs might be obtained by using alternative deﬁnitions
While the inclusion of additional policy ﬁelds would surely be plausible, our selection is motivated by
the overall importance of these three areas for national political economies as well as by the availability of
The latent variable model shows an almost perfect model ﬁt(χ
=0.00***; Comparative Fit Index
(CFI) 1.0). The speciﬁc results are reported in the Online Appendix (Table A). See Figure A in the Online
Appendix for the temporal development of the individual indicators.
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 9
(e.g. Ignazi, 2003; Carter, 2005; Norris, 2005). In total, the list of cabinets with
PRRP support includes 20 cases.
Alternative explanations and controls
In order to assess the impact of PRRPs on socio-economic policies, we need to make
sure that differences are not due to ideological differences in their (right-wing)
coalition partners. We start from the idea that these differences cannot be fully
captured by party families alone. In order to analyse the potential impact of PRRPs,
we therefore need measures of government positions on redistributive and
regulative economic policies beyond mere party lines. To calculate these positions of
each single party (including PRRPs) we use the Comparative Manifesto Project data
(CMP) and follow the approach of Röth (2017) by selecting socio-economic policy
issues, which can be deﬁnitely attributed either to more market-liberal or state
We then calculate government positions by weighting
each government party’s position by its relative cabinet seat share to account for the
variety of positions in coalition governments (see Döring and Manow, 2012). The
resulting variable market liberalism of government has been standardized and
ranges from 0 (most interventionist) to 1 (most market liberal). Please note that the
CMP data does not allow us to separate between redistributive and deregulative
economic issues. Thus, and if our assumptions on the different interests of PRRPs in
these two policy dimensions are correct, the overall economic positions of PRRPs
might appear more centrist than they deserve. While the main objective of
the market-liberalism variable is to control for the ideology of PRRPs’coalition
partners, this leaves the programmatic effect of PRRPs to be explained mainly by
the dummy accounting for their government participation.
The ability of governments to implement reforms in line with their preferences
depends on several factors. We consider that the most important of these are
adequate majorities with sufﬁcient time for the implementation of reforms. We
control time through the duration of the cabinet in months and majorities with
the relative cabinet share of seats in parliament.
Globalization and Europeanization are seen to be the main drivers of welfare
state retrenchment and especially of economic deregulation. We control for
However, the Schüssel II government will be analysed in combination with the Schüssel I cabinet. We
proceed this way because it lasted only 1 month in 2002 and 2 in 2003. Therefore, we remain with 19 cases
for the statistical analysis.
The aggregated measure of market liberalism vs. state interventionism entails the following cate-
gories: Free enterprise (401), Incentives (402), Administrative efﬁciency (303), Economic orthodoxy (414),
Regulation (403), Demand management (409), Economic planning (404), Controlled economy (412),
Nationalization (413), Marxist analysis (415), Less spending on welfare (505), Less spending on education
(507), Welfare state expansion (504), Social justice (503), Environmental protection (501), Anti-Growth
(416). The issues are combined via a latent mixed item response model, using market liberalism as a latent
construct and the empirical Bayesian means for the positional predictions (for a detailed discussion of the
measure see Röth et al., 2016; Röth, 2017).
10 LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
globalization with the proportion of exports and imports to overall GDP. The
inﬂuence of Europeanization is tested by an index of European Monetary Union
(EMU) integration, summing up the membership levels of the three implementation
stages. EMU can be seen as the most powerful instrument for restricting the ﬁscal
and monetary autonomy of the member states, thereby curbing tendencies towards
interventionist economic policies (Höpner and Schäfer, 2012).
Besides globalization and Europeanization, the so-called post-industrial context
is seen as having an impact on distributive and regulative economic policies. We
capture the conﬂicting assumptions related to the post-industrialization arguments
(Iversen and Cusack, 2000) with a control consisting of the percentage of the
working-age population active in the service sector. We also include union density
as a control because organized labour might be a relevant opponent of both less
redistributive and more market-liberal reforms.
