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Success and Failure on the Populist Right:

The Case of Wilders and Verdonk

First draft

Matthijs van Tuijl

Master Thesis Political Behaviour and Communication
Leiden University
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Galen Irwin
Second reader: Dr. H. Pelikaan
Word count: 20.321
‘I want to be Prime-Minister’1 was Rita Verdonk’s claim on October 18 2007, when
she founded her movement Trots op Nederland (ToN, Proud of the Netherlands). At that
point in time that was not an unrealistic claim, with the opinion polls having her at 25 seats.2
Geert Wilders with his Partij Voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Freedom Party), lost half of his support
in the polls to Verdonk when she announced her new party.3 However, on June 9 2010, the
day of the Dutch General election, Wilders managed to secure 24 seats and Verdonk was
voted out completely by the people.4 How is it possible that Rita Verdonk could not win any
seats in the end and that Geert Wilders showed a significant growth?
That there was a potential for Verdonk to be successful was clear prior to the general
election in 2006, when she was involved in a fierce battle for the leadership of the Liberal
party (VVD) with now Prime-Minister Mark Rutte. She just lost the leadership, but did
manage to get more votes at the parliamentary election than Rutte. With 620,555 votes, she
received almost 100,000 votes more than her party leader.5 Verdonk was forced to leave the
VVD after an internal dispute, with the leadership contest, in practice, still going on after the
elections. When she left, as figure 1 shows, she remained popular and was therefore for a
while seen as a serious force within Dutch politics. Geert Wilders, himself also a former VVD
MP, having left the party a few years earlier, enjoyed growing support after the elections until
Verdonk founded her new movement. At that point in time there were two new right wing
parties looking for the favour of the Dutch voter, only one was capable of claiming victory in
the end.
Verdonk and Wilders have often been called populists, due to their approach to
politics (Lucardie, 2007; Vossen, 2010). While the reasons behind the political success of
populist parties have been studied in detail, focusing on elements as political leadership,
protest voting and issue preferences (Eatwell, 2005; Van der Brug and Mughan, 2007), there
is still no definite answer on how they manage to succeed and what elements are most
important. Further while there are many examples in Western Europe of populist parties

1 ‘Verdonk wil in Torentje; ‘Trots op Nederland’ moet Fortuyn evenaren’ , De Telegraaf,

October 18, 2007

2 Nieuw Haags Peil, November 4, 2007

3 Nieuw Haags Peil, October 21, 2007

4 ‘Tweede Kamer 2010’, Kiesraad, June 9, 2010

5 ‘Proces-verbaal Tweede Kamer 2006’ , Kiesraad, November 27, 2006

effectively claiming an influential position within their countries’ politics, the parties that do
not make it have received less attention.
What is interesting about the movements of Rita Verdonk and Geert Wilders, as figure
1 shows, is that it was not just success or only failure. There were many ups and downs in
popularity in the years between elections. What happened during these years? Why did
Verdonk not make it in the end while Wilders did will therefore be the puzzle of this thesis.
The findings of this study could contribute to a better understanding of the development of
populist parties in general. What explains the differences in electoral outcome for them? It
leads to the research question of this study.

What explains the success of the PVV and the failure of Trots op Nederland in the period
Figure 1. Parliamentary opinion polls 2006-2010

1. Theory
In order to find an answer to the research question it is first necessary to look at what
these parties or movements actually are. It is claimed that Wilders and Verdonk are populists,
but what that is still remains somewhat ambiguous. Even though it is not the focus of this
study to define populism, it is important to know what we are actually dealing with. When
that definition is more clear, characteristics of the PVV and TON can be compared to that to
see if they fit the picture. If they can be qualified as populist parties, there is a possibility to
look at explanations for success and failure of populist parties and test these for Verdonk and

1.1. Populism
In Europe there has been a growing number of right wing populist parties entering the
arena and successfully claiming a position in national parliaments. According to some, the de-
alignment process that has taken place across Europe, has led to the rise of these new parties,
focusing more on party leaders and less on a fixed ideology (Dalton et al., 2002: 22, 31-32).
The FPÖ in Austria and the Danish People’s Party are just two examples of parties that even
managed to participate, in some form, in their countries’ government.
Populism is a concept that is not that easy to define. It is a concept that has many features
and is has developed over time. In his study on populism, Paul Taggart (2000) describes this

process and defines modern populism as the New Populism, which has its roots in Western
Europe. He sees it as a movement of multiple parties across countries with some defining
characteristics. First of all, it is a reaction to bureaucratised welfare states and corruption
within the existing political parties. Secondly these parties reconstruct politics around a key
issue, either taxation, immigration and nationalism or regionalism. Thirdly, they organise
themselves differently from existing parties, as a result of distrust of political institutions.
Party membership is only active and direct in the form of elected officials and personalised
leadership is prevalent. Fourth, they like to establish a link between the people and themselves
and place themselves outside the centre of the political spectrum (Taggart, 2000: 75).
Canovan explains this link to the people more clearly by distinguishing between three
different types: the united people (as in a nation), our people (in an ethnic sense) and the
ordinary people (against the privileged) (Canovan, 1999: 5). These separate types make the
faces of populism more clear. It can focus on a certain ethnic group and be an excluding
factor or it can rebel against the elite and be the voice of the common man. The elite is seen as
corrupt and going against the general will. Cas Mudde considers that to be the centre piece of
populism, the restoration of the will of the people in a country. In that way, populism is a very
moralistic ‘ideology’ (Mudde, 2004: 543-544). In this view, the common man is no longer in
power, the elite is and that is de facto a bad thing. Populist parties are there to restore popular
control over a nation.
The important thing to realise from the New Populism of Taggart is that these parties are
effectively trying to find a niche in politics based on dissatisfaction with modern politics.
They see politics as no longer representing the people and try to re-establish that link with
them by focusing on issues that appeal to certain groups in society. As Taggart explains, the
people are here portrayed as a unity within a heartland. That heartland can best be seen as an
imaginary place that emphasises all the good and virtuous aspects of life. It is however not all
inclusive. It is to a large extent based on nationalism of an ‘organic community’, excluding
certain groups in society (Taggart, 2000: 95, 97). Related to this is the creation of conspiracy
theories. The elite conspires together, no longer protects the heartland and something should
be done about it. This is argued to be a major factor to mobilise support (Ibid.: 105).
Leadership is also a defining feature of populist parties. With populist parties there can
be two types of leadership. The more common is the type based on charisma, centred around
leaders with a large popular appeal. When, however, this is not present, it is argued that in that
case it tends to be authoritarian (Ibid.: 103). The result of this leadership is the creation of a
populist mood. The idea is that something needs to change fundamentally and the country

