In the wake of the Austria general election, the far-right Freedom Party
In the wake of Sunday’s Austrian general election, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) experienced a sharp decline in votes. Two factors help explain the FPÖ’s setback: a corruption scandal and the declining salience of the immigration issue. Does this mean that opposition to immigration among some sections of the Austrian electorate has gone away? The Migration Policy Centre’s Observatory of Public Attitudes to Migration’s team maps and analyses recent trends in attitudes to migration in Austria.
A blow to the far-right in Austria
After years of riding high in the polls, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) suffered a major setback in the 30 September Austrian legislative elections. The party finished third, with a decrease of 10 percentage points compared to the 2017 general election. What led to the sharp decline in votes for the FPÖ?
A key factor was internal conflicts and a major corruption scandal labelled as ‘Ibizagate’. However, a few other important aspects are likely to have also contributed to the loss of FPÖ’s votes.
As argued in a policy brief published just before the elections, overall attitudes to immigration in Austria are becoming more positive and the issue itself is becoming less salient for citizens.
Given that individuals who feel strongly about an issue factor those attitudes into their evaluation of which party to support in an election, the diminishing salience of immigration is likely diluting support for anti-immigration parties. As a matter of fact, 18 % of the 2017 FPÖ voters decided to stay away from the ballot box in this election.
Despite overall positive trends in Austrians’ attitudes about immigration, and the declining salience of the issue, certain voting segments still felt negative enough about immigration to look for an alternative. It appears many other former supporters turned to Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party (ÖVP), which has successfully adopted FPÖ’s anti-immigration rhetoric. ÖVP made restrictive migration policy a substantive part of its 2019 electoral program (see forthcoming contribution from Hadj Abdou). In fact, around 20% of voters who supported the FPÖ in 2017 selected the ÖVP during the 2019 election. In other words, anti-immigration rhetoric is not as relevant for voters as it used to be in previous years, which translates into a loss of votes for parties such as the FPÖ due to non-mobilization or electoral volatility.