Short- and long-term economic and demographic developments are major drivers
of welfare generosity. Unemployment is an important inﬂuence on this and varies
signiﬁcantly in the short-run. Consequently, the lagged level and changes in
unemployment are controlled for in the models. The overall afﬂuence of a society is
controlled by the chain index –the natural logarithm of real GDP per capita.In
addition, we include the growth rate of GDP in order to capture economic cycles.
We control for public debt by the lagged level and the change rate, as public
obligations should restrict redistributive generosity and might make deregulatory
policy reforms more necessary. The base and change rate of people entitled to
pensions is controlled by the proportion of people older than 65 as a percentage of
the population; child-related welfare demand is captured by the proportion of
people younger than 15.Migration is seen as an intervening force in social spending,
even though expectations in this regard are ambiguous (Soroka et al., 2015). We
control for its impact by including the net migration rate in our models. Finally,
each model includes lagged level dependent variables to capture the declining
likelihood of further redistributive or deregulatory reforms in countries that are
already liberalized to a high degree.
Quantitative analysis: average effects of PRRP government participation
We present the results of the balanced time-series cross-sectional regression models
in Table 2. Overall, we estimate four models, two with welfare generosity and two
with deregulation as the dependent variable. The central independent variables
are PRRP government participation, the market liberalism of the respective
government, and the government duration. Interpreting the effect of the PRRP
dummy, note that it shows the difference of having a PRRP in government com-
pared with market-liberal governments without PRRP participation. The PRRP
dummy thus represents the distinct combination of redistributive and deregulative
issues in the Radical Right’s manifestos, as well as the distinct situation these parties
are confronted with in terms of logrolling with their mainstream right coalition
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 11
partners. In models 2 and 4, we further analyse this average effect by interacting it
with government duration.
Starting with model 1, we compare the average impact of PRRPs on welfare
generosity with other market-liberal governments –of which PRRP governments
are a sub-category of. While the degree of market liberalism has a substantial and
negative effect on welfare generosity (−2.29***), the average effect of PRRPs is
Table 2. Regression models for redistribution and deregulation
Estimator Model: pcse, entropy balanced control IV’s
Dependent variables ΔGenerosity ΔDeregulation
Model number (1) (2) (3) (4)
Hypothesis involved Hypothesis 1 Hypothesis 1 Hypothesis 2 Hypothesis 2
PRRP government support 0.59*** −0.52* 0.65 1.88*
PRRP ×government duration –1.09*** –−1.42
Market liberalism of government −2.29** −2.97** 11.82*** 7.03
Market liberalism ×government duration –−0.05 –5.00
−2.21** −0.77 13.91*** −1.42
Government seat share −1.28* −1.18* −7.52*** −7.39***
l. Union density −1.34*** −1.85*** −8.82*** −8.02***
ΔUnemployment −0.60 −0.95 29.82*** 32.60***
l. unemployment −0.71 −0.03 6.40** 2.88
Deindustrialization −1.20 −2.07** 3.32 3.97
l. Debt 0.00 −0.00 −0.03* −0.01
ΔDebt 0.71 0.59 −9.02*** −8.41**
ΔGDP 0.08 0.66 28.91*** 33.11***
Ln GDP −2.77* −4.46*** 3.98 5.42
ΔPopulation >65 −0.19 −0.49 −6.22** −7.69***
ΔPopulation <15 −1.93 −1.23 6.56 5.60
l. Level welfare generosity (models 1–2) −0.03 −0.03 ––
l. Level deregulation (3–4) ––−9.86*** −8.55***
Migration rate 1.10 −0.28 −3.24 −0.28
l. Globalization 3.25** 2.88** −16.01*** −17.29***
ΔGlobalization −1.65 −2.82** −12.69*** −12.03***
EMU-Integration −0.24 0.34 3.68*** 3.30***
Constant 6.75*** 10.39*** −12.53** −15.30**
0.29 0.39 0.73 0.71
Number of countries 16 16 17 17
Time frame 1970–2010 1970–2010 1970–2010 1970–2010
n200 203 237 237
Positive cases 19 19 19 19
Robustness (Online Appendix) Figure B Figure B Figures C and D Figures C and D
PRRP =Populist Radical Right Party; EMU =European Monetary Union.
