Campaign Update (5 March)

On election night, votes in the Netherlands are counted and reported by local government area (a booth-by-booth breakdown is usually published in the next edition of the local papers). So despite the facts that votes are tallied nationally when determining seat allocation, parties still are able to drill down in order to work out almost exactly where their supporters live. For example, the conservative Christian SGP rely upon a high percentage of the vote from a couple of dozen small councils along the Dutch “Bible Belt”, which runs roughly from the centre to the south-west corner of the country. D66 and GroenLinks are usually strongest in cities, especially those with universities. The SP usually does best in the industrial areas of the south, and the CDA’s strongholds are traditionally in the more rural parts of the country. Watching the map is exciting but also not always a particularly reliable indicator of the state of the nation. In the 2017 election, the PvdA’s demise was so devastating (losing 29 of their 38 seats) that the VVD found itself topping the polls in local government areas where normally it could expect to run a distant second or third, despite losing 8 of its 41 seats that evening. And while it looks like the map will be dominated by the blue of the VVD again in a couple of weeks, it’s always worth remembering how much can easily change should enough votes coalesce behind a major rival. I say all this because while the province of Groningen has never been a happy hunting ground for the VVD, it managed to top the poll in two of its councils as well as most of the councils neighbouring province Drenthe – both of which are usually PvdA strongholds. However, Mark Rutte made some puzzling comments yesterday, claiming that Groningen would be a good place to establish a nuclear power plant, citing the province’s eagerness to be a leader in the transition to new forms of energy. Of course, Groningen has just settled a long-running battle about the impact of gas drilling on the province, and is in no mood to embrace a different form of controversial energy. Rutte recanted the next day, but let’s just say it will be a big surprise if the map doesn’t become significantly less blue in that corner of the country.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the CDA under Wopke Hoekstra is positioning itself as a hard-nosed alternative for disillusioned VVD or FvD voters. Hoekstra claimed that spending cuts would have to come sooner rather than later, although he said his preference was simply not to increase spending, despite the ongoing economic fallout of the pandemic. He also suggested that unemployment benefits should only last for 12 months after losing one’s job, rather than the current 24 months – also something you wouldn’t expect in a recession. However, to those who in the last few years who felt that the VVD was becoming too soft and had nominally moved their vote to FvD (before Baudet went down the rabbit-hole of virus conspiracy theories) might decide that Hoekstra’s CDA is a safe pair of hands to make sure Rutte doesn’t slide any further leftwards.

Research published by weekly magazine De Groene Amsterdammer details just how much women in politics are attacked on social media platforms. D66 lead candidate Sigrid Kaag is the most regular target: the report estimated that she is currently on the receiving end of an abusive tweet every 15 minutes. In addition to gendered insults, Kaag’s husband is Palestinian, which brings in an Islamophobic element (although he isn’t a practicing Muslim). Women from across the political spectrum are regularly attacked in a gendered way, demonstrating that while misogyny might be more prevalent in certain political circles, it certainly isn’t restricted to them. Some of the women in politics interviewed for the article and adjacent media appearances say this kind of behaviour is keeping talented women away from politics, showing that even in a country usually seen as a progressive frontrunner, there is plenty of progress to be made.