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Dealing with the populist radical right in parliament: mainstream party responses toward the Alternative for Germany


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In recent years, populist radical right parties (PRRPs) have continued to establish themselves in parliaments across Europe. However, there is little research on party responses in parliaments. This article explores how mainstream parties have dealt with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in state parliaments. Its contribution is twofold: theoretically, it links the existing literature on party responses to the parliamentary arena and proposes a comprehensive framework for analyzing party responses in parliament, distinguishing between the formal and the policy level. Moreover, it tries to understand the variation of responses by emphasizing three important factors: party ideology, the government-opposition divide, and the federal structure of parties. Empirically, the article explores the crucial variation of response patterns toward the AfD at the subnational level, which is often neglected in the study of PRRPs. The results show that party responses reflect an ongoing learning process with no 'magic formula' in sight. Overall, the article underlines the importance of party responses in the initial phase for the PRRPs' impact and offers substantial theoretical and empirical impetus for future research.
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Dealing with the populist radical right in parliament:
mainstream party responses toward the Alternative for
Anna-Sophie Heinze
Trier Institute for Democracy and Party Research (TIDUP), University of Trier, Trier, Germany
(Received 11 August 2021; revised 07 March 2022; accepted 07 March 2022; first published online 13 May 2022)
In recent years, populist radical right parties (PRRPs) have continued to establish themselves in parliaments
across Europe. However, there is little research on party responses in parliaments. This article explores how
mainstream parties have dealt with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in state parliaments. Its contribution is
twofold: theoretically, it links the existing literature on party responses to the parliamentary arena and proposes
a comprehensive framework for analyzing party responses in parliament, distinguishing between the formal
and the policy level. Moreover, it tries to understand the variation of responses by emphasizing three important
factors: party ideology, the governmentopposition divide, and the federal structure of parties. Empirically, the
article explores the crucial variation of response patterns toward the AfD at the subnational level, which is often
neglected in the study of PRRPs. The results show that party responses reflect an ongoing learning process with
no magic formulain sight. Overall, the article underlines the importance of party responses in the initial phase
for the PRRPsimpact and offers substantial theoretical and empirical impetus for future research.
Keywords: populist radical right; party responses; parliaments; Germany
The study of populist radical right parties (PRRPs) mainly focuses on their key features and explan-
ations for their electoral success (Mudde, 2007). Only a few scholars, however, address the question
of how mainstream parties1can and should deal with them (Downs, 2001; Meguid, 2005;Baleet al.,
2010; Casal Bértoa and Rama, 2021). This is a significant shortcoming: PRRPs are usually perceived
as a threat to liberal democracy (Abts and Rummens, 2007; Albertazzi and Mueller, 2013). Party
responses are central in dealing with this threat as they fundamentally shape the PRRPsperceived
legitimacy and room for maneuver (Art, 2007; Minkenberg, 2013).
This article contributes to the debate on how to deal with PRRPs. It analyzes how mainstream
parties respond to PRRPs in the key institution of liberal democracies: parliaments. In research on
responses to PRRPs, the parliamentary arena is often neglected (Rensmann, 2018; Atzpodien,
2020; Schwanholz et al.,2020). Moreover, such studies only rarely recognize the importance
of subnational politics (Loxbo, 2010; Backlund, 2020; Paxton and Peace, 2021). This is another
blind spot, as mainstream parties often gain their first experience with PRRPs there, at least in
federal political systems, paving the way for its legitimization and future influence (Art, 2007).
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of European Consortium for Political Research. This is an Open
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1Defined here as those who have already participated in government at the national or subnational level (see also de Vries
and Hobolt, 2020: 21).
European Political Science Review (2022), 14, 333350
doi:10.1017/S1755773922000108 Published online by Cambridge University Press
In Spain, for example, VOX entered a subnational legislature in 2018, then gaining national atten-
tion to enter national parliament the following year (Mendes and Dennison, 2021).
Similarly, the Alternative for Germany(AfD, Alternative für Deutschland) was already rep-
resented in 13 of 16 state parliaments when entering the Bundestag in 2017 (Arzheimer, 2019).
Today, the party is one of the most successful young PRRPs in Europe: only founded in 2013, it is
now represented in all 16 state parliaments, with a strong party organization (Heinze and
Weisskircher, 2021). Although mainstream parties gained experience in dealing with the AfD
early on, party responses are still widely debated in public. For example, the election of
Thomas Kemmerich (FDP) as prime minister of Thuringia with support from the FDP, CDU,
and AfD on February 5 2020 was interpreted as a breach of taboo and received massive national
and international attention, followed by Kemmerichs resignation a few days later.
This paper studies party responses to the AfD in German state parliaments. It contributes to the
literature in the following ways: theoretically, it links the existing literature on general party reac-
tions to the parliamentary arena and proposes a differentiated framework for analyzing complex
party responses in parliament, distinguishing between formal and policy responses. In addition, it
tries to explain variation with three factors: (V1) party ideology, (V2) governmentopposition
divide, and the (V3) federal structure of parties. Empirically, it contributes to the study of the
AfD and analyzes response patterns at the subnational level, often neglected in the study of
PRRPs. In doing so, it builds on initial German-speaking analyses (e.g., Schroeder et al.,2017;
Heinze, 2020) and places the important case of the AfD in the broader international context
of the normalization of the far right today (Mudde, 2019).
Methodologically, the analysis is based on an original combination of semi-structured inter-
views with MPs from mainstream parties and a content analysis of parliamentary documents. I
collected the data in four German state parliaments (Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate,
Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia). The results show that mainstream party responses reflect an ongoing
learning process. Importantly, response patterns do not always change in the same direction: par-
ties have not found a magic formula, and dealing with PRRPs will remain a difficult balancing
act. Three factors proved to be a useful first step in understanding the variation in party responses:
mainstream parties only got to know the (V1) AfDs ideology and parliamentary behavior over
time and adapted their responses. Moreover, it tended to be easier for (V2) governing parties to
distance themselves from the AfD. Finally, the (V3) federal structure of parties was an important
organizational factor, evident in the punishmentof deviant behavior by the national party orga-
nization or the uploadingof successful responses. Overall, the single-case study provides impor-
tant insights into party responses toward a relatively new PRRP and offers substantial theoretical
and empirical impetus for future research.
The article proceeds as follows: in the next section, I introduce the theoretical response options
in parliament and outline key factors that could explain mainstream party behavior. I then explain
the empirical research design, case selection, and methodological approach. Thereafter, I present
the variation of mainstream party responses and their learning processes. Finally, I discuss the
main findings and highlight important questions for future research.
Theoretical framework: response options in parliament
The pioneering work on party responses toward PRRPs has tended to neglect the parliamentary
arena. In the following, I discuss the existing literature and argue why it is essential to include the
logics and scopes of action in parliament when analyzing party responses there. I then introduce a
differentiated typology of formal and policy response options, specifying previous approaches and
linking them to the parliamentary arena.
In the study of party politics, responses toward PRRPs have been of increasing concern.
Numerous scholars have studied the adoption of PRRPspolicy positions by mainstream parties
(e.g., Meguid, 2005;Baleet al.,2010; Van Spanje, 2010;Han,2015). However, they are only of
334 Anna-Sophie Heinze Published online by Cambridge University Press
limited use in grasping the more complex party behavior in parliament, which goes beyond indi-
vidual policy positions. Existing theoretical frameworks have been unable to map voting behavior on
parliamentary initiatives or candidates of PRRPs, or whether mainstream parties introduce joint
motions with them. Beyond the question of policy adoption, some important contributions have
already differentiated further response options in public office (e.g., Downs, 2001; Minkenberg,
2001;Art,2007; Heinze, 2018). Still, these works hardly refer to parliaments and fail to elaborate
on response options in this specific arena. The same is the case with in-depth studies that deal with
the effects of the cordon sanitaire (e.g., Van Spanje and Van Der Brug, 2007; Pauwels, 2011)or
government coalitions with PRRPs (e.g., Heinisch, 2003; Akkerman and de Lange, 2012).
When analyzing party responses in parliament, it is essential to consider the arenas specific
logics and scopes of action, as they partly differ from those in the extra-parliamentary arena
(Heinze and Lewandowsky, 2021). Once a party has entered parliament, response options relevant
in electoral campaigns or public debates are hardly transferable: while a PRRP can be excluded
from debates or completely ignored before entering parliament, this is often no longer possible in
the parliamentary arena, as each represented party enjoys certain privileges. In Germany, these
include, among others, the right to ask questions and to speak, the right to fill parliamentary offi-
ces, and the right to dispose of financial resources (Heinze, 2020).
Through these parliamentary rights alone, PRRPs can exert influence often regardless of main-
stream party responses. These parliamentary opportunity structures are mostly dismissed in previ-
ous studies on the PRRPsdirect and indirect impact (e.g., Schain, 2006; Carvalho, 2014). In
Germany, for example, with the parliamentary privileges already mentioned, parties can not only
influence parliamentary debates (Atzpodien, 2020; Schwanholz et al.,2020) but also develop a pro-
fessional organization to mobilize outside parliament (Heinze and Weisskircher, 2021). In addition,
every parliamentary party enjoys a certain degree of media attention (De Jonge, 2021).
Consequently, it is essential to conceptualize party responses for the parliamentary arena.
To address these points, I combine the existing approaches on party responses and relate them to
the parliamentary arena: Downs (2001) distinguishes between ignore, isolate, co-opt, and collaborate
strategies, but does not focus on the parliamentary arena. The same applies to Meguids(2005)dif-
ferentiation between dismissive, accommodative, and adversarial strategies and Bale et al.s(2010)
differentiation between hold, defuse, and adopt.Building on these approaches, Figure 1distinguishes
between eight ideal-typical response options onthe formal and policy level (for the different levels see
also Decker, 2000; Minkenberg, 2001). They are arranged in a two-dimensional model to reflect the
Legend: grey background = formal level, white = policy level.
