“Right” Choice: Restorative Nationalism and Right-Wing Populism in Central and Eastern Europe
''Right'' Choice: Restorative Nationalism and Right- Wing Populism in Central and Eastern Europe
Iza Ding 0 1
Marek Hlavac 0 1
0 Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) , Bratislava , Slovakia
1 Department of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh , 4600 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 , USA
What are the facilitating conditions for right-wing populism? This paper explores the moral and nationalist foundations of right-wing populist appeal. Using European Social Survey data, we demonstrate that voting for right-wing populist parties is not associated with anti-elite, anti-establishment sentiment, but instead with moral beliefs in the cultural purity of nationhood and its centrality to the preservation of national identity, which we call restorative nationalism. We draw on qualitative data from Central and Eastern Europe to demonstrate how narratives of restorative nationalism can bolster right-wing populist politicians.
Restorative nationalism; Morality and Eastern Europe; Historical legacy; Right-wing populism; Central
The rise of populist politicians and their electoral success in recent years have raised
the salience of populism worldwide. In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, popular
candidates such as Donald Trump (a right-wing populist) and Bernie Sanders
leftWe thank Anna Gurowski, Jeffrey Javed, Amaury Perez, Jan Rovny, and participants of the Workshop
on Populism in the Age of Globalization at Fudan University in April 2017 for their helpful insights. We
thank Eun Young Kim and Amaury Perez for outstanding research assistance. All errors are our own.
built their campaign platforms around anti-elitist, anti-establishment
narratives. Even Hillary Clinton, a centrist establishment candidate, occasionally
resorted to populist rhetoric such as ‘‘take on Wall Street’’. In Europe, right-wing
populist movements that arose in response to the 2008 financial crisis and the Syrian
refugee crisis are threatening the very survival of the European Union project. The
U.K.’s decision to leave the E.U. in the summer of 2016 and Donald Trump’s
electoral victory shocked many, but also emboldened populist movements across
Europe, spearheaded by Nigel Farage in the U.K., Marine Le Pen in France, Norbert
Hofer in Austria, and Geert Wilders (dubbed the ‘‘Dutch Donald’’) in The
Netherlands. There is no question that populism, particularly right-wing populism,
is—at least temporarily—‘‘on the rise’’
. The ‘‘populist Zeitgeist’’
declared we live in is nowhere near over.1
Any student of populism would agree that the concept is nebulous and
susceptible to conceptual stretching and straining
.2 Populism has
been called ‘‘elusive’’, ‘‘protean’’
(Ionescu and Gellner 1969, 1, cited in Gidron and
, ‘‘mercurial’’ (Stanley 2008, 108), and, conceptually and
politically, an ‘‘empty signifier’’
. There have been plenty of attempts
to characterize populism, yet many definitions do not allow for falsifiability
. For example, Mudde defines it as ‘‘an ideology that considers society to be
ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure
people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an
expression of the general will of the people’’ (2004, 544). Such a definition begs the
question of what office-seeking politician would not benefit from rhetoric that
vilifies those in power, and has not done so? Most politicians, particularly those who
have not obtained power, assign blame to the incumbents and take advantage of
. Democracy, after all, is politics as an expression of
the general will of the people, and hence, any kind of democratic system is
1 To be sure, populism, if defined as a political agenda that claims to express of the general will of the
people, is not a new political phenomenon. Julius Caesar was a famous popularis who, along with his
wealthy patron Marcus Crassus and son-in-law (and later enemy) Pompey the Great, appealed to the
plebeians and struggled against the conservative patrician faction of optimates in the Roman Senate. Both
Crassus and Pompey were obscenely wealthy, yet used populist policies and narratives (e.g., a proposed
land law to redistribute land to the urban poor) to their personal political benefit. Modern-day populism
has taken on diverse characteristics. Early 20th century populism in Russia and China mobilized on
notions such as ‘‘the people’’ and ‘‘the working class’’, yet was also anti-imperialist. During the great
depression, resentment of banks and the wealthy increased the status of redistributionist-populist
politicians such as Louisiana Governor Huey Long, who declared ‘‘Every Man a King’’ before his
assassination in 1935. During the Cold War, populism took a right turn in the U.S., drawing support from
the ‘‘white working class’’, and underpinned the rise of McCarthyism. In the post-Cold War era, populist
movements moved further to the right in Europe and the U.S. and to the left in Latin America.
