Islamophobic Right-Wing Populism? Empirical Insights about Citizens’ Susceptibility to Islamophobia and Its Impact on Right-Wing Populists’ Electoral Success: Eastern Europe in a Comparative Perspective


  • Gert Pickel Leipzig University
  • Cemal Öztürk Leuphana University of Lüneburg1


Understanding the electoral success of right-wing populist parties has sparked the interest of many scholars. One factor receiving less attention in these debates is the role of religious affiliation as a cultural marker of allegedly dangerous out-groups. Right-wing populists often portray themselves as defenders of a Christian Occident that is allegedly under threat by an invasion of Muslims. We argue, in accordance with the culturalbacklash thesis, that the mobilization of right-wing populists would not have been possible without the widespread perception of Islam and Muslims as a threat. To test this assumption, we analyzed data from the European Social Survey (2014). Our results show that support for a ban against Muslims increases the likelihood of voting for right-wing populist parties, and the percentage of Muslims in the total population has no moderating effect. The individual linkage between anti-Muslim prejudices and the support of right-wing populist parties is a pan-European phenomenon. Interestingly, right-wing populists profit from anti-Muslim prejudices in places where few Muslims live. Thus, the absence of Muslims seems to favor a social climate in which anti-Muslim sentiments prevail. “Islamophobia without Muslims” offers right-wing populists a political window of opportunity to join government coalitions or even to win elections.


Author Biographies

Gert Pickel, Leipzig University

Prof. Dr. Gert Pickel (corresponding author), Leipzig University, Faculty of Theology, Martin-LutherRing 3, 04109 Leipzig

Cemal Öztürk, Leuphana University of Lüneburg1

PhD fellow at the Centre for the Study of Democracy (ZDEMO), Leuphana University of Lüneburg