Figure 1. Response options in parliaments.
European Political Science Review 335 Published online by Cambridge University Press
complexity of party behavior. For instance, each party in parliament must decide not only whether
to elect PRRP MPs to office (formal level) but also how to address their positions (policy level). In the
proposed typology, these responses can be combined. Theoretically, all formal responses can be
linked to all policy responses, although some combinations are empirically unlikely (e.g., ignore
and executive cooperation). Therefore, the two dimensions are correlated to some extent. In general,
I assume that exclusion and ignore as well as cooperation and adopt are strongly interdependent and
that the intervening responses on the axes move in a similar direction and may also overlap. In the
following, I elaborate on the individual response options and relate them to the parliamentary arena
to develop the analytical framework.
Response options at the formal level
Exclusion: On the formal level, mainstream parties can exclude a PRRP legally or politically
(Downs, 2001: 27). Legally, they may restrict the PRRPs parliamentary rights (e.g., their right
to speak or fill parliamentary offices). This usually requires a change in formal rules or at least
in the informal parliamentary practices. Politically, mainstream parties can exclude a PRRP
through a cordon sanitaire, that is, a strict blocking alliance between all or almost all of them
(Downs, 2001: 27; Van Spanje and Van Der Brug, 2007). In parliament, they may reject all
PRRP candidates and initiatives, also refusing to introduce joint motions. Such a broad blocking
coalition was formed against the Sweden Democrats, for example (Heinze, 2018). Through exclu-
sion, mainstream parties may reduce the PRRPs influence and legitimacy but risk further alien-
ating voters who are already suspicious of the establishment(Abts, 2015).
Ad hoc toleration: Mainstream parties can also vote with PRRPs on a case-by-case basis, for
example by electing their candidates to parliamentary offices. In Germany, such toleration can
happen indirectly, with mainstream parties abstaining from voting and therefore from opposing
a candidate. Such a more pragmatic approach can have various motivations, for example tradi-
tional parliamentary practice or the prevention of parliamentary deadlock. It strongly depends on
the (in-)formal rules in parliament.
Legislative cooperation: Cooperation with a PRRP in parliament can also occur more proac-
tively, with mainstream parties introducing individual joint parliamentary initiatives or support-
ing some (usually not all) PRRP motions. Outside of government coalitions, policy proximity or
office-seeking are important reasons for individual legislative collaboration. Moreover, due to the
governmentopposition divide, opposition parties tend to vote togetheragainst government ini-
tiatives, as will be explained in the next section.
Executive cooperation: Legislative cooperation may become more systematical through direct
or indirect executive cooperation (Downs, 2001: 28). Usually, executive cooperation goes hand in
hand with more than individual legislative cooperation. Only when providing minority support,
PRRPs do not have to support all government initiatives, but may still have considerable influence
(Heinze, 2018). Forming government coalitions with a PRRP can have different causes and effects
(e.g., the hope of disenchantingor tamingit). Here, the empirical evidence is mixed. For exam-
ple, government participation does not necessarily lead to a tightening of immigration policy, a
moderation of the PRRP, or a loss of voters (Heinisch, 2003; Akkerman and de Lange, 2012;
Minkenberg, 2013).
Response options at the policy level
Ignore: On the policy level, mainstream parties may ignore a PRRP in principle. In parliament,
this is only possible to a certain extent, as parliamentary representation guarantees important
rights. In Germany, for example, government must respond to questions from the opposition.
In parliamentary debates, however, mainstream parties have more leeway. For instance, they
can decide not to debate any PRRP motion or even leave the assembly room when PRRP
336 Anna-Sophie Heinze Published online by Cambridge University Press
politicians step up to the lectern (as was the case vis-à-vis the National Democratic Party of
Germany). By simply doing nothing, mainstream parties seek to deprive the PRRP of legitimacy
or importance, but risk violating their democratic dutiesin the eyes of the electorate (Downs,
2001: 26).
Defuse: Instead of not dealing with the PRRP at all, parties can try to more actively reduce
the salience of the issues it takes up. For example, they can try to shift attention to economic policy
rather than immigration, as could be observed prior to the 2014 elections in Sweden, for example
(Heinze, 2018). In parliament, parties may decide that only one MP (on behalf of all mainstream
or all governing parties) will speak on motions of a PRRP to briefly clarify their position. By doing
so, they do not completely ignore the debate but try to lower the attention for the issue taken up by
the PRRP. However, it is unlikely that mainstream parties will win back skeptical voters this way
or challenge the PRRPs issue ownership (Meguid, 2005: 349; Bale et al.,2010: 413).
Debate: Mainstream parties can also engage with PRRP positions on a particular issue by point-
ing out their policy-related, legal, or financial weaknesses. At the same time, mainstream parties
may stick to their previous positions and actively promote them. In Germany, this form of
demarcation can happen in parliamentary debates or through alternative motions. In any case,
it requires intensive work and thus ties up personal and time resources. Moreover, debating issues
that were put on the agenda by a PRRP can strengthen their legitimacy (Meguid, 2005: 349). In the
long term, however, this approach might contribute to the vitalization of party competition and
thus curb the PRRPsmobilization potential.
Adopt: Mainstream parties can also adopt individual PRRPs positions or rhetoric. In parlia-
ment, for instance, they may introduce motions that were previously drafted in a similar way by a
PRRP. The exact requirements for parliamentary initiatives are different in every country.
However, numerous studies show that mainstream parties do not necessarily win back voters
when adopting PRRP positions (Van Spanje and De Graaf, 2018; Spoon and Klüver, 2020).
Instead, this approach may contribute to legitimizing PRRP demands (Eatwell, 2000;
Meguid, 2005).
In sum, I distinguish between eight ideal-typical response options on two levels. The frame-
work may be used to map complex party responses toward PRRPs in different contexts. However,
when applying it to specific cases, the particular rules and practices of the parliamentary system
must be considered. To understand the variation in response patterns, I highlight three factors.
Toward an explanation of party reponses in parliament
Needless to say, party behavior is a complex process that cannot be explained by one factor alone.
In general, most scholars assume that parties seek to maximize votes, offices, and policies (Downs,
1957). Based on the rational choice tradition, Strøm (1990) developed a unified theory of com-
petitive party behavior under specific institutional and organizational conditions. Accordingly,
I focus on three factors below: (V1) party ideology, (V2) governmentopposition divide, and
the (V3) federal structure of parties. Although I do not claim that these are the only ones influ-
encing party behavior toward PRRPs in parliament, I maintain that they provide a helpful first set
of variables.
First, (V1) party ideology remains crucial for understanding competition between vote-, office-,
and policy-seeking parties (Downs, 1957; Strøm, 1990). In general, mainstream parties must per-
ceive a new party as a threatin order to react (Meguid, 2005). If they lose voters to it, they will try
to win them back, for example by adapting their positions. PRRPs tend to pose the greatest threat
for right-wing mainstream parties, although left-wing mainstream parties can also come under
pressure (Bale et al.,2010; Han, 2015; Oesch and Rennwald, 2018). As right-wing mainstream
parties usually share the greatest overlaps in potential voters and policy, they are most likely
to adopt PRR positions. This relationship has been studied several times for policy positions
(Harmel and Svåsand, 1997; Akkerman, 2015), but less so for formal responses. Therefore,
European Political Science Review 337 Published online by Cambridge University Press
I assume that (H1) right-wing mainstream parties are more likely to cooperate with (and adopt to)
a PRRP in parliament than left-wing mainstream parties (who are more likely to exclude it). Ad
hoc toleration or even cooperation becomes more likely if, for example, the PRRP appears rather
moderate in its initiatives and speeches. At the same time, I expect (H2) exclusion to become more
likely if a PRRP does not clearly distance itself from right-wing extremism. In this case, main-
stream parties will more actively oppose a PRRP (e.g., by debating or defusing instead of ignoring).
Second, party behavior cannot be understood without institutional factors (Strøm, 1990). Since
I focus on party responses in parliament, I shall include the (V2) governmentopposition divide,
which is considered a crucial factor in understanding party behavior in this arena (Mair, 1997; Hix
and Noury, 2016; Louwerse et al.,2017). While other party characteristics might also be relevant,
such as the new party size or its participation in government (Otjes, 2012: 38), I argue that the
governmentopposition divide might have the greatest explanatory strength in the context of this
study: Germany is a country with a tradition of multiparty majority cabinets, in which governing
and opposition parties usually vote in opposing ways (Bardi and Mair, 2008: 159; Louwerse et al.,
2017: 749). While governing parties try to implement the policies agreed to in the coalition agree-
ment, opposition parties are supposed to control and criticize the government. Since the AfD is
still excluded from government everywhere, there is no need for governing parties to cooperate or
adopt regardless of how many seats the AfD has won (see variables above). Consequently,
I assume that (H3) governing parties will exclude (and ignore) the AfD more clearly than opposi-
tion parties (e.g., by simply rejecting its proposals). At the same time, I expect (H4) opposition
parties to more actively debate and distance themselves from the AfD in opposition (e.g., by intro-
ducing alternative motions).
Third, party behavior in parliamentary democracies is constrained by organizational factors.
Since I investigate party responses at the subnational level, the (V3) federal structure of political
parties seems crucial here. Although other factors, such as party leaders, may also play a role
(Strøm, 1990), I argue that in multilevel settings such as Germany, party responses to PRRPs
are more fundamentally shaped by the interplay between parties at the subnational and national
levels. While both have some room for maneuver, they are highly interdependent, for example, in
their electoral and coalition strategies (Bardi and Mair, 2008). On the one hand, federal parties set
fundamental guidelines that shape the behavior of their subnational parties, which rely on the
organizational and financial support of their mother parties (e.g., for elections). Consequently,
(H5) mainstream parties at the subnational level will try not to deviate from the exclusion of their
mother parties. On the other hand, the subnational level is a laboratorywhere new strategies are
tested and uploadedif they prove successful. In Germany, this interplay could be observed in the
first executive cooperation with the Greens (Debus, 2008), but never with a PRRP, as they have
always been excluded (e.g., German Peoples Union or the Republicans; see Minkenberg, 2001; Art,
2007). Drawing from the experiences in other European countries, however, I assume that (H6)
cooperation (and adoption) with the AfD will first take place at the subnational level (before pos-
sibly being transferred to the national one).
