Support for Europe’s far right on the rise

Image © John Lucas

John Lucas

A new study of Facebook users across Europe has revealed growing support for right-wing, anti-immigration and anti-Islam movements.  The survey of over 10,000 users, carried out by the think tank Demos, found that supporters of populist groups far outnumber official members and represent a hidden political demographic creeping up on the mainstream’s blindside.

The majority of the respondents were young men, often students or unemployed.  They believe immigration and multiculturalism pose a threat to national identity and they deeply distrust their national governments and the establishment.  The findings are particularly surprising because it is usually assumed that older people are more negative about immigration issues and the young are more tolerant.

Although many of the respondents described themselves as democrats and said that they had recently voted for their respective parties, many of them showed little faith in their country’s political and criminal justice systems and 26% said that “violence is acceptable if it leads to the right ends”.

However, the study did find that online activists who also took part in real-world political activities such as voting, demonstrating and party activism were more positive about democracy and the political system and much less inclined towards violence.  This, the report concludes, is evidence that political engagement with the right-wing fringe is important and that the mainstream should continue to “debate forcefully with these parties and their supporters, not shut them out as beyond the pale.”

The report’s main author, Jamie Bartlett, said that “young men across Europe, feeling let down by their politicians and traditional parties, are turning their sympathies to populist groups.  It’s easy to miss this simmering discontent as many sympathisers aren’t official party members, but our investigation exposes the high level of support these groups have across Europe.”

The study comes just over three months after Danish extremist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people during a day of bombings and shootings.  Breivik professed his support for a number of right-wing groups including the English Defence League (EDL), the Austrian Freedom Party and the Dutch Freedom Party before going on the rampage.  There is no suggestion that any of the survey’s participants hold similarly murderous intentions, but Bartlett says that the report “should make politicians sit up and listen.”  Populist groups thrive when people feel their government is not listening and Bartlett argues that “taking their concerns seriously and restoring confidence in civic institutions must be part of any response to this growing disaffection.”

Most of the respondents were identified as supporters of the following European right-wing parties: Bloc Identitaire (France), the British National Party (UK), Casa Pound (Italy), the Danish People’s Party (Denmark), the English Defence League (UK), the Front National (France), the Dutch Freedom Party (the Netherlands), Die Freiheit (Germany), the Austrian Freedom Party (Austria), the Norwegian Progress Party (Norway), Lega Nord (Italy), the True Finns (Finland), the Sweden Democrats (Sweden), and Vlaams Belang (Belgium).

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