All coefﬁcients are standardized by βweights and consequently coefﬁcients are comparable.
Δrefers to changes and l to lagged variables.
*<0.90; **<0.95; ***<0.99 levels of conﬁdence.
12 LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
positive (+0.59***). Therefore, whereas more market-liberal government without
PRRP inclusion systematically reduce the generosity of the welfare state, PRRPs
curb these retrenchment efforts signiﬁcantly while being members of centre-right
coalitions. The balanced model shows very plausible effects on several other
variables and explains a remarkable part of the variance for a ﬁrst difference
The difference between market-liberal governments with and without PRRP
support should increase with the time a government has to implement its preferred
policies. This is exactly what we ﬁnd in model 2, integrating the interaction between
market liberalism and government duration. For the ease of interpretation, we
graphically present the interaction effect in Figure 1, separating government
duration into three categories (short if the government lasted less than 12 months;
medium if between 12 and 36 months; long if for more than 36 months). In
the short-run, PRRPs do not signiﬁcantly matter for the generosity of beneﬁts.
However, with increasing time the differences play out very clearly. Whereas
market-liberal governments pursue welfare retrenchment, governments with PRRP
support defend the status quo or even slightly increase the generosity of the welfare
state. The models 1 and 2 therefore give support for Hypothesis 1.
Coming to the regulatory dimension of economic policies, model 3 shows that
market-liberal governments substantially and signiﬁcantly deregulate the economy
(+11.82***). While the effect of PRRP cabinet participation on deregulation is also
positive, it turns out as insigniﬁcant (+0.65; model 4). Therefore, market-liberal
governments with PRRP participation are not less inclined to deregulation than
market-liberal governments in general; a ﬁnding giving support for Hypothesis 2.
However, turning to the interaction of time and ideology in Figure 2, we see that this
general statement on the limited impact of PRRPs on deregulation is mainly due to
Effects on Fitted Values
0 1 2
Government duration (0 = short, 1 = medium, 2 = long)
PRRP support Market liberal
AME with 90% CIs on Generosity
Figure 1 Average marginal effects (AME) on welfare generosity and spending conditional on
government duration. PRRP =Populist Radical Right Party.
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 13
the shorter government duration of PRRP cabinets. While market-liberal govern-
ments without PRRPs are strong drivers of deregulation once they have sufﬁcient
time to shape their preferred policies, the impact of market-liberal governments
with PRRPs is slightly positive and turns to 0 for long-term governments.
Disaggregating the effect of PRRPs on the three sub-dimensions of deregulation, we
observe that PRRPs seem more open to labour market deregulation and privatiza-
tion than to ﬁnancial market deregulation (see Online Appendix, Figure E). As the
former forms of deregulation directly or indirectly affect the power of organized
labour, these ﬁndings are in line with our theoretical expectations. However, for all
three sub-dimensions we ﬁnd that centre-right governments with PRRPs are still less
inclined to deregulation than centre-right governments without PRRPs.
In sum, the quantitative analysis shows that governments with PRRP have a
different impact on redistributive and regulatory economic policies than centre-right
governments without PRRP support. Regarding the former, their impact on welfare
generosity is in line with vote-seeking explanations. PRRPs tend to block the
retrenchment agenda of their mainstream right coalition partners. Regarding deregu-
lation, the effect of PRRPs in government is overall supportive and crucially hinges on
the opportunity structure of governments. PRRPs seem to hesitantly support the
deregulation agenda of their market-liberal allies, especially so in the areas of the
labour market and privatization of former state-owned companies. However,
market-liberal governments without PRRPs deregulate these policy areas far more.
