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It has long been known that women tend to vote less for radical right parties than their male counterparts. Although the exact reasons for this gender gap remains a matter of debate, several theories have been put forward over the years to explain this phenomenon. A new quantitative study by researchers from the University of Amsterdam and the University of Gothenburg now casts doubt on these theories and introduces alternative explanations. Their results were recently published in the journal Patterns of Prejudice.

Polling Station

As part of their study, the researchers analysed data from 17,000 respondents in 17 European countries and compared the results in the light of three widespread explanations for the strong electoral support for the radical right among male voters, namely: the latter’s supposedly higher level of discontent, more precarious socio-economic status and seemingly stronger inclination to agree with radical right ideology.

A preference for the radical right?

Based on their data, the researchers argue that none of these theories adequately account for the difference in voting behaviour. For example, their findings show that, contrary to the assumption that women are less supportive of radical right ideology, women actually score the same (or even somewhat higher) than men in their average support for issues such as opposition to immigration and support for harsher sentences. The researchers also looked at socio-economic status as a driver of radical right electoral support. According to them, gender differences in this area remain substantial, but only partially explain why women are more prone than men to withhold electoral support.

Lastly, the researchers looked at the supposedly lower level of discontent among women. While it is commonly believed that the radical right attracts ‘angry white men’, the researchers discovered that women are in some instances actually more disaffected with the workings of democracy and the performances of government than their male counterparts. Their discontent, however, doesn’t seem to translate into support for the radical right as strongly as it does among men.

Moderation and mediation

To bridge the gap between data and theory, the researchers offer two alternative explanations of their own. One of these concerns the difference between men and women in the importance attached to various issues. ‘Whereas many in both groups might share ‘‘tough’’ views on issues such as immigration and law and order, female voters possibly consider these issues of lesser electoral importance than male voters’, says UvA researcher Eelco Harteveld, one of the authors of the study

The researchers also suspect that women tend to refrain from voting for radical right parties for reasons other than the parties’ political programme – most importantly, their reputation. Harteveld: ‘In a follow-up study, we find evidence that the extreme image and social stigma connected to many radical right parties are less deterring to men than to women. This would explain why many female voters withhold electoral support for such parties even though they agree with several aspects of radical right ideology.’

Publication details

Eelco Harteveld (AISSR, UvA), Wouter Van Der Brug (AISSR, UvA), Stefan Dahlberg & Andrej Kokkonen (2015), ‘The gender gap in populist radical-right voting: examining the demand side in Western and Eastern Europe’, Patterns of Prejudice, 49:1-2, 103-134, DOI:10.1080/0031322X.2015.1024399