Why did the Netherlands Vote for Wilders’ PVV? Implications for Migration Policy

Published 4 December 2023 / By COMPAS Communications, Sanne van Oosten

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In the 2023 general elections on November 22nd, a quarter of Dutch voters cast their ballots for Geert Wilders’ Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV). This significant proportion of voters stands out in a country that currently accommodates 16 political parties in Parliament, without counting splinter groups, offering a diverse array of options, including several choices on the radical right. But what factors contributed to the substantial growth in Wilders’ voter base, especially at this moment? In this blog, I explore five possible explanations and the potential implications his election could have on migration policy.

To start with some background: Geert Wilders has held a parliamentary position for 25 years, initially as an MP for the centre-right VVD (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie). However, in 2004, he parted ways with the VVD and established his own party, the PVV, which entered Parliament in 2006. Since then, he has actively advocated and promoted a nationalist agenda, steadily expanding his support base among potential voters while seeking legitimacy and normalizing his positions among his opponents. Wilders is notably recognized for his vehement anti-Muslim rhetoric but also maintains firm stances against highly contentious topics, including immigration, refugees, Ukraine, the European Union, climate policies, and the State of Israel. In the November 2023 general elections, Wilders’ political party achieved an unprecedented vote share, marking a historic high since its establishment in 2006. I will discuss the explanations in chronological order. 


First, it is important to understand that the November 22nd elections were so-called snap elections, held earlier than planned. This was a result of the actions of the current centre-right Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, who chose to dissolve the Dutch Cabinet over the contentious topic of immigration. In July 2023, an unexpected crisis arose within the Cabinet regarding the family reunification of asylum seekers, prompting Prime Minister Rutte to call for new elections. As it became evident to a majority in Parliament that Rutte had strategically exploited immigration for electoral advantage, a vote of no confidence seemed imminent. Before potentially facing expulsion via a parliamentary vote, he promptly resigned as party leader of the VVD, meaning that he would not be able to become prime minister again. Blowing up the Cabinet over an immigration issue underscored the topic as an even more prominent election issue than it was previously, and Wilders’ PVV holds issue-ownership of the topic. As the saying goes, why would voters choose the copy when they can have the original? 


Second, dissolving a Cabinet for electoral gains is not unfamiliar in Dutch politics. Between 2010 and 2012, Geert Wilders’ PVV backed Mark Rutte’s first government, yet strategically caused the Cabinet’s collapse in 2012. Subsequently, Rutte firmly maintained a policy of excluding any future collaboration with Wilders. Following Rutte’s resignation as party leader in the summer of 2023, Dilan Yeşilgöz – his successor as leader of the VVD – signalled an openness to forming a coalition with Geert Wilders once again. This development marked a turning point. However, it became evident that entertaining the idea of collaborating with Wilders was not a path to electoral success but rather an electoral liability. Yeşilgöz began to vacillate on the issue of forming a coalition with Wilders, but this shift in stance did not occur until a week before the elections, by which time it was already too late. 

Elite cueing

Third, Wilders is a firm supporter of Israel and a long-standing famous Islamophobe who has fuelled Islamophobia for electoral gains. After finishing high school, he lived in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank and travelled to many Arab countries. He says that this time influenced his outlook and political ideas considerably. His party program advocates for strong ties with Israel, relocation of the Dutch embassy to Jerusalem, and shutting down the Dutch representation in Ramallah while also calling the Palestinian authorities corrupt and calling Amman the capital of the only legitimate Palestinian state, Jordan.

The October 7th might have reinvigorated Islamophobia amongst voters, driving them towards Wilders, though research needs to point this out. Nonetheless, support for Israel was clearly visible in the Dutch Parliament. majority of Parliament voted in favour of Israel’s right to self-defence, though only two (out of 19) small parties were vocal about the genocide of the Gazans that followedWilders condemned pro-Palestinian protesters, but he was not the only onemajority of the Parliament voted in favour of condemning the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” as inciting violence, and Wilders was not even the initiator of this motionI’d argue he did not even need to be the loudest voice in protecting Israel; years of his elite cueing have made him issue-owner of Islamophobia and, to a lesser extent, Israel. 


