More Poverty Risk Leads to More Votes for Right-Wing Extremists

| Press release

Right-wing extremists gain votes in regions where the risk of poverty is growing, according to recent ifo Institute calculations. In Germany, if the proportion of households below the poverty line increases by 1 percentage point, the share of votes for far-right parties in federal elections increases by 0.5 percentage points. “This is statistically and politically significant,” says ifo researcher Florian Dorn. Between 1998 and 2017, the proportion of poorer households rose by 1.9 percentage points. The poverty line is defined as 60 percent of the median income.  

“A breeding ground for antidemocratic and nationalist tendencies can develop locally the more households in a region no longer keep pace with national income development and are left behind,” says ifo researcher Florian Neumeier. This is shown by a different indicator: if the poverty gap increases by 1 percentage point, the share of votes for far-right parties rises by as much as 1.2 percentage points. The poverty gap measures the average distance between household income and the poverty line. 

The researchers’ calculations show that the effects of growing economic deprivation are significantly stronger in eastern Germany than in the west. However, they found no significant differences between urban and rural areas anywhere in Germany. While more votes for far-right parties were recorded across all income groups, growth is strongest among the poorest 40 percent. “Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party is able to make stronger gains in structurally weak regions of Germany. However, the income structure of its voters is not all that different from that of other established parties,” says ifo researcher David Gstrein. “If you want to combat populism, you have to solve the country’s economic problems. Effective structural and economic policies for structurally weak regions also appear to be particularly important,” Dorn adds. “People affected by structural and digital change need credible opportunities and prospects for the future. The design of the social system and of the education and training system play a decisive role in strengthening trust in democracy.” 
For these calculations, the authors analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), microcensus, and federal election results at the regional level. All nationalist or far-right parties that stood in federal elections between 1998 and 2017 were included in the analysis. 

Questions can be directed to: 
Dr. Florian Dorn, 0049 89 9224 1292,
Dr. Florian Neumeier, 0049 89 9224 1425;