Just as Donald Trump attracted voters in the American “rust belt”, anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) presidential candidate Norbert Hofer is receiving huge support from Austria’s disaffected working class.
The American Midwest has the “rust belt” – a collection of states once booming with heavy industry from shipping to steel mills and factories. The Austrian equivalent is Obersteiermark – a region south of the capital of Vienna where many jobs have long gone, in part due to globalisation, which has led to working class people flocking to anti-establishment candidate for president Norbert Hofer, reports newspaper Der Standard.
Reinhard Richter, a local FPÖ politician, said that many voters in Obersteiermark have given up on the Socialist Party (SPÖ), the traditional party of the working class. He claims that as businesses closed and people went out of work socialists persisted that everything was fine. Voters now feel that the socialist party has ceased to act in their interests.
A wake up call for the SPÖ came in the first round of the presidential elections in April of this year when working class voters rallied around Hofer giving him 44 per cent of the total vote in the region. This number grew to 60 per cent in the second round the following month; however, the result was later annulled due to postal vote irregularities. By contrast, in 201o the SPÖ had 77 per cent of the vote in the region.
The working class also connects to Hofer on Euroscepticism, sharing the party’s negative opinions on European Union interference from Brussels, a major bone of contention that led to Brexit. Another major issue for many is the ongoing migrant crisis and the effect it has had on Austrian communities. One young man told Der Standard that residents do not feel safe going out on the streets after dark.
Günther Ogris, a researcher at the Sora Institute, also notes that many young people with cosmopolitan attitudes, who often vote for more left-leaning parties, tend to migrate toward the big cities like Vienna and Graz leaving areas like Obersteiermark much more rural minded and socially conservative.
The victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election has political analysts predicting a boost for Hofer and other populists across Europe in what they call the “Trump-effect.”
A new poll has shown that 53 per cent of Austrians believe Hofer has directly benefited from Trump’s victory. Hofer has extended his lead in the polls by another percentage point from his opponent, former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen.
Critics of the populist politician worry that Hofer will dissolve the grand coalition government in Austria, which consists of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Socialists, if he becomes president. Despite the FPÖ leading in the polls, Hofer has said he wouldn’t consider such a move until at least the summer of next year.
“I’m not going to dismiss the government at every opportunity,” he told Austrian broadcaster ORF. However, Mr. Hofer did make it clear that if the government didn’t continue on the path of border security and integration legislation he would very likely consider new elections.