Was the Bradley effect at work in Geert Wilders’ big night?

The big story out of yesterday’s Dutch elections was the success of Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam, anti-immigration Freedom Party.  The party nearly tripled its seats in parliament going from 9 to 24 and will likely be invited to join a coalition government by the overall winner, the center-right Liberal Party. Wilders did significantly better than was ...

ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images
ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images
ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images

The big story out of yesterday's Dutch elections was the success of Geert Wilders' anti-Islam, anti-immigration Freedom Party.  The party nearly tripled its seats in parliament going from 9 to 24 and will likely be invited to join a coalition government by the overall winner, the center-right Liberal Party. Wilders did significantly better than was indicated by pre-election polls, which had him finighing the night with only 18 seats. Many commentators see the infamous Bradley effect at work

"The fact that Wilders' Freedom Party gained more than pre-election polls had forecast could be partly explained by voters being reluctant to admit they will vote for a controversial candidate due to social desirability reasons," said Alfred Pijpers, a senior political researcher at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

The phenomenon is known as the Bradley effect, after Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles mayor who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite being ahead in voter polls.

The big story out of yesterday’s Dutch elections was the success of Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam, anti-immigration Freedom Party.  The party nearly tripled its seats in parliament going from 9 to 24 and will likely be invited to join a coalition government by the overall winner, the center-right Liberal Party. Wilders did significantly better than was indicated by pre-election polls, which had him finighing the night with only 18 seats. Many commentators see the infamous Bradley effect at work

"The fact that Wilders’ Freedom Party gained more than pre-election polls had forecast could be partly explained by voters being reluctant to admit they will vote for a controversial candidate due to social desirability reasons," said Alfred Pijpers, a senior political researcher at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

The phenomenon is known as the Bradley effect, after Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles mayor who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls.

Pijpers added that the popularity of Wilders could further be attributed to a moderation of his tone during the last weeks of the campaign. "He started to smile more and let go of his strong anti-Islam rhetoric," Pijpers said.

Having seen Wilders turn on the charm in person, I can imagine that he’s a pretty strong campaigner, but his stance on Islam pretty much defines his brand as a politician and I find it hard to believe that he changed perceptions that much in the final weeks. 

A number of readers jumped on me for accepting the Bradley Effect — the idea that voters lie to voters to avoid being perceived as racist — as an easy causal explanation after the French National Front’s surprisingly strong showing in regional elections in March. And yes, this is still a controversial idea in U.S. politics as well. But with Wilders’ and Le Pen’s gains, not to mention the 59 percent of Swiss voters who supported the minaret ban compared to the 37 percent who said they would, this does seem to be a factor in the recent rise of the European far-right.

 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: Europe

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