Comment on the Dutch Election

Published March 22, 2017

It turns out that Mark Rutte’s center-right Peoples Party did slightly better than the exit poll indicated, 33 seats (versus 31). So did Geert Wilders’ populist-right Party of Freedom, 20 (versus 19).

Rutte’s surprisingly strong showing relative to the pre-election polling of the prior several months, resulted from Rutte’s brilliant co-opting of some of Wilder’s appeal. Rutte used a squabble with Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to present himself as a champion of the Dutch people. We saw such a maneuver by Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2015 Isreali parliamentary election, where he cannibalized the parties to his right to secure a strong first place showing.

Rutte is in a very good position regarding forming a governing coalition. I presume the center-right Christian Democrats, with 19 seats, will join, giving him 52 seats and leaving him 24 seats from a majority. Rutte has indicated that he would like a four-party coalition of the center; e.g., also with Democracy 66, a social-liberal party, and the Christian Union, a centrist party. But, the formation of any coalition would depend on what demands prospective partners make. Wilders has suggested an alternative coalition of the center-right, populist-right and Christian parties, which gives Rutte bargaining power.

While the election results were very favorable to Rutte, the evolution of voter sentiment since the last election (see chart) is also interesting. First, the country has shifted several points to the right. Also, within the right, the populist-right has increased support.

On the left, the center-left – represented by Labor – has collapsed; and, progressives, the Green-Left and Socialists have risen to take its place. We also see the rise of special interest parties. This is happening worldwide, albeit unevenly.

The left is losing its appeal with the working class (which is shifting to the right). Increasingly, the political spectrum is the producers versus the moochers and the looters, lead by the progressive-left. The western democracies are in a different political struggle than they were just a few years ago.