Nativism key explanation for PVV's electoral success

Already in 2016, Geert Wilders' PVV had a huge potential of voters. At the same time, there is an international tendency towards the (radical) right, and compared to that, the electoral success of the PVV is relatively limited. Who voted for Wilders, and why did they do so? Both now and in the past, PVV voters mainly came from the right or from non-voters, says political scientist Koen Damhuis of Utrecht University. And nativism – the idea that the Netherlands is culturally and socio-economically threatened by newcomers – was particularly decisive this time. Problems in healthcare, the housing market and cultural changes - for Wilders it is all linked to migration. And many voters want control over migration.

Koen Damhuis would like to put the results of the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands into perspective, and was given the opportunity to do so by various media. He appeared in Nieuwsuur and EenVandaag but also spoke with Radio France Internationale, The Daily Telegraph and Der Spiegel, among others. In 2017 already, he wrote Wegen naar Wilders (Pathways to Wilders) and in 2020 Roads to the radical right was published, in which he shows which groups are attracted by politicians such as Trump, Le Pen and Wilders – and in what way. His research indicates that these electorates should not be seen as a particular, homogeneous group of voters. There are several roads that lead to radical right support.

Staafdiagram met de verkiezingsuitslag Tweede Kamerverkiezingen 2023
Source: NOS/ANP prognosis based on de exit polls

The potential of Wilders' electoral victory has existed for some time

Many journalists would like to hear an explanation for this week's news from the Netherlands, says Damhuis. They mainly look at recent developments, but I prefer to take a step back, both over time and in an international, comparative perspective. My thoughts went back to 2016, when Wilders obtained more than 40 virtual seats in the polls. In my view, that showed the great potential for his party, even bigger than his score in the last parliamentary elections. It already indicated that under favorable circumstances for him (at the time the refugee crisis), a lot would be possible for the PVV.

At the same time, Wilders' kindred spirits abroad are doing even better electorally. For example, he received fewer votes than Meloni in Italy and certainly  fewer than Marine Le Pen in the French presidential elections last year. There were also elections in Switzerland last month, where the Swiss People's Party, which resembles the PVV in several respects, single-handedly won almost 30 percent of the seats. That's interesting, because it points to a broader tendency in Europe.

The stereotypical PVV voter does not exist

In his interview with EenVandaag, Damhuis again emphasizes that the stereotypical PVV voter does not exist. That's not necessarily the oft-mentioned angry white man. Many voters consider migration to be an important issue, but for different reasons; some because they link it to restrictions in access to care or social housing, others because their tax money would go to 'profiteering fortune seekers', or because migration causes other cultural values to play a role, which in their eyes are not in line with what is typically Dutch.

Watch the broadcast of EenVandaag (in Dutch, video on website)

According to Damhuis, parties such as the PVV are responding to the feeling among voters that they are disadvantaged compared to other groups. Or more specifically: that 'the Dutch are losing out', because Rutte's cabinets have created a queue, which 'ordinary' and 'hard-working' Dutch people standing in line, while newcomers would be given priority en masse, for example in terms of housing or healthcare.

PVV voters mainly come from the right or from non-voters

Hearsay is that parties like the PVV give voice to people who feel insufficiently seen or heard. Yet, for a large part of the population, precarious socio-economic conditions do not seem to explain the large increase in voters. Nor in Switzerland or in the Netherlands, for example. Is there a middle class that also feels misunderstood?


The fact that the PVV manages to get non-voters to the polling stations can also be seen as something positive

Damhuis thinks that you can't even speak of 'the' middle class: From a sociological point of view, that doesn't make much sense. There is a large group within 'the' middle class where economic capital is more important than cultural capital. That group is more right wing and has been so for decades. You can see that parts of this group has shifted from the VVD to the PVV, and previously to FVD and Ja21. There is also a part of the middle class, for whom cultural capital is more important than economic capital. That group is much more oriented towards the Greens (GroenLinks) and social democrats (PvdA) than to the political right.

At the same time, the PVV voters cannot be reduced to lower income groups or to the merely practically educated. To be sure, these voters constitute an important share of the PVV voters. There are few parties that are as popular among the less privileged as the PVV. This is also the case in France, with the Rassemblement National (formerly Front National). The only electoral option that is even more popular among French workers is that of not voting.

Both now and in the past, the PVV's voters came mainly from the right or from the group of non-voters. It is therefore a myth that voters have massively left the left in order to electorally join parties like the PVV. There is no convincing empirical evidence for such a trend in the Netherlands, nor in its neighbouring countries. 'The fact that the PVV manages to get non-voters to the polling stations can also be seen as positive; These voters are re-engaged in the democratic process, and see hope. You saw that in 2002 with Pim Fortuyn. Back in the days, he was able to attract large groups of disengaged voters to the polls. And now Wilders manages to do so again.

Political space on the right

In the broadcast  of Nieuwsuur of Saturday 25 November, which was entirely devoted to the question 'Why Wilders is winning', Damhuis elaborated on the broad group of voters for the PVV. He also points out that the VVD has shifted to the left in the cabinets with D66 – just like in the years before the rise of Pim Fortuyn – which created political space on the right.

Watch the broadcast of Nieuwsuur here (in Dutch, video on Youtube):

'It's not the case that all PVV voters fully approve Wilders’ claims, or sleep under a Wilders duvet'

In the meantime, just as in 2002, migration became one of the most salient issues of these parliamentary elections, Damhuis continues, That was an advantage for the PVV. Because just like Fortuyn at the time, Wilders is one of the few politicians who addresses this issue without being responsible for it. This feature is of great importance to understand the appeal of the PVV and other right-wing anti-establishment parties in The Netherlands and abroad. In France, for example, I heard many respondents say: 'On a tout essayé,' we have tried everything, all parties have been in power, except for one, the Front National.

Interestingly, people often added: “it is not my ideal party either." Some voters even called Le Pen a "problem of problems". I heard similar things in the Netherlands. In other words, it is not the case that all PVV voters fully approve Wilders, or sleep under a Wilders duvet. Many of his voters I interviewed actually thought he was too crude and too radical. But, in their eyes, there was no better alternative. I wouldn't be surprised if the milder tone that Wilders adopted more recently attracted such doubtful voters to support his party in the last election.


Koen Damhuis is affiliated with the Utrecht University School of Governance (USG). Would you like to get in touch with him? Send an email to press officer Gert den Toom: or call: + 31 6 383 25 878.

Koen Damhuis in the (international) media:

Nieuwsuur (25 November, in Dutch, Youtube video):
EenVandaag (23 November, in Dutch, website):
Radio France International (23 November, in French, podcast)
The Daily Telegraph (24 November, website)
Der Spiegel (7 December, website)