Why borders vote for the right-wing?

By Javid Ibad, Research Associate at the Sen Foundation


The rise of right-wing populist parties and movements is not new in Europe. Right-wing populists got parliamentary representation in the majority of EU member states. In Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and other states, right-wing populists made it to the government as coalition partners. In the Netherlands, France, Austria, and the Czech Republic, right-wing populists got more votes from constituencies located in the national border areas. In my case study of the Netherlands, border residents voted for the Freedom Party (PVV) by 3.5% more than non-border residents. This is a significant difference for the Netherlands which has a quite fragmented multi-party parliamentary system where 0.67% of votes are enough to get a seat. Central governments try to include the maximal number of citizens in their distribution policies. This leads to dissatisfaction among border residents, as they have different preferences over the distribution of public goods. But why do these differences exist? There are five reasons for this phenomenon:

I. Border residents are poorer. Residents of border municipalities have lower economic success, higher unemployment rates, and more low-income households. The median standard income among border residents is lower than their non-border counterparts by a thousand euro.

II. Border residents are older. While the young adult population (25-45) are underrepresented in border areas, older age groups are overrepresented. Young adults are least likely to vote for right-wing populists, while older age groups show an opposite inclination.

III. Borders have more low-skilled blue-collar workers. Border municipalities have a higher number of residents employed in industrial and energy facilities. At the same time, border municipalities have a lower number of residents employed in commercial services. The literature on right-wing populist parties suggests that employees of commercial services tend to support mainstream political parties, while blue-collar workers have a higher probability to support right-wing populists.

IV. Border municipalities have fewer migrants of non-Western descent. Even though the residents of Dutch borders support anti-immigration policies, non-Western immigration is not prevalent. Scholars found an explanation for it, by proving that the higher the contacts between migrants and locals, the fewer locals support right-wing populists. The Freedom Party, just like any other right-wing populist party, speculates on the migrant issue by creating the image that migrants are a threat.

V. Border residents developed a shared identity. Border municipalities experience socio-economic deprivation combined with a ‘brain drain’ of the young adult population to urban centers. Including dissatisfaction with the distribution of public goods, border residents developed a shared identity of dissatisfaction which results in higher popularity of the Freedom Party.


The Freedom Party (PVV) success in the Dutch General Elections (2017). Warmer municipalities (yellow, orange, red) got at least 15% of vote. Electoral maps for other countries can be found within the link below.

For more information, please refer to the following publication: Right-wing populism support in the Dutch nationals borders by Javid Ibad.