Expectation of social status decline and support for the radical right

How do expectations of subjective social status decline influence citizens’ voting behaviour? We find that expectation of status decline, not experience of status decline, significantly raises support for the radical right party in Finland. As such, the rise and persistence of radical right parties in Western Europe and the US today can be understood in terms of citizens’ reactions to fears of seeing their social position erode.

Zhen Im

We distinguish between the experience and expectation of subjective status decline in relation to electoral behaviour. Studies often link support for radical parties, especially radical right ones, to voters’ experience of status decline. A few other studies argue that voters’ expectation of status decline also triggers radical right support. Without precise measures of both perceptions, it has been difficult to distinguish which (or both) is most relevant for radical right support in Western Europe and the USA. Using survey data from 2018 (n = 4,076) and 2020 (n = 2,106) in Finland, we could precisely measure and distinguish between voters’ experience and expectation of status decline. Descriptively, voters who have experienced status decline have low income, whereas voters who expect status decline have (lower)middle income. Using multivariate analyses, we find that voters who expect status decline consistently prefer radical right parties more than voters who expect status improvement. However, there is no robust evidence of radical right support among voters who have experienced status decline. These findings suggest that the expectation, not experience, of status decline drives radical right support. If these expectations trigger radical right support in Nordic welfare states, they may be even more pertinent in less comprehensive welfare states. Read here.