Love Actually – Are ‘Losers of Globalization’ and the AfD a Perfect Match?

Alice Weidel: Leader of the AfD; Image by Rolf Vennenbernd from Neue Züricher Zeitung

From almost making the leap into the German parliament in its foundation year 2013, over pulling almost 7% in the following European elections and eventually entering the German Bundestag in 2017, the AfD caught global attention. The reasons behind the remarkable rise of the German far-right party have often been discussed by scholars. Already long before the existence of the AfD, Betz introduced the thesis that ‘losers of globalization’, meaning people left behind by modernization and the accompanied change in the labour market, tend to vote for far-right parties.

In respect of the AfD, arguments of socio-economic nature and especially the thesis that the success of the AfD grounds on the electorate of ‘losers of globalization’ polarise. The thesis finds support through an analysation of the German labour market which makes a correlation between the structural weak East and the strong turnouts in East Germany apparent. Contrarily, the observation of the actual socio-economic background of the electorate of the AfD makes it almost impossible to apply the thesis to the case of the AfD.

The Initial Phase

In order to understand the rise of the AfD, its development needs to be divided into two parts: Its initial phase until 2015 and the following phase, especially characterised by an increasing radicalization. The former was indeed already affected by economic policies promoting a stop to the further deepening of European integration. However, these policies targeted economic liberalism not measures against globalization. Interestingly enough the AfD also passed in the course of the 2021 federal election a program that can be considered anything but definitely not beneficial for socially deprived groups.

Crisis or not here the strings get pulled: The European Central Bank; Image by Yann Schreiber from Getty Images

The financial and euro crisis represent additional factors the AfD was able to take advantage of. Since all German parliamentary parties took the same stance, namely bailing Greece out and saving the euro under all circumstances, the AfD was able to fill the gap of opposition in the political spectrum. Simultaneously, Merkel recalibrated the economic stance of the CDU, traditionally the German conservative party, more to the centre giving the AfD even more space to grow. The initial phase of the AfD was, hence, rather characterised by its oppositional socio-economic policies and arguably the mistakes of its opponents. Globalization, on the other hand, played a minor role in its early success.

The Electorate of the AfD

The biggest electoral constant in the success of the AfD is to be found in Eastern Germany. The new federal states are structurally weak and additionally, inhabitants in the East enjoy a less desirable socio-economic situation than in West Germany. In this regard, one could argue that lower income and the fear of unemployment lead to emigration which again results in a climate of uncertainty and anxiety. The fear of unemployment mainly derives from the structure of the labour market. The Eastern German labour market is especially characterised by handcraft businesses and rural areas. Globalization and technology made a lot of these businesses redundant as well as the importance of services in urban areas increased. In this regard, it seems nothing but logical that AfD voters indeed have the redistribution of wealth as their main motive. 

However, deriving the validation of the thesis of ‘losers of globalisation’ for the case of the AfD solely on this assumption, is too simple. Keeping in mind that the AfD promotes economic liberalism – why would anyone, disadvantaged by economic change, vote for a party that intensifies this drawback?

AfD votes: Federal election 2017; Image by SPIEGEL ONLINE

And indeed, this perspective on the electoral turnouts in East Germany does by no means reflect consensus. In respect of this, relative deprivation appears to be a promising concept. It implies that voters support the AfD not due to a worsened economic position but due to a feeling of mistreatment. In this case, this alludes to the sentiment of unequal treatment of East Germany compared to West Germany. The comparison of the number of top positions in East and West serves here as evidence. In fact, top positions in business, judiciary and politics are significantly less occupied by East Germans than by West Germans.

Besides that, the thesis that the success of the AfD grounds on a socio-economic homogenous group is further contested. If we take a look at the socio-economic background of the AfD electorate, we encounter a varying field and probably most important, the norm-AfD voter, even within these varying groups, draws an above-average income. This is further underpinned by studies that prove that the decisive factor to vote AfD is not class-affiliation but rather cultural policy-preferences.

No Perfect Match, but …

The success of the AfD is due to various causes. The AfD is an example where the thesis that ‘losers of globalization’ vote far-right can hardly find validation. Only by disregarding several factors one could argue that the success of the AfD grounds on the support of people left behind by modernisation. Nevertheless, the correlation between the structurally weak German East and the large local turnouts is striking. To answer this puzzle a glance at the socio-cultural motives of the AfD electorate could lead to elucidation. In light of this, the thesis that structural weakness leads to resentments against alien cultures which again provides a breeding ground for the far-right could serve as a starting point.

Björn Höcke instrumentalizing the term ‘globalization’ by attaching cultural policies

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18 thoughts on “Love Actually – Are ‘Losers of Globalization’ and the AfD a Perfect Match?

  1. The structure of the article is well thought of, and the pictures are also catchy. The main problem is that we didn’t find clear enough how you answer to the title. Are globalisation and the AfD correlated or not? And where do you position yourself in the debate?
    If you could reply and explain to us more in detail we would be appreciative!

