Ways to Wilders: Who votes for the PVV?

Written by Ellen Halliday on . Posted in Current publications, Publications

‘Wegen Naar Wilders’ (‘Ways to Wilders’) is a book by Koen Damhuis, a PhD candidate in the SPS Department. The recently published volume, in which Damhuis aims to develop a typology of Party for Freedom (PVV) support in the Netherlands, is a ‘public-friendly version’ of the Dutch section of his thesis. Eight chapters reveal the results from eight ‘life history’ interviews with PVV voters – just a snapshot of Damhuis’ overall fieldwork. Through each story, the reader gains insight into how an individual came to vote for the party. Like a game of ‘join the dots’, the connections between each ‘life history’ create a general image of the Dutch radical right. The book ends with an essay by Damhuis in which he connects the diverse demands of PVV voters with the discourse strategy and policy proposal emerging from the party itself.

There are many routes to becoming a PVV voter

Damhuis uses his interviewees to show that ‘there is not one single voter.’ From café owners to truck drivers, conductors and conspiracy theorists ‘who are so completely off the map they can hardly be classified,’ Damhuis explained that PVV voters are not all the same. ‘Not only in terms of social backgrounds but also when it comes to their policy preferences and political sophistication,’ he added.

According to Damhuis’ enquiry, the three pillars of the PVV’s support base are the ‘hard-done-bys’, the ‘contributionists’, and the ‘radical conservatives’. ‘Though within each there are many variations,’ he added. In short, the ‘hard-done-bys’ generally stem from the poorer parts of Dutch society. They resent both the migrants below them, with whom they compete for work, welfare state services and shelter, and the political elite above who assist these newcomers through policy.

Among this group, Damhuis identified ‘street-level bureaucrats’: the public face of the state, such as policemen and nurses, who are confronted with migrants in daily professional life, without getting support and recognition from managers, who they perceive as too distant and clueless. ‘This group offers significant support to the radical right in the Netherlands and in France,’ Damhuis told EUI Times.

This tripartite understanding of society is a crucial component of Damhuis’ book. The idea of the PVV voter being squeezed between migrants below and the elite above, ‘is key,’ to understanding the motivation of many PVV voters, he told EUI Times, ‘especially because it overlaps with the structure of the discourse that Wilders propagates.’

Of the other groups, the grievance of the ‘contributionists’ in Damhuis’ model is not so much that they receive too little, but rather that they ‘give too much,’ especially through the taxes they pay. Dutch ‘contributionists’, mainly be found among small business owners and ‘self-made’ employees in the private sector, resent establishment politicians in Brussels and the Hague (the elite, above) for transferring their tax money to ‘lazy Greeks’ or migrants who would only be interested in ‘their money’, said Damhuis.

Meanwhile, the ‘radical conservative’ grouping, who represent well-educated and often wealthy right-wing voters, view observe the same structure but with more distance. They are likely to refer to the loss of ‘Dutch values’ and ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ due to the influence of the Islam. ‘You would never hear such abstract and ideological arguments from voters corresponding to the first and second type of PVV support,’ Damhuis told EUI Times.

Yet, according to Damhuis, these varied PVV voters have found different rationales and reasons to vote for Wilders, which all ultimately fit within the same overarching narrative of ‘the Netherlands first’. This is a narrative that developed along a two-way street. ‘Electoral ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ are intrinsically interwoven,’ Damhuis explained. ‘On the one hand, voters necessarily ‘tune in’ their wishes and interests to the existing offer of political parties,’ he said. ‘On the other hand, political entrepreneurs are involved in a permanent battle to win the public’s favour. They have to give voice to the latent predispositions, incoherent experiences and slumbering convictions of their potential supporters.’

‘By being against a lot of things, from multicultural elites to taxes, and from the euro to budget cuts on welfare state services, they favour an absolute consensus for the ‘ordinary Dutchman’. They can offer things that appeal to groups on the left and right,’ he said.

Those who don’t understand Dutch will have to wait until Damhuis completes his doctoral thesis in English to read the research in full. Until then, Wegen Naar Wilders (Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers, 2017) is available online and in Dutch bookshops.

Koen Damhuis is a PhD candidate in the Department of Social and Political Sciences. Previously, he studied political sociology at the Sorbonne in Paris and French literature and administration at the University of Utrecht.

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