Abstract: To understand recent party system change in the Netherlands, one should consider not only the positioning of parties on the socio- cultural cleavage, but also how effective they are at communicating their views to the electorate. This cleavage – which encompasses nonmaterial issues such as immigration, immigrant integration and European integration – has become increasingly salient throughout Western Europe and revolves around issues associated with identity. At one end of this spectrum, parties argue that government policy should be based on a more multicultural conception of nation. On the other end, parties take the position that some imagined community should be protected from the “other”. Most of the literature exploring the relationship between political parties and this cleavage has two shortcomings. First, parties are treated as cohesive units. Secondly, while the combination of policies proposed by a party is considered important, almost none consider how they are communicated. Both matter: If politicians within a party remain torn over an issue, parties will have a difficult time agreeing on what position to take and cannot communicate their ideas effectively. Through interviews with politicians from nine political parties in the Netherlands, it was found that internal agreement within parties varies substantially regarding socio-cultural issues. There is more agreement among politicians on the “new” left and right than there is within traditional political parties. Accordingly, their coordinative discourse is fraught, which results in weaker communicative discourse. This has had important ramifications for how successful parties are in framing socio-cultural policies and for electoral outcomes.
Envisioning competition between political parties as taking place along structural social cleavages that formed in West European societies over time has a long tradition, dating back to Lipset and Rocking’s (1967) work on party competition. As defined by Peter Mari, a cleavage is “a particular social divide [that] becomes associated with a particular set of values or identities made politically relevant by means of an organized party or group” (2006:373). It essentially is “a form of closure of social relationships” (Carolina and Mari, 1990:216). Lipset and Rocking argued that for something to qualify as a cleavage, three criteria must be met: (1) A cleavage must include a social division that separates people based on at least one social characteristic, such as religion, status or occupation; (2) people have to be conscious of their collective identity and willing to act on it; and (3) there must be an organizational component to the cleavage that leads to “formal institutional expression” (1967). Zuckerman succinctly identifies cleavages as “the particular manner in which members of a society divide from and associate with one another in regard to political issues [that] have major, direct, and specifiable consequences for political conflict” (1975: 232).
Depending upon the historical development of a country, Stein and Rocking identified four main cleavages that structured party systems across Western Europe as the franchise was extended across Europe in the latter half of the 19th century: the centre-periphery, the state-church, the owner-worker and the land-industry. Party competition in countries was often shaped through a combination of these cleavages. For example, the church-state and the owner-worker cleavages came to dominate in the Netherlands. In contrast, the centre-periphery cleavage played an important role in the creation of the Spanish party system.
The party systems founded upon these social cleavages remained remarkably stable from the 1920s to the 1960s (Dalton 2002; Lipset and Rocking 1967). Starting in the 1960s, however, that political stability began to unravel. The parties that dominated in countries gradually saw their share of the vote diminish as electoral volatility increased. Between 1960 and 1998, more than 140 new political parties contested national parliamentary elections in 12 European Union member states (Mari 2000: 30). These new parties performed better with time, from winning an average of “3.9% of the vote during the 1960s… [to] 23.7% during the 1990s” (Norris 2005: 230). Aggregate electoral volatility – which is often measured using the Pedersen Index (1979) and is equal to the “net change within the electoral party system resulting from individual vote transfers” (6) – also increased, from between 7.9 and 8.8% in the 1950s and 1980s to 12.6% during the 1990s (Norris 2005: 230).
The Dutch party system used to be one of the most stable party systems in Western Europe. In the last two decades, however, it has become one of the most volatile. The rise of newer parties on both the right and left of the political spectrum has come at the expense of the political parties that used to dominate the system. Together, the Christian Democratic Appeal (Christen-Democratisch Appèl, CDA), the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, VVD), and the Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA) averaged 90% of the vote in parliamentary elections between 1946 and 1963 (see table 1). During the 2010 parliamentary elections, these parties barely broke 50% of the vote. The growth of the populist radical right has been the most spectacular throughout the last decade. New parties on the left have also gradually seen their share of the vote grow since the 1960s. How can one account for these changes within the Dutch party system? How the CDA, PvdA and VVD lost their dominant role in the system is the question that this article addresses.