In sum, party behavior is a complex process that is constrained by different objectives and
institutional and organizational factors. In this study, I focus on three of these, which seem to
provide a helpful first stepping stone in understanding the behavior of vote-, office-, and
policy-seeking parties in a specific institutional (parliament) and organizational context (subna-
tional level). The next section explains the research design and case selection.
Research design and case selection
This article applies a most different systems design and focuses on party responses toward the AfD
in four state parliaments: Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony-Anhalt, and
Thuringia. Methodologically, it triangulates semi-structured interviews with MPs from
338 Anna-Sophie Heinze Published online by Cambridge University Press
mainstream parties and a content analysis of parliamentary documents. All data were collected as
part of a dissertation project (Heinze, 2020).
The four cases were chosen as they were among the first in which the AfD entered parliament
and as different as possible with regard to the variables presented above. In terms of (V1) party
ideology, we find mainstream parties in the right-wing spectrum (CDU, FDP) and leftwing spec-
trum (SPD, Greens, Left), with slightly varying positions between the states as well as over time
(for a detailed analysis see Bräuninger et al.,2020). Importantly, the AfD was particularly radical
from the beginning in the two eastern German states (Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia) and took
rather moderate positions in the two western German AfD associations (Baden-Württemberg and
Rhineland-Palatinate) (Häusler and Roeser, 2015; Hensel et al.,2016). For example, the two east-
ern German party leaders at the time (Björn Höcke in Thuringia and André Poggenburg in
Saxony-Anhalt) did not distance themselves from the anti-Islamic movement PEGIDA and were
co-signatories of the pronounced radical right Erfurt Resolution(Berntzen and Weisskircher,
2019). The latter fueled internal party disputes and led to the resignation of many rather moderate
party members in 2015. Although the AfD as a whole has radicalized over time (a process driven
by the eastern German branches; Arzheimer, 2019; Heinze and Weisskircher, 2021), ideological
variation could be relevant if the two rather radical AfD factions were more strongly excluded by
mainstream parties than the comparatively moderate ones.
Second, the case selection maximizes the variation in the (V2) governmentopposition divide.
Since I expect governing parties to be able to distinguish themselves more easily from the opposi-
tional AfD, it seems particularly interesting to study CDUs responses in different constellations
(more so than, e.g., the Left or the Greens, because of their policy distance). In Baden-
Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU entered government, so there was theoretically no
need to cooperate with AfD, while in Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia they shared the oppo-
sition status (see Table 1). In some cases, the AfDs rise meant a hard break with previous party
strongholds and coalition traditions. In Saxony-Anhalt, a (rather unpopular) coalition was formed
between CDU, SPD, and Greens, which could make it difficult to find a unified response toward
the AfD. In Baden-Württemberg, the new government coalition consisted of Greens and CDU,
who had cooperated before (though not under Green leadership). In Rhineland-Palatinate, the
CDU found itself in opposition after SPD, Liberals, and Greens formed a coalition, but this
was also less of an upheaval than in Thuringia, where the CDU went into opposition for the first
time ever after the first red-red-green coalition was formed (under Left leadership).
Due to the Basic Law and party law, (V3) federal and state parties in Germany are highly
dependent on each other. Federal parties set central policy and strategic guidelines. Although state
MPs legally do not have to follow them, dissenters risk losing the partys support, which they need
for elections. Nevertheless, state parties have a substantial degree of autonomy in their policies and
parliamentary work. At the beginning of legislative periods, for instance, they adopt their own
rules of procedure (Geschäftsordnungen). As a result, parliamentary rights and duties vary slightly,
for example, the regulations on the number and allocation of parliamentary offices or on individ-
ual instruments, such as how often and how long parties may intervene in debates. These specific
rules and practices will be included in the analysis of party responses. Although they are a constant
Table 1. Election results in the four states under study
CDU SPD Greens Left FDP AfD
Baden-Württemberg 27.0 12.7 30.3 8.3 15.1
Rhineland-Palatinate 31.8 36.2 5.3 6.2 12.6
Saxony-Anhalt 29.8 10.6 5.2 16.3 24.3
Thuringia 33.5 12.4 5.7 28.2 10.6
Note: Figures in percent; data for Thuringia from 14.09.2014, for the other cases from 13.03.2016; legend: governing parties in bold.
European Political Science Review 339 Published online by Cambridge University Press
rather than a variable in this study (i.e., they do not change throughout the period under investi-
gation), they are important in order to understand the organizational context of party responses.
To study the four cases, I conducted semi-structured interviews and analyzed parliamentary
documents. The period of investigation was the beginning of the respective legislative periods
(September 2014 in Thuringia and March 2016 in the three other cases) to mid-2018. It can
be assumed that all parties gained significant experience in dealing with the AfD after at least half
of the legislative period.
I conducted 16 semi-structured interviews with one MP of each mainstream party repre-
sented2. The interviewees were selected on the basis of their function within the parliamentary
group, which suggests that they can reconstruct and reflect on its policy and strategic
decision-making processes. The interviews generated data on which no public information is
available, for example, on perceived party behavior in committees and possible agreements
between parties. Moreover, the interviewees were asked to assess their own partys responses
and those of the others over time, as well as their goals and problems when dealing with the
AfD. They were also asked whether their current responses toward the AfD correspond to their
initial expectations, and how they assessed the approaches of other mainstream parties. The inter-
views were conducted between June and September 2018 and lasted about 40 minutes on average
(see Appendix). All interviewees were guaranteed anonymity.
Parliamentary document analysis enables the valid reconstruction of party responses in par-
liament. It includes all bills and motions issued by AfD (N=327) and documents related to them
(e.g., plenary protocols, alternative motions, and amendments). The analysis reveals how main-
stream parties voted on AfD initiatives and whether they submitted joint initiatives. It also pro-
vides information on the number of MPs responding to AfD motions, whether mainstream parties
referred them to committees, and whether they proposed alternative motions.
In the subsequent content analysis, the material was interpreted and assigned to the ideal-
typical response options. To ensure maximum impartiality, no thresholds were set prior to data
collection (e.g., how many alternative proposals support a debate approach). Instead, individual
party responses were compared as context-sensitive as possible (e.g., which responses were avail-
able in a specific context and which were used, also in comparison to the other states). To increase
transparency, individual categorizations are italicized in the analysis.
Analysis: party responses toward the AFD in parliament
In all state parliaments, formal and policy responses toward the AfD were not stable but changed
over time, even in different directions (see Table 2). Instead of pursuing consistent strategies,
mainstream parties have gone through several learning processes. On the formal level, left-wing
parties in Thuringia opted for the AfDsexclusion even when it was a newcomer, while all parties
in the two western states pursued individual legislative cooperation. Over time, however, main-
stream parties moved toward ad hoc toleration. In Thuringia, they then elected AfD candidates
to parliamentary office on a case-by-case basis, while in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-
Palatinate, they stopped introducing joint parliamentary initiatives with the AfD. On the policy
level, the end results are more mixed. In Thuringia, there was a switch from defuse to debate and in
Saxony-Anhalt from debate to defuse. In Rhineland-Palatinate, only one spokesperson of the gov-
erning parties ever reacted to AfD initiatives, while in Baden-Württemberg usually all parties
debated AfD initiatives. Ultimately, nine parliamentary groups opted for a debate approach
and seven rather for defusing AfD initiatives. There were several mixed forms between these
ideal-typical responses. In the following, I elaborate the changes in response patterns for each state
parliament and try to understand them based on the factors presented.
2A full list of interviews can be found in the Appendix.
340 Anna-Sophie Heinze Published online by Cambridge University Press
In Baden-Württemberg, there was a clear change in response patterns of governing parties
(Greens, CDU) and opposition parties (SPD, FDP) over time. On the formal level, it is the only
state parliament where the AfD was able to fill fewer parliamentary offices after mainstream par-
ties changed the informal parliamentary practices: to prevent AfD from appointing a vice-presi-
dent, mainstream parties did not have to change the rules of procedure they simply did not have
to elect one. These procedural trickswere criticized from some mainstream parties in other state
parliaments. However, there was no strict exclusion. Instead, mainstream parties even introduced
a joint bill with the AfD at the beginning of the legislative period (which was never the case in the
other state parliaments, see Table 3). This kind of legislative cooperation must be understood in the
context of parliamentary practice: the bill (to amend the Referendum Act) had already been
drafted in the previous legislative period and was designed to be supported by all parties.
However, such cooperation remained an exception, as the AfD sharply criticized the other parties
in the debate, which is why they angrily withdrew the draft. Afterward, they never cooperated with
the party again and rejected all its motions, thus moving toward a stricter ad hoc toleration.
On the policy level, the change of response patterns was less drastic. From the beginning, main-
stream parties mainly pursued a debate approach by always referring AfD motions to committees
(more than in the other state parliaments; see Table 3). The governing parties always spoke to AfD
initiatives individually and thus never defused them. However, mainstream parties rarely intro-
duced alternative motions, which means that their debating rarely went beyond what was neces-
sary. Nevertheless, there were learning processes. For example, all parties interviewed described
that they increasingly tried to be less provoked by the AfDs behavior and rhetoric and not to jump
through every hoop. As a result, they increasingly ignored individual provocations but showed
unity when red lineswere crossed (e.g., through joint motions against anti-Semitism).
