How will the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which has governed the Netherlands for the last 13 years, perform in the country’s snap general election in November? Updating a political economy model that predicted the 2017 Dutch election more accurately than polling, William Bruce, Philippe Mongrain, Ruth Dassonneville and Michael S. Lewis-Beck forecast that the VVD will receive around 15% of the vote.
A surprise collapse of the Dutch government in July has led to an exciting electoral contest that appears to be turning Dutch politics on its head. Mark Rutte, the Netherlands’ longest serving Prime Minister, is retiring from national politics and the leadership of the VVD (the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy).
The Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) and GroenLinks (Green-Left) have joined forces in an electoral alliance and have polled close to the VVD throughout the summer. These parties’ main challenger was the BBB (Farmer-Citizen Movement), an agrarian-populist party that won just one seat in the Tweede Kamer at the last general election.
However, a new party, the Nieuw Sociaal Contract (New Social Contract) founded in late August, has recently jumped to the top of the polls. How will the VVD perform this November, in their first election with a new leader after 13 years in power, and against the challenges posed by these new parties and alliances, as well as the uncertainty of its first post-pandemic election?
A political economy model
To answer this question, we have updated our political economy forecasting model of the 2017 Dutch election to predict the VVD vote share. This model rests on the relationship between political and economic variables shown to have a strong influence on voter behaviour, using aggregate data on these variables and Dutch election results from 1952 to 2021.
Structural election forecasting models perform remarkably well as an approach for predicting election outcomes and sometimes even have greater predictive power than polling data. The variable to be predicted here is the vote share won by the leading party in the incumbent coalition, in this case the VVD.
The direct proportionality and volatility of the Dutch electoral system makes it difficult to predict the electoral performance of every party. The independent variables in the 2017 model were as follows: the vote share of the Prime Minister’s party at the previous election; annual growth in GDP per capita one year prior to the election; and the number of months the Prime Minister’s party had been in power.
Forecasting the result
In the 2023 model, we have kept the substantive variables the same, except for the need to account for COVID-19. The highly irregular and unique results of the March 2021 election, which occurred while many restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic were still in place, required an addition. Specifically, we introduced a COVID-19 counter variable based on the electoral weight of the pandemic experience (coded 1 for 2021, 0.5 for 2023, and 0 for all other years).
This variable builds on evidence that voters seek a “flight to safety” in times of exogenous shock such as the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to increased support for “safe” establishment candidates and incumbents. It also reflects the fact that actual COVID-19 cases are still a noteworthy public health concern. This model fits the data well with an adjusted R2 of 0.67. However, we of course acknowledge the unique uncertainty that COVID-19’s presence inevitably introduces into this, or any other, prediction.
We ran our model in late September 2023, giving us a lead time of two months before the November 2023 election. Our forecast is that the VVD will receive a 14.9% vote share. This falls at the edge of the low boundary of available survey data, when compared to the VVD’s current polling averages of 16-18%. Still, it seems quite likely that the VVD will again be one of the three largest parties and will therefore be a relevant player in the talks to form a new government.
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: BUTENKOV ALEKSEI/Shutterstock.com