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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Unhappy lives linked to recent rise of right-wing populism in Europe

A recent study published in the American Behavioral Scientist has shed light on the link between life dissatisfaction and the rise of right-wing populist movements in Europe. By analyzing survey data from 14 countries collected between 2012 and 2018, researchers found that individuals who are dissatisfied with their lives are more likely to hold negative views on immigration and distrust political institutions, which in turn increases their likelihood of supporting right-wing populist parties.

The researchers aimed to understand the psychological underpinnings of the growing support for right-wing populist parties across Europe. Previous studies have suggested that economic insecurity and cultural changes contribute to the success of these parties, but the role of personal dissatisfaction with life had not been systematically explored.

The researchers hypothesized that life dissatisfaction might be an important factor linking economic and cultural discontent to support for populist parties. By examining this link, they hoped to uncover a more comprehensive understanding of the motivations behind right-wing populist voting.

The study used data from the European Social Survey, which included responses from over 54,000 individuals across 14 countries: Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Only those who reported voting in the last national election were included in the analysis. The researchers focused on responses related to life satisfaction, political trust, attitudes towards immigration, and voting behavior.

Participants rated their life satisfaction on a scale from 0 to 10, with higher scores indicating greater satisfaction. Political trust was measured by asking respondents to evaluate their trust in various political institutions, while attitudes towards immigration were assessed through questions about the perceived impact of immigration on the economy, culture, and society. The main outcome of interest was whether participants voted for a right-wing populist party in the most recent national election.

The study revealed a significant association between life dissatisfaction and support for right-wing populist parties. Specifically, individuals in the lowest quartile of life satisfaction were almost twice as likely to vote for these parties compared to those in the highest quartile. This relationship held even after controlling for other factors such as age, gender, education, economic insecurity, and health.

Additionally, the researchers found that life dissatisfaction indirectly influenced right-wing populist voting through two key attitudes: political distrust and anti-immigration sentiment. Dissatisfied individuals were more likely to distrust political institutions and view immigration negatively, which in turn increased their likelihood of voting for right-wing populist parties. Notably, anti-immigration sentiment emerged as the stronger of the two mediators.

The study also found some variation across countries. For instance, the direct link between life dissatisfaction and right-wing populist voting was not significant in countries like Hungary and Italy, suggesting that contextual factors may influence this relationship. However, in most countries, anti-immigration sentiment consistently served as a critical path through which life dissatisfaction translated into support for right-wing populist parties.

While the study provides valuable insights, it also has several limitations. The cross-sectional design of the survey data means that causal relationships cannot be definitively established. The findings suggest associations, but they do not prove that life dissatisfaction causes individuals to vote for right-wing populist parties. Future research using longitudinal data would help to confirm these causal pathways.

The study, “Life Dissatisfaction and the Right-Wing Populist Vote: Evidence from the European Social Survey,” was authored by Annika Lindholm, Georg Lutz, and Eva G. T. Green.


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