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Why Norms Matter: The Normalization of the Radical Right

In recent years, Western democracies have become seemingly less tolerant. Hate crimes have increased in countries like the  United Kingdom or the United States of America. In Germany, hate crimes in 2020 hit their highest value since records exist. In Spain, the government has recently put forward a plan to tackle the rise in anti-LGBT crimes.


One of the most discussed manifestation of intolerant views among the electorate is the electoral success of radical-right politicians and candidates, who have become successful in virtually all advanced industrial democracies. Very often, these politicians experience a spectacularly fast electoral growth.


The impressively fast rise of radical-right platforms is at odds with traditional models of political behavior. Such models tend to see behavior as a consequence of slow-moving factors such as attitudes, preferences, or a voter's position in societal cleavages. These models thus struggle to explain how radical-right platforms can go from virtually zero to 10 or 15 percent of the vote in just a few elections.

The answer to this puzzle, I argue, lies in the role of social norms. The reason behind the fast  increase in radical-right support is not primarily an increase in radical-right preferences among the electorate. Instead, that increase is driven by individuals who had long held radical-right views, but who would not display them in public because they were at odds with existing social norms.

Based on novel measures and sources of data, the book tries to disentangle what individuals think in private from what they admit and do in public. In so doing, it  shows how social norms affect the interplay between political demand and supply–and how these, in turn, affect perceptions of acceptability of radical-right behavior.

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