From High Hopes to On-Going Defeat: The New Extreme Right's Political Mobilization and Its National Electoral Failure in Germany

By Rensmann, Lars | German Politics and Society, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

From High Hopes to On-Going Defeat: The New Extreme Right's Political Mobilization and Its National Electoral Failure in Germany


Rensmann, Lars, German Politics and Society


German extreme Right parties have increased their political and electoral significance in recent years, in particular through some considerable regional successes in the East. However, in spite of noticeable nation-wide gains by the NPD in the Bundestag election, the extreme Right suffered from another defeat. Looking at the interplay of supply side and demand side factors, the article examines the transformations and continuities of extreme Right parties within the German party system, their performance in the 2005 general election, and the reasons for their ongoing national electoral failure. While extreme Right parties benefit from more favorable conditions related to increased voter volatility, new public issues and new cleavage structures, these parties also continuously face crucial difficulties, especially on the supply side: the cordon sanitaire is still intact, and new cleavages in relation to globalization are more convincingly and effectively utilized by left-wing competitors. The main obstacle, though, are the extreme Right agents themselves. Incorporating Zeitgeist issues, they nevertheless remain unable to actually modernize their agenda. The present and future challenge to liberal democracy may be a new level of cooperation between extreme Right parties and consolidated "informal" right-wing extremist subcultures in Eastern regional strongholds.

Keywords: extreme Right parties, German party system, political mobilizations, electoral campaigns, new cleavage structures, regional politics

Introduction

In the last two decades new extreme Right parties have gained considerable political successes in many West and East European countries. (1) Within the context of this international development, researchers have also observed a rise or "fourth wave" of right-wing extremism in Germany. (2) However, the electoral performance of extreme Right parties has been rather poor: successes are sporadic, restricted to regional elections, and limited overall. Far from entering the national parliament (Bundestag) in any election, German extreme Right parties have also failed to survive more than two legislatures in any state parliament (Landtag), which indicates severe political consolidation problems and the inability of these parties to create loyal voters. In addition, rather than being co-opted into the political process, with a concomitant softening of ideology, the extreme Right remains strictly isolated politically, similar to the situation in Great Britain and the United States. (3) Yet, especially in the postcommunist East (the five states (Lander) of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR)), there are extreme Right actors in Germany that have established and consolidated themselves in different socio-political arenas apart from conventional party politics and competition. Moreover, the new right-wing extremism in contemporary Germany shows some very distinctive organizational and ideological features. These include an affirmative relation to the Nazi past and a particular radical tradition, as well as an especially strong, wide-spread, and partially violent "informal" subculture and youth culture--a phenomenon that has long escaped political science and party research. (4)

Considering this background, the success of German extreme Right parties in state elections in 2004--the Deutsche Volksunion (DVU) scored 6 percent in the state of Brandenburg and was reelected into parliament, the "revolutionary" National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, NPD) entered parliament in Saxony with a considerable 9.2 percent share of the vote--possibly points to an ending of the split between subcultural and conventional electoral politics. In particular, the NPD's unexpectedly good performance in Saxony was euphorically celebrated by right-wing extremists nation-wide and across different parties and organizations as a general "victory of the national spirit.

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