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What’s behind the surprising far right win in the Netherlands

Wilders’ reliance on floating voters will shape his coalition and governing prospects.

- November 23, 2023

The far right Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, recorded a shock win in the Dutch elections yesterday. The graph illustrates just how surprising the size of the victory was. The PVV has won between 10 and 15 percent of the vote in Dutch elections since 2010. Until late last week, opinion polls suggested that is where the party would end up. In less than a week the PVV managed to double its support.

The surprise is likely not the result of polling mishaps. The polls picked up a big surge in  PVV support in the days leading up to the election. Pollsters also reported that around half the Dutch electorate had not yet finalized their choice among the many options on the large menu of Dutch political parties.

In recent years, the large number of “floating voters” have led to a fair share of electoral surprises. In 2019, the far right Forum for Democracy (FvD), led by Thierry Baudet, won the Dutch provincial elections. They now have 2% of the vote. Earlier this year, the Farmer-Citizen movement (BBB) won the provincial elections and became the largest party in the Dutch senate. They got less than 4% in the parliamentary elections. Earlier this week, I wrote about Pieter Omtzigt’s New Social Contract (NSC) party, which led in the polls until last week but ended up a distant fourth in the elections.

All of this suggests that about half of the PVV support comes from “floating voters” who may not be fully committed to the full range of the PVV’s very extreme party platform, which includes banning the Quran, mosques, and Islamic schools, reintroducing work permits for European Union citizens, holding a referendum on leaving the European Union, a halt to immigration, ending climate change policies, and bringing back “Black Pete.”

This reliance on floating voters matters a lot. Wilders said in his election victory speech that he would be willing to compromise in order to govern. The Farmer-Citizen movement has already indicated their willingness to participate, which matters especially for the senate. But to get a majority in parliament Wilders also needs support from the NSC (Omtzigt) and the right-wing People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which has been the largest government party since 2010.

Omtzigt said before the elections that he would not govern with Wilders, although he was more vague about this immediately after hearing the election results. The VVD leader, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, opened the door to governing with the PVV during the election campaign, although she later said that she would not want to be in a cabinet with Wilders as its prime minister.

The other parties can’t immediately deny Wilders after such a massive victory. He will be afforded an opportunity to form a coalition government. Whether he will succeed in forming a coalition and whether that coalition will govern for long is another matter. There is little trust between Wilders and the other leaders, who will seize the opportunity to force new elections the moment they think they can capture the PVV’s floating voters for themselves.