In Rhineland-Palatinate, too, responses of governing parties (SPD, FDP, Greens) and the opposi-
tional CDU changed over time. On the formal level, mainstream parties changed the rules of pro-
cedure at the beginning of the legislative period. As a result, the AfD could not appoint a vice-
president and received fewer committee seats. Although such a practice had already existed before
and the AfD lost its legal challenge against it, these parliamentary trickswere criticized by the
Table 2. Summary of party responses
Party Formal level Policy level
Baden-Württemberg CDU Individual legislative cooperation ad hoc toleration Debate
SPD Individual legislative cooperation ad hoc toleration Debate
Greens Individual legislative cooperation ad hoc toleration Debate
FDP Individual legislative cooperation ad hoc toleration Debate
Rhineland-Palatinate CDU Individual legislative cooperation ad hoc toleration Debate
SPD Individual legislative cooperation ad hoc toleration Defuse
Greens Individual legislative cooperation ad hoc toleration Defuse
FDP Individual legislative cooperation ad hoc toleration Defuse
Saxony-Anhalt CDU Ad hoc toleration individual legislative cooperation Debate defuse
SPD Ad hoc toleration Debate defuse
Greens Ad hoc toleration Debate defuse
Left Ad hoc toleration Debate defuse
Thuringia CDU Ad hoc toleration Debate
SPD Exclusion ad hoc toleration Defuse debate
Greens Exclusion ad hoc toleration Defuse debate
Left Exclusion ad hoc toleration Defuse debate
European Political Science Review 341 Published online by Cambridge University Press
Table 3. Party responses in more detail
Baden-Württemberg Rhineland-Palatinate Saxony-Anhalt Thuringia
Legislative cooperation: Joint parliamentary initiatives by all parties (including AfD)
Bills 1000
Motions 0200
Debating and voting on AfD initiatives
AfD bills referred to committees 100% 100% 16.7% 0%
AfD bills that achieved a majority 0% 0% 0% 0%
AfD motions referred to committees 100% 0% 12.9% 0%
AfD motions that achieved a majority 0% 0% 13.0% 0%
Defusing: Number of mainstream parties debating AfD initiatives
AfD bills discussed by a limited number of parties (1st debate) 0% 28.6% 0% 36.1%
AfD bills without debate (1st debate) 0% 14.3% 0% 0%
AfD bills discussed by a limited number of parties (2nd debate) 0% 28.6% 20% 75%
AfD bills without debate (2nd debate) 11.1% 14.3% 60% 0%
AfD motions discussed by limited number of parties 0% 82.9% 7.7% 44.2%
AfD motions without debate 14.3% 4.9% 4.3% 0%
Debating (further): Mainstream parties(alternative/amendment) motions to AfD initiatives
Motions by governing parties 0% 0% 15.5% 2.9%
Motions by opposition parties 0% 41.5% 12.4% 20.6%
(Independent) motions by government and opposition parties 7.1% 0% 8.2% 0%
Joint motions by all parties (but AfD) 0% 0% 0% 4.4%
342 Anna-Sophie Heinze Published online by Cambridge University Press
AfD and other parties outside the state, similar to the case of Baden-Württemberg. Still, the AfD
was received with ad hoc toleration rather than a strict exclusion, as AfD candidates were always
elected to the remaining parliamentary offices. At the beginning of the legislative period, and in
line with parliamentary practice, mainstream parties even introduced two motions with the AfD,
both on parliamentary rules (see Table 3). After that, none of the AfD motions received a majority,
meaning that mainstream parties moved toward a stricter ad hoc toleration.
On the policy level, response patterns toward AfD also changed. At the beginning of the legis-
lative period, the governing parties decided to defuse AfD initiatives by having only one speaker
comment on them on behalf of all (see Table 3). The SPD MP interviewed stated: That does not
mean that we refuse to engage in political debate, but you also do not have to take a debate where
you can deal with all the arguments in 20 minutes to an hour so that the AfD ends up with even
more airtime for its social media(Interview 10, SPD, 2018). They even intensified this practice
when they noticed that the AfD repeatedly tried to drag out parliamentary debates by drawing
blue cards(a form of intervening in other MPsspeeches to get extra time to speak). The
Greens MP interviewed explained: They kept extending their speaking time and repeating the
same things over and over again, and we just disagreed with them. And then several AfD
MPs drew blue cards for every speaker and totally blew up the plenary session, and the more
speakers we then send into the debate, the more space they have to draw their blue cards
(Interview 11, Greens, 2018). In Rhineland-Palatinate, AfD motions were also the least likely
to be referred to committees for intensive debate (see Table 3). There were also no alternative
motions by the governing parties. In the interview, the Green MP argued that they did not want
to treat the AfD like a normalparty this way (Interview 11, Greens, 2018). In opposition, the
CDU actively distanced itself from the AfD by drafting alternative motions (Interview 9,
CDU, 2018). This happened in 41.5 percent of the cases (see Table 3).
In Saxony-Anhalt, responses of the three governing parties (CDU, SPD, Greens) and the opposi-
tional Left Party also changed over time. On the formal level, we see some legislative cooperation of
the CDU, with twelve AfD motions achieving a majority (mostly concerning parliamentary
minority rights, for example, on the appointment and filling of investigation committees; see
Table 3). The CDUs voting behavior even led to coalition crises, for instance in autumn 2017,
when some CDU MPs supported the AfD motion to establish a committee of enquiry on
left-wing extremism. The other parties also tolerated the AfD rather than excluding it. For exam-
ple, all AfD candidates were elected to parliamentary offices, even if some were controversially
debated. The SPD MP explained his voting behavior with the distinction between the right to
propose a candidate and to push one through: As a member of parliament, I cannot be forced
to actively help this right to be implemented, that is, if there is an election for a vice-president of
the AfD, no one can force me personally to vote for him, because this election is a personal deci-
sion. And the AfD also has to accept that. Then it is up to them to propose a candidate who also
meets with the approval of the other MPs in case of doubt(Interview 6, SPD, 2018).
On the policy level, party responses also clearly changed although there was never a division of
labor between the three governing parties. Instead, at the beginning of the legislative period, all
parties debated AfD motions individually (see Table 3). After about half a year, however, all main-
stream parties moved toward a stronger defuse approach by not speaking on some AfD initiatives
at all (e.g., if they had already been discussed or rejected; Interview 8, Left, 2018). To find a uni-
form approach, governing parties also referred AfD motions to committees more frequently than,
for example, in Thuringia (Interview 6, SPD, 2018). In 12.4 per cent of the cases, the oppositional
Left Party prepared alternative motions in order to debate and actively distance itself from the AfD
(see Table 3).
European Political Science Review 343 Published online by Cambridge University Press
In Thuringia, too, responses of the three governing parties (Left, SPD, Greens) and the opposi-
tional CDU changed over time. On the formal level, there was never any executive or legislative
cooperation with it during the period under study. Although individual actors (e.g., CDU faction
leader Mike Mohring) did not rule out cooperation before the elections, no joint motions were
introduced with the AfD (see Table 3). AfD initiatives never achieved a majority, although the
CDU voted for them in rare cases. In addition, AfD candidates were usually elected to parliamen-
tary offices. However, there were some exceptions, such as when Stefan Möller did not achieve a
majority as chairman of the judiciary committee in 2017, thus leading to a short-term deadlock (as
no new judges could be appointed). After five months, mainstream parties finally elected Möller,
thus exchanging exclusion for ad hoc toleration. In the interview, the Green MP explained that
they had understood that otherwise they would be cutting their own flesh, as the AfD could pres-
ent itself as a victimof the corrupt old parties(Interview 3, Greens, 2018).
Changes in the response patterns also took place on the policy level. In the beginning, the three
governing parties tried to defuse AfD motions by having only one MP speak to them on behalf of
all of them (see Table 3). With this practice, they wanted to give the AfD as little attention as
possible (Interviews 2 and 4, SPD and Left, 2018). After about one-and-a-half years, they moved
from defusing to debating by increasingly speaking individually on AfD initiatives. In the inter-
view, the Left Party MP explained that they wanted to counter the AfD more forcefully this way
(Interview 4, Left, 2018). The oppositional CDU had already pursued such an approach before,
not only debating AfD motions but also drafting numerous alternative motions to distance itself
(in 20.6 per cent of cases; see Table 3). Over time, all parties made greater efforts to debate the AfD
together (e.g., through joint motions against racism or anti-Semitism).
Explaining the different response patterns
The following section discusses the extent to which (V1) party ideology, the (V2) government
opposition divide, and the (V3) federal structure of parties contribute to explaining variation in
party responses and changes over time.
With regard to (V1) party ideology, the results are mixed. On the one hand, (H1) right-wing
mainstream parties were not always more willing to cooperate with the AfD than left-wing parties.
For example, at the beginning of the legislative period in Baden-Württemberg, all parties intro-
duced a joint bill with the AfD, but only in Saxony-Anhalt did the CDU vote for AfD motions
(legislative cooperation), pointing to a somewhat distinct role for the CDU. On the other hand,
(H2) the AfD was not more strongly excluded in Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia (where it initially
appeared rather radical) than in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate (where it
appeared relatively moderate). However, it is important to consider the mainstream partieslearn-
ing processes and the AfDs own radicalization over time (Arzheimer, 2019). At the beginning of
the legislative periods, most parties did not know very much about the AfDs positions, strategies,
and parliamentary behavior. Instead, it took some time for them to learn about them and adapt
their behavior. In Thuringia, where the AfD entered parliament already in 2014, mainstream par-
ties hardly knew anything about the parliamentary newcomers, including extremist actors like
Björn Höcke. In the interview, the Green MP explained: There was a Facebook page of Höcke
with a long text saying that he was a father, a teacher, coming from the West, living in Eichsfeld.