2 A rich literature seeks to refine the elusive concept of populism. Noam Gidron and Bart Bonikowski’s
(2013) comprehensive survey of the literature identifies three approaches to populism in the literature:
populism as a set of interrelated ideas about the nature of politics and society (ideology); populism as a
type of political claim making (discourse); and populism as a form of political mobilization (political
strategy). Others typologize populism based on context. Cas Mudde argues that there are three types of
populism: agrarian populism, which considers peasants to be the source of morality; economic populism,
which champions moderate redistribution and state-heavy, ‘‘import-substitution industrialization’’; and
political populism, which emphasizes a ‘‘rigid dichotomy of ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’’’
somewhat populist in nature
(Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017)
. Thus, Mudde adroitly
calls populism a ‘‘thin-centered ideology’’ that can be combined with other
ideologies, such as communism, nationalism, and socialism (2004, 544). This helps
explain why ‘‘populists’’ come in all sizes and shapes: from communists like Mao
Zedong and Hugo Chavez, to anti-communists like Joseph McCarthy, to religious
conservatives like Rodrigo Duterte, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Jarosław
The vagueness of the concept, however, should not dissuade scholars from its
study. Despite scholarly debates over whether the concept is neutral or antonymous
(Laclau 2005; Zˇ izˇek 2006)
, its negative connotations are accentuated in the media
and politics. It is often associated with illiberalism, authoritarianism, and conspiracy
theories surrounding elite corruption
This paper disaggregates the concept of populism and focuses on a particular
branch that is believed to be an impediment to democracy: exclusionary right-wing
populism—an ideology that is usually associated with welfare chauvinism, social
illiberalism, and opposition to immigration and globalization. The inclusionary–
exclusionary dimension of populism has profound policy implications: inclusionary
populism, often seen in Latin America, advocates the political and economic
inclusion of minority groups, whereas exclusionary populism, often seen in Europe,
does the opposite. This notable distinction was observed during the 2016 U.S.
presidential campaign: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were both called
‘‘populists’’; however, their views on how ethnic and religious minorities should be
treated diverged drastically.
What facilitates exclusionary right-wing populism? We explore this question in
the context of Central and Eastern Europe, in particular, the ‘‘Visegrad Four’’:
Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. In all four countries, the hearty
celebrations of the 2004 E.U. entrance degenerated into sour populist resentment
only a few years later with profound political consequences: the ascendancy of
right-wing, populist politicians, and political parties that have weakened, if not
reversed, the region’s democratic consolidation. Yet, the intensity of right-wing
populism and its electoral success has varied considerably across the Visegrad Four.
In Poland and Hungary, right-wing populists have consistently won votes and come
to power, whereas in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, despite periodic surges in
right-wing support, the right-wing vote share has been lower.
We argue that right-wing populist movements draw on moral beliefs in the
cultural purity of nationhood and its centrality to the preservation of national
identity—what we call restorative nationalism. Restorative nationalism is shaped by
historical circumstances, and embodied in political memories that are passed down
from one generation to another (e.g., through the education system). It can be
activated and animated by rhetorical and cultural symbols, and has a lasting impact
on public opinion and political behavior. Restorative nationalism often reflects on a
historical period of perceived greatness and glory, often juxtaposed with an ensuing
period of trauma and humiliation, and calls for the restoration of a glorious past.
The following section presents the puzzle and the research question. The third
section discusses the concept of restorative nationalism. The fourth section uses
qualitative evidence from Central and Eastern Europe to demonstrate how
politicians exploit restorative nationalism in political campaigns. The fifth section
uses European Social Survey (ESS) data to demonstrate that voting for right-wing
populist parties is strongly associated with restorative nationalism, but not with
antielite, anti-establishment beliefs. The conclusion explores the theoretical
implications of our findings and future research directions.
2 The Puzzle
Before presenting our hypotheses and findings, it is important to first discuss the
empirical puzzle to demonstrate that the variation in our dependent variable is real
and worth investigating. First and foremost, we want to challenge the myth that
populism, if defined as anti-elite, anti-establishment sentiment, is ‘‘on the rise’’.