Selections for case study analysis
The quantitative models provide evidence on the average relationship of
PRRPs as government members and the resultant change in redistributive and
Effects on Fitted Values
0 1 2
Government duration (0 = short, 1 = medium, 2 = long)
AME 90% CIs on Deregulation
PRRP support Market liberal governments
Figure 2 Average marginal effects (AME) on deregulation conditional on government
duration. PRRP =Populist Radical Right Party.
14 LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
regulative policies. The main aim of the following qualitative case studies is to trace
how PRRPs shape formulation and implementation in redistributive and regulative
policies. There are arguably multiple ways to select cases for intensive analysis
drawing on quantitative analysis (Lieberman, 2005; Weller and Barnes, 2014). We
follow the rationale of Weller and Barnes (2014) in proposing to use quantitative
information for the selection of pathway cases: cases which have a high likelihood
of allowing the observability of the mechanism (Gerring, 2007) which is theoreti-
cally expected, and whose presence is assumed by quantitative models at another
level of causality.
The basic idea is not to rely on the predictive ﬁt of a case in a quantitative model
alone (as e.g. Lieberman, 2005 suggests), because a good prediction can be caused
by many other variables beside the main one of interest (Rohlﬁng, 2008). Therefore,
we select a case with good prediction and choose a second case for comparison with
very similar attributes on all the important control variables. Thereby, we raise the
likelihood that the observed mechanism is due to the factor we are interested in –
namely the presence of a PRRP in government. To ensure this similarity we apply
coarsened exact matching (Iacus et al., 2012), as it allows us to select cases that vary
as little as possible with respect to variables other than the one of interest. The
rationale is straightforward, as coarsened exact matching provides us with com-
parable cases within different strata from which we select the ‘most similar’ones.
We apply this method by selecting every important variable for the model of
welfare generosity as well as for the model of economic regulation. The results
indicate different groups for comparison which have highly similar covariates
but differ in the presence of a PRRP in government. As it turns out, multiple
comparisons might be justiﬁed by the procedure, however, we prefer within-country
over cross-country comparisons because we assume unobserved characteristics to
be more similar in within-country analysis.
Therefore, we choose a comparison
between the Klima I (no PRRP participation) and the Schuessel I (FPÖ
participation) cabinets in Austria.
Table 3 illustrates the distribution of the dependent and the most important
independent variables for the two cases and shows their comparability with regard
to the most important explanatory variables: the degree of programmatic market
liberalism as well as the economic fundamentals hardly vary, both had exactly
Alternative procedures are mainly based on regression residuals or the propensity score. However,
different compositions of residuals allow strongly unbalanced comparisons in principle (Rohlﬁng, 2008).
Selections based on propensity scores avoid selection bias of the treated, but fail to balance those covariates
which do not relate to the treatment variable (King et al., 2011).
See Tables D and E in the Online Appendix for the alternative comparisons following the matching
procedure. We could have analysed the Balkenende I cabinet in the Netherlands or different Bundesrat
cabinets in Switzerland. However, we decided not to choose one of them, because the Balkenende I cabinet
had a very short duration and the cases in Switzerland have a much longer timespan than the ones we
selected. Also, government participation in Switzerland is a problematic concept in cross-national com-
parisons because of the well-known ‘Zauberformel’, leading to the unique setting that here a PRRP is in a
coalition with mainstream-left parties.
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 15
Table 3. Characteristics of the selected cases
Dependent variables Main independent variables
period Country Cabinet
1997–99 Austria Klima I −2.20 0.82 5.10 0.62 4.03 0.20 3.24 91.84 33 68.11
2000–02 Austria Schuessel I 2.00 0.82 9.02 0.66 4.00 −0.33 2.02 83.81 33 67.54
Our calculation is based on the coarsened exact matching results.
33 months in government, the amount of public debt is almost identical, and the
lagged level of unemployment is basically the same.