needs to be reshaped. This mood has the power to encourage otherwise non active citizens to
participate in politics and to get out and vote (Canovan, 1999: 6).
Interesting points are raised by Mudde in clarifying some basic elements of populism,
related to democracy and leadership. As he argues, when it comes to democracy, populist
parties want responsive government not necessarily direct democracy. They want the outcome
to be representative of the will of the people, but those people do not have to participate
directly, as long as they are heard. On the point of leadership, he says that the people want
their leaders to be in touch, but not be one of them (Mudde, 2004: 558-559). This marks some
interesting aspects of populist parties and can explain the apparent paradox of authoritarian
leadership and listening to the will of the people. That will needs to be represented by the
political leaders, but the people should not take over from them. Other scholars present a
somewhat different picture and argue that populist parties will demand more direct
democracy. Democracy should in that view be seen as an ideal that includes ‘referenda,
popular consultation and direct elections of office- holders (Keman and Krouwel, 2007: 25).

1.2. Wilders and Verdonk as populists

In order to analyse the success and failure of populist parties in the case of Wilders and
Verdonk, it is important to establish what kind of characteristics they share with this populist
image just sketched. If they are populist leaders, then it becomes possible to test explanations
of success and failure of populism for them. If they differ from the ideal populist picture, then
this can be taken in account when conducting this study.
Koen Vossen, comparing Wilders and Verdonk in terms of populist tendencies, has
distinguished seven features of populism comparable to the points mentioned above (see table
1) . Some of them, the ‘folksy style’ and ‘voluntarist approach’ are somewhat similar to other
points. The folksy style more or less relates to how politicians act, being one of the people,
speaking the same language. The voluntarist approach relates to politics not having to be as
complex, the peoples’ qualities are enough to govern (Vossen, 2010: 25). These two points
clearly focus on the incompetent elite in comparison to the people. It again stresses the fact
that the political organisation has become filled with an unnecessary bureaucracy that needs to
be fixed. The voluntarist approach also moves away from a politician as a professional. The
common man should be represented and therefore there is no need for professionals.

Table 1. Seven features of populism

Wilders Verdonk

Basic ingredients:

1. Denunciation of the Elite + +

2. Glorification of the people +/- +

Flavour enhancers:

3. Inclination towards conspiracy ++ +


4. Folksy style +/- +

5. Voluntarist approach + +

6. Preference for direct +/- +


7. Charismatic leadership (+/-) (+)

(Vossen, 2010: 34)

As shown in table 1, Vossen has some doubts about the basic idea of Geert Wilders as
a populist in the traditional sense. He calls Wilders a half-hearted populist, mainly because he
is a professional politician and he does not glorify the people to the extent that a true populist
would do. Instead Wilders also criticizes the people on occasions (Vossen, 2010: 30). The
interesting thing about this is that Wilders is a former MP for the VVD, as is Rita Verdonk,
but in contrast to her, he spent quite some more time in the political circle. He had been active
for the parliamentary party since 1990, working as a policy advisor. Known as a hard worker,
Wilders lived politics. This is illustrated by the fact that when he was forced to leave
parliament after the 2002 elections, he was devastated, having no alternative for politics
whatsoever (Fennema, 2010: 66). Wilders can therefore with reason be called a professional
politician and not so much a ‘common man’.
He does, however, not refrain completely from populist rhetoric. When he presented
his candidates for the 2011 elections for the provinces he emphasised the importance of the
citizens in contrast to the elite. He claimed he wanted to return Limburg to the people of
Limburg. According to him, politics in the Netherlands focuses too much on the elite in the
Hague, which needs to change.6 This phrase was later repeated by Prime Minister Mark Rutte,
whose government relies on the support of the PVV. A leading opposition MP then accused
the PM of using ‘PVV rhetoric’.7 This example shows that Wilders indeed from time to time
6 ‘PVV: Limburg terug naar Limburgers’, RTL Nieuws, December 10, 2010

7 ‘Rutte gebruikt PVV retoriek’, Trouw, March 5, 2011

uses this populist feature and can even be argued to successfully influence the government
with it.
What Wilders more clearly emphasises is his fight against the elite. He has managed
to create a link between progressive politics and the anti-establishment idea of populism. He
has created an image of the Dutch elite as a leftist elite with an inclination for cultural and
moral relativism (Vossen, 2010: 27 ). It might be this explicit definition of the elite that
explains being a professional politician on the one hand but mixing that with some form of
populism on the other. It is just a certain part of the political spectrum that is completely on
the wrong path. Wilders wrote a ‘declaration of independence’, his starting point for his
movement. In it he explicitly mentions that the elite let ‘this’ happen and now throw their
hands in the air and say there is nothing they can do about it anymore (Fennema, 2010: 103).
This also shows his focus on the progressive elite, conspiring against society. He made
a distinction between the Labour party of Wouter Bos, which he thought to be pampering, and
the VVD. The people who did not want it to go completely wrong should vote VVD (Ibid.,
105). The exponent of this focus on the cultural and moral relativism of the Dutch elite, is his
own conspiracy theory about Islam taking over Europe (Eurabia). As Vossen shows, Wilders
actively spreads this image of islamification, referring to many experts in the field. With this
he is trying to give weight to his claims and focus his campaign on the issue of immigration of
Moslim immigrants (Vossen, 2010: 27).
Vossen gives no definite answer on whether Wilders is a charismatic leader, calling it
difficult to measure in his case because of the closed nature of the party. However, the style of
leadership is more important in his case. Wilders maintains control over the party by having
no members other than himself (Ibid.:28). This relates to the points made by Taggart on
authoritarian leadership. Wilders, whether charismatic or not, should then more be seen as an
authoritarian leader.
Paul Lucardie also shows the special position Wilders has put himself in. He qualifies
Wilders as a right-wing, semi- hearted liberal nationalist and populist (Lucardie, 2007: 181).
As Vossen, he acknowledges that the behaviour of Wilders is not one of standard populism.
Wilders focuses on freedom, but it is limited and very inconsistent with respect to (Islamic)
religion. This populism, although by some seen as limited is according to Lucardie clearly
noticeable in his reference to the people and the corrupt elite (Ibid.: 179-180).
Geert Wilders, although not being the ideal type, can therefore be characterised as a
populist politician. His anti-elite politics and the focus on Islam as the key issue around
immigration are clear indicators. Wilders is a professional politician and in that way linked to

