Although the over-representation of working-class members among the electorates of Extreme Right Parties (ERPs) in Western Europe is well documented, previous studies have usually explained this pattern as a result of this voter group's changing political preferences. In contrast to these studies, this article argues that it is not the changing political preferences of the working class that lead them to vote for ERPs, but changes in the supply side of party competition that have caused the re-orientation of these voters from left-wing parties toward the extreme right. Differentiating between an economic and a cultural dimension of party competition, it is shown that both the policy options offered by parties to voters as the salience of the two issue-dimensions have changed dramatically over the last three decades. While the salience of economic issues as well as of party system polarization among these issues have declined in most Western European countries, the very opposite trend can be identified for non-economic issues, including the core issues of ERPs (for example, immigration, and law-and-order). These changes on the supply side of party competition cause working-class voters to base their vote decisions solely on their authoritarian, non-economic preferences and not – as in the past – on their left-wing economic demands. The theoretical assumptions are tested empirically with data from the Eurobarometer Trend File for the period from 1980 to 2002. In contexts where the economic dimension is more polarized or more salient than the cultural dimension, the positive impact of being a member of the working class on the vote decision for an ERP is significantly reduced.
- Extreme Right Parties
- party competition
- voting behavior
- working-class authoritarianism