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! I think this post, indeed, requires somewhat a clearer positioning within the field, so I appreciate the clarification.
      In this regards, I would further argue that the thesis that ‘losers of globalisation’ tend to vote far-right does not apply to the case of the AfD. In respect of the question to what extent the electoral success of the AfD and Globalisation are correlated, I would currently answer, yes they are. However, I would not point out Globalisation as the crucial factor behind the success of the party. Does that answer your question?
      And besides that, do you think that the positioning is just not clear enough or that also the argumentation structure behind requires some restructuring?

      1. Thanks for your answer! We now understand your conclusion better and we’re glad you could explain it to us more in detail. The structure is actually really good, we just felt that your position wasn’t prominent enough but we believe you will be able to adjust it with very minimal changes. Good luck!

        1. Hi,
          Thanks for your answer! I think the blog, as it is right now, reached its final form. If you want you can take another glance and see if the positioning is clearer now. For this purpose, I made my point already clear in the end of the introduction. Also, you can find a summary of my perspective on the topic in the last section. Ultimately, I reach the conclusion that the concerned thesis cannot simply be applied to the case of the AfD while suggesting that the core motive of AfD voters is to be found in cultural policy. I amplify that this is a promising future research avenue. The attached tweet underpins this as Björn Höcke instrumentalizes the term ‘globalization’ by attaching bizarre cultural value-changes to it (unfortunately it is in German).

          1. Thank you for getting back to us! We really like the final version of your blog and we’re glad that our suggestions were useful. Thank you also for explaining to us your position more in detail, it is really convincing!

  2. We very much enjoyed the visual and structural aspects of this blog. The topic is well chosen. However, the title appears to be somewhat misleading. The text and the title do not seem to be going hand in hand with one another and the relation to globalization could have been made a bit clearer. The text itself is very well written. If the title and the text go along side better, it will be a great blog post overall.​

    -Macy, Zoë, Julia and Sofia

    1. Hi Macy, Zoë, Julia and Sofia!
      I’m glad you like the photos & thanks for your comprehensive feedback!

      With regards to your questions I was wondering in what way you think the title is misleading? Do you think it already makes the reader believe that the concerned thesis applies to the AfD? And further do you think the first section of the text is maybe not necessary as it does not directly concern Globalisation?
      Looking forward to your answer!


      1. Hi Kilian, We see that you already changed the title. This new title makes the purpose of your blog more clear than the previous one, plus it is more catchy! The first section of the blog is good for contextualization. We definitely advise you to keep it in the post. Very interesting article, good work!

        1. Hi!
          Thanks for your feedback regarding the first section! I’m also very happy that you like the new title. If you have any other questions, also content-wise, or further feedback, I’d be happy to answer or consider it, respectively!

  3. This is a very attention-grabbing and insightful entry. We find it visually appealing and fairly easy to read. However, as the previous comments have already pointed out, we also do not see a strong enough connection between the title and the content of the blog entry. Furthermore, we would appreciate a few more hyperlinks, especially in the first part of the entry. Even if the minimum number of references is exceeded, it is always helpful to include as many as possible. All in all, we find this a really nice entry that only needs some final revision.

    1. Hi Márton,
      Thanks for your feedback! I changed the title now and also tried to make it more ‘catchy’. Do you think it reflects the content of the post well through the adjustment or is it still a little off?
      Also I included some hyperlinks, because they indeed make it easier to fully grasp the topic. The additional links lead to the results of the mentioned elections. In this regard, do you think that works well. Eventually, I am very happy that you enjoyed reading my post, I just wondered how you would estimate the positing within the field?


      1. Dear Kilian,

        Thank you for the adjustments, the included hyperlinks are indeed helpful. The change of title is also accurate, it covers the post much better. The position of the author is also clearly visible, we did not find any problems in this regard. This is already a really good entry, insightful and professional. We hope to read more of your post in the future.

  4. Hi Kilian, we first want to mention the use of extensive hyperlinks, is very much appreciated.
    We think the blog is a comprehensive depiction of the topic you have explored so far. The text is very well written and is quite easy to follow along.

    Overall, great job so far and best of luck.

    1. Hi Cian,
      I’m glad that you like the writing style as well as I’m delighted that the post could expand your knowledge a little bit. If you have any feedback on upcoming changes or questions apart from that, I’d be happy to answer them.

  5. Hi there, something we really like about your blog entry is that it is easy to follow. You provide a lot of information and it is nice that you used visuals to make it even vivid. What´s really nice is that you even added a Twitter post. Overall its very nice

    1. Hi,
      I appreciate that you are content with the post! Since you enjoyed reading it you might as well want to check up on the subject from another perspective. I can recommend the linked article, in which Mols and Jetten argue that the thesis of ‘losers of globalization cannot be generalized based on the example of One Nation in Australia.

      Edit: the journal article provides an underpinning perspective on the findings of my blogpost rather than another perspective

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