Qualitative analysis: Austria 1997–2003
Our case study analysis focusses on Austria, one of the ﬁrst Western European
countries where a PRRP participated directly in a coalition government. In 2000,
decades of power-sharing between the SPÖ (Social Democrats) and the ÖVP
(Conservatives) came to an end when the Conservatives decided to form an alliance
with the FPÖ, led at the time by the late Jörg Haider, giving rise to widespread
international criticism. After decades of a de facto duopoly between the two
mainstream parties, the FPÖ presented an interesting coalition alternative for the
ÖVP to push a liberal agenda that had been systematically blocked by the SPÖ and
the unions (Obinger and Tálos, 2006: 23). Here, we compare the grand coalition
SPÖ–ÖVP headed by Viktor Klima that preceded the accession to power of the FPÖ
with the FPÖ–ÖVP coalition headed by Wolfgang Schüssel. Our case comparison
makes it possible to ﬁnd some insights into the effect of PRRP participation in
government. We focus on welfare reforms as measures of redistribution and
privatization and the regulation of public monopolies as measures of (de-)regulation.
The Klima cabinet reforms (1997–2000)
In 1997, PM Viktor Klima (SPÖ) accessed the Austrian premiership as part of a
grand coalition with the Conservative ÖVP. Klima was the Finance minister under
Franz Vranitzky’s previous grand coalition cabinet established after the 1995 elec-
tions, and was close to Third Way ideas. As such, he was committed to some degree
of ﬁscal consolidation, to a moderate departure from the strongly compromise-
oriented type of corporatist negotiation that characterized policymaking (Karlhofer
and Tálos, 2000), and to a moderate reduction of state intervention. An important
backdrop of economic reforms in that period was the peculiarly important role of
the Austrian state in the economy, and the strong connections between the main
political parties and the largest industries and banks. In 1989, the Austrian gov-
ernment was the biggest owner of listed Austrian companies, controlling 37% of
shares (Ditz, 2010: 243–244). Moreover, a large part of the industrial and banking
sector was indirectly controlled by the main parties. For instance, the two largest
banks, the Creditanstalt and Bank Austria, were closely connected to the
Conservative ÖVP (‘black’) and the Social Democrats (‘red’), respectively. For many
experts, the large size of the state-controlled sector was considered inefﬁcient
In many ways, economic reforms during this period were spurred by the accession
of Austria to the European community and the implementation of the rules
of the Single European Market. A signiﬁcant movement of deregulation and
opening was undertaken from the early 1990s onwards, especially in the areas
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 17
of telecommunications. Based on a law passed in 1993, 27 privatizations were
initiated (Ditz, 2010: 243–244). This movement peaked in 1998, when privati-
zations proceeds generated about 12% of GDP (Belke and Schneider, 2003: 18), the
greatest share accounted for by Telecom privatizations.
In some areas, however, liberalization during the Klima cabinet was thwarted by
the interests of the mainstream parties. For instance, even if both mainstream
parties in the coalition had agreed earlier on a wide-ranging programme of the
privatization of the banking sector, the actual implementation of this programme
was considerably protracted because parties proved very reluctant to hand out
a signiﬁcant part of their economic power. In 1994, an attempt by the Swiss bank
Credit Suisse to take a participation in the Creditanstalt was thwarted in the middle
of coalition inﬁghting, with parties eager to keep the bank under Austrian control.
Later on, an attempt by the ‘red’Bank Austria to buy the ‘black’Creditanstalt
created again conﬂict within the coalition (Berliner Zeitung, 1997), was perceived
as a hostile takeover and severely undermined the trust between the coalition
partners. Most importantly, this episode showed the limits of the grand coalition to
pursue actual liberalization, and was presented by the FPÖ and its leader Jörg
Haider as a yet another proof of the cartelization of Austrian politics and the grip
of mainstream parties on the economy.
