In the literature, explanations of support for populist radical right (PRR) parties usually focus on voters’ socio-structural grievances, political discontent or policy positions. This article suggests an additional and possibly overarching explanation: societal pessimism. The central argument is that the nostalgic character of PRR ideology resonates with societal pessimism among its voters. Using European Social Survey data from 2012, the study compares levels of societal pessimism among PRR, radical left, mainstream left and mainstream right (MR) voters in eight European countries. The results show that societal pessimism is distributed in a tilted U-curve, with the highest levels indeed observed among PRR voters, followed by radical left voters. Societal pessimism increases the chance of a PRR vote (compared to a MR vote) controlling for a range of established factors. Further analyses show that societal pessimism is the only attitude on which MR and PRR voters take opposite, extreme positions. Finally, there is tentative evidence that societal pessimism is channelled through various more specific ideological positions taken by PRR voters, such as opposition to immigration.

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West European Politics
Department of Sociology

Steenvoorden, E. (Eefje), & Harteveld, E. (Eelco). (2017). The appeal of nostalgia: the influence of societal pessimism on support for populist radical right parties. West European Politics, 1–25. doi:10.1080/01402382.2017.1334138