Populism bewildered

The Dutch election has been closely followed abroad, as it is the home of a growing populist party in the form of the Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders. As such, it is a barometer of support for the European Union. So what do the results tell us?

 

The Freedom Party has indeed gained support and won five seats. This makes it the second largest party in the Dutch parliament. Geert Wilders will be the main voice in the opposition, as there is little chance the Freedom Party will actually be part of the new government (as explained in a previous blog on the Dutch election). However, there was relief from the other political party leaders, as they feared the Freedom Party becoming the largest party, something that still looked realistic up to a few weeks ago.

 

The Liberals of Prime Minister Rutte (VVD) remain the largest party with 33 seats. Despite having lost eight seats compared to the previous election in 2012, it is hailed as a victory as polls indicated a larger loss. Overall the political centre wins, as the incumbent Labour party (PvdA) is decimated, while other parties on the political left (mainly the Socialists (SP) and the Greens (GL)) have not been able to pick up all those seats. One of the reasons why Labour has lost so much ground is that it wasn't perceived to be left enough in government.

 

Pollsters may still not be very accurate in their predictions, but we cannot just assume that there is always a large hidden populist vote 

 

As a consequence, the new government will consist of at least four parties and will optically be moving to the right. A coalition of four parties is unheard of in Dutch politics, but a consensus approach is not. So, for the outside world the Dutch political landscape will not change much. The Dutch will remain a loyal supporter of the European Union, while staying a friend to the UK in the Brexit negotiations.

 

But how did the pollsters do in predicting this election outcome? Brexit wasn't expected by the polls, while Trump also won against the odds. The chart below shows the seat gain and loss prediction in the final poll before election day (compared to the previous election in 2012) and the 'hidden' vote from the election outcome not captured in this poll. It shows that the Liberals won the 'surprise' vote, not the Freedom Party. There was not a hidden populist vote, but the traditional prime minister bonus prevailed, perhaps exacerbated by the recent diplomatic spat with Turkey.

 

 

Pollsters have been ridiculed since Brexit and Trump (even though the results were not that far from the usual margin of error). As a consequence, financial markets may have attached a higher probability to a Geert Wilders win in the Netherlands and may still attach one to a Le Pen win in France. What the Dutch election shows is that pollsters may still not be very accurate in their predictions, but we cannot just assume that there is a large hidden populist vote in each election or referendum.

 

 
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