The hidden catalyst behind the rise of the unconventional right in Europe’s depopulated regions

At the start of the spring, the European Parliament voted for a revision his immigration policy to distribute responsibility for coping with the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers more evenly among the many Member States.

In the main points, nonetheless, there are provisions that allow payments to 3rd countries to stop asylum seekers from entering Europe – and, what’s much more threatening, initial plans for mass deportations.

Apparently, the dominant parties within the EU are usually not listening to the steps of the anti-immigration, right-wing populist partiesthat are There are more likely to be significant gains within the EU Parliament elections 6-9 June 2024, and seek to scale back their attractiveness by imposing stricter restrictions on those allowed to settle in Europe.

The idea of ​​winning back voters by taking a tricky stance on immigration policy is attractive to the established parties. Scientist of comparative politics and political behaviorwe imagine that this strategy is not going to bring many votes.

Younger voters are leaving rural areas

While it is usually assumed that the electoral success of right-wing extremist parties as a result of a backlash against newcomersAll this concentrate on immigration obscures one other powerful force behind this trend: emigration, the movement of individuals away from a region or country.

In a recently published studyOur research team found that within the mid-2010s there was a correlation between emigration from 28 European countries and a rise in votes for right-wing populist parties.

A sign at a German protest rally reads “Never again 1933.”
On January 20, 2024, people gather in Frankfurt am Main to protest against the far-right party Alternative for Germany and right-wing extremism. The sign reads “Never again 1933”, a reference to the 12 months the Nazis got here to power.
AP Photo/Michael Probst

The migration follows a widely known trend worldwide. As countries grow to be post-industrial economies, younger generations leave rural areas and small towns and move to larger cities to seek out higher educational and profession opportunities. This phenomenon is especially widespread in Spain, which 28% of the agricultural population lost within the last 50 years. Faced with similar declines, Italy recently resorted to Paying people to maneuver to the emptying villages.

Counties across the United States are also experiencing sudden population decline This is as a result of a mixture of low birth rates and emigration.

But while many individuals are aware of the economic consequences of this population exodus, its impact on voters is much less researched.

Rise of the unconventional right in Sweden

The example of Sweden shows how right-wing populists can make the most of emigration. From 2000 to 2020, the country’s immigrant population was increased from 11% to almost 20%During this era, greater than half of all Swedish municipalities experienced a population decline when people moved to the country's big cities, Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg.

Sweden, which has long been dominated by centrist and centre-left politics, can be experiencing a remarkable party-political change.

The country's oldest and largest party, the Social Democratic Party, has experienced a gradual decline in popularity. Meanwhile, the populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, once considered a fringe group, with a fascist pastmade significant profits and now have one fifth of the seats within the national parliament.

The result was that the country is now governed by a center-right minority coalition that relies on the support of radical right-wing populists.

Although immigration is a key political issue for the Sweden Democrats, our research has found that support for the party is growing in areas which might be relatively unaffected by immigration. In fact, taking a look at elections over twenty years, we’ve found that the unconventional right has made large gains especially in municipalities which have lost population.

In addition, local immigration was a much smaller think about this success in comparison with local emigration. In monitoring five election periods, we found that for each one percent of the local population lost, the Sweden Democrats saw a sustained half-percentage point increase in votes—a remarkable pace over the long run.

Political trends in depopulated regions

Two key forces explain this dynamic. First, so many Studies have shownPeople moving from the periphery to the cities are inclined to lean more to the left. As they move away, the remaining voting pool naturally incorporates a bigger proportion of conservatives than before. But the composition of the electorate is barely a part of the story.

In Sweden, people walk past election posters.
People walk past election posters of the Swedish Social Democrats ahead of the European elections on May 20, 2024 in Stockholm.
Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

The political leanings of voters in depopulated regions also modified, from centre-left to populist right, with emigration playing a key role. As communities lose increasingly of their working population, they experience a decline in public services – each as a result of falling population numbers and a shrinking tax base. As a result, schools and hospitals are closing, public transport is being curtailed and native businesses are closing.

In addition to those deteriorations in the standard of life, living in a spot that so many individuals are leaving creates a sense of Loss of status amongst those that stay. Our interviews with top Social Democrat politicians showed how local mayors felt they were combating a “collective depression”.

One mayor noted, “We like it here. But then someone from outside comes and says that anyone who lives here is a failure… So we are fighting against the public perception of what makes a successful person. We have to constantly work on the psychology of the community's residents.”

At the identical time, disappointment with the established parties provides fertile ground that right-wing radical parties can exploit.

Quality of life decreases

While centrist politicians could also be forced to adopt an anti-immigration stance in response, they risk alienating their base by copying the rhetoric of right-wing extremist parties.

Furthermore, we imagine that cracking down on immigration is more likely to prove an ineffective political strategy in the long term. The Sweden Democrats' success in depopulating regions is partly a protest against the political establishment.

But once in office, and without clear solutions to the economic losses and deterioration of local quality of life attributable to emigration, party officials are more likely to face the identical voter discontent that’s fueling their current success.

Ironically, the forces which have increased the appeal of the far right's anti-immigrant ideologies – falling birth rates, labor shortages, and an absence of latest businesses and services – may be most effectively countered by increased immigration.

By following the instance of the suitable and tightening the boundaries, parties closer to the centre could force the industrialised nations right into a political vicious spiral.

Instead, centrist parties may conclude that it pays more to focus attention on tackling the causes of population decline and restoring public services in peripheral areas.

There are some examples of this already happening. In recent years, Swedish governments have National Support System for local business services, resembling grocery stores, in vulnerable and distant locations. In 2021 announced a plan price $11.9 billion goals to deal with the dearth of 5G phone connections and technologically smart cities in rural areas.

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development has now 100 billion US dollars for efforts to support rural areas in its 2021-2027 budget.

Such measures could counteract a somewhat paradoxical trend that sees fiercely anti-immigration parties gaining ground in places where immigration is least prevalent.

Whatever the case, as parties in Europe and the US prepare for crucial elections this 12 months, it’s crucial to know the complex interplay between demographic changes and political dynamics. Equally essential is the popularity that emigration, often overshadowed by immigration rhetoric, is a key think about the rise of the unconventional right.

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