Netherlands 2017 – Clear Second Place for PVV?

A number of right-wing blogs are hailing the election results in the Netherlands last week as an indication that the PVV of Geert Wilders is in a clear second place across the country. For example, Daniel Greenfield writes in Frontpage Mag,

“The Freedom Party has become the largest party in Venlo while the Labor Party has all but vanished.

And that is the real story of the Dutch election.

The truly final results will only be known next week. But the current numbers show that the Freedom Party has become the second largest political party in Parliament having gained five seats while the Labor Party has disastrously lost 29 seats.”

This is an interesting claim and certainly the collapse of Labour and it’s replacement by GreenLeft as the main left-wing party is one fundamental psephelogical observation to be made about the vote. But is there also an underlying narrative that the PVV have clearly positioned themselves as the second place party across the country?

In terms of seats won, that’s technically correct. The PVV is in second place with 19 seats (on 13% of the vote), but they are closely followed by the CDA and D66 on 18 seats each with 12.4% and 12.2% of the vote each respectively. This is hardly a clear second place beyond the other parties.

But what about the picture across the country? Are the PVV making particular inroads into urban areas that will set them up as the main party of choice at the next election? Greenfield writes,

And the growing strength of the Freedom Party can be felt not only on the banks of the Maas River, but across the waterways of the Netherlands. A new wind of change has blown off the North Sea and ruffled feathers in Belgisch Park.

In The Hague, where Carnegie’s Peace Palace hosts the World Court while the humbler Noordeinde Palace houses King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, the internationalist institutions colliding with the nationalist ones, the United Nations rubbing up against the Dutch parliament and Supreme Court, the Freedom Party has become the second largest party despite the 15% Muslim population.

In Rotterdam, where Muslim rioters shouted, “Allahu Akbar” and anti-Semitic slurs and where Hamas front groups are organizing a conference, the Freedom Party is now the second largest political party. In that ancient city on the Rotte that had the first Muslim mayor of a major European city, Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb of the Labor Party who was being groomed for Prime Minister,  estimates are that Labor fell from 32 percent to just 6 percent. That is strikingly similar to what took place in Maastricht.

But nearly half of Rotterdam is made up of immigrants. Muslims make up 13% of the population. But turnout hit 72% and after the Muslim riots, the Freedom Party only narrowly trails the ruling VVD.

At first this seems to indicate that the PVV are doing particularly well in urban areas, but do the facts on the ground bear this out?

Matt Singh at Number Cruncher Politics has compiled the district level results for the election and I have used them to explore the penetration of the PVV vote, particularly it’s ability to top the poll or come in second in each area. Although the Netherlands uses a national level PR system for allocating seats, the district level returns help us see the difference in performance of the parties in varying environments.

You can download my research here.

The first thing that is clear is that the PVV does not have a clear second place position when you look at all the electoral districts. The table below shows who is in first and second place across the 388 Dutch electoral regions.

First Place 283 23 51 5 9 2 0 2 13
Second Place 56 101 125 67 21 7 0 4 7

Far from taking a clear lead, the PVV lags behind the CDA in first AND second places in the Netherlands. Of course, if all the second places for the PVV were in the largest districts (some of the districts are the major cities and are hundreds of thousands of voters large) this wouldn’t matter. So, I split up the country into three groups – Districts with less than 15,000 votes, districts with between 15,00 and 30,000 votes and districts with more than 30,000 votes. In this last group I also looked at the ten largest districts which had over 100,000 votes in them.

First Place – Up to 15k
96 10 28 0 4 0 0 2 8
Second Place – Up to 15k
29 31 52 16 12 2 0 2 4
First Place – 15k to 30k
120 5 16 1 5 0 0 0 4
Second Place – 15k to 30k 14 44 57 25 6 2 0 1 2
First Place – Over 30k 67 8 7 4 0 2 0 0 1
Second Place – Over 30k 13 26 16 26 3 3 0 1 1
First Place – 10 Largest Districts 6 0 2 2
Second Place – 10 Largest Districts 0 3 5 2

The picture here is really interesting. In smaller districts the PVV falls way behind the CDA (a centre-right Christian Democrat party) in achieving second places. When it comes to the larger urban areas D66 (a centrist progressive party) runs neck and neck with the PVV and in the 10 largest districts (by votes cast) clearly performs better than the PVV. In terms of votes cast in the urban areas, D66 outperformed PVV in the 30k+ areas 774288 to 751683 and in the top 10 districts received 297301 votes to the PVV’s 207577

The final analysis I undertook was to look at the average percentage margin between second and third place. Where the D66 came in second they had an average lead of 2.8% over the third place party. Where the PVV came in second their average lead was 3.2%. Where the CDA came in second place they had an average lead of 3.6%.

We can put all these figures together to come up with the following conclusions.

  • The PVV has not in any sense positioned itself as the clear second place party. In smaller districts that position is taken by the CDA and in the larger urban areas D66 is more electorally successful than the PVV, particularly in the largest urban seats.
  • Whilst the PVV has a slightly better second place position over third than D66, the CDA performs even better and its second places in the smaller constituencies are more robust than those of the PVV.

It’s clear that claims that Geert Wilders and the PVV have broken the mould of Dutch politics are way off the truth. Although they achieved a technical second place in votes, the CDA and D66 present clear alternatives in the rural and urban heartlands of the Netherlands respectively. It would require a major electoral shift for the PVV to be considered the main contenders to Rutte’s VVD’s current electoral success.

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