|Table 1: Average Electoral Outcome of Parliamentary Elections in the Netherlands, 1946 to 2010 (%)|
|1 = The CDA was not formed until 1977, when the Catholic People’s Party (KVP), Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP), and Christian Historical Union (CHU) fused into one party. However, prior to becoming one party, cooperation between the three had been close.|
|2 = Other right includes: Party for Freedom (PvdV), Reformed Political Party (SGP), Catholic National Party (KNP), Roman Catholic Party Netherlands (RKPN), Farmer’s Party (BP), New Middle Party (NMP), Reformed Political League (GPV), Reformatory Political Federation (RPF), ChristianUnion, Center Party (CP), Centrum Democrats (CD), Leefbaar NL, List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) and the Freedom Party (PVV)|
|3 = Other Left includes: Communist Party Netherlands (CPN), Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP), Political Party of Radicals) PPR, Evangelical People’s Party (EVP), Democrats ’70 (DS’70), Democrats ’66 (D’66), AOV, Unie 55+, Socialist Party (SP), GreenLeft and the Party for the Animals (PvdD)|
With increased electoral volatility and the fragmentation of party systems, questions have been raised about how relevant cleavage theory remains. Does it still help explain the development of party systems in Western Europe and by extension the Netherlands? Numerous works answer this question in the affirmative. Rather than envisioning social cleavages as social divisions that separate people based on at least one social characteristic, such as religion, status or occupation, they redefine social cleavages as the preferences of voters. They argue that competition between political parties is based on these “societal inputs into the political process” (Stoll 2004: 4). Most suggest that besides a socio-economic cleavage – which is related to the question of whether the state should be more redistributionist or free-market oriented – recent changes in West European party systems can be best explained through the rise of a second cleavage. This cleavage has been defined differently throughout the literature: the “new cultural divide” (Bornschier 2010), the “winners and losers of globalization” (Kriesi, Grande, Lachat, Dolezal, Bornschier and Frey 2006, 2008) and the “noneconomic, new politics dimension”, with the poles of this dimension consisting of the green-alternative-libertarian and traditionalism-authority-nationalism divide (Marks, Hooghe, Nelson, and Edwards 2006). This article employs the term “socio-cultural” to encapsulate these various issues.
Should immigrants be forced to assimilate into Dutch culture, or will economic integration suffice for their successful integration? If cultural assimilation is the goal, what exactly is encapsulated by Dutch identity?
The socio-cultural cleavage encapsulates non-economic issues, such as a party’s views on immigration, immigrant integration and European integration. All these issues revolve around the question of how identity should be defined. Should immigrants be forced to assimilate into Dutch culture, or will economic integration suffice for their successful integration? If cultural assimilation is the goal, what exactly is encapsulated by Dutch identity? Does it mean one should accept homosexuality, equal rights for men and women, and the right to sunbathe topless? As for Europe: Should the Netherlands protect itself from Brussels and maintain its sovereignty, or should increased supranationalism be the goal? On the left side of the spectrum, one finds parties arguing for an open society in which different cultures are treated equally, immigration policy is permissive, and further integration with other European countries is desirable. Further right on the socio-cultural cleavage, one finds parties that insist there is a dominant Dutch culture that immigrants should assimilate into, that immigration policy should be restrictive, and that more European integration is undesirable. Van Praag and Adriaansen (2011) have described the two ends of this cleavage as “a multicultural integrative outlook diametrically opposed to those with a culture-protectionist demarcative one” (211).
However, one should not only look at the impact that the socio-cultural cleavage has had upon the Dutch party system. One should also consider how effective parties are at communicating their socio-cultural positions to the public. To do that, this article draws upon Vivien Schmidt’s (2002, 2006, 2008, 2010) “discursive institutionalist” theory and applies it to the study of party politics in the Netherlands. Schmidt defines discourse as “whatever policy actors say to one another and to the public in their efforts to generate and legitimize a policy programme” (Schmidt 2002: 210). She identifies two ideal types of discourses: communicative and coordinative. “Coordinative discourse” is concerned with how political elites and other epistemic communities decide on how to shape policy through communication with one another. “Communicative discourse” focuses on how the decided policy is justified and communicated to the public. Both types of discourse are constrained by the institutional settings of a political system. This article especially focuses on the coordinative discourse of parties in the Netherlands. If parties cannot agree upon what position to take on an issue or disagree over it internally, their communicative discourse will be fraught. This results in confusion for voters and may lead to disappointing electoral results.
This article’s argument is twofold: (1) that to understand party system change in the Netherlands, the increased salience of the socio-cultural cleavage matters, and (2) that intra-party cohesion is important for explaining how successful parties are at communicating their position on socio-cultural issues. The more internal cohesion there is within a party, the more effective the party’s communications to voters will be. In the first part of the article, cleavage theory is more thoroughly explained. Part two links communication patterns to the study of party politics. Finally, part three draws on data from 51 interviews with Dutch politicians to argue that parties such as the ChristianUnion (CU), Democrats’66 (D66) and the Socialist Party (SP) take different positions on the socio-cultural dimension than one would expect according to their placement on the socio-economic cleavage. While the SP is to be found on the left of the socio-economic cleavage, it leans more rightward on the socio-cultural cleavage. The opposite is the case for D66. The relatively moderate position of the PvdA, the VVD and the CDA – the parties that used to dominate the Dutch party system – on the socio-cultural cleavage is not just explained by the supposedly moderate views held by politicians within these parties, but rather by the diversity of views one finds within them. This stands in stark contrast to the opinions held by politicians in some of the “newer” parties such as the Freedom Party (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV), D66, the GreenLeft and the SP. Here one finds more agreement on socio-cultural issues, which in turn results in more effective communicative discourse.
