Right-Wing Political Extremism in the Great Depression
We examine the impact of the Great Depression on the share of votes for right-wing anti-system parties in elections in the 1920s and 1930s. We confirm the existence of a link between political extremism and economic hard times as captured by growth or contraction of the economy. What mattered was not simply growth at the time of the election but cumulative growth performance. But the effect of the Depression on support for right-wing anti-system parties was not equally powerful under all economic, political and social circumstances. It was greatest in countries with relatively short histories of democracy, with existing extremist parties, and with electoral systems that created low hurdles to parliamentary representation. Above all, it was greatest where depressed economic conditions were allowed to persist.
A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the conference on "The Ethics of Economics", held in honour of Avner Offer, on October 5 2011 at All Souls College Oxford. We thank the organisers and the conference participants for helpful comments. We also thank Ken Benoit, Carles Boix, Giovanni Capoccia, Kevin Denny, Rui Esteves, James Fenske, Bill Greene, Doug Irwin, Martin Ivanov, David Leblang, Matthias Morys, Denis Nekipelov, Carol Newman, Avner Offer, Florian Ploeckl, Hans-Joachim Voth and Niko Wolf for helpful comments, suggestions, and advice regarding both data and econometrics. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement no. 249546. The usual disclaimer applies. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
"Political Extremism in the 1920s and 1930s: Do the German Lessons Generalize?" (with Alan de Bromhead and Keven O'Rourke), Journal of Economic History (July 2013).