Are there different NPD grades

Right-wing extremism

Armin Pfahl-Traughber

The author

Dr. phil., political scientist and sociologist, professor at the Federal University of Applied Sciences, Brühl.

A case study based on the NPD state election results in Saxony 2014.

Who actually votes right-wing extremists? This question can hardly be answered with a view to the data on the last Bundestag and Landtag elections. Because in order to have analyzable information, a right-wing extremist party must receive at least three to four percent of the vote. In Germany - in contrast to some other European countries - this was not or only very rarely the case. The most important party from the right-wing extremist camp in this country is the "National Democratic Party of Germany" (NPD), which in the last few decades has mostly remained well below two percent in national elections. She achieved her last higher result in the state elections in Saxony on August 31, 2014, although she narrowly missed her entry into parliament with 4.95 percent of the vote. Ten years earlier, in 2004, with 9.4 percent, she had succeeded in making the leap into a state parliament for the first time since 1968; In 2009 she succeeded again - but only with 5.6 percent of the vote. Thus, the decline in votes for the NPD in their stronghold of Saxony had been indicated for some time.

Nevertheless, from the almost five percent of the votes for the NPD in the state elections in 2014, the research group Elections and Infratest dimap were able to obtain data on the social characteristics of the NPD voters. However, the following findings cannot be generalized nationwide, as Saxony, as an NPD electoral stronghold, is a special case. However, there are some general trends. It also makes sense to compare the NPD's electoral base with that of another party: the "Alternative for Germany" (AfD). It ran for the first time in Saxony in the 2014 state elections, and with greater success than the NPD: it received 9.7 percent of the vote. It is true that the AfD cannot yet be regarded as a right-wing extremist despite an observable "shift to the right". Nevertheless, it is moving in this direction due to internal developments. In this respect, the comparison of the two voter bases can be given a certain significance.

Male, young and rather not highly educated

How were the 81,051 second votes from NPD voters in Saxony composed on August 31, 2014? In relation to age, a peculiarity could be ascertained that is not new: the older the voters, the fewer votes for the NPD. And: the younger the voters, the more votes for the NPD. Eleven percent of the 18- to 24-year-olds gave the party their vote, of the over 60-year-old voters it was only three percent. This is also the case with the AfD voters: Here, too, the younger group of voters is the strongest with 13 percent and the oldest group of voters is the weakest with eight percent.

It is similarly clear and to be expected with the gender distribution, because right-wing extremist parties are elected more by men and less by women: male voters voted for the NPD with seven percent, while female voters only with three percent. There is a similar distribution among the AfD electorate, with eleven percent of men and eight percent of women voting for the party.

What about voter education? In the NPD electorate, the highly educated are severely underrepresented at two percent; In contrast, the proportion of those with a medium and low level of education was disproportionately high at seven percent each. This is completely different with the AfD electorate: With them, the medium-educated were the strongest group of voters with 13 percent, while the higher and lower educated were underrepresented with eight and seven percent respectively.

In terms of employment, a look at the unemployed deserves special attention: at eleven percent, they were twice as represented in the NPD as in the overall electorate. At the AfD, the values ​​were slightly higher at twelve percent. Otherwise, the workers in particular voted eleven percent for the NPD, with the AfD it was 15 percent. In the case of pensioners, both parties received a below-average approval rate with three and six percent respectively.

Voter migration

Particular attention should be paid to the party from which the NPD received voters and where they had to put voters themselves. Because the results have changed little compared to the previous elections, only few trends can be identified: In terms of the balance of inflow and outflow, the NPD received 3,000 votes from the CDU and 2,000 from the Left Party. With 4,000 votes, the largest share came from the FDP, which in 2014 missed re-entry into the state parliament in Saxony, as did the NPD. Alliance 90 / The Greens lost only 1,000 votes to the NPD.

With a look at the voter account, one can say exactly why the NPD narrowly missed entry into the state parliament: It had to give 13,000 votes to the AfD, and 10,000 of its former voters stayed at home. Accordingly, the NPD would probably have made it back into the state parliament without a candidacy from the AfD and with better mobilization of its voters.

It is not entirely surprising that NPD voters are turning to the AfD. Both parties sometimes advertised with the same slogans, especially in the field of foreign policy. This was obviously intended to mobilize relevant aversions and resentments in favor of voting decisions. The AfD succeeded in doing this better in the situation described, as it was already on the rise in terms of opinion and voting behavior. In addition, the AfD had a more moderate and serious public image than the NPD. The right-wing extremist party experienced internal crises during its candidacy, which cast doubt on its credibility regardless of political issues. In this way, the AfD was able to win a significant proportion of previous NPD votes.