Nothing else was known. And he did not say anything at all. He rarely showed himself. They did
not really campaign at all(Interview 3, Greens, 2018). Overall, the AfD was a black box
(Interview 1, CDU, 2018). Only with time did the parties learn that the AfD mainly uses prov-
ocations and insults in the plenary hall to gain media attention instead of, for example, working in
the mostly non-public committees. Later, some AfD politicians also appeared very radical in the
extra-parliamentary arena, for example Höcke who demanded a 180-degree turnaroundin
344 Anna-Sophie Heinze Published online by Cambridge University Press
Germanys approach to its Nazi past in 2017. Therefore, over time, mainstream parties reacted
more thoughtfully (with a mix of ad hoc toleration and debate). Similar developments could
be observed in the other states: in Baden-Württemberg, mainstream parties never cooperated with
the AfD again after realizing how the party uses targeted provocations and even racist insults (e.g.,
against the president of the parliament) to inflame parliamentary debates and gain media atten-
tion. Moreover, it repeatedly asked for similar details in its minor interpellations, also on very
specific local issues. The mainstream parties did not see this as an interest in actual policies,
but as a paralysis strategyagainst authorities and ministries (Interview 15, Greens, 2018). In
Rhineland-Palatinate, too, the governing parties intensified their defuse approach when they
noticed that the AfD was more interested in its own media staging than in actual policies or
debates. Due to the AfDs provocations and even anti-Semitic statements, all parties appeared
more united over time (e.g., through joint parliamentary initiatives). Against fundamental rules
of decency, some MPs even stopped shaking hands with AfD MPs (Interviews 11 and 12, Greens
and FDP, 2018). Similarly, the parties in Saxony-Anhalt debated AfD motions less when they real-
ized that the party was less interested in the actual debate than in its own media staging, as
described by the Green MP: This is a stage for them, and they really cut out passages from their
speeches and put them on the internet(Interview 7, Greens, 2018). The AfD attracted attention
with provocations there early on, for example, when it left the first plenary debate to take part in a
demonstration. In sum, all mainstream parties increasingly pursued a mix of ad hoc toleration and
debate or defuse in order not to allow the AfD to portray itself as a victim.
The (V2) governmentopposition divide also partly shaped party responses. In general, it was
(H3) somewhat easier for governing parties to exclude and ignore AfD initiatives, for example, in
Thuringia and Rhineland-Palatinate (where the CDU was not part of the government). However,
individual legislative cooperation sometimes led to conflicts within the coalition, especially
between the CDU and the Greens in Saxony-Anhalt. There, government participation could
not prevent the CDU from voting for AfD motions and entering into heated discussions with
its coalition partners, with whom there was never a love marriage(Interview 5, CDU, 2018).
In contrast, Greens and CDU appeared relatively united in the Baden-Württemberg government,
although they differed in some positions. In the interviews, MPs from both parties stated that they
tend to solve conflicts internally. At the same time, (H4) opposition parties introduced alternative
motions to debate and actively distance themselves from the AfD. This was most common among
the CDU in Rhineland-Palatinate, less so in Thuringia, where the CDU first had to familiarize
itself with its new opposition role. At this time, however, even the Left Party MP praised the
CDUsdebate approach in Thuringia: It would counter the AfD very well and also very inten-
sively(Interview 4, Left, 2018). In Saxony-Anhalt, the Left also used alternative motions to debate
and distance itself from the AfD in opposition, but saw less need to clarify its policy differences
than the CDU (Interview 8, Left, 2018).
Moreover, the (V3) federal structure of parties clearly shaped the organizational context of
party responses: as expected, (H5) mainstream parties at the subnational level tried to maintain
the exclusion of the AfD by their mother parties. In the interviews, they also showed awareness of
federal dependencies. For instance, the CDU interviewee in Baden-Württemberg stated that any
initial cooperation with the AfD would be a signal toward its normalization no matter where it
occurred (Interview 13, CDU, 2018). However, (H6) the first individual legislative cooperation
with the AfD appeared at the subnational level, but led to strong criticism from the mother parties.
The punishmentof deviant behavior was particularly visible in the two eastern German state
parliaments, for example, when Mohring was not re-elected to the CDU federal executive com-
mittee in 2014 after not ruling out cooperation with the AfD in Thuringia. Angela Merkel criti-
cized the CDUs voting behavior in Saxony-Anhalt and emphasized that she had a different idea of
non-cooperation. More generally, several MPs, who were interviewed, described how they con-
sulted their federal parties ahead of the 2017 Bundestag election, once again pointing to the impor-
tance of subnational politics and the uploadingof party responses. For example, the SPD MP in
European Political Science Review 345 Published online by Cambridge University Press
Baden-Württemberg explained that it was the state parties who advised their federal parties on
how to deal with the AfD before the 2017 election (Interview 10, SPD, 2018). In Saxony-Anhalt,
the interviewed CDU MP stressed that the strategy paper Demarcation instead of exclusion
developed in Saxony-Anhalt would now apply to the entire federal party (Interview 5,
CDU, 2018).
This analysis has shed light on party responses toward the AfD after its first entry into German
state parliaments, a context that is special in many regards but nonetheless important for the
broader study of responses toward PRRPs. Given Germanys history, and the relatively strong
cordon sanitaire vis-à-vis PRRPs related to how the country dealt with its Nazi past, the analysis
of responses to a PRRP that (finally) managed the parliamentary breakthrough is particularly
interesting. Not only does the proposed typology provide a powerful framework for exploring
party responses toward other PRRPs but also the empirical analysis has generated insights that
help us assess other cases.
It has been shown that even in a setting as restrictive as Germanys, it is difficult for mainstream
parties to completely exclude a new PRRP. An important reason for this is that the AfD enjoys
various rights and privileges through parliamentary representation. These make a strict exclusion
or ignoring in this arena almost impossible especially since a PRRP can thus stage itself as a
victimof the supposedly corrupt, undemocratic old parties. This should make us skeptical about
whether a cordon sanitaire can be sustained in the long term in other countries without such his-
torical legacies once a PRRP has established itself in (subnational) parliament.
Despite the special context, the German parties were ill-prepared. They did not know how to
react to the AfD and pursued a variety of responses in the initial phase. Through my interviews, I
not only observed these processes from the outside but also gained a stronger internal perspective:
many MPs described that even after years, they did not follow long-term strategies in how to deal
with the PRRP. For example, it was difficult for them to find a balance between debating AfD
claims and not falling for provocations. These findings suggest that coherent strategies are unlikely
in other contexts as well and that party responses are rather the result of short-term considerations
than long-term planning. The institutional and political-cultural context plays an important role
here, for example, which instruments of exclusion are available or how much parties usually coop-
erate (e.g., between government and opposition; Louwerse et al.,2017). This room for maneuver
should always be included when categorizing individual response options.
As shown, the three factors considered in the empirical analysis contribute to the explanation of
variation in party responses. Even though the CDU factions did not react the same way everywhere,
it was mainly the CDU that cooperated with the AfD (especially in Saxony-Anhalt despite its gov-
ernment role and criticism from the mother party). However, response patterns seemed to differ
more across states than across party families. One reason for this could be that the AfD has built
up electoral strongholds especially in the eastern German states, while holding increasingly radical
to extremist stances there (e.g., it became the strongest party in Saxony and Thuringia in the 2021
federal election; see also Weisskircher, 2020). Although this study cannot solve this puzzle, it seems
plausible that in other countries, too, right-wing mainstream parties that are confronted with
regional strongholds of PRRPs are more likely to open up to them. Again, the subnational level
seems to be crucial here and should be included in future studies of party responses.
This article pursued two goals: theoretically, it introduced a differentiated typology of response
options on the formal and policy levels that proved to be a powerful framework for analyzing the
346 Anna-Sophie Heinze Published online by Cambridge University Press
complex and varying party responses toward PRRPs in parliament. In doing so, it further devel-
oped the existing literature on party responses by relating it to the parliamentary level and its
specific rules and practices. Empirically, the article explored the crucial variation of response
patterns toward the AfD in state parliaments, thus shedding light on processes at a neglected
political level.
The results show that party responses toward the AfD reflect ongoing learning processes rather
than consistent strategies. After the new PRRP first entered parliament, mainstream parties tried
out different reactions: while they initially excluded the AfD more in Thuringia on the formal level,
they even cooperated with it legislatively in western German state parliaments. In the medium
turn, all mainstream parties turned toward ad hoc toleration, for example, by electing AfD can-
didates to parliamentary offices on a case-by-case basis. On the policy level, party responses also
changed, sometimes in different directions. In Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia, there was ini-
tial agreement among governing parties that only one speaker should respond on behalf of all to
AfD motions (defuse). Over time, mainstream parties in Thuringia debated AfD motions more
individually. After two years, mainstream parties in all state parliaments were still pursuing a mix
of debating and defusing, that is, of actively opposing AfD initiatives and trying to shift attention
away from them.
Three factors proved to be a useful first step in understanding this variation. First, (V1) party
ideology was partly decisive: while it was not only the right-wing mainstream parties that initially
cooperated with the AfD, it was most often the CDU. In addition, all parties got to know the AfDs
ideology and parliamentary behavior over time and adapted their responses, especially when it
appeared provocative and became more radical. Second, the (V2) governmentopposition divide
shaped party responses: as expected, it tended to be easier for governing parties to distance them-
selves from AfD initiatives, especially in coalitions between ideologically relatively similar parties.
Opposition parties, including the CDU, actively distanced themselves from the AfD by drafting
alternative motions. Moreover, the (V3) federal structure of parties was important: as expected,
the first collaboration with the AfD occurred at the subnational level, but was sharply criticized by
the mother parties at the national level, suggesting a strong cordon sanitaire. Many parties seemed
aware that they could only counter the AfDs normalization together, at all levels.
