Mainstream parties need to begin addressing conservative whites’ anxieties about the demographic growth of Islam, or populists will continue to thrive, writes Eric Kaufmann. He argues that this demands a sustained programme for improving ‘demographic literacy’.
Geert Wilders may not have come first in the Dutch election, but he came second and forced his opponent, Mark Rutte, to tack closer to Wilders’ Muslim-bashing position. Once again, the pundits will wring their hands and tell themselves the comforting story that economic policy can undercut support for right-wing populism. But, as with the Brexit and Trump vote, ethnic change and values, not economics, better accounts for populist success.
Why Muslims matter
The Muslim share of the population, and its rate of increase, is an important barometer of cultural change. Raw immigration inflows aren’t a good measure since they contain a large share of intra-European migrants – often from neighbouring countries – who evince little concern in most mainland EU countries. Muslims are not only culturally different to Europe’s white majorities, but – because our brains are drawn to vivid images rather than representative data – evoke panic about terrorism and threats to liberty.
Figure 1 shows an important relationship between projected Muslim population share in 2030 and support for the populist right across 16 countries in Western Europe. Having worked with IIASA World Population Program researchers who generated cohort-component projections of Europe’s Muslim population for Pew in 2011, I am confident their projections are the most accurate and rigorous available. I put this together with election and polling data for the main West European populist right parties using the highest vote share or polling result I could find. Note the striking 78 percent correlation (R2 of .61) between projected Muslim share in 2030, a measure of both the level and rate of change of the Muslim population, and the best national result each country’s populist right has attained.
Source: Election and poll data and Pew Forum, ‘The Future of the Global Muslim Population,’ interactive feature. Accessed Mar. 10, 2017.
Clearly, other factors matter: Austria’s Freedom Party nearly won the election in 2016 when Norbert Höfer captured 49.7 per cent of the vote. This places the party well above the line of what we would expect on the basis of its 2030 Muslim population. Likewise, Germany’s AfD or the Sweden Democrats underperform the regression line. The Front National’s maximum poll of 28 per cent is also below what we expect, though this could increase to around 40 per cent if Marine Le Pen advances to the second round in France’s upcoming election.
Why focus only on Western Europe? Because right-wing populism in established democracies differs in important ways from similar phenomena in the new democracies of the continent’s East. There are two main types of nationalism: one focused on national status, pride and humiliation; the other on ensuring the alignment of politics and culture. East Europe’s nationalism is more concerned with the former, West European nationalism with the latter. In addition, memories of an authoritarian golden age are fresher in the post-Communist world, where they continue to inspire revanchism. In western Europe, appeals to the halcyon days before messy democracy ruined everything carry little resonance.
Why use maximum populist right share? Because support for populist right parties is highly volatile over time whereas Muslim share is not. Any cross-country comparison using current polling data will therefore be noisy and inaccurate. Lacking an established brand, populist right parties are more vulnerable to leadership change, scandal, and splits than mainstream parties. Their high-water mark is therefore the best indicator of their potential support in a country’s population. That is, the extent to which those who support populist right aims are willing to defy anti-racist norms to vote for them.
As with Brexit and Trump, education, and not income, is the critical demographic. This is because values rather than people’s economic situation are critical to explaining the vote. And this change tends to polarize populations – radicalizing so-called ‘authoritarians’ who prefer safety and security to novelty and change.
Immigration attitudes are tightly linked to populist right support. With this in mind, consider the relationship between authoritarianism and immigration attitudes in figure 2, based on data for 16,000 native-born white respondents to the 2014 European Social Survey. ‘
Source: Data from European Social Survey 2014. N=16,029. Pseudo R2= .084. Controls for country income; also individual income, education and age. Countries: Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
Authoritarians’ – those who place a high value on safe and secure surroundings, are more likely to perceive immigrants as making their countries a worse place to live. But in countries with low Muslim populations (i.e. Ireland or Finland, where Muslims are less than 1 per cent), authoritarians and others differ by only one percentage point: 3 per cent of those who say safety and security are important ‘strongly agree’ that immigrants make their country worse compared to 2 per cent for others.
