Intergenerational Occupational Mobility and Far-Right Party Support in Europe

Ongoing 2020. This research was financially supported by the Institute for European Studies.

Project Name:

“Intergenerational Occupational Mobility and Far-Right Party Support in Europe”


Dr. Alan M. Jacobs (Professor of Political Science)

Research Assistant: Daniel Rojas Lozano (PhD Student of Political Student)

Project Summary

The literature on the rise of far-right parties in advanced democracies has been characterized by a vibrant debate over the degree to which cultural, as opposed to economic factors, drive far-right party support. Efforts to identify material causes of far-right support – such as the economic circumstances of working-class voters – have mostly been temporally narrow in focus, emphasizing current economic conditions and short-run changes. This project, a collaboration with Professor Mark Kayser (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin) examines the role of long-term, intergenerational developments in shaping support for far-right political parties in Western Europe. Specifically, we are testing the hypothesis that the long-run experience of downward intergenerational occupational mobility – workers finding themselves on a lower occupational rung than their parents – generates a subjective sense of loss of social status and, in turn, makes voters more susceptible to far-right parties’ anti-system, nativist appeals. At the same time, we hypothesize that short-term economic shocks – such as an individual’s loss of a job, occupational status, or income – drive voters to parties of the left, rather than to the far right, since the left offers policies that directly compensate for economic loss. We are testing the first argument using individual-level European Social Survey data for 10 countries from 2002 to 2016. We test the second argument using high-quality panel data from three countries: the German Socio-Economic Panel, the Swiss Household Panel, and the Dutch Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social Sciences. Panel data allow us to test for these effects in a manner better insulated against threats to causal identification than is possible with the purely cross-sectional European Social Survey data. By distinguishing between the effects of short-term and long-term, intergenerational economic developments, this project has the potential to enrich our understanding of how material forces shape the political context of rightwing populism.


GRA Contribution

A Graduate Research Assistantship grant from the UBC Institute for European Studies allowed me to hire UBC Political Science PhD student Daniel Rojas Lozano to work on this project. Rojas has so far undertaken two key tasks to allow us to analyze the German and Swiss panel data. (1) Rojas has helped us identify survey items from the two panel studies that capture the set of concepts that we need to measure. These range from respondents’ and their parents’ occupations to income, educational attainment, social and political attitudes, and voting intentions and history. (2) Rojas wrote an R script that extracts these variables from the two surveys’ original masterfiles, generating analyzable datasets. Thanks to IES support and Rojas’ contributions, we now are in a position to analyze panel data from the 20 waves of the Swiss panel dataset and the 35 waves of the German dataset, together with previously extracted Dutch LISS data, to test for the short-term effects of intrapersonal economic changes on the likelihood of voting for far-left and far-right parties.