The international media has characterized tomorrow’s Dutch election as ‘the next Brexit’. The populist bogeyman (Geert Wilders) has even been labelled ‘the Dutch Trump’. In the first European elections since Donald Trump’s dramatic victory in the United States, international observers are watching with interest to see if populism and anti-immigration sentiment will take its next scalp.
Importantly, the Dutch election system does not give Wilders’ party – the PVV – much of a chance to form a government. Under the proportional representation system used by the Netherlands, and given his polling numbers, Wilders would have to convince a number of other parties to work with him to form a coalition – something almost all have categorically ruled out.
However, if Wilders’ party were to come first in the election, it would still send shockwaves around the European establishment, and send a powerful message that anti-immigrant and Islamophobic sentiment is strong even in the famously liberal and tolerant Netherlands. It would also boost enthusiasm for the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, just ahead of the first round of French elections to be held in April this year.
After our previous success predicting the latest major political outcomes – Brexit, Trump’s victory in the Rust Belt and the result of the Italian referendum – Qriously decided to conduct three polls in the Netherlands prior to the vote (for more details, see Methodology at the end of this post). In each case, we asked likely voters which party they were likely to pick their chosen candidate from, and used this to calculate the party vote. We then extrapolate party vote to seat numbers, with the caveat that larger parties will likely have a few more seats than described here due to residual seat allocation.
VVD LIKELY TO WIN PLURALITY OF SEATS
Our results clearly indicate that VVD is likely to win the largest number of seats (at 27), although still well down from their performance in 2012 (where they won 41 seats). We expect a margin of 9 seats between VVD and their biggest rival (PVV).
After VVD, we see a high number of moderate-sized parties, with five parties (PVV, CDA, D66, GroenLinks, SP) all forecasted to win between 15 and 18 seats. Trailing is Dutch Labour (PvdA) on 11 seats, and far behind are a considerable number of smaller parties such as ChristianUnie, 50PLUS and PvdD, all with about 5 seats.
We anticipate turnout to be fairly typical (75%, similar to the 74.6% achieved in 2012).
PVV SIGNIFICANTLY OVERRATED BY BETTING MARKETS AND POLLSTERS
Given the recent triumphs for populism in the UK and the U.S., it’s not surprising that pollsters and the betting markets have moved with more caution this time and have been careful to give Geert Wilders’ party a fair chance.
However, in this case, it seems the reverse is likely to hold true: his threat to VVD is overestimated, and it’s very unlikely he can win a plurality of seats. Rather than competing directly with VVD as a top party, PVV instead sits comfortably among other medium-sized parties such as D66, CDA, GroenLinks and the Socialists, and may easily come third or fourth. Unlike them, however, very few parties are willing to be in a coalition with PVV – making it likely Wilders will be on the opposition benches for some time.
MOMENTUM IS WITH VVD AFTER TURKISH DIPLOMATIC SPAT & TV DEBATE
After the diplomatic row with Turkey escalated over the weekend, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte refusing to allow Turkish ministers into the Netherlands to campaign, support for his party increased significantly. According to Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond, over 86% of people in the Netherlands supported the government’s handling of the situation – an overwhelming majority given the sensitive nature of the events. It’s not surprising that the public’s support of Rutte’s actions would translate into a boost for his party in the polls.
Rutte also engaged with Wilders in a TV debate on Monday, which was widely characterized as ‘feisty’ and ‘heated’. In this debate, Rutte engaged directly with claims that he had ‘drifted right’ to attempt to fend off the threat from PVV; he stated unequivocally that he welcomed legal immigrants and labelled them “as much a part of the Dutch dream as a descendant of a family who has arrived here 200 or 300 years before”. Given that many Dutch had not yet made up their mind about who to support, our results indicate that perhaps many viewers have decided to give their allegiance to VVD following this reassurance from leader Mark Rutte in the debate.
Although proportional electoral systems make it difficult to predict the final Prime Minister, the most likely outcome given the above numbers is that the current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, returns to government – but with a rather different coalition. His current partner, the Dutch Labour party (PvdA), has collapsed in the polls and is forecast to win only 11 seats, down from the 38 seats they won in 2012. Rutte will have to find a number of new partners.
Luckily for him, he can avoid Wilders easily by wooing some of the other parties performing strongly in the polls, such as D66, GroenLinks, CDA or even the Socialists.
There are also a number of smaller parties which, in aggregate, will win a significant number of seats and could help to bolster Rutte’s coalition: for example, PvdD (Party for the Animals), 50PLUS and ChristianUnie are all forecast to win 4-5 seats. All of these parties could form a coalition with Rutte in exchange for a minister in Cabinet or other arrangement which would benefit their constituents.
Wilders, despite potentially coming second, will be shut out and likely remain in opposition for the foreseeable future, until his party gains enough strength to govern alone or he softens his rhetoric and policy manifesto enough that other parties could consider working with him in government. For now – we predict Rutte will remain the Dutch Prime Minister and lead his party to a third electoral victory.
Qriously conducted three waves of polling using our unique mobile programmatic sampling methodology:
Wave 1: Fieldwork conducted 1-3 March, with 1,328 Dutch respondents 18+ interviewed (including 856 likely voters)
Wave 2: Fieldwork conducted 7-10 March, with 1,244 Dutch respondents 18+ interviewed (including 843 likely voters)
Wave 3: Fieldwork conducted 12-14 March, with 1,560 Dutch respondents 18+ interviewed (including 1,127 likely voters)
All polls are weighted on gender, age, province and 2012 vote to be nationally representative of the Dutch population. Data is gathered through in-app surveys across up to 50,000 mobile apps. All respondents are kept fully anonymous.