Overall, this single-case study provides important insights into the learning processes of main-
stream parties vis-à-vis a relatively new PRRP, as well as various practical and scientific implica-
tions. Importantly, and of broader relevance for the study of responses to PRRPs, parties have not
found a magic formula, but rather reconsider their reactions on a case-by-case basis (e.g., when to
tackle radical claims, when not to fall for targeted provocations?). The introduced typology reflects
this complex balancing act by differentiating between formal- and policy-level response options
and provides a powerful tool to study party behavior toward PRRPs also in other contexts.
In practice, other parties can learn from the experience of their German counterparts and famil-
iarize themselves with their PRRPs positions and strategies before adapting their behavior
accordingly. Even in the special case of Germany, however, a strict cordon sanitaire seems almost
impossible in the parliamentary arena, due to the rights and privileges that come with parliamen-
tary representation.
In addition, the findings point to important opportunities for future research. Using the pro-
posed typology, future studies can explore party responses in other settings. How do party
responses evolve in different institutional and political-cultural contexts? What other factors
shape party behavior toward PRRPs, such as timing, party size, or intra-party dynamics? In this
analysis, we do not find systematic cooperation with the relatively new AfD, but are mainstream
parties more likely to cooperate the longer it is represented or the more seats it has? What are the
partiesstrategic goals when turning exclusion into greater cooperation? How do they trade-off the
danger of normalizing the PRRPs ideology and the potential criticism of other actors with their
quest for government participation? What is the role of party leaders in this process? Finally, and
in a broader perspective: how can learning processes toward PRRPs at the subnational level be
European Political Science Review 347 Published online by Cambridge University Press
institutionalized and transferred, perhaps even cross-nationally? As PRRPs are here to stay, these
issues seem more urgent than ever.
Acknowledgments. The author would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers and the editors for their helpful com-
ments, as well as the many colleagues who provided valuable feedback at the TU Dresden and at DVPW and ECPR events. I
am deeply grateful to Manès Weisskircher, who helped me rethinking this project again and again, and to Léonie de Jonge,
Marcel Lewandowsky, and Anselm Vogler, who kept pushing me to publish this.
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Cite this article: Heinze A-S (2022). Dealing with the populist radical right in parliament: mainstream party responses toward
the Alternative for Germany. European Political Science Review 14, 333350.
350 Anna-Sophie Heinze Published online by Cambridge University Press
... Recently, political scientists have turned their attention to studying the responses of political parties to populist parties of various varieties (Heinze 2022). Building on work by Downs (2001), Meguid and Bale, Heinze (2022) has recently proposed an eight-fold categorization of responses to radical right populist parties, mainly focusing her study on the AfD. ...
... Recently, political scientists have turned their attention to studying the responses of political parties to populist parties of various varieties (Heinze 2022). Building on work by Downs (2001), Meguid and Bale, Heinze (2022) has recently proposed an eight-fold categorization of responses to radical right populist parties, mainly focusing her study on the AfD. Heinze divides focuses on the Parliamentary arena and divides responses to the formal level and the policy level. ...
... This has been the situation in the case of the AfD, which after having failed to enter the federal Bundestag, has steadily received sufficient support to enter the Landtage of the various Länder. An overview of the responses of mainstream parties to the AfD reveals a mixed response to the party's entry into the various Landtage (Heinze 2022). Some responses by mainstream parties were to exclude the AfD from what customarily would have been their right, such as by changing the Parliamentary rules so as to prevent the AfD from appointing a vice-president as happened after the elections in Thuringia and Rhineland-Palatinate, but at the same time mainstream political parties would cooperate with the AfD on an ad hoc basis on other Parliamentary business. ...
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This paper considers how ambiguously anti-democratic political parties can be responded to in an effort to protect the constitutional system. The first part of the paper presents the idea of an ambiguously anti-democratic party and the potential dangers these may pose to the constitutional system. The central idea is that threats to democratic states arise often from parties who are able to disguise their anti-democratic ambitions. The second part considers the different ways in which public authorities, political parties and civil society have responded to ambiguously anti-democratic parties and how their different roles and positions in the constitutional system affect the way in which they can respond to different aspects of these parties. Broadly speaking, the different actors respond to different actions by the ambiguously anti-democratic party, creating different opportunities to oppose ambiguously anti-democratic parties. The final section considers some synergies between the different types of actors and their responses as well as the choice between tolerant and intolerant modes of engaging ambiguously anti-democratic parties, arguing in favor of modes that expose the intolerant nature of anti-democratic parties.
... On the formal level, parties can, for example, strictly exclude a PRRP ('cordon sanitaire') or cooperate with it (at the executive or legislative level; Downs 2001). On the policy level, they can ignore a particular issue taken up by the PRRP (e.g., immigration), try to downplay ('defuse') its importance, actively debate individual positions or even adopt them (for a detailed discussion on theoretical response options, see Heinze 2020Heinze , 2022. The effectiveness of the individual response options towards PRRPs is a matter of controversy (Downes andLoveless 2018, Abou-Chadi et al. 2021). ...
... Defusing: Number of mainstream parties debating AfD initiativesAfD bills discussed by a limited number of parties (first debate)Debating (further): Mainstream parties' (alternative/amendment) motions to AfD initiativesMotions by governing parties (Source:Heinze (2022). ...
... For example, the influence of AfD on policy outcomes in regional legislatures is minor, despite their numerical strength in many state parliaments. Unlike other European countries, AfD is still largely excluded from legislative cooperation, also at the regional level (Heinze, 2022). Nevertheless, far-right strength in the East may have important effects, both on specific localities and on the German political system as a whole. ...
... It is increasing its anti-climate and energy transition rhetoric, in the North Rhine-Westphalia and its urban centres of Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Aachen. Compared with the 2014 European election, the AfD increased its support by almost 3.1 percentage points in the North Rhine-Westphalia region in 2019 (The Federal Returning Office, 2014, 2019; also see Arzheimer & Berning, 2019;Heinze, 2022 for the AfD's ideological and electoral development at the subnational levels). ...
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What rhetorical strategies are populist far-right parties using to delay regional decarbonization? This paper fo-cuses on three populist far-right parties-the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), Alternative for Germany (AfD), and Poland's Law and Justice (PiS)-and the discursive-institutional tactics each used from 2014 to 2021 to delay decarbonization of their carbon-intensive regions. We identify three discursive-institutional tactics used by populist far-right actors to delay decarbonization: (1) politicizing decarbonization, (2) refram-ing cultural values to form alliances with anti-decarbonization movements, and (3) dismantling key decarbon-ization institutions. We show that the populist far-right discursive-institutional tactics in European regional decarbonization are prevalent and vary widely. The politics of backlash against the EU-driven progressive public policies and anti-democratic rhetoric, including xenophobia and national sovereignty discourses are commonly used by these three populist far right parties to mobilize counternarratives against climate change and regional decarbonization. EKRE and PiS typically portray themselves as the protectors of social insurance and safety for vulnerable groups affected by regional decarbonization. PiS and AfD harness regional identity to mobilize civic engagement against decarbonization. All three parties work to empty and dismantle key decarbonization institutions. Overall, our findings suggest that carbon-intensive regions are particularly susceptible to the discur-sive tactics and institutional work of populist far-right parties, and may therefore provide opportunities for these parties to constrain decarbonization more broadly.
... This also applies to the "Alternative for Germany" (AfD), one of the most successful young PRR parties in Europe in electoral terms. While we know much about the party's electoral rise (Heinze, 2022) and ideological transformation from a rather Eurosceptic to a fully-fledged PRR party (Arzheimer, 2019), its organisation remains puzzling. Unlike previous far-right parties in Germany (e.g., DVU, NPD or Republicans), the AfD succeeded in building strong party branches with a solid membership base in all 16 federal states (Heinze and Weisskircher, 2021). ...
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The organisation of populist radical right parties significantly shapes their long-term electoral success. Within this party family, great organisational variation can be found, with the "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) representing a least-likely case: in terms of candidate selection (CS), it ranks much higher on democracy scales than the other Bundestag parties. This paper explores the reasons for this high level of intra-party democracy (IPD) by focusing on three explanatory dimensions: ideology, institutionalisation, and party unity. Methodologically, we apply multivariate analyses of representative quantitative data collected among AfD members at CS prior to the 2017 federal election. The results show that high political dissatisfaction and low levels of institutionalisation are important drivers of inclusive CS procedures. Overall, the article provides a deeper understanding of the underlying attitudes for the AfD's inclusive IPD, and offers substantial theoretical and empirical implications for future research.
... Importantly, in eastern Germany, the former territory of the German Democratic Republic, the party is about twice as popular than in the west (Weisskircher, 2020b). Despite the quick electoral breakthrough of the AfD, also at the subnational level, the AfD has remained largely excluded from formal and even informal cooperation by mainstream parties (Heinze, 2022). Interestingly, quite atypical for a far-right party in Western Europe, the AfD is marked by a relatively high degree of internal democracy, also allowing for the possibility of internal bottom-up and top-down referendums (Heinze & Weisskircher, 2021). ...
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A fundamental conflict over sovereignty revolves around the question of who should decide about legislation: parliament or citizens? Traditionally, in Western Europe, left-wing parties were pushing hardest for more direct democracy. However, with the rise of populism, far-right parties have also become loud proponents. This chapter studies the conflict over direct democracy and assesses the impact of the far right in the case of Germany. First, it shows that long before the rise of AfD, almost all mainstream parties already favoured stronger direct-democratic instruments. Second, however, as unintended consequence of far-right strength, some became quieter about it or even changed their position towards more rejective stances. Third, in terms of outcomes, no changes towards more national-level direct democracy occurred. Fourth, while all parties address direct democracy, the issue is not high on the political agenda. High but unmet public demand for more direct democracy constitutes a latent sovereignty conflict in contemporary Europe. The chapter contributes to debates on sovereignty conflicts, democratic reform and the impact of populist radical right parties in European politics.KeywordsDirect democracy Alternative für Deutschland Popular sovereigntyRadical rightReferendum
... Considering these factors invites a more systematic look of long-term equilibria in conflicts over norm violations. While our analysis suggests predictable conflict outcomes based on norm violators' strategy choice, future research could factor in the learning effects of norm violators, norm defenders and the public (see, e.g., Heinze, 2022). ...