Figure 1 tracks anti-elite/anti-establishment sentiment in Europe using a question
that has been asked in all ESS waves since 2002: ‘‘On a scale of 0–10, how much do
you trust politicians?’’ We separate the answers by region. Interestingly, between
2002 and 2014, Europeans’ trust in politicians has moved little overall with the
exception of Southern Europe.3
ESS data also demonstrate some regional variation in popular trust of politicians.
Nordic countries are the most trusting (4.9 out of 10 in 2014), whereas those in
Southern Europe display the lowest level of trust (2.1 out of 10 in 2014). The
Visegrad Four also exhibit some of the lowest levels of trust in politicians (2.7 out
of 10 in 2014) and in political institutions such as parties, parliament, and the legal
system. Among the 21 countries surveyed in 2014, Poles reported the second-lowest
level of trust in parliament (2.8 out of 10; the European average is 4.5 out of 10); the
second-lowest level of trust in politicians (2 out of 10, European average = 3.6); the
3 Questions about respondents’ trust in political parties and parliaments follow a similar pattern.
lowest level of trust in political parties (2 out of 10, European average = 3.6); and
the second-lowest level of trust in the legal system (3.6 out of 10, European
average = 5.3).4
Figure 2 shows that the Visegrad Four has fairly similar levels of trust/distrust
toward political elites. Overall, the region, like the rest of Europe, exhibits little
change in trust in politicians in the past decade.
However, the votes received by right-wing populist parties in the four countries
demonstrate a persistent divide between Poland and Hungary, on one hand, and
Czech Republic and Slovakia, on the other hand. Figure 3 tracks the percentage of
parliamentary votes received by right-wing populist parties in the Visegrad Four.
Populist right-wing vote share has spiked since the late 1990s in Hungary and
Poland, yet has remained lower in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, despite a recent
What survey and behavioral data tell us is that assertions about a ‘‘populist rise’’
suffer from a certain degree of ‘‘presentist bias’’
(Gidron and Bonikowski 2013, 25)
It should be emphasized, however, populism here is measured with
anti-elite/antiestablishment sentiments. Recent electoral history in Europe, on the other hand,
demonstrates increasing access to power of radical right-wing populist politicians
and parties. Hence, the puzzle we seek to address is what has helped European
rightwing populists come to power in a despite the lack of significant change in
antiestablishment sentiment? In other words, what explains voting for these right-wing
4 Slovenia had the lowest level of trust in politicians and political institutions.
5 Right-wing populist parties included in the calculation: Jobbik, Fidesz, and MIEP in Hungary; PiS,
Kukiz’15, SRP, LPR, ROP, and WAK in Poland; SNS, PSNS, and Kotleba in Slovakia; Dawn and
SPRRSC in the Czech Republic.
3 The Moral and Nationalist Roots of Populism
We hypothesize that voting for right-wing populist parties may be explained by the
activation of moral beliefs about the cultural purity of nationhood that recalls a
perceived halcyon era, and the idea that returning to this era can somehow be
achieved by preserving the nation’s cultural (and often ethnic) purity—we call this
restorative nationalism. While every country expresses a certain degree of
nationalism, restorative nationalism is reactive. If nationalism is the undercurrent,
restorative nationalism represents the waves: it is triggered by cultural change that
usually follows modernization, immigration, and the weakening of national
boundaries. Cultural change that takes place due to exogenous circumstances
threatens a nation-state’s traditional national identity. Those who experience greater
psychological difficulty in adapting may become nostalgic for a past envisioned to
be purer, simpler and, for all intents and purposes, better
(Ding and Javed 2017)
Right-wing populist movements often draw on (and/or manufacture) popular
longing to restore a purer, greater past.