Dutch Party System Change and Social Cleavages since the 1960s
In Western Europe political parties on both the left and the right of the political spectrum have mobilized around socio-cultural issues as they became increasingly salient after the 1960s. Initially parties referred to as the “New Left” were created and entered the political arena (Bornschier 2010: 431; Judt 2006: 490-496). While most were Green parties, there were also parties established that argued for more transparency and democracy, such as Democrats ’66 (D66) in the Netherlands. These parties put issues on the political agenda in each of their countries that had more to do with “values and life-styles than with traditional, distributional conflicts” (Bornschier 2010: 421) – or what Ronald Inglehart (1984) termed “post-material values”. As for the right side of the spectrum, parties began to form in reaction to this “spirit of 1968” in the 1980s (Mudde 2004; Minkenberg 2001: 3). This group of parties has been referred to in various fashions in the literature: “New Right”, “anti-immigrant”, “extreme right”, “radical right”, “radical populist right”, “radical right populists”, “national populists”, “right-wing extreme” and “right-wing populist” (Mudde 2004; Heinisch 2003; Lucardie 2007; Van Spanje 2011; DeLange 2008: 60). These parties are unified by three elements: their populist style, their view on the nation and their willingness to work within the system. This last component especially separates populist radical right parties from extreme right ones.
These socio-cultural issues became increasingly important to Dutch voters. At first, together with a socio-economic cleavage, a religious cleavage explained most voting behaviour in the Netherlands. Four main social blocs formed around these two cleavages: Catholics, Protestants, the working-class (socialists) and the middle-class and upper classes (liberals). This arrangement dominated Dutch democracy for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. While most voters in the 1980s still identified themselves as either left or right based on how they viewed redistribution of economic resources, the religious cleavage had by then lost much of its salience among voters. The speed at which secularism spread during the 20th century was remarkable. Whereas in 1899, 97.7% of survey respondents claimed to belong to a church, this number had fallen to 76% by the 1960s (Te Grotenhuis and Scheepers 2001: 591). By 2009, 44% of Dutch citizens claimed to not be adherents of any religion (Advokaat and De Graaf 2001). Increased education and urbanization played an important role in people disaffiliating from their church (Te Grotenhuis and Scheepers 2001; Need and De Graaf 1996). Survey research found that, instead of religion, immaterial issues related to identity had become just as important as socio-economic issues to Dutch voters by the 1990s. Though the socio-economic cleavage still remains important, how the voter views socio-cultural issues is currently of more influence. It now defines what it means to be “left” and “right” to voters (Aarts, Van der Kolk, and Rosema 2007). Put differently, the socio-cultural cleavage gradually replaced the religious cleavage in the latter half of the 20th century.
Those studying Dutch politics have raised questions about the importance of this socio-cultural cleavage. Two recent studies of the Dutch party system question how applicable this second dimension is when it comes to explaining competition between political parties (Van der Brug and Van Spanje 2009; Adriaansen, Van der Brug, and Van Spanje 2005: 235). They wonder whether there really is a second cleavage that matters beyond the traditional left-right dimension. According to both, while two cleavages exist at the electoral level, they are not reflected in the party system. They argue that parties position themselves similarly on socio-economic and socio-cultural issues. However, as will be discussed, interviews with 51 politicians from nine different political parties show that such analyses miss important differences between political parties in the Netherlands. Noticeable and important differences exist between the positioning of parties on the socio-economic and socio-cultural dimension. For example: Whereas D66 traditionally is more rightward oriented when it comes to socio-economic issues, the party and its politicians lean further to the left on the socio-cultural cleavage. The opposite is true for the SP. However, first a brief discussion of the theoretical connection between the study of party politics, cleavages and political communication is required.