the establishment, but still manages to create an image of being a person that wants to
distance himself from ‘the politics in the Hague’. Claiming to return the country to the people
is a good example of that. The leadership elements can also be found, although maybe not in
the classic charismatic way. Half-hearted or not, Wilders still scores very high on some
defining features.

Where Wilders is a somewhat more complicated story in terms of populism, Verdonk
seems all the more to fulfil the standard definition of a populist. As can be seen in table 1, she
scores positively on all the criteria. Research on her speeches and interviews shows a clear
distinction between the corrupt elite and the people as the virtuous element in society. There
is a distrust of the people caused by the elite (Vossen, 2010: 30). Note here that Verdonk does
not care whether the elite is left or right wing, it is just the elite. Unlike Wilders she tries to
take on the entire establishment and does not even leave out her own former party. She
mentioned Mark Rutte as being too left wing and therefore also being out of touch with the
people. When founding her movement she did not want to take sides or think in the old way
of how the political spectrum was divided. She did not want to be labelled left or right, but
wanted to think in old and new (Lucardie, 2007: 181). With this she cannot be seen as more
distinguishing herself from the establishment or elite and taking the side of the people. From
her history it does make sense for her not just to criticise the left, since she was ousted by the
VVD party leaders, but favoured by the people during the elections. In general we can see
Verdonk trying to frame that image of her party taking on politics in general.
The other important point to qualify Verdonk as a populist is that she places emphasis
vigorously on voluntarism and direct democracy. In her view the people should govern and
we do not really need politicians. This is best illustrated by the fact that she wanted citizens to
discuss with each other what the best solutions to certain problems are. The real knowledge of
ordinary people would improve this country (Vossen, 2010: 31). What we see here is Verdonk
moving away from the politician as a professional in politics. Politicians should listen to the
people and she goes to extremes to establish that link. She also did not present a real party
manifesto until very late. She presented her plans to the public just a couple of months before
the elections. She then focused on taxation, subsidies and other public spending.8
The personality of Verdonk was therefore very important. As Vossen stresses, she mainly
has relied on her own popularity and the image she had built during previous the years. Trots

8 ‘ToN richt pijlen op ambtenaren’ De Telegraaf, April 8 2010

op Nederland is very apolitical, in that way and more a feeling. (Vossen, 2010: 32-33).
Because of that lack of content of what the party is really about, it is difficult to clearly
explain what kind of party or movement it is. It could only somewhat be qualified as a
nationalist party. She does emphasize Dutch culture and the relevance of putting that up front,
but not as extremely as does Wilders. She could therefore best be seen as a populist liberal-
conservative (Lucardie 2007: 182). The clear difference here is that Wilders actually wants to
tackle the influence of Islam in society, whereas Verdonk does not see that danger. She sees it
more in terms of not letting the Dutch society fade away in general. By focusing on taxation
and more power to the people, she fits very clearly in the classic image as depicted by

1.3. Success and failure

With this outline of populism and Wilders and Verdonk as populist leaders it is now
possible to look at the elements that explain success and failure. In general there are three
reasons that can be defined why people vote for populist parties: 1) the protest vote, in
reaction to other parties; 2) voting for the charisma or leadership; 3) voting for substance or
policy preferences.
The protest vote comes from what Immerfall sees as a neo-populist agenda. He focuses
on what the emphasis of a populist party is and sees its appeal accordingly. He argues it to be
important for such a party to hold together what he calls, a neo-populist coalition. This is
aimed at exploiting country specific issues, mainly focused on the economic situation of the
nation, in order to attract voters (Immerfall, 1998: 250). Populism here is seen as a reaction to
what is happening in a country and the reason of existence is an appeal to the people. Populist
parties, by showing what is wrong, have a reason to exist. Voters then react to this by seeing
the establishment as incompetent, failing to take care of the nation, and vote for the party that
raised those questions (Ibid., 258). This explanation of the populist vote has nothing to do
with the appeal of leadership or what plans are presented to the people. It is the basic idea of
framing the image of the corrupt elite that has let the people down and is not representing the
general will anymore.
As Taggart explains, there are problems with the way populist parties behave or are
organised, especially in this way. One of these is the criticism of established parties. Populist
parties want to distance themselves from established parties, but are forced, by the way
politics is organised, to behave in a similar way. As a consequence, they have a large risk of
internal conflicts or collapse (Taggart, 2000: 100). In practice it comes down to a very simple

