Dutch Election Watch
Is Wilders Experiencing A Trump Slump?

Geert Wilders, the populist provocateur politician who has long topped the polls for the Netherlands’ general election, appears to be slipping ahead of the vote next week. Could Wilders be losing steam because of a Trump slump? Bloomberg seems to think so:

While Wilders’s anti-Islam, anti-European Union Freedom Party, known as PVV in Dutch, has been ahead of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals for much of the campaign, recent polls show that lead evaporating. A Peil.nl poll published Sunday showed the Freedom Party would get 25 seats in the 150-seat parliament, down from 29 a week ago, narrowing its lead over the Liberals to one seat. […]

“There was a rise shortly after Trump was elected, but now support is falling,” said Maurice de Hond, owner and founder of Peil.nl. “Voters have now become negative about the measures taken by President Trump. This could also be a reason for the somewhat weakened position of the PVV.”

It is certainly true that Wilders’ rivals are trying to tar him by association with Trump’s excesses, and it is possible that displeasure with Trump could be marginally contributing to his slip in the polls. But the complexity of the diffuse Dutch race, where 28 parties are vying for spots in parliament, ought to caution against convenient single-factor explanations for a polling drop.

In fact, the trend can be explained by any number of factors that have little to do with President Trump’s actions in Washington. For one, the vast majority of established Dutch parties have ruled out forming a coalition with Wilders’ party, giving potential PVV voters second thoughts about registering a protest vote. Moreover, Wilders’ decision to keep a low public profile and skip debates has allowed other parties to capitalize on his absence and make a pitch to his voters. With parties on both the left and right embracing aspects of the Wilders agenda, voters who share his concerns about immigration, for example, might opt for more mainstream parties with a bigger chance of legislating new restrictions.

Regardless, the past year of electoral shocks offers a cautionary tale against selectively reading polls to dismiss a potent populist threat. No matter how Wilders fares on March 15, the fact remains that he has topped the polls for months, and his message is resonating—especially, but not exclusively, among lower-educated voters who have most severely felt the economic sting from immigration. As Wilders himself hinted recently, he could lose the battle but win the war: “You can notice that we’ve basically already won the elections before they’ve started because everyone is moving towards us,” Wilders said on Sunday. For better or worse, that trend could continue even if Wilders is defeated.

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