Morality is central to populism: populist claims are inevitably Manichean claims
that juxtapose a righteous people against an immoral elite
(Laclau 2005; Mudde
. As Robert Jansen eloquently explains: ‘‘such a Manichean
discourse…emphasizing the immorality of the elite, is instrumental to the rhetorical
project of elevating the moral worth of—and collapsing competing distinctions
within the category of—‘the people’’’ (2011, 84). Moral claims have enormous
. Research demonstrates that perceived moral
transgressions heighten an audience’s emotional state and make it more susceptible
to unconventional (e.g., violent) beliefs and behavior
(Haidt 2012; Javed 2017)
The (perceived) power imbalance between elites and the people lends further
moral potency to populist claims. Ultimately, populists seek to take power away
from elites and return it to the people. Hence,
, 27) argues that populist
politicians are ‘‘reluctantly political’’: they benefit from rhetorical moral attacks on
power holders, but also seek to attain positions of power to right the wrongs and
exercise the will of the people. For this reason, populist leaders are often
charismatic and capable of spinning convincing tales about right and wrong, and in
particular, the immorality of the elites
Nationalism is an attractive ideology to political populists.
asserts that populists’ ‘‘reference to the undivided people sits well with nationalists’
belief in the nation; the two are often mixed in the dichotomy of the national people
versus the anti-national elite’’. Based on the populist discourse, elite immorality lies
in their betrayal of the ‘‘common man’’, who represents the nation’s identity. Who
this ‘‘common man’’ is may vary from place to place and over time, but his or her
image is always native, loyal, upright, and hardworking, and does not take more
than he contributes.6 He (or she) usually belongs to the nation’s ethnic majority.7
The populist discourse contends that elites, to reap personal economic or political
benefits, take advantage of the innocence and integrity of the common man, and sell
the country out to multinationals, foreigners, and minorities—to the detriment of his
or her welfare. The common man thus becomes a political sacrifice. In response, he
(or she) longs for a past when the nation was purer and greater.
Right-wing populism is especially enthralling during times of hardship,
uncertainty, and rapid social transitions. In recent years, E.U. integration has
become a convenient moral target of right-wing populists, whose main critique is
that liberal elites have sold their national interests to minorities, immigrants, and
multinationals. In the aftermath of the Syrian civil war, populist right portrays
refugees in Europe as moral intruders. For example, Hungarian Prime Minister
Viktor Orba´n has called refugees rapists, potential terrorists, job-stealers, and
‘‘poison’’ for the nation
. In the face of cultural change, moral,
nationalist messages that draw on symbols of historical glory (and trauma) appeal
strongly to those who feel their traditional identity is being jeopardized.
4 How the Populist Right Exploits Restorative Nationalism
The rise of European nation states as self-contained political entities in the
seventeenth century redefined what it means to be a people. According to Ernest
, various political and cultural homogenizing forces arose during this
period to destroy and reconfigure local cultures into national ones. To nationalists,
the nation is a ‘‘heartland’’
—a notion that is associated with symbols
of purity and stability, and a place that engenders feelings of security and belonging.
When the ‘‘heartland’’ is perceived to be under threat, nationalists are drawn to its
6 During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, for instance, this group was known as the ‘‘white working
7 The work of Scott
shows that when there is an implicit moral hierarchy between groups in
a nation’s foundational narratives, which identity ‘‘a specific category of people as the main population
whose interests the state promotes’’, such nation is most prone to genocide.
In post-communist societies, nationalism looms particularly large. Unlike in
China, where the communist movement was mostly homegrown, communism in
Eastern Europe was imposed by an intruding foreign power
(Bunce 2005; Pei 2009)
As Keith Darden and Anna Grzymała-Busse (2006, 89) argue, in the 1980s,
‘‘opposition movements claimed to be rescuing the nation from the grasp of an
alien, imposed, and illegitimate communist regime’’. They show that
precommunist schooling and literacy led to the formation and transmission of a
national identity that helped bring down communist regimes.
While nationalism might have helped Eastern Europe expels a foreign, repressive
regime, it has also brought right-wing populist politicians to power in the
postcommunist period. In the early years of Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS), it
successfully merged its nationalist and anti-communist rhetoric by accusing
incumbents of corruption linked to Soviet/Russian influence. By exploiting
‘‘patriotic feelings of the Poles, their sense of traditional moral values, and their
faith in Catholicism’’
(Fox and Vermeersch 2010, 334)
, the PiS gained sweeping
control of the presidency, premiership, and the Sejm (parliament) in the 2015
During the campaign, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski accused the
Civic Platform—the centrist, pro-European party that ruled Poland from 2007 to
2015—of selling out the country’s national interests to the E.U.
