A new poll of polls in the Netherlands indicates that far-right leader Geert Wilders has consolidated his popularity since his conviction a fortnight ago for incitement to discrimination – and that his Freedom Party would be the largest party in the Dutch parliament if an election were held tomorrow.
The end-of-year poll, an amalgamation of data from five of the country’s leading pollsters, shows that Mr Wilders would win 31-37 seats in the 150-seat parliament. This would give his anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, anti-EU party the support of 20-25 percent of the electorate.
The poll was carried out two days before the lorry attack on a Berlin Christmas market, which has been claimed by Islamic State . Police have warned about similar attacks in the Netherlands, and that climate of increased vigilance is likely too to benefit the Freedom Party electorally.
The Dutch face a general election on March 15th, the first in a series of European contests, followed by the presidential election in France and federal elections in Germany. Together these could change the political complexion of Europe.
Mr Wilders's position is by no means unassailable, but his nearest challenger, prime minister Mark Rutte, has seen support for his Liberal Party decline to between 22 and 26 seats, or the equivalent of 15-17.5 per cent of the population – a significant drop from the 41 seats he won in 2012.
The Liberals' junior coalition partners, Labour, are struggling as well. Having won 38 seats four years ago, the latest poll gives them a range of just 10-14 seats, despite having recently named popular social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher as its campaign manager for March.
Mr Wilders's position has been helped by lacklustre showings by the Christian Democrats and the centre-left D66 on 13-17 seats, with the Socialists – who experienced a brief resurgence in the run-up to the 2012 election – even further behind on 11-14 seats.
The reality, however, is that even if Mr Wilders does top the poll in March, he is highly unlikely to become prime minister.
As leader of the largest party, he would be entitled to make the first attempt at putting together a coalition. However, the other parties say they will never work with him. Once his attempt fails, that entitlement will pass to the leader of the second-largest party, most likely Mr Rutte.
"Wilders may win the election, but he's unlikely to govern, and even less likely to become prime minister," says Matthijs Rooduijn, a political sociologist at Utrecht University.
“In the Netherlands,” he added, “it’s possible to break through but hard to amass much power – as we’ve seen, pretty much the opposite of a system like the US.”