Recently, I have seen some TV news about elections in Netherlands and how a political analyst explained about the populists recent success.

This article tells about the elections to come and touches the rise of populism issue:

In the 1980s populist parties barely got more than a few seats in parliament, whereas in 2002 the left populist SP and Fortuyn’s right populist LPF together gained more than 20%. In the latest polls Wilders’s PVV is the largest party, or at least running neck-and-neck with the Rutte’s VVD, while the SP is struggling a bit – and has become less populist. Together they are close to 30% of the vote, of which the PVV would get almost two-thirds.

Wikipedia provides information about the populist candidate (Geert Wilders) and we can see he is quite an enfant terrible (source):

On 9 December 2016, he was convicted in a hate speech trial but no penalty was imposed

Living in a developing country within EU, from Eastern Europe, Nederlands seems like a paradise. While my native countries struggles to leave the last EU place in so many aspects, Nederlands is one of the most developed countries in the world (source):

  • press freedom: place 2 in EU
  • economic freedom: place 7 in EU, 17 globally
  • perception of corruption: 4 in EU, 8 globally
  • human development: 1 in EU, 4 globally
  • income equality: 11 in EU, 25 globally
  • ease of doing business: 14 in EU, 28 globally

Other indicators:

This article places Netherlands among the most progressive countries in the World. From Wikipedia we find out that it is one of the few countries to allow voluntary euthanasia.

All indicators seem great to me, except maybe for income equality which is rather modest within EU.

Education index is also very good and I assume that higher education is correlated with higher critical thinking.

Question: How did a very developed country become permeable to populism?

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    Maybe because some people just feels that what the media arrogantly call "populism" is the truth and that what the media repeats every day is false ?
    – Bregalad
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 8:53
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    @Bregalad - yes, it is a reason. But I have indicated a very developed country for a reason: many indicators (both economical and more related to human nature) indicate an evolved society. A high education helps in understanding the big picture. Regardless of the media and politicians behavior, the society evolved. Populists use very simple models that are usually impossible to implement. Not to speak about the speech that is almost "hate speech".
    – Alexei
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 9:29
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    @Bregalad - your comment make me think about one extra possible explanation: maybe the development made many people so comfortable, that they skip voting (low vote turnover). So, the percentage of those unsatisfied will raise in the vote outcome. It's just an idea (maybe I can find some research to back it up).
    – Alexei
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 9:30
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    We got a question which is almost a duplicate of this one´: How did Geert Wilders and the PVV rise to such popularity?. But it only asks about one specific populist party. Does it nevertheless answer your question?
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 10:58
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    @Philipp - yes, it provides some answers in the end (simple speech, simple political program, touches xenophobic feelings). All these make sense, but my question is more about how can it succeed among relatively wealthy high educated people which happen to live one of the most libertarian countries. Why listen to this "siren call"? I have chosen Netherlands to make the question more answerable, but I feel that this tendency can be found in other high developed countries as well.
    – Alexei
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 11:20

2 Answers 2


You list some factoids. Here are some responses

  • Developed people have more to lose from adding people from less developed countries. This is especially true of countries with low inequality, as immigration increases the inequality in the near term.

  • Happy people are less vulnerable to fear, not immune. Same thing for progressive people and liberated people.

  • Only a minority (28%) are college/university educated even in a country like the Netherlands.

  • While educated people are more likely to be tolerant, the causality isn't clear. Are they more tolerant because they are educated? Or are more tolerant people more interested in education? This is especially difficult because people being more tolerant because they are more educated is an emotionally satisfying explanation for more educated people, who would otherwise be the ones testing that theory.

Tolerance is easiest to support when it has no cost. Allow people to wear funny clothes. Don't care about sexual preferences. Those are easy because they don't cost anything. And some of them may benefit you.

Even legal drug use is a minimal impact to most people. Yes, it makes certain neighborhoods uncomfortable to enter, but it doesn't make them any more unsafe than neighborhoods with illegal drug use. They may even be safer. Perhaps some extra costs on the tax bill, although again, many believe that illegal drug costs more than legal drugs. So believably no cost.

Immigration of people who are mostly similar to you is of no cost. You can continue to live just as you did previously. Such people may generate extra costs, but they also generate additional tax revenue. So easy to be tolerant.

Immigration of people who are different is uncomfortable. They do things differently. Some of the things they do may feel wrong to you. And some of the things that you do may feel wrong to them. This makes them feel alienated, as if they don't fit in.

Allegedly liberal societies like the Netherlands have their own issues. For example, they make wearing burqas illegal. While this is supported by the "populist" candidate, it was passed by the current government. Another step in the alienation of the immigrant population, reinforcing other differences.

How do alienated immigrants strike back? A very tiny number become terrorists. But they have an outsized impact. Terrorism fills the news when it happens, even as things that cause more deaths (cars, cancer, etc.) get much less coverage. Part of this is control. People can choose not to ride in cars and can choose not to smoke a cigarette. But people can't individually choose against others committing terrorism. So they expect the country as a whole to exert control.

Stopping immigration may be a simplistic and overly broad solution. But the criticism isn't necessarily that it won't work so much as that it isn't fair. When complex, hard to understand solutions are obviously failing, simplistic solutions that might work become very appealing. Fair or not.

The longer the elites insist that these giant spectacles on television just aren't that important and that the obvious solutions are impossible, the less trust people have for elites. This opens the way for populists.

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    Note that only one (PVV) of the two populists has a strong anti-immigration agenda; the other populist party (SP) has no strong views on immigration AFAIK, and is mostly mainstream on this topic. On a general note, I strongly doubt that immigration is a significant cause of the populist movement in Europe and the states, and that more fundamental problems in the way democracy is organized are the cause.
    – user11249
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 23:58
  • Thanks for the elaborate answer. However, I do not understand what you regard as "factoid" (a piece of information that becomes accepted as a fact even though it is not actually true, or an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print). I tried to reference both objective and subjective indicators from serious sources (or should I question the validity of such indexes?). Of course, they grasp "the average" and they do not mean anything for a particular person, but I think they illustrate the big picture pretty well.
    – Alexei
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 10:00
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    @Alexei Definition of factoid that I was using: "a brief or trivial item of news or information." E.g. a simple statistic offered without other support.
    – Brythan
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 16:06

I'm afraid I'm going to give a very generic answer: the fear of change.

In the past few decades the world has become much more global, accelerating the pace of change in everything. Humans are afraid of change by nature (self-preservation instinct), and in the rich developed countries people might feel that they have more to lose than to gain from change. Contrary to the previous few decades, nowadays the middle class doesn't progress anymore economically or socially: if they are lucky, young people will live as well as their parents, not better.

Voting for the people who promise to protect you from change is an answer to this fear.

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