Now look at the rest of the sample, from countries where Muslims exceed 4 percent of the population. The gap between the red and blue lines is now three times as large, with over 6 per cent of safety-conscious individuals now strongly anti-immigrant. If you are white and less concerned about safe and secure surroundings, the share of Muslims in your country has only a small impact on your view of immigrants. If you care about safety and security, Muslim share makes a big difference to those views.
This is no artefact of Irish and Finnish uniqueness: an interaction of Muslim share and safety/security across the full range of Muslim share and the security scale produces an even stronger effect. This tells us that ethnoreligious change interacts with authoritarian values to ramp up concern about immigration – which benefits the populist right.
What to do? To begin with, mainstream parties and the media need to acknowledge that demographic change increases anxiety over immigration among whites whose values are oriented toward security and order. Having isolated the real issue, they must then focus their efforts on raising people’s awareness about the realities – not the fantasies – of Muslim demography in their countries. This will be much more effective than decrying worries as racist – which will only amplify fears that people are not being told the truth.
The belief that Muslims have sky-high fertility and will take over Europe is not confined to viral videos with over 16m views. At the European Commission, I was astounded to hear a member of the European elite ask whether such claims were true. The extent of this demographic illiteracy makes it imperative to begin a concerted public information campaign.
Figure 1 shows that no country will be more than 10 percent Muslim in 2030. So in 2050, France is projected to be just 10.4 percent Muslim. Yet Ipsos-Mori’s report shows the average French person thinks France will be 40 percent Muslim in 2020, instead of the actual 8 percent. Across Europe, the average overestimate of 2020 Muslim share is 25 points. Previous work by Bobby Duffy and Tom Frere-Smith at Ipsos-Mori shows that people across the West routinely overestimate immigrant share by a factor of two or three.
But information can counteract these claims. A recent survey experiment finds that when people are given accurate information about the share of foreign born in their country then asked a month later what the share is, they adjust their estimates 12 points closer to reality. The Pew projections, based on the best immigration, fertility, and switching data we have, show that the rate of Muslim growth in Europe is tapering. In 2050, no West European country will be more than 12.4 per cent Muslim, far lower than most think is the case today.
Europeans should also be regularly told about what is happening with Muslim total fertility rates (TFR). These have dropped across much of the Muslim world. Among leading European source countries, many are at or below replacement. Turkey’s is 2.06 (births per woman), Iran’s 1.92 and Morocco’s 2.12. Across Europe, the Muslim TFR is 2.1, precisely the replacement level. Finally, how many French voters are aware that half of Algerian-origin men marry out, or that 60 percent of French people with one or more Algerian-origin parents say they have no religious affiliation?
Europe’s opinion formers have gushed about transformative diversity so much that people now believe it. My previous work on conservative White British voters shows that demographic reassurance, focusing on the idea that immigration can be absorbed with minimal change, significantly reduces anxiety about immigration and support for Hard Brexit. Europe’s mainstream parties and the media need to stop skirting public anxieties and start addressing the mammoth problem of demographic illiteracy.
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Note: This article originally appeared at our sister site, British Politics and Policy. It gives the views of the author, not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics.
Eric Kaufmann – Birkbeck College
Eric Kaufmann(@epkaufm) is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College. He is currently writing a book about the White majority response to ethnic change in the West (Penguin).
An interesting dialogue on this article is already taking place here:
The problem professor is the experts have very very little credibility with the average voter. They are viewed with good cause I am afraid has mouth pieces and excuse maker for the rich and connected not has believable speakers. A rather large number of experts over the years have skewed the facts in so many fields although I would single out Economists specifically that if they said the sky was blue no one would believe them without looking. A bit of a problem for your solution I think
Are, I see, the author is writing a book, that explains why its all our fault.
Perhaps you could write that again in English so the rest of us can understand it. I’m sure it was an incredibly interesting point as always.
