Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Women who support far-right parties in Europe do not fit the stereotype

Individual- and party-level determinants of far-right support among women in Western Europe. Trevor J. Allen and Sara Wallace Goodman. European Political Science Review, Volume 13 , Issue 2 , May 2021 , pp. 135 - 150. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1755773920000405

Abstract: Support for Western Europe’s far-right is majority-male. However, given the sweeping success of the party family, literature on this ‘gender gap’ belies support given to the radical right by millions of women. We examine differences between men and women’s support for far-right parties, focusing on workplace experience, positions on economic and cultural issues, and features of far-right parties themselves. We find that the received scholarship on blue-collar support for far-right populists is a largely male phenomenon, and women in routine nonmanual (i.e. service, sales, and clerical) work are more likely than those in blue-collar work to support the far-right. Moreover, while men who support the far-right tend to be conservative on other moral issues, certain liberal positions predict far-right support among women, at both the voter and party level. Our analysis suggests that gender differences may obscure the socio-structural and attitudinal bases of support for far-right parties and have broader implications for comparative political behavior and gender and politics.


This analysis is an early scholarly step toward elucidating the complex relationship between voting behavior, gender, and far-right populism. We have suggested that the sometimes murky picture of far-right party voters is actually due to an incomplete treatment of gender. As our analysis shows, multiple characteristics predicting far-right support differ between men and women. Where there is a consistent relationship between blue-collar work and far-right support among men, most of the women who support far-right parties are employed in routine nonmanual (service, sales, and clerical) work.

Moreover, while anti-immigrant attitudes are correlated with far-right support among both men and women, other forms of social conservatism – operationalized here as attitudes toward gay equality – only predict support among men. Strikingly, tolerance toward gays and lesbians predicts greater far-right support among women. This, coupled with the finding that negative mentions of traditional morality (i.e. support for divorce, abortion, and secularism) in far-right party platforms predict support among women but not men, suggests some far-right parties’ cultural progressivism – often but not exclusively paired with castigation of Islam as anti-modern and an anathema to European values – might attract women to the far-right (Akkerman, 2015; Campbell and Erzeel, 2018). Indeed, this might suggest the strategy by which some far-right parties have rhetorically defended liberal values in the first place. Future research might clarify this interaction with analyses of campaign data, or voter studies at the national level where larger samples for particular parties and candidates are available.

These findings unsettle dominant narratives about support for far-right parties. Existing work paints a picture of culturally, morally conservative men in certain occupations expressing support for radical right parties based on perceptions of declining status – implying a fixed group of male voters (perhaps, ‘working-class authoritarians’) available to right-wing populists. But the correlates of female support are different. Blue-collar work and cultural conservatism seem to only predict far-right support among men. For women, a picture emerges of someone engaged in routine nonmanual work – service, sales, or clerical occupations – for whom cultural progressivism on issues outside of immigration might resonate.

How do we reconcile this voter profile, between nativism and individual progressivism? It suggests the prevalence of a type of progressive chauvinism: ‘equality and tolerance for me, not for thee’. Far-right parties, for example, the Danish People’s Party, have gained a lot of traction in support by advocating policies scholars have described as welfare chauvinism, wherein individuals support broad social safety nets so long as they exclude immigrants from accessing entitlements (Careja et al.2016). This is a strategy adopted by the far-right that successfully diffuses to mainstream parties (Schumacher and Van Kersbergen, 2016). That far-right parties simultaneously offer what we term progressive chauvinism may broaden their base, attracting a new type of (female) supporter just as the social democratic parties of the left experienced historically unprecedented declines. Further research in this area might examine far-right policy framing, issue linkages and ownership within party systems, and voter mobilization. By examining the socio-structural roots of the party family, and taking seriously the large number of female supporters who have heretofore largely been overlooked in analyses of far-right support, we have identified several important predictors of female far-right support distinct from their male compatriots. As far-right parties gain in popularity, it is essential that comparative approaches to voting behavior push beyond simplistic narratives of far-right supporters as simply jackbooted radicals or ‘angry young men’. The results suggest that men and women have different profiles and motivations for supporting the far-right, and that the way gender has been encoded in research on the far-right may have obscured important features of the party family. A more nuanced view of far-right supporters – and party positioning to expand their base – reveals distinct, gendered dimensions.

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