. A few
months after the PiS victory, the cover of Wprost, a widely circulated Polish
magazine, featured a photoshopped image of five leading E.U. politicians, with
German Chancellor Angela Merkel situated in the middle, in Nazi uniforms, leaning
over a map, with the headline ‘‘these people want to control Poland again (Zn o´w
chca˛ nadzorowac´ Polske˛)’’. In this example, Poland’s historical grievance against
Germany was invoked to garner populist support. In its first year in office, the PiS
took on the country’s highest court, the civil service, and public media, prompting
the E.U. to launch an unprecedented inquiry into the state of the country’s
Similarly, Hungarian politics has been dominated by right-wing populists,
notably Fidesz and its leader Viktor Orba´n, who has served as Prime Minister since
2010. Since taking office, the Orba´n administration has implemented numerous bills
that hinder the rule of law in Hungary
. Furthermore, Jobbik8
(Movement for a Better Hungary), a radical-right populist political party, has
drastically expanded its vote share in the Hungarian Assembly to become the
thirdlargest party in 2014. Jobbik describes itself as a patriotic Christian party with a
mission to preserve Hungarian values, but is often characterized as neo-Nazi. It has
played on fears of cultural change among some Hungarians (it is often criticized for
racism and homophobia), and has called for a return to the pre-Treaty of Trianon9
argues that far-right populist movements in Hungary
became a powerful political force, and a ‘‘profitable business’’ due to a vibrant
8 ‘‘Jobbik’’ or ‘‘jobb’’ means both ‘‘better’’ and the direction ‘‘right’’ in Hungarian. 9 This post-WWI treaty reduced the size of Hungary’s territory by more than two-thirds.
communist civil society that facilitated the production, spread, consumption, and
performance of cultural symbols of a ‘‘Greater Hungary’’:
Conservative civic groups have been instrumental in reinvigorating the
symbolic vocabulary of a mythic nationalism that was widespread at the turn
of the nineteenth and twentieth century as well as in the 1930s… These
diverse groups draw on the symbolic imagery of Hungarians’ historic
independence struggles against Ottoman occupation in the sixteenth and
seventeenth century and later against Habsburg rule; the loss of Transylvania
(and parts of Northern and Southern Hungary) after World War I; as well as
Hungarian popular legends about Hungarian settlers from the time of the
Hungarian Conquest at the turn of the ninth and tenth centuries. They blend
this medley of historical motifs into a contemporary anti-capitalist rhetoric in
which Hungarian independence is lost, for instance, to foreign multinational
corporations and the EU (174).
E.U. membership created a political opportunity for a nationalist reinvigoration
in both Poland and Hungary; national identity became a convenient locus for
interparty contestation: parties compete to define (and redefine) what it means to be a
nation, and left–right distinctions overlap with national/non-national distinctions
(Fox and Vermmersch 2010, 201)
. The most notable example is the transformation
of Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Alliance) from a liberal youth organization (Federation
of Young Democrats) in the early 1990s with a motto of ‘‘Don’t trust anybody over
35’’ into a conservative right-wing populist party within a decade. After turning
right, Fidesz exploited restorative nationalist sentiments. On the 50th anniversary of
the Hungarian Revolution in 2006, Fidesz called for ‘‘[resuming] the revolution’’
and fomented a week of riots targeting those in power, who they claimed to be
‘‘rebranded communists’’. In 2010, on the nineteenth anniversary of the Treaty of
Trianon, Fidesz again invoked the historical trauma of the post-WWI settlement to
foment nationalist rhetoric
(Rupnik 2012, 135)
. Reviving historical memories of
tradition and glory greatly facilitated Fidesz’s political goals. In the early 1990s, as
the liberal Federation of Young Democrats, the party had minimal parliamentary
representation, but within a decade after switching to the right and adopting a
rhetoric of restorative nationalism, it achieved a parliamentary supermajority in
2010, which it has maintained.
Although Central Eastern Europe has experienced an overall rise in right-wing
populist support, there is a considerable degree of variation. As shown in Section II,
right-wing populist parties have received fewer votes in the Czech Republic and
Slovakia than in Poland and Hungary. Why? We argue that historical legacies shape
the range of rhetorical and symbolic resources available to political leaders, who draw
on these ideas to form ideologies that appeal to particular groups. As Scott Straus
(2015, x) describes, ‘‘[H]istory delivers a package of available ideas … [while]
material conditions constrain the range of available options’’. While political leaders
have some autonomy in ‘‘synthesizing and developing’’ these ideas, their options are
also constrained by national circumstances (Ibid.). Poland and Hungary’s historical
pasts as ‘‘great’’ empires may have provided political actors with more symbolic and
rhetorical resources with which to construct restorative nationalism.