Communication, Party Cohesion and the Study of Political Parties
In the political party literature, there are four methods typically used to study party locations along salient cleavages: expert surveys, content analysis of party manifestos, media analyses and broad opinion surveys of electorates (Gemenis and Dinas 2010; Volkens 2007; Castles and Mari 1984; Benoit and Laver 2006; Hooghe, Bakker, Brigevich, De Vries, Edwards, Marks, Rovny, and Steenbergen 2010; Kitschelt and McGann 2000; Boomgaarden 2007; Vliegenthart 2007; Kriesi et al 2006; Volkens, Lacewell, Lehmann, Regel, Schultze, and Werner 2011; Volkens 2002). Essentially, all four approaches are concerned with linking parties to ideas. All place parties on an imagined spatial plane that is structured according to the cleavages discussed earlier. What differs is the method used. There has been much debate in the field over which of these approaches is most appropriate (Budge 2000; Bertrand and Mullainathan 2001; Van der Brug and Van Spanje 2009).
While all are concerned with the combination of ideas that each party holds, none explicitly considers how these ideas are communicated to the public. If parties cannot communicate their ideas effectively to voters, it does not matter what policies are proposed. This is clear to those who study political communication. In this literature it is common to examine the “frames” that political parties and interest groups use to try and sway voters. Made famous by the sociologist Erving Goffman (1974), frames are defined as interpretation schemes that everyone uses to make sense of the world around them (Cels 2007: Chapter 1; Shaffner and Sellers 2010; Iyengar 2010).
If parties cannot communicate their ideas effectively to voters, it does not matter what policies are proposed.
For communication to be effective, party cohesion is important. The more agreement there is among politicians of a party, the easier it is to agree on policies. This is what Schmidt calls “coordinative discourse” (2002, 2006, 2008). It needs to “connect leaders and elected officials around common programs” (Norris 2005). If they differ substantially in their opinions regarding an issue, disagreement is likely. In the Dutch political system, a commission appointed by the party leadership is normally in charge of developing a party’s manifesto prior to an election (Lucardie and Voerman 2007). This commission is normally chaired by a prominent party member and assisted by the think-tank associated with that party. In most parties, manifestos are finalized and voted on in a congress prior to an election. The CDA, D66, GreenLeft and VVD allow party members to vote on their manifestos, while the ChistianUnion, PvdA and SP only allow delegates from the local party branches to vote. The only two parties that do not allow members to vote for their manifestos are the SGP and PVV. The SGP only lets the party leadership vote, while the PVV does not have party members who can vote on their platform.
It is common in the literature to assume that parties are unified on issues that really matter (Thomassen and Andeweg 2007; Lucardie, Marchand and Voerman, 2007; Jensen 2000; Özbudun 1970; Hazan 2006). If a member has strayed too far from the party line, has become outspoken against policies proposed by the party, or voted against the party on an issue, they can be demoted to the bottom of the list and put on an unelectable position before an election. Even with this tool at their disposal, parties such as the VVD, CDA and PvdA have remained internally torn for more than a decade over issues encompassed by the socio-cultural cleavage (Van Gore 2012).
After a party manifesto is adopted, politicians have to go out and communicate their party’s message to the public – what Schmidt calls “communicative discourse” (2002, 2006, 2008). If a significant proportion of a party’s politicians do not agree with the party’s framing on a certain issue, they probably will not do a very good job at communicating the party’s official position. They could even openly speak out against it. This makes it unclear to voters where the party actually stands and how serious it is about pursuing the policy it purports to stand for. Once in office, if politicians are asked to vote in favour of the issues they object to, they have the option to vote against their party.
While parties such as the VVD, CDA and PvdA have all been internally torn over socio-cultural issues, the question remains whether this is still the case. As is assumed in the literature, the party leadership from each of these parties could have removed outspoken members in the lead up to the 2010 parliamentary elections, thereby ensuring increased party-cohesion vis-à-vis the socio-cultural dimension. As will be discussed, this was not the case.
Dutch Politicians and the Socio-Cultural Cleavage
To see how internally divided parties remained over issues encompassed by the socio-cultural cleavage, 51 politicians from nine political parties were interviewed in May and June of 2011. Similar to the approach taken by David Art (2006) in his study of the politics of the Nazi past in Germany and Austria, a semi-structured interview was used to evaluate how politicians view socio-cultural issues. Nine questions touching on socio-cultural issues were asked (see appendix A). The answers were used to create a socio-cultural score for each politician. This way, both a party’s views and cohesion vis-à-vis the socio-cultural dimension could be measured.
In order to give equal weighting to each of the categories encompassed by the socio-cultural cleavage – Dutch identity, immigrant identity, immigration policy, integration policy, and European integration – answers given were coded differently. Questions one, five, six, seven and nine were coded on a scale from -2 to +2. The coding of question one is given as an example of how these answers were coded. Questions three and eight were coded from -1 to +1. Here the coding of question three is given as an example. Finally, question four was coded on a scale from -2.5 to +2.5. This is because interviewees were originally asked to give a number on a scale from 0 to 10, with five being neutral. These answers were re-coded on a scale that ranged from -2.5 to +2.5.
