German extreme Right parties have increased their political and electoral significance in recent years, in particular through some considerable regional successes in the East. However, in spite of noticeable nation-wide gains by the NPD in the Bundestag election, the extreme Right suffered from another defeat. Looking at the interplay of supply side and demand side factors, the article examines the transformations and continuities of extreme Right parties within the German party system, their performance in the 2005 general election, and the reasons for their ongoing national electoral failure. While extreme Right parties benefit from more favorable conditions related to increased voter volatility, new public issues and new cleavage structures, these parties also continuously face crucial difficulties, especially on the supply side: the cordon sanitaire is still intact, and new cleavages in relation to globalization are more convincingly and effectively utilized by left-wing competitors. The main obstacle, though, are the extreme Right agents themselves. Incorporating Zeitgeist issues, they nevertheless remain unable to actually modernize their agenda. The present and future challenge to liberal democracy may be a new level of cooperation between extreme Right parties and consolidated "informal" right-wing extremist subcultures in Eastern regional strongholds.
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Despite several breakthroughs that indicate radical right parties' significant electoral potential, they remain highly volatile players in both Poland and eastern Germany. This is puzzling because radical right competitors can benefit from favorable politico-cultural conditions shaped by postcommunist legacies. The electoral markets in Poland and the eastern German Länder show low levels of affective party identification and low levels of political trust in mainstream parties and government institutions. Most importantly, there is a sizeable, yet largely unrepresented segment of voters who share salient counter-cosmopolitan preferences. They point to a “silent counterrevolution“ against globalization and cosmopolitan value change that displays substantive affinities to radical right ideology. Offering a transborder regional comparison of the four most relevant radical right parties and their conditions for electoral mobilization in Poland and eastern Germany, this article argues that the radical right's crossnational volatility-and often underperformance-in elections is mainly caused by internal supply side factors. They range from organizational deficiencies, leadership issues, and internal feuds, to strategic failures and a lack of democratic responsiveness. In turn, the disequilibrium between counter-cosmopolitan demand and its political representation is likely to be reduced if radical right competitors become more effective agents of electoral mobilization-or new, better organized ones emerge.
While still vastly underrepresented and lagging behind political representation in several other European democracies, more ethnic minorities and immigrants have entered the German Bundestag in 2013 than ever before. This is one of several indicators of Germany's political departure from hegemonic ethnic self-understandings, signaling the nation's complicated, partly still-contested evolution towards political self-conceptions as a “country of immigration.” A significant unanswered question is how and how far this process, which can be conceived as cosmopolitanization, has transformed party politics. This article examines the scope and causes of cosmopolitanization in three dimensions of German party politics after the 2013 Bundestag election: political discourse and programmatic positions on immigration, citizenship, identity, and ethno-cultural diversity; the policy regime of mainstream parties on immigration and the inclusion of ethnic minorities; and the fielding of minority candidates for national public office. It is argued that a belated postethnic cosmopolitanization of German party politics is primarily caused by transformed demographic realities, value change, and new electoral demands. Mainstream political parties—including the center right—have been reluctant but ultimately rational strategic agents reacting to these transformations in the electoral market. Yet, the scope and character of cosmopolitanization also depends on external and internal supply side conditions that enable parties to make programmatic changes, depolarize key issues of the immigration and citizenship policy regime, and recruit ethnic minorities for political representation. In European comparative perspective, the German case may serve as a model for theorizing the cosmopolitanization of party politics.
Radical Right-Wing Populists in Parliament
Examining the Alternative for Germany in European Context
Founded just five years ago, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) represents the biggest opposition party in the German parliament. This article addresses three questions in European comparative perspective: What is the nature of the AfD as a relevant political party in the Bundestag? What ex plains its rise and popularity? What is the party’s behavior and impact in parliament, and on German politics in general? Examining platforms, the article first identifies programmatic and ideological shifts that have turned the AfD from a single issue anti-Euro party into the first radical right-wing (populist) party in parliament since the Nazi era. Second, voter analyses suggest that the AfD’s political radicalization has not undermined but increased its appeal. Third, the robust electoral support for radical positions makes it likely that the party seeks to further deepen political conflicts. Behavior in parliament shows that the party follows its European counterparts’ polarizing strategic orientations, reinforcing the Europeanization of a nativist sociocultural “counter-revolution.”
Piero Ignazi, Extreme Right Parties in Western Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
Cas Mudde, The Ideology of the Extreme Right (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003)
Martin Schain, Aristide Zolberg, and Patrick Hossay, eds., Shadows over Europe: The Development and Impact of the Extreme Right in Western Europe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)
Divided We Stand
An Analysis of the Enduring Political East-West Divide in Germany Thirty Years After the Wall's Fall
Germany continues to face an inter-regional political divide between the East and the West three decades after unification. Most strikingly, this divide is expressed in different party systems. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany and the left-wing populist Left Party are considerably more successful in the eastern regions, while German centrist parties perform worse (and shrink faster at the ballot-box) than in the West. The article discusses empirical evidence of this resilient yet puzzling political divide and explores three main clusters of explanatory factors: The after-effects of the German Democratic Republic's authoritarian past and its politico-cultural legacies, translating into distinct value cleavage configurations alongside significantly weaker institutional trust and more wide-spread skepticism towards democracy in the East; continuous, even if partly reduced inter-regional socioeconomic divisions and varying economic, social and political opportunities; and populist parties and movements acting as political entrepreneurs who construct and politically reinforce the East-West divide. It is argued that only the combination of these factors helps understand the depth and origins of the lasting divide.
The Pandemic Factor
The COVID-19 Crisis in the Alternative for Germany's 2021 Federal Election Campaign
Lars Rensmann and Thijs de Zee
This article examines how and why the covid-19 pandemic featured as a central issue in the Alternative for Germany's 2021 Bundestag election campaign. Using a wide range of political communication tools, the radical right party's opposition to public health policies against the pandemic ranged from a critique of hygienic measures to hosting coronavirus denialism and conspiracy myths suggesting that “the elite” had manufactured “corona hysteria” to subjugate the German people. Mirroring its general radicalization process toward an anti-system movement party, the AfD's campaign primarily gave voice to an ideologically driven, conspiracist, and authoritarian-nationalist core electorate, which has its center of gravity in the East. In the environment of an emerging “pandemic divide,” the party also sought to appeal to a robust minority of corona skeptics. More generally, the AfD's campaign points to the still underresearched role of science denialism and conspiracy myths in radical right mobilizations of a counterfactual age.