5 Who Votes for the Populist Right? Evidence from the European
Social Survey (2014)
Our empirical analysis relies on individual-level data from the seventh wave (in
2014) of the European Social Survey (ESS), a biannual cross-national survey that
includes respondents from a selection of European countries (ESS 2016). This wave
contains three of the Visegrad Four countries (Czech Republic, Hungary and
Poland). Our empirical approach consists of running a set of linear probability
models10 of the following form for each country:
Y ¼ bX þ cZ þ e;
where Y is the dependent variable (a dummy variable that indicates whether the
respondent voted for a particular populist party), X is a vector of key independent
variables of interest (i.e., our measures of restorative nationalism), Z represents a
vector of control variables, and e is a stochastic error term. Our main hypothesis is
that voting for a right-wing populist party is positively associated with strong
feelings of restorative nationalism.
5.1 Measuring Restorative Nationalism
We include three key independent variables that independently measure our concept
of restorative nationalism: Very Close to Country, Way of Life, and Follow
Traditions. Very Close to Country is a dummy variable derived from respondents’
answers to Question D22 (‘‘How close do you feel to [country]?’’). It assumes a
value of 1 when the respondent answers ‘‘very close’’. We expect that those who
feel closer to their country are more nationalist and hold stronger beliefs about what
national identity should look like. In fact, one of the slogans of the Polish PiS is
‘‘Closer to the people’’.
Way of Life is based on Question D6 (‘‘How important should it be for
[immigrants] to be committed to the way of life in [country]?’’), and is measured on
a scale that ranges from 0 (‘‘extremely unimportant’’) to 10 (‘‘extremely
important’’). We expect that those who strongly believe that immigrants should
be ‘‘committed to the way of life’’ in their country see national identity as being
culturally homogenous and believe that it is important to preserve it.
Finally, Follow Traditions is based on Question D13, in which respondents are
asked to register their agreement (or disagreement) with the statement ‘‘It is better
for a country if almost everyone shares the same customs and traditions’’ on a
fivepoint scale from 1 (‘‘disagree strongly’’) to 5 (‘‘agree strongly’’). We expect that
those who strongly agree that everyone in a country should share the same customs
and traditions also believe in preserving national customs and traditions.
10 We have opted for the linear probability model as it allows for the most straightforward interpretation
of regression results. Using probit or logistic models does not substantially change our results.
5.2 Control Variables
We include a set of control variables in all specifications. The key alternative
hypothesis we test is that voting for right-wing populist parties is motivated by
antielite/anti-establishment sentiments. We capture this variable using Trust in Politicians,
based on Question B5 (‘‘Please tell me […] how much you personally trust
[politicians]’’.), and is measured on a scale from 0 (‘‘no trust at all’’) to 10 (‘‘complete
trust’’). Trust in politicians is strongly correlated with trust in political parties (0.855**,
p \ 0.01) and trust in the country’s parliament (0.74**, p \ 0.01).11
It is often argued that populist movements are particularly attractive to the
economically dissatisfied and those whose economic circumstances have worsened
over time. Question B21 (‘‘On the whole, how satisfied are you with the present
state of the economy in [country]?’’) forms the basis for the variable Satisfied with
Economy, which measures respondents’ satisfaction with the state of their country’s
economy on a scale from 0 (‘‘extremely dissatisfied’’) to 10 (‘‘extremely satisfied’’).
It may be hypothesized that less economically satisfied people are more likely to
vote for a right-wing populist party.