The global population of people from the Far East (ex., China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc…) is equivalent to the global population of Muslims. Also, many people from the Far East living in the West (and in Africa) do not necessarily morph into becoming Westerners (or Africans) (ex., major cities globally having a Chinatown). Despite that, people from the Far East are never the scorn of populist parties because they generally “mind their own business” and live in peace in our countries. Acts of terrorism and crime are likely near zero percent by those groups, and commerce is high. There is no “rule-book” followed by people from the Far East calling for beheading of non-believers. That being said, a group of people merely being culturally different is not the cause of being the focus of populist parties.
There are other reasons for being the scorn of populist parties. Do you want to guess what they are?
There is nothing like being trolled by someone with nothing to say, welcome back.
so say the xenophobic troll with a racist streak
Karl, the irony made living flesh
And what do you have to say Karl? You must have posted about a thousand comments on here and they’re all variations on the same dull theme – drab rants about immigration being the root of all evil, incoherent Euroscepticism, wishy washy tripe about “liberal elitists” (whoever they are).
Your brilliant contribution to this particular article was to write a dismissive one-liner attacking the author’s integrity with absolutely nothing to back it up (and you still managed to include two typos). Your comment was ridiculous and you’ve been called out on it. Try and defend your own contribution for once instead of whining like a baby.
As I have said before, if you find my comments so dull, wishy washy, drab, repetitive etc. why do you read them and respond, why not ignore them? Typos? You appear creepily obsessed with me and my comments.
I cannot stop you following me on here but will not reply again.
I couldn’t care less if you respond or not. I’m going to continue calling you out on your ridiculous comments as and when I see them. Admittedly you seem to post them with such regularity that I can only assume you’re some kind of professional bore who has nothing better to do with their life than churn this nonsense out on a daily basis.
In this case you’ve questioned the professional integrity of the author, with absolutely nothing to back that up, and in typical fashion seem to think you should be immune from being criticised for it. You don’t even have the backbone to defend yourself – all we get is standard whining and a promise to act like a five year old by sticking your fingers in your ears whenever anyone says something nasty about the conveyor belt of inane tripe you keep furnishing us with. Instead of just ignoring me why don’t you try giving up entirely. Nobody will miss you.
This article makes a valuable point, distilled and developed in the last three paragraphs. The facts in this article need to be strongly emphasised by non-populist leaders in Europe. I would argue that fear of immigrants is a corollary of the insecurity generated by globalization, i.e. the freedom for capital to move freely all over the world with no constraints or penalty, and for its fruits to be traded largely tariff-free. It’s not fear of Muslims, but the sheer numbers of desperately poor people scaling Europe’s walls which scare people.
The USA is at 1% and that’s still too high. It has already led to a state of fear that only fades a little between one terrorist incident to the next. Canada is at 3.2% and they are already facing schools that rearrange their schedules around Muslim prayer requirements, providing special facilities for accommodation of prayer (privileges never granted to other religions) and repeated incidence of Imans quoting vicious anti-Jewish verses from the Quran and Hadith, only apologizing when they realized that outsiders had heard them. There may be some Muslims whose beliefs are compatible with Western democracy, but immigrants of all religions need to be screened for their beliefs, past statements and affiliations, on the separation of church and state, the rights of women, non-believers, gays, etc. By the time 10% of the population (with some subgroups with very high birth rates) are voting as a block against the values that made the West what it is, it’s too late to fix the problem.
There is an article in Nature ”How does public opinion become extreme?” https://www.nature.com/articles/srep10032
[The central finding of our paper is the discovery of a sharp statistical predictor of the rise of extreme opinion trends in society in terms of a nonlinear behaviour of the number of individuals holding a certain extreme view and the number of individuals with a moderate opinion and extreme opinion].
This non-linhear response could explain the sudden rise in support for populism as a cultural backlash to slowly rising numbers of Muslims. Acts of terrorism are one known driver of a risng cultural backlash. The non-linear response means that small changes can produce unexpectedly large effects on public opinion.