The Reverse Trump Effect: EU Populist Movements After Trump Took Office
Germany's state elections in Saarland and the Dutch general elections show that the fear of right-wing populism was, if not unfounded, certainly slightly unreasonable. Even more so, polls suggest that after gaining momentum through the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, Europe's right-wing populist movements have actually lost their attraction after he took office.
The following poll results before and after Trump started governing from the Netherlands, Germany, and France make clear that populist parties in the EU are suffering from a negative Trump effect. The voters seem to realize that a slim agenda with few concrete policy aims and protections measures come with a prize they have to be willing to pay. The Dutch elections were the first in the EU where the fear of a populist party in the government led to high voter turnout and a strong message against populism. This was followed by a sigh of relief all over Europe.
In October 2016 the polls for the ruling party VVD (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy) lay at 27%, equal to the populist opponent PVV (Party for Freedom). The election results of March 2017 turned the tide with 33% for the VVD and 20% for the populist PVV.
The regional German elections in Saarland showed in the polls of November 2016 37% for the ruling CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany) and 9% for the populist party Afd (Alternative for Germany). The final results in the elections in March 2017 were 41% for the CDU and 6% for the Afd.
Elections to Come
The first round of the 2017 French presidential elections will take place on 23 April 2017. In November 2016 Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) gained 15% in opinion polls, François Fillon (the Republicans) 20%, and Marine Le Pen (National Front) 29%. In March 2017 poll results show a rise of Macron with 26%, and a drop both for Fillon and Le Pen with 17% and 25%, respectively.
For the German general elections, which will take place on 24 September 2017, the opinion polls of October 2016 show 32% for Prime Minister Angela Merkel's CDU and 13% for the populist Afd. For March 2017 the poll results are 33% for the CDU and 9-11% for the Afd depending on the poll.
Listen to the People
The drop in the polls for the populist parties in the Netherlands, Germany, and France show that, for one, what works for the United States does not necessarily work in the EU. And second, that the actual governing of Trump led to a wake-up call for the EU, for frustrated voters attracted by populist parties as well as for the ruling parties to listen again to the people's wishes and concerns. The aim should be to be less surprised from less successful election results for populist parties but to deliver clear messages and policy strategies and be better prepared to react to the voice of the people.
Mirijam Koch, M.A., is a doctoral candidate at the John-F.-Kennedy-Institute ,Free University of Berlin, and holds a scholarship from the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk e.V. She works at the Aspen Institute Germany as Program Officer, the opinions are her own.