logic. At first a populist party successfully explains why the old parties are not the right
choice for the voter. With this they create momentum for them to grow in support. However,
since this is not based on concrete plans or policy, they fall in the trap they have created for
themselves. Once the people notice that they are not capable of fulfilling their needs either,
the image of a strong counter party disappears and the party collapses.
Roger Eatwell sees the importance of charisma in leaders for explaining the success of
populist parties. Whereas it is a concept that cannot be defined very easily and can take on
many forms, he focuses on the personal presence of the leader. It is about being able to create
the right image on television and to catch the right sound bite and not so much about the
attraction of the party leader. The focus of the publicity tends to be on the personality of the
leader and this creates electoral appeal (Eatwell, 2005: 108). This approach takes away the
idea of charisma just being about the leader and puts the emphasis on his actions. It still
remains a personalised attraction, but of a different nature.
Taggart sees problems with charismatic leadership in the long run. He argues it to be
unstable and unreliable. Politicians can never be certain how to effectively sustain their
charisma and it is therefore very unstable (Taggart, 2000: 102). As long as politicians are seen
to be charismatic and are capable of catching the public eye, they will continue to be popular.
However relying on charisma alone seems to form a problem in the long run. A new
contender can come along and take away the support or people will start to see through the
charismatic mask.
From their study, van der Brug and Mughan (2007) conclude that Dutch populist leaders
do not have a greater effect on the voting behaviour than their counterparts from the
established parties. Even for Pim Fortuyn, arguably a very charismatic individual, no
significant difference between his leadership appeal and that of other politicians was found
(Van der Brug and Mughan, 2007: 44). This puts further pressure on the effectiveness, if any,
of just the leader as a token to attract votes. Even though in a best case scenario it helps to
improve voting for the party, it seems to be the case that a populist party cannot rely on the
leader alone.
There is more to it and Mughan and Paxton (2006) try to explain this with a case study of
anti-immigrant feelings in Australia. What they find is that policy preference is highly
significant as an explanation for the populist vote. Only when there is correspondence
between what voters want and what parties offer them, they will vote for them (Mughan and
Paxton, 2006: 354, 357). It seems that voters have an idea of what they want to happen in a
country and need parties to defend this or to bring this forward. It can effectively boost the

claim made by many populists that the old parties are not representing the will of the people.
It could be the case that it is then more than a protest vote and basic rhetoric and gives a
chance for parties that can actually find a niche in politics to grow and become important.
Ivarsflaten demonstrates the volatility of populist parties when it comes to issues and
thereby also acknowledges the importance. She shows that the saliency of economic issues is
in particular important (Ivarsflaten, 2005: 489). The populist voter does look at issues and
does take the state of the nation into account and is not simply affected by rhetoric or
leadership appeal. Van der Brug and Fennema (2003) firmly support this conclusion and
conclude from their analysis of the development of anti-immigrant parties, that voters vote
according to their issue preferences. They argue that voters for those parties vote for the same
reasons as any other voter. Some evidence even hints that they are even more issue voters.
(Van der Brug and Fennema, 2003: 66. 70-71). It seems that we should not underestimate the
voters for populist parties. There is evidence that they are not the simplistic voters some
people hold them to be. The strength of a party does not just rely on the leadership or on a
protest vote. It depends heavily on which issues are salient and whether a party manages to
bring them forward in an attractive way. There are therefore many ways for a populist party to
go wrong and it depends on the context whether such a party is successful or not.

1.4. Sub-questions/Expectations
Based on the literature and the characterisation of both Wilders and Verdonk, it is possible
to formulate some sub questions to analyse the success and failure of their parties. As seen
above there are three main reasons for the success of populist parties; these will serve as a
guide for explaining the differences between the two parties and finding an answer to the
research question. From this it is possible to distinguish between the following sub questions.

Q1: What was the influence of the ‘protest vote’ for Wilders and Verdonk?
It follows from the literature that the protest vote can be one of the reasons why people
vote for populist parties. The protest vote is a result of the party emphasising the differences
between the old and the new. The establishment has failed the people and the new populist
party is there to re-establish the link between the people and the government. For the protest
vote explanation to contribute as an important factor of success, we would expect to see the
populist party rally against the old parties and their politics. Furthermore the emphasis would
be on the old elite that has failed the people and the importance of restoring that faith and

giving power back to the people. An important explanation for failure here is the inherent
implications of this strategy. When a party runs into problems itself, this will backfire and the
protest vote will no longer be of any use to the populist party. If they no longer have the
image of being the new that will get rid of the habits of the old, we will expect to see failure.

Q2: What was the influence of leadership as an explanation for success and failure?
A second explanation of success can be found in the leadership appeal or
personification of politics. It works either through charisma or authoritarian leadership.
Whereas charisma is not an easy concept to define, for the purpose of this study it will be
operationalised in a comprehensive way. Here it will just mean the personal appeal of a leader
to attract voters. For this to work out, we will expect to see little or no emphasis on issues or
ideas, but attention for the leader in general. It is expected that voter appeal will go up when a
lot of attention is given to the populist leader. The danger here is the unstable factor of
charismatic leadership. It seems that emphasising just the personal appeal of the leader for too
long can pose a problem and an unstable basis for a party to continue to grow further or hold
its position. Authoritarian leadership can be a further explanation for a populist party to
maintain a strong position. This type of leadership is expected to be very important for
holding the party together and we can expect to see differences with regards to voter
preferences for parties.

Q3: What was the influence of issue preferences and saliency?

The final sub question relates somewhat to the second. What is more important, having a
leader with a substantial charismatic appeal or talking about the issues and focusing on
improving specific things? For this question we would expect to see attention to issues
relating to voter appeal. It is also expected that certain issues will result in more support of
voters than others. When parties talk more about salient issues or create saliency for an issue
they are expected to increase their voting potential. Failing here could be the result of two
different things. First of all, it could mean that the specific party is unable to create any
substance to link itself to. This could mean that the party focuses more on leadership potential
or has other reasons not to focus on the issues. The other explanation is that a party
emphasises an issue that apparently is not that salient to the general public or where, in the
eyes of the public, they take a wrong stand.