Question one: In September 2007, during the presentation of the WRR report “National Identity and Plural Past”, Princes Maxima said that “the” Dutchman does not exist. Do you agree with this statement?
Answers given were coded on a scale from -2 to +2 using the following procedure. Politicians received a score of -2 if they full heartedly disagreed with Crown-Princess Maxima that “the Dutchman” does not exist. Examples of such answers were: “Of course I don’t agree with that, because I certainly believe that the Dutchman exists… .” And: “No, I don’t agree with that… because when you go abroad, you notice that another identity dominates there than the one in the Netherlands.” Respondents who initially disagreed with the statement but then started to equivocate received a score of -1. An Example: “I believe that the Dutchman exists, but various types of Dutchmen do exist. So I partially agree with her, but I also partially disagree with her.” Additionally, if most of the respondent’s answer focused on emphasizing the commonalities of Dutch identity, a score of -1 was given. A score of 0 was given to answers that remained neutral, such as, “I am neutral towards the statement… . I would need more of a context about the speech to give an answer.”
Politicians who initially agreed with Maxima’s sentiment but then began to equivocate received a score of +1. One example: “Look, I’m part of a party that believes in the individual, so the Dutchman does not exist. Yet at the same time, when I’m in Belgium I don’t have the feeling that I’m in the Netherlands, so I do certainly believe that there are common Dutch values that the Dutch share and recognize in one another.” If most of the answer that followed focused on the differences between Dutch people, a score of +1 was also given. Those who were in total agreement with Maxima received a score of +2. Such answers included: “Yes, because that sentence indicates how diverse Dutchmen are: various backgrounds, various histories [and] ages. So I find it beautiful to hear [that one identity does not exist]. I very often get frustrated when I hear politicians speak about the Dutchman.” Another: “Yes, because it is idiotic to speak about the Dutchman or the Chinese. It is an abstraction. The Dutchman formally exists in Dutch law; there is no doubt as to who is Dutch. But if you talk about identity in the broader sense, than the Dutchman does not exist… .”
Question three: Does it matter to you where immigrants come from for their integration, or does the country of origin not matter at all?
This question was coded on a scale from -1 to +1. Politicians who argued that the country of emigration mattered for the integration of immigrants into Dutch society received a score of -1. Examples of such responses were: “Cultural differences matter. If the culture in the country of emigration is closer to that of the Netherlands, than you have a much easier time integrating.” Another: “We have most problems with non-western immigrants.” Politicians who responded that the country of origin matters but that other variables are just as important for the integration of immigrants received a score of 0. An example: “The country plays a role, in various manners, but it is always in combination with other factors. Educational level, socio-economic position… whether you stay with your own group here in the Netherlands [are all factors that matter].” Finally, respondents who said the country of emigration did not matter at all for integration into Dutch society received a score of +1. For example: “The background of immigrants matter, but the land of origin does not… . It matters whether people studied or not, whether they are from rural regions or from cities. It matters how wealthy immigrants are and how much knowledge of the world they have, how cosmopolitan one is… . The country itself is not an explanatory variable.”
Overall Party Scores
Individual answers were added to create a socio-cultural score for each party (see table 2). To see where potential differences existed between parties on the socio-cultural cleavage, answers to eight questions were grouped into four categories: Dutch identity, immigrant heritage, immigration and integration policy, and European integration. Question one was used to measure the importance of the category “Dutch identity” for the respondent. The importance of an immigrant’s culture to the politician was calculated using questions three and four, while questions five and six were used to see whether the respondent thought immigration and integration policy should be more restrictive. Questions seven through nine were used to see whether respondents supported further European integration. To make sure that one category did not outweigh the others, scores for the categories “Dutch identity” and “European integration” were reconfigured. Values for the category “Dutch identity” were doubled, while the respondent’s overall score for the category “European integration” was multiplied by 0.8. This ensured that both categories ranged between +4 and -4. Overall party scores ranged from +10.28 to -15.08. To see whether parties differ sharply from their position on the socio-economic cleavage, Van Kersbergen and Krouwel’s (2008: 409) placement of political parties on this cleavage was used in Table 2.
The results show that there is a clear left-right division among parties when it comes to the socio-cultural dimension. Most parties on the left of the socio-economic cleavage also have a more “multicultural” interpretation on the socio-cultural dimension. Similarly, those on the right of the socio-economic cleavage have a more restrictive, nationalist stance towards issues on the socio-cultural cleavage. Not surprisingly, PVV politicians had more restrictive views on socio-cultural issues, while GreenLeft and D66 politicians were the most multicultural in their orientation.
|Table 2: Socio-Cultural Score per Political Party|
|Political Party||Dutch Identity||Immigrant Heritage||Immig. and Integ. Policy||European Integration||Overall Score|
However, there are some important differences between the socio-cultural and socio-economic dimensions. D66 is much more leftward oriented on the socio-cultural dimension than on the socio-economic dimension, while the SGP is much more rightward oriented on the socio-cultural dimension than on the socio-economic dimension. The SP also stands out. While being one of the most leftward oriented parties on the socio-economic cleavage, its politicians are much less so regarding the socio-cultural dimension.
