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Academics explain the elections

Why are the local parties so popular? Researchers at Leiden University gave their reaction the day after the elections of 21 March.

Geerten Waling, historian

‘Around a third of the votes went to local parties. Voters are bcoming more aware of the difference between national and local politics, and floating voters seem to identify better with the different parties in  their own local area. I believe that's a healthy development because completely different themes are often at play at local level, such as the location of playgrounds or parking garages. But equally, national politics influences local results. D66 has suffered in the local council elections, probably due to a degree of arrogance on the part of the party leaders. Voters have the feeling that as a partner in government D66 has not fought hard enough for important political issues. For example, the cabinet has abolished the referendum, which has almost certainly angered some D66 supporters. That's been an enormous shot in the arm for GroenLinks.' 

Joop van Holsteijn, Professor of Political Conduct and Research Methods

‘The tragedy of local politics is mainly visible in the national media: domination by national themes and politicians. The closing debate on television was a Hague debate, and today it's about a Klaver effect. That doesn't really do justice to local elections because the voters are dfferent from government elections. In the municipal elections voters are at least in part driven by local factors. And the choice of parties is different for each municipality. We should be talking today about what's so typical of local council elections!' 

Sandra Groeneveld, Professor of Public Management

‘Voters want to feel they identify with their leaders, which is why they more often vote for local parties and parties that support such interests as Denk, a relative newcomer to the Dutch political scene  based on respect for all. People tend to vote out of anxiety that they might lose something. Those who live in a neighbourhood that borders on areas with a high percentage of ethnic minorities often vote for populist parties. The problem is that local parties and issue parties often have less of a vision about matters of general interest. Given the fragmentation of political representation, the parties have to negotiate about what they want to achieve, and that means that disappointment is always on the cards. An important task for local councils is to monitor their leadership. But all these small parties with one or two seats don't have enough staff to do that, so they take part in selected committees;. I would say that's not good for the working of the council. The turnout was just slightly higher than the previous local council elections (ca 55 % versus 53.9 % in 2014). I was expecting a higher turnout because local councils now have a wider scope of responsibility.'  

Job Cohen, professor by special appointment       

'Fragmentation  means that it's difficult to form councils in many cities. These local parties are often far less radical than the Freedom Party (PVV) that performed so badly, something I'm pleased about. Local parties really care about the city and a party like Leefbaar Rotterdam provided good governance in the city. In student cities like Leiden local parties aren't so big; apparently they don't really attract students. The loss of the Labour Party (PvdA) definitely saddens me; again worse than the previous local elections, but slight less loss in the national elections.  The loss of the Socialist Party (SP) in a city like Amsterdam is truly surprising; the party has been working hard to resolve the housing shortage. Another surprise is the quiet rise of the Party for the Animals (PvdD) that now has a broader manifesto. The composition of the local council has changed drastically in recent years. Next week sees the publication of the book ‘Gemeenteraden in Nederland’ (Local councils in the Netherlands) that I wrote with Joop van den Berg and Hans Vollaard. It's worth thinking about the changes in a historical and legal perspective, outside election periods.' 

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