In the area of welfare, the Klima cabinet set about to implement an encompassing
reform of the pension system that would signiﬁcantly reduce the contribution
of the federal state. This reform included a change in the mode of calculation
of beneﬁts taking into account the whole career of workers rather than the
best years only, and penalties for people retiring early (Schludi, 2005: 75). The
plan faced ﬁerce resistance from the unions, which organized mass demon-
strations against it (Schludi, 2005: 175–176). Interestingly, even the FPÖ was
staunchly against the plan (Schludi, 2005: 169). In a context where the ruling
SPÖ had strong ties with the labour unions, the government decided to involve
them and negotiate concessions, but their support could not be garnered. Within
the centre-right ÖVP, this led to voices demanding that the unions be side-lined
altogether. However, the number of union-afﬁliated MPs within the social demo-
crats gave the unions de facto veto power, thereby blocking the reform and
even risked a vote of no conﬁdence in parliament. Eventually, a very substan-
tially watered-down version of the reform was passed and agreed with the
Even if deadlock had been overcome, it became clear to the conservative ÖVP and
its new leader Wolfgang Schüssel that substantial reforms geared towards
ﬁscal consolidation and economic liberalization would be too difﬁcult to pass in
a coalition with the SPÖ, given their strong ties with the unions (Luther, 2010: 81).
From a more party-political point of view, seeking an alliance with the FPÖ
was also a way to counter the ascendency that the ‘red’bloc constituted by
the social democrats and unions were garnering, as shown by the takeover of
18 LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
The Schüssel cabinet reforms (2000–03)
The 1999 Austrian federal elections yielded unexpected results: the SPÖ came ﬁrst
as expected with 33.2% of the vote, but Jörg Haider’s anti-immigration FPÖ came
second (with 26.9%) by a few hundred votes over the ÖVP (26.9%). While the
social democrats were ready to negotiate yet another grand coalition with the ÖVP,
the latter refused and eventually agreed on a government programme with the FPÖ
(Obinger and Tálos, 2006, 9). In many ways, building a coalition with the FPÖ was
perceived as an opportunity for the ÖVP to push through the retrenchment and
deregulation measures which had been watered-down while in government with the
social democrats. In this context, the ÖVP–FPÖ coalition set about implementing a
drastic programme of austerity measures that would scale back a number of social
programmes and public spending in general (Obinger and Tálos, 2010). The gov-
ernment was determined to reduce public spending to a greater extent and at a
quicker pace than any of its predecessors (Ditz, 2010: 245). The FPÖ received impor-
tant portfolios in this area, notably Finance and Social Affairs (Luther, 2010: 88;
Ennser-Jedenastik, 2016: 415).
While the pension reform of the previous government had been substantially
watered-down by the power of unions, the Schüssel government opted for side-
lining them in the decision-making process, thereby breaking with a longstanding
tradition of corporatist agreement in Austrian policymaking. The FPÖ did not
oppose this strategy as it was in line with its longstanding hostility to union power.
In this context, a major pension reform provided for an increase in the retirement
age, cuts to beneﬁts for people retiring early, a higher retirement age for public
servants and a reform of widows’pensions. This reform was similar to the one
passed in 1997, but its ﬁscal retrenchment component was to be achieved within a
space of 3 years, whereas the watered-down reform of 1997 was supposed to
achieve the same within 30 years (Schludi, 2005: 180). Over the two cabinets led by
the ÖVP with FPÖ support, public spending as a share of GDP decreased from
51.4% in 2000 to 48.2% in 2007 (Ditz, 2010: 248).
The FPÖ had initially signed up to the retrenchment agenda of the ÖVP but
afterwards signiﬁcantly tempered its impetus for welfare retrenchment when it
realized it severely hurt its own electorate (Heinisch, 2003). Before accessing power,
the party had combined a form of ‘welfare populism’advocating ﬁscal retrenchment
at the expense of self-serving public servants and politicians on the one hand,
combined with a staunch defence of acquired rights and promises of increased
spending targeted at its working-class clientele on the other. Hence, the party had
always opposed retrenchment for existing pensions, and defended beneﬁts for
‘deserving’recipients such as the sick, disabled, elderly, and mothers (Ennser-
Jedenastik, 2016: 418). The party had also been keen on public spending if it served
electoral purposes, as the record of Jörg Haider in government in the Land of
Carinthia demonstrated. One of his ﬂagship measures had been, for instance, the
‘Kinderscheck’a monthly payment paid to mothers for each child, making the
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 19
region the most generous for family allowances in Austria. He also initiated a
‘mother’s pension’allocating 150 Euros extra for ‘deserving’mothers above 60,
heavily subsidized gas, and other beneﬁts targeted at pensioners in particular, often
handed out in cash in front of TV cameras (Proﬁl, 2009).