As for the three traditionally dominant parties, the CDA and VVD were more moderate in their positioning on the socio-cultural cleavage than the PVV and SGP. On average, CDA politicians were actually to the left of the SP, and VVD politicians were much less critical of socio-cultural issues than the PVV. However, the two liberal parties in the Dutch party system – the VVD and D66 – did differ substantially from one another. As for PvdA politicians, though on average they were more leftward leaning on the socio-cultural dimension than the SP, they were not as multi-cultural in their views as D66 and GreenLeft politicians on this cleavage.
Intra-Party Cohesion and the Socio-Cultural Cleavage
When individual socio-cultural scores for politicians were compared by political party, interesting patterns emerged. As can be seen in figure 1, the responses for politicians in parties such as D66, GreenLeft, the SP and the PVV were all similar to one another. It was already noticeable during the interviews that the answers from members in these parties became repetitive. This contrasted sharply with the CDA, PvdA and VVD. Here answers varied substantially from one another. Especially PvdA politicians at times were critical towards their own party’s positioning on socio-cultural issues. For example, one PvdA politician complained that she agreed more with D66 on issues of immigration and integration than her own party. Similarly, several PvdA respondents said that they were not pleased about the party’s increasingly Euro-sceptic position. Accordingly, individual scores for these parties varied much more wildly than those of the other parties (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Socio-Cultural Scores per Politician, by Political Party
Why have these traditional parties as of 2011 remained so internally divided over the socio-cultural cleavage, when the literature suggests that parties are cohesive on issues that really matter? One explanation is that leaders actually welcome the division and see it as part of their party’s historical legacy. Leaders of both the CDA and PvdA continue to justify internal dissent by claiming that their parties have traditionally been – and should remain – “people’s parties” (volkspartijen), which have always known internal dissent. Similarly, the VVD has also historically consisted of a more progressive and conservative wing.
This self-conception dates back to the founding moments of these parties. In the years prior the Catholic People’s Party (KVP), Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) and Christian Historical Union (CHU) merging to create the CDA, there was a long drawn out discussion over how the new party should define itself (Voerman 1992; Ten Napel 1992; Van Gore 2012: Chapter 5). How was the party going to maintain its Christian ideals while simultaneously broadening its appeal? The whole point of the three parties merging was to prevent further electoral losses, after all. Similarly, the PvdA has also seen itself as a “people’s party” from its founding moments. Its predecessor, the SDAP, had already moderated its positions to broaden its electoral appeal. The PvdA did the same when it was created in 1946.
With socio-cultural issues continuing to cause so many public party disputes within both parties this last decade, one could reasonably expect that both might consider redefining themselves and clearly staking out a position on the socio-cultural cleavage. At the time of this writing, the leaders of both parties have refused to do so. They have doubled down on their insistence that the parties should welcome internal debate and try to appeal to the “broad middle”. Socialism & Democracy, a monthly journal published by the Wiarda Beckman Foundation (the think-tank of the PvdA), published an entire edition in June 2009 dedicated to the question, “Will the PvdA Remain a Broad People’s Party?” While some of the articles were critical, several answered the question in the affirmative (Pels 2009; Houtman and Achterberg 2009; Von der Dunk 2009). This is also the position that most party leaders have taken. Hans Spekman was elected party chairman on 21 December 2011 during a party congress. In a televised interview that he gave while campaigning for the position, he said: “I find it important that the PvdA remain a broad people’s party and that the tensions that are apparent in society… also remain within the Labour Party. That is the way it has always been” (Spekman 2011).
CDA leaders have made the same argument when questions arose about the future course of the party. Members began to wonder aloud whether the party was making a move to the right when it became clear in 2010 that party leaders had come to an agreement with the VVD to form a coalition supported by the PVV. Maxime Verhagen, the party’s leader, immediately published an open letter addressed to CDA members in which he wrote: “The CDA is a centre party and I am proud of that. A coalition which the CDA joins therefore cannot be a coalition of the right… The CDA will remain a decent people’s party with a warm social heart” (Doorduyn 2010). After consistently falling in the polls throughout most of 2011, the party in January 2012 decided it was time to come up with a new strategic vision. Its conclusion: “The CDA is and remains a Christian-Democratic people’s party” (Du Pré 2012).