Acceptance of right-wing extremist ideologies by the electorate

In view of the AfD rival candidacy and the internal party crisis, the result of almost five percent in the Saxon state elections in 2014 was more than a respectable success for the NPD the party itself is decisive. However, if one asks from the perspective of sociological extremism research about the social acceptance of the NPD, the relevant political views of its voters have not changed as a result of the fact that they just missed the state parliament. On the contrary, it can be stated that (after 9.4 percent for the NPD in 2004) in 2014 almost 15 percent of the voters in Saxony voted for a party to the right of the Union.

When looking at the local strongholds, it is also noticeable that these were often congruent for the AfD and NPD. Although it is not possible to set an equal sign between both parties at the level of the program, there are more good reasons for this with regard to the voter base. If one takes into account the AfD's recent "shift to the right", this party is likely to increasingly mobilize the NPD's voters in the future. This competition thus also intensifies the party's crisis. For a modern democracy and an open society, however, this only creates different and new challenges.

Reasons for the decline of the NPD

But how can the rise and fall of the NPD - apart from the influence of the AfD - be explained in their stronghold of Saxony? An answer to this question must take various aspects into account. First of all, to the external aspects, i.e. the general social framework: In the eastern federal states, there has not been such close party ties among voters since reunification as there is, despite an erosion that can also be seen in the west. This not only resulted in much stronger voter migration in Saxony. Smaller parties were also able to record surprising successes from time to time, especially those from right-wing extremism.

In addition, as a stronghold of the NPD, Saxony, like Eastern Germany in general, has to struggle far more with social and economic problems than the West, which is illustrated by the relatively high unemployment rate. This is also reflected in the described social composition of the NPD voters. Overall, the party benefited from the relatively poor economic situation and the associated displeasure with the "established" politics. It was no coincidence that it scored points in its greatest success so far in the 2004 state elections by rejecting the Hartz IV legislation at the time: the NPD successfully combined the political and social problems with its xenophobic and nationalist attitudes. In 2014, this effect no longer worked with the agitation against refugees, as this topic could be occupied more strongly by the AfD competition.

In addition, internal aspects, i.e. the development of the NPD itself, are of great importance for both the upswing and the decline: since 1998, the state of Saxony has developed into a stronghold for the party with the state association with the largest number of members in Germany. With agitation and commitment in the local and regional area, the aim was to promote a "grassroots folk revolution". This actually succeeded in certain villages and towns, where particularly publicly respected party members achieved a certain anchoring in everyday culture. The 9.4 percent in the 2004 state elections already indicated initial successes in local elections. After that, the NPD tried to create an image as a "carer party", which took care of the everyday concerns of the citizens, especially with regard to social problems. In the long run, however, due to a lack of commitment and organizational weakness, she was unable to meet the expectations and promises that came with it.

In the state elections in 2009, the results fell to 5.6 percent of the vote. In addition to the absence of a current political problem area at the time, which was connected to the NPD in the public perception, this can also and especially be explained by the appearance of the party. Their orientation towards National Socialist ideology fragments or cooperation with neo-Nazi groups were not even of the greatest importance. Various events that did not have a specific political context discredited the party, even among its own sympathizers. These included scandals over financial irregularities and alleged sexual and criminal misconduct. The latter in particular received a lot of attention from the supporters and voters of the NPD via the tabloid media, which they perceived as an expression of double morals and hypocrisy. The associated effects explain why many former voters stayed at home in the 2014 state elections.

Even if the failure of the NPD at the five percent hurdle is viewed by the party as a devastating defeat, its narrow failure from a democratic theoretical point of view draws attention to the continued existence of a relatively large support potential. This was also motivated by the "ideology" and not just by "protest" to vote in this way. In any case, a staunch democrat is unlikely to vote for such a clearly right-wing extremist party as the NPD, even in the event of great displeasure with politics and the economy. The low inhibition threshold to vote for right-wing extremists can thus be explained by corresponding political sympathies. A one-sided fixation on the explanatory factor "protest" ignores the existence of a right-wing extremist attitude potential in the population. The fact that the NPD no longer binds it does not mean that it has disappeared - on the contrary, it is currently finding its home with another party in elections.