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

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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.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)153-173
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 04.2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

This paper was awarded the ‘Best Paper Prize' by the Council for European Studies’ Research Network on Political Economy and Welfare. The Research Network each year offers a Best Paper Prize to a paper presented at the last CES conference.

    Research areas

  • Income inequality, radical right, relative deprivation, social decline, social status
  • Politics