The threat of social decline: income inequality and radical right support

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


Income inequality and radical right parties have both been on the rise in Western democracies, yet few studies explore the linkages between the two–despite prominent arguments about voters feeling ‘left behind’. We argue that rising inequality not only intensifies relative deprivation, but also signals a potential threat of social decline, as gaps in the social hierarchy widen. Hence, voters higher up in the social hierarchy may turn to the radical right to defend existing social boundaries. Using International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) data from 14 OECD countries over three decades, we find that rising income inequality increases the likelihood of radical right support–most pronouncedly among individuals with high subjective social status and lower-middle incomes. Adding to evidence that the threat of decline, rather than actual deprivation, pushes voters towards the radical right, we highlight income inequality as the crucial factor conditioning perceived threats from a widening social hierarchy.

ZeitschriftJournal of European Public Policy
Seiten (von - bis)153-173
Anzahl der Seiten21
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 04.2021
Extern publiziertJa

Bibliographische Notiz

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Klaus Armingeon, Denis Cohen, Thomas Kurer, Lucas Leeman, Elif Naz Kayran, Tim Vlandas, and audiences at University of Oxford seminars (Social Inequality Research Group, October 2018; INET Researcher Seminar, November 2018; WEALTHPOL Reading Group, March 2019), the annual conference of the Swiss Political Science Association (Zurich, February 2019), the 26th International Conference of Europeanists (Madrid, June 2019), and the ECPR General Conference (Wroclaw, September 2019) for valuable comments.

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