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How do politicians in advanced democracies get away with violating political norms? Although norm violators confront a powerful establishment that can penalize them, norm violations currently occur in many advanced democracies. This article analyzes the conflicts between norm‐violating challengers and established politicians and parties as norm defenders in multi‐party systems to contribute to the discipline's understanding of norm erosion processes. Based on diachronic and synchronic comparisons of conflicts over norm violations in Austria and Germany, the article reveals how political challengers can already damage democratic norms from a position of institutional weakness. Norm violators that make ambiguous provocations and can leverage their previously acquired democratic credentials, can more credibly dispel attempts to stigmatize them as undemocratic. In doing so, they turn the tables on the political establishment and portray its sanctions as a form of ‘excessive retaliation’ that constitutes a norm violation in itself. The article concludes with the unsettling finding that (verbal) norm protection can facilitate norm erosion. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
My dissertation consists of four papers in which I analysed different aspects of populist mobilisation and demobilisation. The first research question asked if social media contributes to populist mobilisation. I concluded that populist parties are more active on Facebook than non-populist parties in Paper 1 (Party Politics, This trend was most visible in Western Europe but also in countries like Sweden, Italy, Finland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Nevertheless, country-specific and contextual factors should be considered, and data quality should be critically reflected. In Paper 2 (Zeitschrift für Parteienwissenschaften,, I turned to the level of populist communication on social media. I focused on the German election campaign in 2017. Contrary to what was expected, populist communication was not used very frequently by political parties – including populist parties – on Facebook. As anti-elitist rhetoric was more prevalent, there is evidence for the fragmented character of populist communication on social media. In contrast, parties used populist rhetoric more frequently in their press releases. This surprising finding was partially driven by text length. Controlling for text length revealed that anti-elitist rhetoric was more widespread in social media posts than in press releases – thus, the opposite of what the descriptive results suggested. This means that anti-elitism is more prevalent in comparatively long Facebook posts, which parties sound out only rarely. Concerning this research question, I conclude that in many countries, Facebook offers a platform for populists that they actively use. From this perspective, social media can contribute to populist mobilisation. In contrast, when it comes to the actual content that parties produce on social media, at least on Facebook, the prevalence of populist content is low. Although controlling for text length affected the descriptive results, and even reversed them for anti-elitism, this does not change the fact that many posts are short. Facebook communication differs from mass media communication through press releases. Parties have adapted well to the social media logic, which includes relatively short and sometimes even non-political texts. While there has been extensive research which indicates that populist content on social media generates more user attention (Bobba 2019; Bobba and Roncarolo 2018; Bracciale, Andretta, and Martella 2021; Klinger, Koc-Michalska, and Russmann 2022), this study shows that populist communication may be more prevalent on other communication channels. Even strongly populist parties like the AfD do not spread populist communication in every post. Thus, the dominance of populist content, in the sense of parties constantly sending out populist posts, is not necessarily part of the problematic relationship between social media and populism. Instead, the problematic relationship is about how populist content is processed. However, shifting the blame to the level of users ignores the role of polarisation-favouring algorithms (Barrett, Hendrix, and Sims 2021). Overall, the studies contribute to the broader discussion of strategic aspects of populist communication (Dai and Kustov 2022; Franzmann 2016c; Lacatus and Meibauer 2021). Parties make strategic decisions regarding populist rhetoric depending on the communication channel. Future studies would benefit from extending the analysis to more countries, elections and channels. An integrative approach to party communication that systematically compares communication across different channels would be desirable. Currently, even studies that specifically focus on social media communication include one or two channels. However, social media platforms have such distinct audiences that it would be interesting to see how parties and especially populist parties use other social media platforms, such as Instagram or TikTok, for their (populist) communication. Regarding other offline channels, researchers also emphasise the role of internal communication of parties, which can be analysed in membership magazines (Mudde 2007). The interesting finding that populist communication is quite widespread in party press releases poses the question of whether this is a communication channel that is generally used for more radical language. This research question asked whether the populist communication of populist parties can be tamed by including them in government. I collected five years of political Facebook communication by the 16 state chapters of Germany’s left-wing populist Die Linke. The results of Paper 4 (Journal of Political Ideologie, ) pointed in a clear direction. State chapters in power used populist rhetoric less frequently than those in opposition. Furthermore, branches from the East were less populist than those from the West. Results from the Bremen chapter, which was in opposition for half of the period and in government for the other half, further suggested that there is a causal mechanism, since the branch used less populist communication after it came to power. The clarity of the results may be surprising given that I used a multi-word dictionary, which tends to underestimate populist communication (see section 4.3). Therefore, it could be the case that repeating the analysis with manual coding reveals the differences even more drastically. The results provide valuable empirical evidence for the inclusion-moderation thesis and suggest that this can be a strategy for moderating the populist appeal of populist parties. Future studies would greatly benefit from focusing on causality and the point at which moderation starts. As discussed, there are also other cases that do not report evidence for the inclusion-moderation thesis. This is not necessarily a contradiction. It is possible that the moderation processes started much earlier as part of a broader strategy of becoming a trustworthy coalition partner. Yet, even if populist parties become less populist in government, it would be interesting to analyse the starting point of such moderation processes. Populist parties will likely not start to moderate their populist appeal the moment they sign the coalition treaty, but there are probably different paths of moderation that research should analyse more closely. This is also the case why a similar strategy would likely to be unsuccessful for the AfD at the state level: the party shows no signs of making a step towards potential coalitions partners but is rather becoming more radical. Therefore, at least currently, inclusion-moderation would likely not work in the case of the AfD. Regarding Die Linke, the state chapters from Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and, most recently, Berlin are the most interesting cases, as their government status recently changed. However, other European countries also provide highly interesting cases regarding left-wing populism: the Greek Syriza governed from 2015 to 2019, and the Spanish Podemos has been governing since 2019. In both cases, anecdotal evidence has shown that those parties became less populist in power (Kioupkiolis and Katsambekis 2019; Oleart 2021), but more fine-grained analyses are needed, which probably need to include more text resources such as manifestos and press releases. Finally, in Paper 3, I explored the extent to which referendum campaigns can be exploited for populist mobilisation (Swiss Political Science Review, ) . I again turned to the level of the German states. In Germany, referendums are only practised at the subnational level, but the mobilisation factors contributing to referendum turnout have not been studied systematically yet. The results show that regarding the factors I derived from the classic rational choice approach, costs, benefits and the likelihood of casting the decisive vote affect referendum turnout in Germany. However, those are factors that are mainly influenced by state governments and state parliaments. Although polarised referendum campaigns contribute to mobilisation, which fits well with populism’s polarising nature, the saliency of the average referendum topic has been quite low in the German states so far. Those topics that offer high benefits – namely, voting on (new) constitutions and state restructuring – are exceptions that are currently not up for debate. Moreover, those topics are typically initiated by state parliaments or governments. The same applies to parallel elections that greatly affect mobilisation, where state actors have boycotting potential for referendums they do not support. Therefore, due to the way in which referendums are currently implemented in Germany, they are more likely to lead to populist demobilisation than to mobilisation. The high hurdles for referendums in Germany were implemented due to the negative perception of the ‘Weimar experience’. The main concern was extremism, but there is little doubt that they are also effective against populist mobilisation. However, as this rigidity prevents not simply extremist and populist mobilisation but any kind of referendum mobilisation, the German states are becoming more open. After the reunification, many states lifted restrictions and lowered hurdles (Kersting 2016, 317–19). This process is still ongoing. As Figure 6 shows, this openness is reflected in restrictions being lifted for referendum topics, hurdles for popular initiatives and referendums. Generally, initiatives can now be organised for more salient topics requiring fewer signatures, and quorums have been lowered. However, this opening process, again, affects all kinds of referendums, and therefore populist mobilisation also becomes more likely. It becomes easier for populist actors or populist parties to launch campaigns, and the likelihood of organising an unsuccessful expensive campaign is lowered. One of the most current examples is the Berlin referendum on the nationalisation of housing companies (2021), which was held after Paper 3 was published. Source: Own overview (based on Kampwirth, Rehmet, and Weber 2003; Rehmet, Flothmann, and Weber 2007; Rehmet, Weber, and Gogolin 2010; Rehmet, Weber, and Laroche 2013; Rehmet and Weber 2016; Rehmet and Wiedmann 2021). Figure 6 Development of State Legislation Regarding the Openness of Popular Legislation The campaign was highly politicised, and, in a classic left- wing populist manner, the organisers pitted ‘the good and exploited tenant’ against ‘the evil rent sharks’. The interest group that proposed the initiative turned out to have sent the posts with the highest share of populist language during the campaign, surpassing the AfD’s share (see Figure A3, appendix). There have also been first attempts to employ such a strategy by the AfD in Thuringia, where the party tried to mobilise for an initiative against mandatory Covid vaccination for care jobs (MDR 2022), and in Brandenburg, where it called for an initiative against the public broadcast fee (Tagesspiegel 2018). Much academic work is still needed regarding the potential of referendum campaigns for populist mobilisation, and we are probably just at the beginning of this development. Such analyses always hinge on the available cases; referendums are relatively rare in Europe outside Switzerland. However, focusing on the level of the German states could be promising, as in future campaigns, populism could play a more prominent role. Finally, to analyse those mobilising factors for referendums in Germany in detail, there is a need for more individual data, which is almost non-existent for referendum campaigns.