In addition, we include a variable that measures individuals’ religiosity. Religion
is an important political force in Central and Eastern Europe. Anna Grzymała-Busse
(2012, 437) argues that in Poland, the fusion of religious beliefs and nationalism
makes the church particularly powerful in mobilizing political support. Hence, the
populist right in Poland has taken advantage of a common cultural understanding
that ‘‘all Poles are Catholics’’
. By contrast, in the Czech
Republic, the church’s perceived historical stance against the nation has reduced
overall religiosity in the country
(Grzymała-Busse 2012, 2015)
. We use the dummy
variable Church Attendance to proxy for respondents’ religiosity, based on Question
C14 (‘‘Apart from special occasions such as weddings and funerals, about how often
do you attend religious services nowadays?’’), coded as 1 for attending ‘‘at least
once a month’’ or more frequently. It may be hypothesized that church attendance is
positively associated with voting for right-wing populist parties.
Finally, we include a few standard demographic (i.e., age and gender) and
socioeconomic (i.e., education and income) variables. Years of Education records the
number of completed years of full-time education. Income Decile corresponds to the
respondent’s household income decile within their country.
11 Our statistical results do not change significantly if we replace Trust in Politicians with Trust in
Political Parties and Trust in Parliament.
Robust standard errors in parentheses
*** p \ 0.01, ** p \ 0.05, * p \ 0.1
elite) and individuals’ satisfaction with the state of the national economy. In Models
4–6, we include all controls.
The results from all six models show that each of the three measures of
restorative nationalism is positively associated with voting for the PiS, and the
coefficients are statistically significant. A Pole who feels ‘‘very close’’ to his or her
country is 9.1% (7.3% with controls) more likely to vote for the PiS than one who
does not. The more strongly a Pole thinks that immigrants should be committed to
the way of life in Poland, the more likely he or she is to vote for the PiS: with every
one-point increase on the 0–10 scale for Way of Life, his/her likelihood of voting for
the PiS increased by 0.9% (8% with controls). Finally, Poles who believe that a
country is better if almost everyone shares the same customs and traditions are more
likely to vote for the PiS. With each one-point increase on the 1–5 scale for Follow
Traditions, the respondent is 2.3% (1.6% with controls) more likely to vote for the
Interestingly, Trust in Politicians is not associated with voting for the PiS in four
of the model’s six specifications. In the two models in which the coefficient for
Trust is significant, Trust is found to be positively associated with voting for the PiS,
contrary to the conventional belief that voting for right-wing parties is driven by
anti-elite sentiment. The less satisfied a voter is with the Polish economy, the more
likely he or she is to vote for the PiS, which supports our hypothesis. However, the
negative relationship may also be explained by the PiS not being the incumbent in
2014. In addition, we find that older and more religious individuals are more likely
to vote for the PiS.
Table 2 presents the relationship between voting for the right-wing Hungarian
Jobbik party and our measures of restorative nationalism. In Models 7–9, we include
each measure of restorative nationalism and two key control variables: Trust in
Politicians and Satisfied Economy. In Models 10–12, we include the rest of the
The results from all six models show that each of the three measures of
restorative nationalism is positively associated with voting for Jobbik, and the
coefficients are statistically significant. A Hungarian who feels ‘‘very close’’ to his
or her country is 3.3% (7.1% with controls) more likely to vote for Jobbik than one
who does not. The more strongly a Hungarian believes that immigrants should be
committed to the way of life in Hungary, the more likely he or she is to vote for
Jobbik. Finally, Hungarians who believe that a country is better if almost everyone
shares the same customs and traditions are more likely to vote for Jobbik.
Trust in Politicians is not associated with voting for Jobbik in any of the model’s
six specifications, demonstrating that the relationship between anti-elite sentiments
and voting for right-wing populist parties is thin. Satisfaction with the state of the
Hungarian economy is negatively associated with voting for Jobbik; however, the
relationship is only statistically significant in one of the six models. We also find
that older people are less likely to vote for Jobbik, and females are approximately
7% less likely to vote for Jobbik than males.
Table 3 presents the relationship between voting for the Hungarian Fidesz Party
(which is to the left of Jobbik) and our measures of restorative nationalism. In
Models 13–15, we include each measure of restorative nationalism and two key
control variables: Trust in Politicians and Satisfied Economy. In Models 16–18, we
include the rest of the control variables.
The results show that restorative nationalism is positively associated with voting
for Fidesz, and the coefficients are significant in four of the six models.