2. Methodology

The three sub questions and subsequently the research question, will be answered by
looking at the period between 2006 and 2010. In this period, as seen in figure 1, some
interesting developments took place with respect to the voting potential of the two
politicians/parties. Verdonk joined the race for the populist vote. Verdonk and Wilders both
had their ups and downs in the polls, eventually resulting in Verdonk dropping to nothing and
Wilders reaching an all-time high. It can therefore be qualified as a period with many changes
and different sides. This makes it an interesting period to analyse.
The analysis will be divided into six periods where we see most of the change happen, as
indicated in figure 1. The first period is the arrival of Verdonk. Here we see her rising to 25
seats in the polls. At that point in time, the potential PVV vote dropped significantly. It can be
seen as the most abrupt shift in the polls in these four years. The second period is the first
drop of Verdonk and one of recovery for Wilders. This goes on until the start of the third
period, early 2008. Here we see Verdonk reclaiming the position she originally held when she
started her movement. The PVV again showed a decrease in vote potential. During the second
part of this period this image somewhat returned to the previous status quo until the start of
the fourth period. This marks the beginning of the end for Rita Verdonk. We can see a free
fall to almost nothing during this period. The PVV retained its position for most of that time.
The fifth period then is the staggering growth of the PVV to their all-time high of 32 seats in
the polls in early 2009. The final and sixth period that is interesting for analysis is the drop of
the PVV in the polls just before the general election.
These periods will be used to conduct content analysis by making a reconstruction to see
what explains success and failure of these parties. The reconstruction itself will be on the
basis of a newspaper analysis of De Telegraaf.9 With a newspaper analysis it is possible to see
what actually happened during these periods. It is possible to see what kind of attention and
how much was given to the parties and what the focus of the attention was. If there are
differences between articles on leadership appeal for Verdonk and Wilders or on certain
issues, then this could be clear indicators of success and failure when linked to the relevant
polls. The search term ‘Rita Verdonk’ for the period September 21 2007, the day before the
2006 general election, to June 10 2010, the day after the 2010 general election, resulted in 649
De Telegraaf hits. A similar search for ‘Wilders or PVV’ resulted in 2378 hits. The articles
published during the selected periods are important for this study. They will be divided by
period and analysed.

9 Due to the limited time available for this thesis it is not possible to use more
newspapers or other media to conduct this analysis.

The reason to take De Telegraaf as the focus of this study is that this paper is well
known for its right wing, often populist, sympathies. Among likely voters of the PVV and
ToN it is also the paper that is most read on a daily basis. As the table below indicates no
other newspaper is this popular among likely voters. The long-time motto of the paper: ‘De
krant van wakker Nederland’, relating to the newspaper being there for the active Dutch
people, is also a reference to this populist appeal. De Telegraaf, because of that, should be the
paper that follows the development of these populist parties closely. It will also be more likely
to portray a certain picture of the parties with respect to their potential of representing the
people. By analysing newspaper content through Nexis Lexis, a reconstruction can be made of
the periods selected. Note here that the aim of this research is not to establish causality
between media coverage and populist success. Rather the media coverage is used to create the
essential narrative.
Table 2. Newspaper reading on a daily basis among likely voters


Telegraaf 44,1% (150) 35,4% (46)

Volkskrant 2,6% (9) 0,8% (1)

Trouw 1,5% (5) 2,3% (3)

NRC Handelsblad 2,1% (7) 0% (0)

NRC Next 1,2% (4) 11,5% (15)

AD 15,3% (52) 14,6% (19)

Metro 17,4% (59) 17,7% (23)

Spits 15,9% (54) 17,7% (23)

Total 100% (340) 100% (130)

To answer the three sub question on the basis of this reconstruction and the related
opinion polls, there are some features that will be looked for. For the first question
expressions of the ‘protest vote’ are important. The focus will be on whether the two populist
parties try to create an image of the elite versus the people and the new party against the
establishment. Is it possible to see one party being better equipped to go against politics as
usual and show an anti-establishment agenda? Do they create an image of wanting to give the
power back to the people? If it is possible to link this protest vote idea to success and failure
in the polls than it can be argued to be of influence.
For the second question the focus will be on leadership. It could be the case that with the
media attention it is very much a picture of Verdonk and or Wilders and not so much the party

or the idea. The idea here is that there is negative or positive information about the leaders
that can be linked to success and failure in the polls. Related to this is what characteristics are
mentioned. Is it the case that a certain image is created of a leader concerning their leadership
qualities or their personality that leads to more or less support?
The third sub question can be answered by looking at the issues. Here the story is
twofold. Since the question is somewhat related to the second sub question the first part is: are
there any issues that are linked to the parties? If it is the case that the emphasis is on
leadership and not on substance, then that is an important part of the puzzle. The second part
is, when issues are present, what kind of issues and stands these parties are linked to. Can
these issues be linked to the success or failure of these parties? In short these will be the
indicators to answer the sub questions. Each of them can have a separate influence on the
polls, but it is also important to keep in mind their combining effect on these parties’ results.
In addition to the media narrative of De Telegraaf, the Dutch National Election Study
(NES) 2010 can also be used. Feeling thermometer scores for the parties, both ToN and the
PVV, and for the party leaders, both Wilders and Verdonk, were included in this, providing us
with data on the importance of both. Next to that, the importance of issues can be analysed.
This way the answer on the final sub question can be supported by data.

3. Reconstruction
3.1 Period 1: Verdonk’s arrival; 4 September 2007 - 4 November 2007
Figure 2 opinion polls 4-9-2007 - 4-11-2007

This first period of the analysis is characterised by the appearance of Verdonk as a
new movement in Dutch politics. It is one during which she was ousted by the VVD as a party
member on September 14 and gained massive support in the polls among the public.
It was clear in the run-up to the conflict with party leader Mark Rutte, which led to her
leaving the party, that Verdonk was out for a fight. The first of the 88 articles that mention
Verdonk already shows that. She wanted to support a motion of no confidence for then
minister Ella Vogelaar, while her party was against that. It was a personal matter for her, with
Vogelaar being her successor on the department of integration.10 In the days following she
started to criticise the VVD heavily by stating that the liberals ‘are invisible when it comes to

10 ‘Wilders bezorgt VVD nachtwerk na debat motie’, De Telegraaf, September 8, 2007.