In 2002, early elections were held after the resignation of several FPÖ ministers
and the collapse of the coalition. The FPÖ was severely damaged, losing 34 seats
and two-thirds of its votes, and joined another coalition with the ÖVP on a much
weaker basis. In 2003, after this major electoral defeat, the FPÖ sought to temper
the move by the ÖVP to reform the pension system. While it had agreed on the
broad agenda of a major pension reform, internal opposition within the party led
the sitting social affairs Minister to ask for a referendum on the issue (Schludi,
2005: 187). After the reform was eventually agreed in cabinet, on the next day eight
of the FPÖ’s 18 MPs declared they would not support the bill in the plenary vote
unless there were further measures to alleviate changes (Luther, 2010: 96). The
party was also able to introduce a few compensation measures targeted at its own
clientele. One of them was the so-called ‘Hacklerregelung’, which allowed older
workers in speciﬁc physically demanding professions –one of its core clienteles –to
retire early (Ennser-Jedenastik, 2016: 420). In this context, the party clearly sought
to act as a retrenchment brake to preserve its electoral prospects.
In the areas of privatization and liberalization, where the direct costs to voters
were less clear, the government pursued reforms in a fairly unrestricted manner. For
instance, measures of ﬁnancial liberalization passed under the Schüssel
cabinet allowed for a ﬁvefold increase in the market capitalization of the Vienna
stock exchange (Ditz, 2010: 254). For the ﬁrst time, the cabinet planned the total
handover of ownership of a number of former state monopolies to the private
sector. With a new law, they transformed the state holding agency tasked with
managing state participation in industrial sectors (Österreichischen Industrieholding
Aktiengesellschaft) into a privatization agency. The state totally rescinded its parti-
cipation in airports, the tobacco industry, banks, and other industrial sectors, and
reduced its participation in Telekom Austria and the Austrian Post (Kepplinger,
2009: 1–2). In 2001 alone, privatization proceeds reached 925 million Euros. This
partly continued the movement started in the 1990s, but also accelerated in a number
of domains, for instance in railways, which yielded signiﬁcant resistance from the
unions (Ditz, 2010: 245).
For both the ÖVP and the FPÖ, privatization was much less controversial than
welfare reform because it involved lower electoral costs and even concrete strategic
beneﬁts for both parties. For the ÖVP, privatization was a way to weaken trade unions
and social democrats, whose power base lay in the state monopolies. For the FPÖ,
privatization was a way to dismantle the political cartel that controlled large parts of
the Austrian political economy, to which they had never belonged, and perhaps place
some of their ofﬁcials in bureaucratic positions of inﬂuence. This strategy became
explicit when the coalition adopted a new rule in 2001 to bar the representation of
organizations with collective bargaining rights in the board of the Association of
20 LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
Social Security Providers, an organization hitherto governed according to the principle
of self-government. This new rule was notably used to deny the chair of the Union of
Railway Employees a seat on the governing board of the institution. This decision was
later overturned by the Constitutional court. In the area of deregulation, the electoral
trade-offs faced by the Radical Right in the area of welfare were less present, and the
interests of the PRRP and the mainstream right were more aligned.
Discussion and conclusion
While previous studies of the policy impact of PRRPs have focussed almost exclu-
sively on cultural issues, the impact of these on socio-economic policy formulation has
so far largely been ignored by researchers and commentators. Our mixed methods
comparative study of the impact of PRRPs on redistributive and (de-)regulative eco-
nomic policies takes a ﬁrst step towards ﬁlling the gap and unpacking the logic that
shapes socio-economic policymaking in cabinets with and without PRRPs.
