Netherlands election campaigns gear up for final weekend

Poll shows small lead for Dutch premier Mark Rutte over far-right Geert Wilders

 

Although the margin remains small, latest opinion polls in the Netherlands show a slight lead for premier Mark Rutte over his far-right opponent, Geert Wilders, as the election campaign – which began with what seemed a swing to the right – enters its final weekend.

The poll of polls, an amalgam of polls carried out by Ipsos, Kantar Public, I&O Research and Peil.nl, shows Mr Rutte’s Liberals winning between 24 and 28 seats in the 150-seat parliament – with Mr Wilders’ Freedom Party falling back to between 21 and 25 seats.

That would give the Liberals 16.4 per cent of the vote as against 14.6 per cent for the Freedom Party, the first indication that Mr Wilders’ hopes of romping home to lead a revival of nationalism across the Netherlands, France and Germany may be starting to recede.

The Peilingwijzer poll also confirms a resurgence for Mr Rutte’s former coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, who take third place with between 18 and 20 seats, or 12.1 per cent of the vote, positioning them well to join a new government.

That rebound – which leaves them just ahead of centre-left D66 but well ahead of Mr Rutte’s current partners, Labour – has prompted their leader, Sybrand Buma, to demand a place in Monday’s TV showdown between Mr Rutte and Mr Wilders, flagged as a clash of “potential prime ministers”.

The question facing Mr Wilders now is whether he can arrest his party’s slide just four days from March 15th when the country’s 12.9 million eligible voters cast their ballots.

Second protest

A decision to hold a second protest outside the Turkish embassy in The Hague on Wednesday evening, to oppose plans by the Turkish foreign minister to attend a pro-Erdogan rally in Rotterdam on Saturday, fell flat when the rally in question appeared to have been cancelled.

Mr Wilders also hit out at the Socialists who had claimed he was promoting “fear of Islam”, responding with an advertisement listing the acts Islam supposedly punishes with death, including homosexuality.

While Mr Wilders persists with his anti-immigrant attacks, it’s the news of economic recovery underlined by Mr Rutte recently, and the fear that that recovery could be undermined by a swing to the right, that appears to be resonating with older middle-class voters.

Pensioners

A survey by the statistics office shows that those older voters are better off than ever. Average pensioner incomes are 30 per cent higher than 20 years ago, compared with non-pensioner incomes which are 25 per cent higher. Just 4 per cent of pensioners’ incomes are “very low”.

The survey showed that in 2015, the average single pensioner had disposable income of €23,000 – while the average couple had €40,000.

The crucial point about those pensioners is that they account for 24 per cent of those eligible to vote next Wednesday. They’re also among those most likely to vote. In 2012, for example, 86 per cent of those over 65 voted – as against 71 per cent of under-35s.

It was the Christians Democrats and the 50Plus party that attracted the most pensioners in 2012. So if the economic news impresses them, they’re more likely to stay with those parties, or perhaps the Liberals, than to register a protest by backing Mr Wilders.

Interestingly, the Freedom Party leader has now apparently modified his earlier view that if he wins the popular vote but is kept out of government because the main parties refuse to work with him, the result would be “a revolt”.

Asked the same question this week, he replied that if they were kept out of power, “we will be the toughest opposition party the Netherlands has ever seen”.