integration’, they had lost ‘the ball’ to Geert Wilders.11 Although there was more to it than
just this remark, it can be seen as the direct cause which made Rutte remove her from the
parliamentary party. It was the day after this announcement that Wilders sought out Verdonk
to join his party thinking that ‘both her voters as well as mine would expect that’.12
Verdonk however did not accept the offer made by the PVV leader. Instead she started
thinking about starting her own movement (TON). Verdonk could ‘rightfully claim her seat
and use it to start her own party’,13 was a phrase not uncommon in this first period of analysis.
The articles from that moment focused on the person Verdonk. Whereas the initial critique of
the VVD had to do with an issue, she was not get linked to any issue in the remainder of the
articles. What does however get emphasised constantly is the number of votes she received at
the previous election, especially in comparison to Mark Rutte. In about 15% of the articles
there is a reference to this accomplishment, presenting it in such a way to show that Verdonk
has a legitimate claim on her seat in parliament. She promotes her own person in a similar
way by stating that ‘you cannot ask me to leave 620.555 voters out in the cold’.14
The fact that the attention was on her support among the public was illustrative for the
attention to the person Verdonk. As mentioned it was unclear which issues Verdonk was
going to fight for. In just 3 of the 88 articles Verdonk is linked to an issue. The first two are
on the direct cause of the conflict with Rutte, which merely served as a firestarter and is not
something that got repeated over time. The other was a short mention that Verdonk did not
care whether Polish workmen would integrate in Dutch society.15 It was an isolated statement
in nothing less than a period marked by non-issue attention. This was perfectly illustrated by
her appearance in parliament to debate the 2008 budget. She spoke but had not read a single
document and stated ‘I have listened very carefully and I worry about the future {..} this is a
cabinet that does not do a single thing for its first 100 days in office’.16 Verdonk criticised the
government for not presenting any plans and at the same time did not herself present anything
either. It was referred to also by the other parties, when it came to a ban on hunting a

11 ‘Verdonk uit weer kritiek; ‘VVD onzichtbaar in vreemdelingendebat’’, De telegraaf,

September 13, 2007.

12 ‘Wilders zoekt toenadering’, De Telegraaf, September 14, 2007.

13 ‘Rita Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, October 17, 2007

14 ‘Verdonk verlaat de VVD; ‘Dit is beter voor Nederland en de partij’’, De Telegraaf,

October 16, 2007.

15 ‘Verdonk: Polen niet inburgeren’, De Telegraaf, October 29, 2007.

16 ‘Werkgevers vrezen terugval; CDA: Evenwichtig’, De Telegraaf, September 19, 2007.

Christian democratic MP said that they ‘should talk to Verdonk very soon on the issue, since
she is probably still not out on this one’17.
Verdonk instead claimed that she ‘wanted to listen to the people. {..}It is that what
people do not see in The Hague: substantive solutions’.18 What those solutions were remained
unclear at that point in time, but it did not seem to matter that much. The negative attention
was mostly directed towards the VVD. Headlines shouted; ‘Another black day for the VVD’19
and ‘VVD scattered apart after Verdonk’s departure’.20 The leadership of Rutte was openly
questioned with people arguing that ‘only former minister Henk Kamp could control the
damage’.21 Meanwhile Verdonk was seen as an inspiring politician22 and as the Dutch version
of the iron lady, an image that she herself had carefully wanted to uphold.8 It seems that even
while she did not present any positions on issues, there is an image of the iron lady being
kicked out of the VVD, a party very much at the end of its lifecycle.

Whereas Verdonk showed a big increase in this first period, with her starting her new
movement, it was Wilders that dropped in the polls. In early 2007, Minister Ella Vogelaar
made remarks on Islam becoming a part of the Dutch culture. Wilders called her totally crazy
(‘knettergek’) for saying this.23 It was that same issue that made Verdonk go against the party
leadership on which Wilders withdrew support for this minister. It came to characterise a style
of debating for the PVV in which they subsequently changed the tone of debates to what some
saw as unworthy for parliament. The speaker of the Dutch Second Chamber, Gerdi Verbeet,
even wanted to change parliament proceedings in order to prevent Wilders from being able to
say these things in the future.24

17 ‘Dierenpartij is een zegen’, De Telegraaf, November 2, 2007.

18 ‘Verdonk Wil in torentje; ‘Trots op Nederland’ moet Fortuyn evenaren’’, De Telegraaf,

October 18, 2007.

19 ‘ZOVEELSTE ZWARTE DAG’; VVD likt wonden na vertrek Rita Verdonk ‘Partij zal niet
scheuren’’, De Telegraaf, October 17, 2007.

20 ‘VVD uiteengespat na vertrek Rita verdonk’, De Telegraaf, September 14, 2007.

21 ‘Kamp moet Rutte opvolgen’; Ruim driekwart van de VVD-achterban steunt Rita
Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, September 15, 2007.

22 Bevlogen Politica aan het woord’, De Telegraaf, September 14, 2007.

23‘ Wilders weer op kruistocht; PVV-leider noemt Vogelaar ‘knettergek’’, De Telegraaf,

September 7, 2007.

24 ‘Verbeet heeft genoeg van ‘Knettergek’, De Telegraaf, September 8, 2007.

The event that did spark some comments and discussion was, however, not
representative for the first period of analysis in terms of attention for Wilders. In fact when we
compare the articles written about Verdonk and compare this to Wilders or the PVV, we see
that there is considerably less attention to Wilders. In absolute numbers there were 99 articles
during this time on him or his party. Only 40 of these however could really be argued to
contain anything on Wilders, his party or the issues he represented. The other articles only
mentioned him briefly without stating anything about him. In this respect there can also be
seen a lot of overlap between Verdonk and Wilders with those articles. With many of them
the main character was Verdonk and Wilders got mentioned only as a bystander. Considering
this, there was relatively less attention in this period for Wilders.
The articles that remain did, however, show a remarkable difference with those of
Verdonk. Almost 80% of them were on issues, with Islam being at the forefront of it all.
Apart from the matter, he wanted to settle with Vogelaar, Wilders had some other issues he
raised that for him directly related to the threat of Islam for the Netherlands. When education
minister Ronald Plasterk wanted to remove the ban on Mein Kampf, Wilders immediately
responded by saying he instead wanted to ban the Koran. He found it strange that such a book,
spreading hatred, was still allowed to be sold.25 This move of linking certain other issues to
that of violent nature of Islam was repeated when princess Maxima argued in a speech for
more diversity and tolerance towards other cultures. Wilders dubbed it ‘well intended,
political correct, nonsense’.26
These were however small issues, not receiving that much attention. An issue that did
got some more attention and sparked a slight increase in the polls for Wilders was the
publication of one of Wilders’ MPs, who had formerly worked for the Dutch immigration
service, on the ‘total disaster’ the service was.27 Wilders demanded a parliamentary hearing
on the matter a few days later, stating that ‘all former ministers whether they were Labour or
VVD, including Rita Verdonk, had failed on the matter’.28 These parties however blocked
such a hearing and the attention for the matter likewise disappeared. Even though it was a
matter that got relatively more attention, it was nothing compared to the attention that was
raised for Verdonk. Wilders did not seem to be ‘hot news’ at that point in time.

