Campaign Update (6 March)

If there’s one misconception about the Netherlands I’m always keen to debunk, it’s the idea that the entire country is like Amsterdam: super-progressive and super-liberal. While in comparison to most other countries, even in Europe, the Netherlands overall does indeed sit on the progressive end of the spectrum in terms of matters like marriage equality, abortion and euthanasia, the country has a strong history of Christian political parties, and is more right-wing than most people realise.

While recent elections have not been kind to the largest Christian party in the Netherlands, the CDA used to dominate politics, often winning around a third of the vote with crushing margins in regional areas, especially the more Catholic southern provinces. Increasingly, it is becoming a medium-sized party which hangs about in the range of 15-20 seats in the Tweede Kamer. Research presented on radio program Dit is de dag (This is the day) Friday evening suggested that not only do a majority of Christian voters plan to vote for a secular party (57%), but that the shift away from the CDA might be here to stay. Among Christian voters in general (defined as those who attend church at least once a month), the top three parties are the ChristenUnie (CU), CDA and VVD in that order. This already marks a shift from the days when the CDA would easily take out the top spot, but the numbers among younger Christian voters were even more alarming for the party: the CU is still most favoured, but D66 came in second ahead of the VVD, with the CDA finishing sixth behind even GroenLinks. Why D66? As a centrist party which has worked with the CDA and CU in the past they’re a familiar face, but it probably also helps that lead candidate Sigrid Kaag openly speaks about her Catholic faith. In contrast, CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra is not particularly religious. And while these numbers pertain to the upcoming election only, it does suggest that the CDA’s supporter base is ageing, and they’ll need to find a way to attract younger voters quickly. The only bit of hope for them is that around 15% of Christian voters remain undecided.

A survey on trust in politics and politicans conducted by I&O Research for newspaper NRC Handelsblad gave a handy overview of the state of Dutch politics. The question I found most useful was where voters were asked about the level of trust they had in the government. The only answers were that they either had trust, or very little/no trust. Unsurprisingly, VVD voters survey had the most trust in the government (around 85%). At the other end of the trust spectrum, but not the political spectrum, were FvD voters; fewer than 5% said they had trust in the government. Other parties whose supporters had low trust in the government were the PVV, SP, PvdD and Denk. Together, these five parties represent the more radical left and right wings of the Dutch political spectrum – ones that call for a shake-up of the status quo. Supporters of the CDA, D66, PvdA, CU and 50PLUS also showed strong levels of trust in the government. With the exception of 50PLUS, these parties are often to be found in governing coalitions, and are closer to the centre of the political spectrum than the first group. You could call VVD, CDA, PvdA, D66 and to a lesser extent CU the “establishment” parties, with the others being the “outsider” group. (Of these parties, only the PvdA could be said to be a truly left-wing party – D66 is socially liberal but also tacks more to the right in economic matters.) This leaves SGP and GroenLinks to be explained – the former’s supporters were third in levels of trust behind VVD and CDA, while GroenLinks supporters were split 50/50. The SGP has a long history of supporting the concept of stable governance: this, combined with a strong respect of authority and the state means that their trust in government is more about one of their core principles instead of commentary on the specific policies of the current government. On the other hand, GroenLinks is attempting to make the transition from outsider to establishment party, with the hope of participating in the next coalition government.

Oh, and it being Saturday morning as I write this, Mark Rutte did indeed appear at his hairdresser to finally get his hair cut.