The 2008-2013 Economic Crisis in Europe: Extreme Right-Wing and Center Right Party Competition on the Salience of Immigration

by James F. Downes (The University of Hong Kong, Visiting Scholar at EUAP HK)
Matthew Loveless (CeRSP)


This paper examines the context of the 2008-2013 economic crisis and the party competition between extreme right-wing and mainstream center right parties in Europe around the immigration issue in national parliamentary elections. This paper tests two rival models in the issue based voting literature that comprise positional (spatial) alongside salience models and draws on an original aggregate level dataset (2005-2012) in order to examine the electoral success of both party families around the issue of immigration. The paper finds that the salience of immigration provided an electorally successful party strategy, with mainstream center right parties benefiting significantly from emphasizing the salience of immigration and increasing their electoral vote share considerably. Surprisingly, the paper finds that whilst extreme right-wing parties did benefit from emphasizing the issue of immigration in the context of the economic crisis, this was weaker than center right parties. General patterns of electoral volatility were also found, with incumbent and center left parties across Europe losing out electorally in the economic crisis. Therefore, this paper shows the resilience of center right parties in having the potential to ‘own’ the issue of immigration during times of economic crisis.