25 ‘Burgers verdeeld over verbod Mein Kampf’, De Telegraaf, September 14, 2007.

26 ‘Speech van Maxima fout Balkenende’, De Telegraaf, September 26, 2007.

27 ‘Immigratie een ramp’, De Telegraaf, September 29, 2007.

28 ‘Wilders: Enquete naar immigratie; IND beerput van ellende’, De Telegraaf, October 1,

3.2. Period 2: The first signs; 4 November 2007 – 23 March 2008
Figure 3. Opinion polls 4-11-2007 - 23-3-2008

In this second period there is a clear indication that the initial surge of Verdonk to her
then ultimate high of 25 virtual seats had worn off. By the 23 rd of March 2008 she had
dropped to just 16 seats. While it did not mean the end for her just yet, there are some signs
that could possibly prove vital for her movements survival.
As figure 1 indicates at the start of this period, early November 2007, she was
force in Dutch politics, with the then governing coalition at an all-time low in the polls.29
However what is most striking about this period is that Verdonk was not visible at all during
these months. Whereas in the previous period, lasting only two months, she was mentioned 88
times, during this period of almost five months there were only 99 articles with a references to
the iron lady. From these articles a considerable portion did not contain any real information
on her, but just vaguely mentioned Verdonk. It almost seems like a similar picture to the
situation with Wilders in September – November of that year.
A developing story at the end of November and early December was the attempt by
former VVD leader Hans Wiegel to open talks with Wilders and Verdonk to join a wide
liberal movement He wanted the three parties to work together and start rebuilding a liberal
tradition in the Netherlands. Wilders however immediately declined the offer.30 Verdonk, on
the other hand, used this attempt to lure Wiegel into taking a position in her movement. They
met, she asked him to become chairman, but he fiercely refused stating he was ‘a honorary
member of the VVD’.31 It was a first major blow for Verdonk who was still trying to build
her party and could have used the experience and expertise of Wiegel.
This attempt by Wiegel did mark the start of flirting by Verdonk with the PVV. She
openly stated that she wanted to form a government with the party of Wilders in the future.
Even though Verdonk did say that she did not agree with some of Wilders’ issue stands, she

29 ‘Coalitie op dieptepunt’, De Telegraaf, November 10, 2007.

30 ‘Wiegel oppert samenwerking met Wilders en Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, November 23,


31 ‘Verdonk loopt blauwtje bij Hans Wiegel’, De Telegraaf, November 30, 2007.

did seem eager to join forces.32 Because of this it started to become unclear what exactly
people should think of her and her new movement. This is also characterised by reader
comments in the newspaper with one stating that ‘this turnaround of Verdonk wanting to
govern with Wilders now makes me think it is just an empty vessel’.33 Others also started to
argue that there was no differences between Wilders and Verdonk and the suggestion was
made that they were very alike and both ‘extreme right and very dangerous’.34
This flirting with Wilders and Wiegel was only the partial reason that Verdonk got
more associated with Wilders. The other part is that people simply did not know what she
stood for and assumptions were made based on the few things that she did say. Apart from a
single mention of an issue as a response to somebody else there was nothing concrete she
talked about. References were made that she was a ‘no-show’ when it came to major debates
in parliament. She, however, argued that people trusted her and that her issue stands would
follow in 2008.35 Instead she focused on image. She presented a new logo for her movement,
using a very folksy picture of a football to represent the Netherlands and the common
people.36 It was also her adviser, Kay van de Linde who wanted to create the image of
Verdonk. Issues were less important in his strategy. It was all about creating the perfect
picture that the people would sympathise with.37
That picture was for a large part based on protest, Verdonk started to present herself
more and more as new politics in contrast to the ancient regime. She uttered words as ‘old
politics’ and ‘The Hague business’ (Haags geneuzel), to refer to the other parties. In her view
these had very much failed and she wanted to look for real solutions.28 It was this image she
focused on and it was also exactly because of the real solutions she was looking for that she
refused to present any actual plans for the people to think about. Verdonk wanted to work on
direct democracy and argued that ‘the people did not trust politics anymore’. She did not give
a vision for a better Holland, because ‘the people should be involved in that process’.26
Even though it did seem a risky strategy, especially seeing the reactions she got and
the drop in the polls, she did manage to become politician of the year in 2007, just defeating

32 ‘Verdonk omhelst Wilders’, De Telegraaf, December 24, 2007.

33 ‘Hebben Kamerleden contact met (groot)ouders, December 28, 2007.

34 ‘Marijnissen;’Wilders is gevaarlijk’’, De Telegraaf, Frebruary 24, 2008.

35 “Mensen vertrouwen Mij’, De Telegraaf, December 24, 2007.

36 ‘Verdonk kiest voetballogo’, De Telegraaf, Frebuary 2, 2008.

37 ‘Waan van de dag’, De Telegraaf, March 11, 2008.

Geert Wilders who came in second.38 It, however, seemed mostly based on the start of the
movement and her party and afterwards she slowly started to fall.