Fourth, in the lead-up to the November 22nd, 2023 elections, Geert Wilders repeatedly expressed his ambition to assume the role of Prime Minister or to hold executive power within a Cabinet. After serving as a Member of Parliament for 25 years and recently celebrating his 60th birthday, it was plausible that he sought a change before retirement. This personal aspiration might have driven a notable shift in Wilders’ approach and rhetoric. Known for his sharp and incisive remarks, Geert Wilders has displayed signs of toning down his discourse, adopting a more measured and tempered tone in his public statements.

This transformation represents a departure from his previous combative style, showcasing a more restrained and softened demeanour. Some journalists have even coined the term ‘Geert Milders‘ to describe this shift, suggesting a more moderate and less confrontational approach to his political messaging. This is the normalisation of Wilders through media and mainstream parties. But in doing so, voters feel more emboldened to vote for him.

Strategic voting 

Although Wilders had generally been gaining ground in the polls since August, he lagged considerably behind three other political parties until the final week before the elections. Just four days prior to the elections, the largest news outlet, NOS, led their daily news bulletin with the announcement that a single pollster had found Wilders in the lead, which “evidently” impacted the results. However, this decision was dubious as the particular pollster lacks transparency regarding their research methods and does not publish confidence intervals. 

Two days before the elections, another pollster reported a comparable result, indicating Wilders in a close tie with both a centre-left and a centre-right party, holding a marginal lead within the confidence intervals. However, Peilingwijzer—recognized for combining two large polls and consistently adding confidence intervals—placed Wilders in a second position, also within the confidence intervals just one day before the election. Nevertheless, it seems to have spurred a bandwagon effect, wherein people tend to adopt certain behaviours, styles, or attitudes simply because others are doing so. Conversely, it might have prompted strategic voting—voters switching from their favourite party in an attempt to propel their preferred party to victory.

Implications for the Netherlands’ Migration Policy 

Though his tone and overall messaging have softened, his party program is anything but soft. Geert Wilders’ PVV maintains an unyielding and stringent stance on migration outlined in the party program, with the PVV’s policies advocating for stringent measures aimed at prioritizing Dutch citizens, safeguarding Dutch culture, and reclaiming national sovereignty. These policies include advocating for a complete halt to asylum, implementing robustly restrictive immigration measures, withdrawing from international conventions such as the UN Refugee Convention, and enforcing strict border controls, detention, and deportation for illegal immigrants. Additionally, the party proposes revoking residency permits for some asylum seekers and restricting support services for illegal immigrants.

Moreover, the PVV’s program strongly opposes Islamic influence within the Netherlands. It advocates for banning Islamic schools, Qurans, and mosques, aiming to reduce the presence of Islam by curbing non-Western immigration. The party also proposes measures like prohibiting dual nationality, banning Islamic headscarves in government buildings, limiting the number of foreign students, and introducing work permits exclusively for EU citizens. These stringent policies underline the continuingly fierce stance of the PVV despite the perceived tonal shift in Wilders’ campaign rhetoric.

The prospect of implementing Geert Wilders’ proposed policies rests heavily on the coalition formation process, which is an unpredictable endeavour in Dutch politics. While past coalition formations have been protracted and chaotic, I expect that this time might see a swifter coalition formation. Wilders aims for a coalition with three right-wing parties: the established VVD (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie), the newer farmer-oriented BBB (BoerBurgerBeweging), and the recently formed NSC (Nieuw Sociaal Contract). Whilst all four parties have expressed openness to collaboration, the VVD’s decision not to supply ministers to a potential Wilders-led cabinet poses a challenge. With three inexperienced parties in supplying ministers (PVV, BBB, NSC) and controversies within PVV, including difficulties in recruitment and a scandal involving the first appointed scout, the path forward remains uncertain. Nonetheless, the shared anti-immigration stance hints at the possibility of parts of Wilders’ agenda attaining realization. Therein lies a challenging journey ahead.