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While Germany is often conceived as the “ideal type” militant democracy, until the emergence of the AfD in 2013, the absence of a successful right-wing populist party made it an exceptional case in Europe. Unlike most former targets of militant democracy, the AfD accepts rules of the liberal democracy. This raises the central question addressed in the article: How does the emergence of a populist right-wing party affect practices of German militant democracy? I argue that AfD opponents have developed an adapted militancy towards the right-wing populist party. Data on initiatives opposing the AfD between 2013 and 2021 show that AfD opponents use a full range of initiatives spanning both tolerant and intolerant modes of engagement. If the proportion of tolerant initiatives is somewhat unexpected, intolerant responses were progressively introduced. With the help of semi-structured interviews conducted with the authors of initiatives opposing the AfD, I argue that four factors help explain the developments of initiatives against the right-wing populist party: the radicalization of the AfD; the militant democratic legacy in Germany; the distribution of power among AfD opponents; and learning dynamics affecting political actors, public authorities, and civil society groups differently.
From the perspective of populist parties, the variety of crises might represent either a chance or a threat to their electoral success. Even if populists are often able to seize widespread insecurity and discontent with the political elites—two potential side effects of crises—there is hardly such a thing as an automatism between the existence of a crisis and the populist vote. However, as will be developed below, the populist set of ideas can hardly be separated from a narrative of crisis. Hence, this essay reflects on the state of populism in Western Europe from the perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis. It will reflect on the relationship between populism and crisis at a theoretical level, explore the electoral support for populists in the context of crises and analyse the effects of populists on party systems, mainly the strategies of mainstream parties.
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This article analyses the formal and lived organisation of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany). We show that the party is exceptional among what is usually understood as the populist radical right (PRR) party family, at least from an organisational perspective: The AfD sharply contradicts the "standard model" of PRR party organisation, which emphasises "charismatic" leadership and the centralisation of power as key features. Instead, studying the AfD's efforts to adopt some elements of a mass-party organisation and its relatively decentralised decision-making underlines the importance of "movement-party" strategy, collective leadership, and internal democracy-concepts that are usually associated with Green and left-wing parties. Our analysis shows how the party's organisation is essential for understanding its development more broadly as it reflects and reinforces sharp intra-party conflict. From this perspective, the case of the AfD sheds new light on the relationship between PRR party organisation and electoral success, indicating the importance of strong ties to parts of society over effective internal management as long as demand for anti-immigration parties is high. We conclude that even though AfD quickly built up a relatively inclusive organisational structure, the role of both its leadership and its rank-and-file is still a matter of controversy.
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Populist radical right (PRR) parties have increasingly occupied positions of power in recent years, inspiring much scholarly interest in the mainstreaming consequences of government responsibility. This article analyses the extent and manner of mainstreaming of the Rassemblement National (RN) while in power at the local level of government in France. A municipal-level focus enables the novel inclusion of the party into the debate about the consequences of government participation for the PRR. We conduct a paired case study analysis of RN-led Hénin-Beaumont, the political base of Marine Le Pen and her ‘de-demonization’ strategy, alongside nearby Lens, which is led by a mainstream party. We analyse the policy and discourse of the administration through a qualitative content analysis of mayoral statements and data from semi-structured interviews with local politicians. The results show a partial mainstreaming due to the strategic exercise of local government power to present a more moderate and capable image, as well as the use of populist discourse to frame mainstream opposition forces and the local press as working against the interests of ‘the people’.
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The article sheds light on one of the key developments in recent German politics and relates it to the broader debate on the electoral success of the far right. The rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) is also a story about Germany's internal political divide three decades after 'reunification' as the party is about twice as strong in the east than in the west. The article analyses the country's east-west divide, strongly visible in widespread sentiments of societal marginalization among eastern Germans. The key socio-structural differences between the east and the west relate to matters of economics, migration, and representation-and provide a setting suitable to AfD strength in the east. In explaining the party's electoral success in eastern Germany, the article echoes recent scholarship rejecting narrow explanations for the strength of 'populism', and instead highlights its multiple causes.
Rechtspopulismus, Rechtsextremismus und sogar Rechtsterrorismus sind in Europa heute längst wieder politische Realität. Fast überall hat sich die äußere Rechte in unterschiedlichen Formen und unterschiedlicher Stärke institutionalisiert, in einigen Ländern bestimmt sie die Regierungspolitik mit. Was macht die rechten Phänomene aus, und wie lässt sich ihr Bedeutungszuwachs erklären? Wie stellen sie sich in den einzelnen Ländern dar? Welche Rolle spielen das Internet und die sozialen Medien bei der Verbreitung des rechtsradikalen Gedankenguts? Und welche Strategien gibt es, den Gefahren von rechtsaußen zu begegnen? Um zumindest vorläufige Antworten darauf zu geben, versammelt der Band Beiträge aus verschiedenen Disziplinen. Als Nachfolger des in derselben Schriftenreihe erschienenen Werkes „Rechtspopulismus und Rechtsextremismus“ (Nomos Verlag, 2015) wurde er neu konzipiert, auf den aktuellen Stand gebracht und vor allem in den Länderrubriken stark erweitert. Mit Beiträgen von Philipp Adorf | Luca Argenta | Christoph Arndt | Eiríkur Bergmann | Alexander Berzel | Balázs Böcskei |Frank Decker | Aladin El-Mafaalani | Bernd Gäbler | Jens Gmeiner | Peter Graf Kielmansegg | Simona Guerra | Reinhard Heinisch | Anna-Sophie Heinze | Bernd Henningsen | Manfred Henningsen | Johannes Hillje | Christina Holtz-Bacha | Kjetil A. Jakobsen | Stijn van Kessel | Jörn Ketelhut | Claudia Lenz | Marcel Lewandowsky | Miroslav Mareš | Claudia Yvette Matthes | Michael May | Oscar Mazzoleni | Lazaros Miliopoulos | Peder Nustad | Isabelle-Christine Panreck | Bartek Pytlas | Olaf Reis | Dirk Rochtus | Wolfgang Schroeder | Jakob Schwörer | Roland Sturm | Bernhard Weßels | Elmar Wiesendahl | Anna-Lena Wilde-Krell | Martin Ziegenhagen.
Over recent decades, democracies have seen a decline in support for traditional political parties. In parallel, the vote shares of populist and other antiestablishment forces have increased dramatically, especially during the last decade. As maintained elsewhere, the latter development is the consequence of the former, with its negative consequences for the functioning of democracy. This article shows that only the regeneration of traditional parties, and not the banning, marginalization, or accommodation of antiestablishment ones, can tackle the problem at its root.
In recent years, with the events of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ and the transformation of the German Alternative for Germany (AfD) into an anti-migration party, the issue of migration has developed into a highly salient topic. That was not always the case. This novel analysis conducts a large comparative study of the influence of the AfD in the German federal states’ parliaments in the policy field of migration from 2011 to 2018 by using Wordscores to measure party positions from parliamentary debates. It contributes to a broader literature by connecting to both the methodological research on measuring party positions from texts and the research on the influence of radical right parties (RRPs) on party competition in the policy field of migration. The results of the analysis show that in most of the federal states, the entry of the AfD is followed by polarization of party competition. In many cases a greater convergence of the position of the mainstream parties with the AfD can be observed. In all cases, the AfD positions itself apart from the mainstream parties and significantly extends the political dimension in which the parties compete with each other.
Spain and Portugal have long been considered exceptions when it comes to the electoral success of radical right-wing parties in Europe. This scenario changed for both countries in 2019, with the extraordinary rise of Vox in Spain and the comparatively more modest election of one representative of Chega in Portugal. Their emergence – and the stark difference in the extents of their success – provides researchers with an ideal ‘edge-case’ and can be explained via a theoretical model that builds on and fuses previous explanatory models for radical right success. The Iberian cases demonstrate that radical right parties succeed when they (i) avoid the stigma of extremism, (ii) benefit from a gap in political supply on the right and (iii) cater to an unsatiated demand of voters on a salient sociocultural issue. While both countries had long been home to marginal far-right political forces, the stigma of extremism prevented them from being considered credible political alternatives. The appearance of new parties that emerged as a result of splits from the mainstream centre-right, in both cases reflecting a beleaguered political supply, gave the radical right an opportunity to avoid stigma, as we demonstrate through a news content analysis. However, whereas in Spain Vox could profit from both the Catalan independence challenge and the uptick in salience of immigration, which had previously been anomalously low in Iberia, Chega has not (yet) benefited from a similarly ripe political opportunity structure in Portugal.
Challenger parties are on the rise in Europe, exemplified by the likes of Podemos in Spain, the National Rally in France, the Alternative for Germany, or the Brexit Party in Great Britain. Like disruptive entrepreneurs, these parties offer new policies and defy the dominance of established party brands. In the face of these challenges and a more volatile electorate, mainstream parties are losing their grip on power. In this book, Catherine De Vries and Sara Hobolt explore why some challenger parties are so successful and what mainstream parties can do to confront these political entrepreneurs. Drawing analogies with how firms compete, De Vries and Hobolt demonstrate that political change is as much about the ability of challenger parties to innovate as it is about the inability of dominant parties to respond. Challenger parties employ two types of innovation to break established party dominance: they mobilize new issues, such as immigration, the environment, and Euroscepticism, and they employ antiestablishment rhetoric to undermine mainstream party appeal. Unencumbered by government experience, challenger parties adapt more quickly to shifting voter tastes and harness voter disenchantment. Delving into strategies of dominance versus innovation, the authors explain why European party systems have remained stable for decades, but also why they are now increasingly under strain. As challenger parties continue to seek to disrupt the existing order, Political Entrepreneurs shows that their ascendency fundamentally alters government stability and democratic politics.
This book examines and explains the behaviour of mainstream political parties towards the party ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) in German state parliaments. It develops a typology of parliamentary response options towards populist radical right parties and reconstructs party responses towards the AfD on the basis of this. It also analyses data from interviews, parliamentary documents and media articles, and shows that dealing with the AfD is a continuous learning process, which depends above all on the behaviour of the AfD itself. All in all, the study offers numerous points of reference for both academic discourse and political practice.