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Research project

Visibility - Increased visibility and radical right parties electoral success

This project has received funding via the EUI ESR call 2024, dedicated to Early Stage Researchers.

The rise of radical-right parties across democracies has prompted researchers to investigate the sources of their success. Factors such as the economy, immigration or identity politics are the usual suspects in this research stream. We know less about factors that contribute to the sustained growth of radical-right parties after an initial breakthrough. One argument holds that these parties benefit especially from the visibility they gain when they win elections. Specifically, greater visibility likely normalises such parties and increases the chances that people will consider voting for right-wing parties.

Testing this argument is particularly challenging due to the endogenous relationship between electoral success and increased visibility. Since visibility is usually proxied by media interest, the challenge is to determine whether media coverage fosters electoral success or the reverse. An alternative approach which avoids this problem of endogeneity is to use parliamentary entry as a signal of normalisation of radical-right parties. Parliamentary representation, however, offers not only greater visibility but also material support to parties – both of which can help them expand their electoral base. Therefore, material perks that come with parliamentary representation render isolating the sole effect of visibility on electoral success especially difficult.

This project attempts to isolate the unique effect of visibility and overcome these empirical limitations by focusing on the two-round system as applied in legislative and local elections in France. We use election data from 1978 to 2022 at the constituency level and leverage the quasi-random nature of runoff qualification in the French electoral system to gauge the effect of the presence of radical-right parties that barely crossed the threshold – and hence gained visibility without necessarily winning the election – on radical-right success in the closest next election. The study of French elections contributes to the broader literature on the conditions that explain the electoral success of radical-right parties.

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