This results in parties such as the CDA, VVD and PvdA continuing to welcome internal dissent. Internal dissent in all three parties is perpetuated through the processes used to compose their manifestos and party lists. It ensures that divisions over socio-cultural issues remain. Party leaders often do not want to ostracize any of the different factions within their own party when making major programmatic decisions. They therefore involve members associated with differing camps in these processes. An example is the commission tasked with making a recommendation as to whom the VVD’s next party leader in parliament should be following the 2003 elections (Fennema 2010: 70-72). It consisted of six prominent VVD party members. Three members had indicated they wanted to be party leader: Frank de Grave, Henk Kamp and Jozias van Aartsen. De Grave represented the more progressive wing of the party, while Van Aartsen was seen as more conservative. This time the conservative wing of the party won because they outnumbered progressive members in the committee by four to two. However, it is telling that progressives were included at all. This pattern repeats itself almost every time.
Another explanation as to why these parties remain internally divided over socio-cultural issues is that a significant proportion of politicians within them do not take these issues seriously.
When one of these factions does lose, they often do not remain quiet (Van Gore 2012: Chapter 8). The CDA almost tore itself apart over socio-cultural questions and has plummeted in the polls since the 2010 elections (Van Gore 2012). The VVD has lost a significant portion of its rightwing over the cleavage and now faces competition on its right from a party led by one of its former members. Since leaving the party in 2004, Geert Wilders and his PVV have increased their share of the vote from one election to the next. It now is the third largest party in parliament and the VVD was only able to rule from 2010 to 2012 by relying on the PVV’s support in parliament. As for the PvdA, attempts to clearly position itself on the socio-cultural dimension have resulted in public infighting and tensions within the party. It too has lost a significant share of its voters to a challenger from one election to the next that competes with the party from the right on the socio-cultural cleavage, and the left from the socio-economic dimension (the SP).
Another explanation as to why these parties remain internally divided over socio-cultural issues is that a significant proportion of politicians within them do not take these issues seriously. Issues related to immigration have been identified as either the first, second or third most important issue facing the nation by voters in elections since 1994 (Boomgaarden 2007; Van Gore 2012). However, one still finds dismissive attitudes toward the discussion surrounding this issue within various parties. In the words of one CDA politician, “I find it (the discussion surrounding integration) a heavily over appreciated theme… . Debates about our welfare state, our healthcare, [and] our education I find much more interesting… . In the integration debates, you can say many things against each other [with little effect].” Similarly, Tofik Dibi, a GreenLeft member of parliament, responded to Wilders’ comments about the Queen’s visit to Abu Dhabi as follows:
The problem is not only that Wilders, my colleague, manages to captivate the whole of the Netherlands with his colourful parliamentary questions about children’s songs in which Allah is named, or the outfit of our queen, but that everyone then responds to it. This ritual dance distracts from the real problems we face. The Netherlands is in a recession. That is what we should all focus our collective indignation on! (Brabants Dagblad 2012)
Such attitudes were common among several politicians interviewed from the PvdA, D66 and GreenLeft. Accordingly, discussions surrounding socio-cultural issues are often dismissively referred to as “symbol politics” – what in the United States is identified as “fact free politics” (Van Dam 2011; Hilhorst 2010; Driessen 2012; Michaels 2006). Underlying this description is the assumption that politics driven by socio-economic issues matter more. Counter-intuitively, this attitude was especially prevalent among the VVD members that were the most critical of socio-cultural issues in their interviews. These respondents reiterated several times that what really mattered were not socio-cultural questions, but that the PVV had agreed to the financial reforms proposed by their party.
The argument made in this article is twofold: (1) that to understand party system change in the Netherlands, the increased salience of the socio-cultural cleavage matters; and (2) while the positioning of parties on this cleavage matters, just as important is how effectively they communicate their views on issues related to this cleavage. The more internal cohesion there is within a party over how to approach socio-cultural issues, the more effective a party’s communicative discourse will be.
If recent events are any indicator, internal divisions over socio-cultural issues are likely to remain prevalent within the CDA, PvdA and VVD. This will make the coordinative discourse in each party more fraught and prone to infighting. As for their communicative discourse, it is likely to remain weak and conflicted on issues related to the socio-cultural dimension. Each time one of these parties attempts to move in a certain direction, a substantial minority publicly voices its criticism. Parties such as the SP, PVV, GreenLeft and D66 have not been plagued by such problems. The majority of the politicians in these parties share similar opinions on socio-cultural issues. This allows for easy coordinative discourse within these parties and for clearly recognizable communication on issues related to the socio-cultural cleavage. Voters to whom socio-cultural issues have grown in importance have accordingly rewarded these parties.