Interestingly, Trust in Politicians is positively associated with voting for Fidesz
in all six models, which means that anti-elite sentiments actually decrease the
likelihood of voting for Fidesz. This may be explained by the hypothesis that
conservatives are more trusting of political authorities
, and therefore, a
populist conservative is not as anti-elite and anti-establishment as we may otherwise
Table 4 presents the relationship between voting for Dawn (Usvit), a right-wing
populist, euroskeptic party in the Czech Republic and our measures of restorative
Robust standard errors in parentheses
*** p \ 0.01, ** p \ 0.05, * p \ 0.1
nationalism.12 In Models 19–21, we include each measure of restorative nationalism
and two key control variables: Trust in Politicians and Satisfied Economy. In
Models 22–24, we include the rest of the control variables.
The results from all six models show that no measure of restorative nationalism is
correlated with voting for Dawn. This result is difficult to interpret, given that Dawn
only has the support of 2% of the country’s population according to recent polls.
12 Although ANO is the largest populist party in the Czech Republic, it is not a right-wing party. ANO
was founded in 2012 by a charismatic wealthy businessman Andrej Babis (nicknamed ‘‘Babisconi’’) who
garnered support from Czech citizens by publically criticizing systemic governmental corruption and
proposing liberal economic policies. Although often characterized as a one-man party, ANO’s political
position is center-right: while being softly Euroskeptic, Babis has advocated for stronger economic ties
with other nations.
Robust standard errors in parentheses
*** p \ 0.01, ** p \ 0.05, * p \ 0.1
However, it may also indicate that there is a latent variable that prevents restorative
nationalism from working in favor of right-wing populist parties.
Overall, we find strong evidence in support of our hypothesis that restorative
nationalism provides electoral support for right-wing populist parties, particularly in
Poland and Hungary. We also find strong evidence that anti-elite/anti-establishment
sentiment does not predict voting for right-wing populist parties; in fact, there is
some evidence to suggest the opposite.
Robust standard errors in parentheses
*** p \ 0.01, ** p \ 0.05, * p \ 0.1
7 Concluding Remarks
In this article, we explore the sources of support for the populist right in Central and
Eastern Europe. We find evidence that voting for right-wing populist parties is
strongly associated with restorative nationalism—moral beliefs in the cultural purity
of nationhood that recalls a perceived halcyon era, and the belief that returning to
this era can somehow be achieved by preserving the nation’s cultural (and often
ethnic) purity. This finding contributes to the existing scholarship that emphasizes
the centrality of morality and nationalism to populist support.
Our findings also contribute to the existing theories of populism by showing that
it is not always anti-establishment. We use data from the European Social Survey to
demonstrate that, despite the rise of right-wing populist parties in Europe, anti-elite/
anti-establishment sentiment in Europe has been decreasing for the past decade. We
also find a little evidence that anti-elite/anti-establishment sentiment predicts voting
for right-wing populist parties in Central and Eastern Europe.
Our findings have profound theoretical implications. We show that various
beliefs that are commonly associated with populism—such as
anti-elite/establishment sentiments and nationalism—might not correlate positively with each other.
People may trust the political system yet still vote for a right-wing populist party/
politician. Similarly, people may distrust politicians and the political system, yet
refrain from voting for a right-wing populist party/politician. Such inconsistency
may be explained by single-issue voters
or the fact that people are
capable of holding inconsistent or contradictory beliefs
(Converse 2006; Zaller
. Future research should examine the preference order in the issue space of
populist voters and, in particular, explore the distinction and overlap between
nationalism and populism.
We further contribute to the literature on nationalism by proposing the concept of
restorative nationalism as a reactionary response to cultural change. Restorative
nationalism recalls a perceived halcyon era, and champions the belief that returning
to this era can somehow be achieved by preserving the nation’s cultural, and often
ethnic, purity. Restorative nationalism draws on rhetorical and cultural symbols of
historical greatness, and is especially attractive to those who experience difficulty
during social or economic transitions. Future research should explore whether
certain nations are more susceptible to restorative nationalism (e.g., former empires)
Iza Ding is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research
examines the political economy of development, with a substantive focus on global and local
environmental politics and governance, political memory, and a regional focus on Asia and Central and
Marek Hlavac is a Research Fellow at the Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) in
Bratislava, Slovakia. In addition, he teaches economics at UWC Adriatic in Italy. He holds a Ph.D. in
Political Economy and Government from Harvard University.
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