Starting with the ﬁnding that, so far, Western European PRRPs have only been
able to form coalitions with market-liberal mainstream parties, our results indicate
that governments with PRRP participation show less political will to retrench wel-
fare beneﬁts compared with other centre-right governments. In contrast, coalitions
with PRRP participation show signiﬁcantly more political will to deregulate –and
especially to privatize –the economy, even if these efforts are not as pronounced as
those of market-liberal governments without PRRP participation. Both with regard
to redistributive and deregulative policies, differences between PRRP and non-
PRRP governments become more visible for long-term governments with sufﬁcient
time to implement such reforms.
Based on our mixed methods design, we see two interrelated arguments for why
PRRPs do allow for greater deregulation but not for greater welfare state
retrenchment when participating in government. First, the working-class con-
stituency of PRRPs makes it difﬁcult for these parties to openly support welfare
retrenchment, especially when it comes to traditional social insurance schemes
beneﬁtting their electoral clienteles, such as pensions. Second, restrained by their
voters’interests, PRRPs do offer their centre-right coalition parties concessions with
regard to deregulation. In the following, we would like to point to the theoretical
implications of these ﬁndings for further research and also discuss how they are
supported or contradicted by the quantitative and the qualitative parts of our mixed
Starting with welfare generosity, our quantitative analysis broadly supports the
theoretical expectation that PRRPs will have difﬁculties in following a programme
of retrenchment because of their rather left-leaning voter bases. The qualitative case
study on Austria made it possible to nuance this view, as the FPÖ indeed supported
the welfare retrenchment effort of the ÖVP, until it realized that it was damaging
electorally and afterwards sought to temper the retrenchment impetus of its
coalition partner. We see this as a telling example that the immigration-focussed
The populist radical right and socio-economic policies 21
Radical Right might not be aware of the electoral consequences of their
socio-economic agenda –a situation that might be especially relevant for PRRPs
with no former governmental experience.
With regard to deregulation, the political agendas of centre right and PRRPs ﬁnd
common ground, in particular where traditional structures of market regulation are
dominated by labour unions. Privatization of state-owned companies and deregu-
lation of labour markets not only constitute liberalization efforts per se, but also
erode the power base of PRRP competitors such as left-wing parties. This strategy is
emphasized by Jensen (2014) when he talks about the ‘erode and attack’strategy
pursued by right-wing governments to undermine their left competitors. In our
study, the quantitative inﬂuence is shown by the positive effects of PRRPs in
government on labour market deregulation and privatization. It is complemented
by the case studies demonstrating similar results on another level of causality. In
Austria, the Radical Right also supported privatization efforts which could
undermine the power base of trade unions and social democrats.
In the long run, changing the actors that implement policies might have an even
greater impact than directly changing the policies. Future research should therefore
pay much more attention to these procedural changes. The arena of industrial
relations seems especially promising for such analyses, as changes here might also feed
back into redistributive issues. Also, focussing on the role of salience for the policy
reform agenda of PRRPs could be a valuable avenue for research. In line with
Culpepper (2010), it seems easier to liberalize in domains that are not very salient or
technical (such as economic regulation) than in ones that are highly politicized (such as
welfare issues), and our analysis is very much in line with this general statement. While
such differences are surely relevant for all parties and are well documented in research
on welfare state retrenchment (Pierson, 1996), salience might play an extraordinary
role for the strategies of PRRPs, because it makes it more difﬁcult to ‘blur’their
economic position (Afonso and Rennwald, 2017).
This article travelled a bit and along the way it received very valuable comments.
The authors would like to thank three anonymous reviewers. Their careful reading
and feedback improved the article signiﬁcantly. Beyond the reviewers, the authors
would like to thank Simon Franzmann, Mikko Kuisma, Christina Zuber, Gregor
Zons, and André Kaiser for helpful suggestions. Remaining obscurities and errors
are the authors’own. We would also like to thank the Fritz Thyssen Foundation for
providing a travel sponsorship to one of the authors.
To view supplementary material for this article, please visit https://doi.org/10.1017/
22 LEONCE RÖTH,ALEXANDRE AFONSO AND DENNIS C.SPIES
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