Ironically, while the role of both the socio-cultural cleavage and discourse has been disputed in much of the political party literature, Dutch political parties themselves are well aware of the role that both play in their electoral success (or lack thereof). When a party has had a poor showing in an election, it is common practice in the Netherlands to appoint a commission tasked with evaluating what went wrong. This last decade the CDA, PvdA and D66 have all created such commissions. They all concluded that much of the blame should go towards internal divisions and ineffective messaging towards socio-cultural issues (Rapport Commissie-Frissen 2010; Rapport Commissie-Vreeman 2007; Rapport Commissie Groenman 2007). In contrast to the CDA and PvdA, D66 managed to change course under the leadership of Alexander Pechtold. This paid off in the 2010 elections when socio-cultural themes once again played an important role in the campaign (Van Holsteyn 2011:415). Thus, the recognition of problems does not necessarily result in their resolution. As long as parties such as the PvdA and CDA continue to welcome internal dissent over socio-cultural issues, this is not likely to change.
The approach taken in this article should have made clear that the variance of answers given within parties indicates interesting avenues for future research. Most of the literature on political parties continues to treat parties as cohesive units (notable exception: Edwards 2007). While Dutch politicians in newer parties gave similar answers when it came to socio-cultural questions, politicians in “traditional” parties – the CDA, VVD and PvdA – varied much more in their answers. This has important ramifications for how effective such parties are at communicating their message to voters. Future party research should not just focus on the positions a party officially takes in a manifesto. It should also look within parties to examine how much agreement there actually is upon issues that are salient to voters.
Appendix A: Question Set Dutch Politicians
- In September 2007, during the presentation of the WRR report National Identity and Pluriform Past, Princes Maxima said that “the Dutchman” does not Do you agree with this statement? If yes, why does this identity not exist? If no, what does such an identity consist of?
- The debate surrounding integration has grown in importance in Dutch society since the
- Is it a positive development that it has taken on such a prominent role in the national debate? On a scale from 0 to 10, wherein 5 is neutral, 0 very negative and 10 very
- What mark would you give the content of this debate as of 2011? On a scale from 0 to 10, wherein 5 is neutral, 0 very negative and 10 very
- Does it matter to you where immigrants come from for their integration, or does the country of origin not matter at all? If yes, which immigrants fit better into Dutch society? Which do not? If no, why does the country of origin not matter?
- In the 1970s there were almost no Muslims in the Now, according to the best estimates available, there are more than a million Muslims in the Netherlands.
- Is this societal change a net negative, positive, or does it not matter at all? On a scale from 0 to 10, wherein 5 is neutral, 0 very negative and 10 very
- In January 2000, Paul Scheffer published The Multicultural Drama in De Volkskrant. He was very critical of integration policy in that Had post 1980s integration policy really failed? Were there also positive aspects to the policy of “integration with retention of one’s own identity”?
- Is a more stringent immigration policy desirable? How about integration policy? If yes, what needs to be more stringent? If no, why not?
- The European Union has expanded drastically since its founding and has also increased its say over policy Is further expansion desirable? If yes, which countries do you see joining the EU? Which countries absolutely should not be allowed to join? Why?
- Is further political integration a positive for the Netherlands? If yes, in what policy areas would you like to see further integration? Are there policy areas which the EU should absolutely stay out of? If no, why not?
- The EU is currently guaranteeing substantial loans to South European There is much discussion about the possible need for more loans. Which of the following options is best according to you?
- It is necessary to extend more
- We should not extend more loans, but first see if existing loans can be
- Those countries are currently not meeting the necessary criteria to be members of the It would be best if they left the monetary union.
- We should get rid of the Euro in its It was much better when we had the guilder.
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 This last question is actually asked on the integration exam that immigrants have to pass. They have to answer in the affirmative to answer correctly.
 The PVV only has one official member: the political leader of the party, Geert Wilders. Wilders uses the infighting and the subsequent downfall of the List Pim Fortyn (LPF) as his rationale for not opening the party up for membership. This position has not gone unchallenged and has recently resulted in several PVV politicians leaving the party.
 Anonymity was guaranteed so that politicians could feel free to voice their opinions freely. While a few made it known they had no problems being identified with what they said, the majority actually insisted that they remain unidentifiable. This is understandable given how contentious issues such as immigration, integration and European integration have become within various political parties.
 The coding of each answer is available from the author upon request. Also see: Van Gorp 2012: Chapter 9.
 WRR stands for Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid (Scientific Council for Government Policy). It is a government funded think-tank whose research program is formed in consultation with the Prime-Minister’s Office.
 Individual scores are available from the author upon request.
 This is a widely accepted ranking of Dutch parties on the socio-economic dimension.Tags: Academic