The end of 2007 and the start of 2008 is a period in which the PVV reclaimed some
ground. While they did not just yet fully recover from the upset in the political spectrum
caused by Verdonk, there is definitely a return to a previous position somewhere around 15
seats. There could be a claim made that the initial shock of Verdonk, after which she dropped
back in the polls, was overcome and people returned to the PVV. In figure 1, we can see the
two parties almost crossing each other at the end of this period.
One of the interesting things that can be seen from the analysis of De Telegraaf is the
large difference in attention for the PVV with respect to Verdonk. There was a total number
of 301 articles devoted to either the PVV or Wilders. This is also definitely more in
comparison to the first period where we did not see that much attention to Wilders’ party. The
remarkable thing again here is that there are no real signs of protest vote attention or action by
Wilders, it is mostly about issues. The larger part of the articles are about the PVV taking a
stand on a certain issue. In general it can be argued to be a period where the PVV focused
more on getting their message out.
Important about these issues is that they varied in topic. There was a wide range of
topics which the PVV made the news with. PVV MP Fleur Agema focused on healthcare
arguing that the government should pay more attention to the abuse of disabled people39. She
also wanted to raise the minimum age for prostitutes, emphasising the problems of young girls
and forced sex.40 They were fiercely against the military mission to Uruzgan, stating that the
Netherlands should not be involved in the conflict anymore and that we should spend the
money (700 million euros) ‘at home’.41 Apart from that, PVV MPs also focused on education
and climate change. Martin Bosma accused a previous minister of letting parts of the
secondary education system fail and wanted change.42 Barry Madlener called climate change

38 ‘Verdonk beste, Wilders tweede poilticus 2007’, De Telegraaf, December 14, 2007.

39 ‘Meld misbruik gehandicapten’, De Telegraaf, November 28, 2007.

40 ‘Leeftijd van prosituees optrekken’, De Telegraaf, Janaury 31, 2008.

41 ‘Positieve reacties op besluit kabinet; Nog wel enkele vraagtekens’, De Telegraaf,

December 1, 2008.

42 ‘Netelenbos is hoofdschuldige falen onderwijs’, De Telegraaf, December 4, 2008.

a hype with many MPs just following the lead and therefore refusing to participate in the Bali
summit to tackle the issue.43
There were two other issues that definitely caused some discussion and raised some
eyebrows. The first one was the PVV stand on the Dutch Antilles. While other parties were
also sceptical about the economic and financial performance of these islands, the PVV took it
one step further especially on their rhetoric. In an interview Hero Brinkman called the Antilles
and Aruba ‘a corrupt gang of crooks’ (“corrupt boevennest”) and he wanted to get rid of the
islands.44 This sparked a lot of reactions in and outside the Netherlands and even led to the
PVV MP needing security during the parliamentary visit to the region.45 In an angry reaction
to this statement the parliament of the Dutch Antilles also decided to deny Brinkman entrance
to the state buildings until he apologised. Brinkman refused and the meeting was cancelled.46
This episode was the start of a hate love affair of the PVV with the islands, arguing to take
further measures against the former Dutch colonies.
The other issue was the role of the queen in the Dutch constitution. In her annual
Christmas speech, Queen Beatrix called for tolerance, respect for diversity and freedom of
religion. Wilders took this very personal: “everybody knows who she is aiming for” and
wanted her to stay on, but only for cutting ribbons. 47 It led to a discussion in the country for a
smaller role of the monarch as a political figure. A poll showed a majority (51%) of the
people wanting to reduce the power of the queen in contrast to 41% in earlier years. Wilders
also announced a proposal for a new law to create a ceremonial monarchy in which the King
or Queen would be stripped of any formal powers and obligations.48 The matter however is
still not settled.
For Wilders the discussion went deeper than just the Queen, he was upset by her
words in that speech. It characterised his fight against Islam and the threat he perceived for his
country. Even though, as shown, the PVV raised other issues, Islam was the most important
one. Almost a third of the articles had to do with this issue in this period. A lot of them raised
criticism of certain actions that in their eyes cause an ‘Islamfication’ of the Dutch culture.

43 ‘Weer een bos in rook op’, De Telegraaf, December 6, 2007.

44 ‘Antillen moeten meer belasting heffen’, De Telegraaf, December 6, 2007.

45 ‘Bodyguards voor Hero Brinkman’ , De Telegraaf, January 4, 2008.

46 ‘Overleg Antillen afgelast’, De Telegraaf, January 8, 2008.

47 ‘Wilders woedend na kersttoespraak’, De Telegraaf, December 27, 2007.

48 ‘Kleinere rol voor koiningin’, De Telegraaf, January 8, 2008.

They argued for a ban on foreign languages in government buildings,49 but also wanted other
signs of non-Dutch cultures to be removed from the public eye. In their view, female police
officers should no longer be allowed to wear headscarves when working. It would give them
no chance when dealing ‘Moroccan boys’.50 They even went as far as wanting to ban a
bathing suit that covered the entire body, stating it to be a sign of ‘islamification of sports’. 51
Mainly because of his views on Islam some people started a counter movement against
the ‘threat’ Wilders. Doekle Terpstra, the leader of this movement, called him ‘the evil and it
should be stopped’. He wanted native Dutchmen to rise up against Wilders and take over the
immigration debate.52 While the movement initially seemed to have many followers, it got
mostly negative response. Most people thought Terpstra went too far in calling Wilders evil
itself. A poll showed 79% of the people did not support this movement.53 It even raised the
question if this kind of response to Wilders would not trigger violence against the PVV leader
and whether it would not be just a matter of time until something happened to him.54 At that
point Wilders was the best guarded person in the Netherlands, having received many death
threats. One among many being a video clip appearing on the internet where an image of him
got his throat sliced.55
The best way to illustrate that Islam was the most important topic for the PVV is the
movie Fitna. In March 2008, when there was a lot of talk of the film coming out very soon,
there were 100 articles on Wilders or the PVV in de Telegraaf. A staggering 85 of them
concerned Fitna. The movie, according to Wilders, showed the real story of Islam. It showed
‘the real truth’ about the Koran and portrayed horrifying images of beheadings and other
executions by Sharia law.56
In the run-up to the premiere (which was ultimately broadcast only on the Internet)
there was nothing short of fear among politicians and anger abroad. The minister for the

49 ‘Nederlands niet verplicht’, De Telegraaf, December 19, 2007.

50 ‘Agente met hoofddoek hoort niet’, De Telegraaf, November 29, 2007.

51 ‘Boerkini goed voor integratie’, De Telegraaf, January 12, 2008.

52 ‘Verzetsbeweing tegen Wilders’, De Telegraaf, December 2, 2007.

53 ‘Anti-Wildersbeweging krijgt geen steun’, De Telegraaf, December 5, 2007.

54 ‘Verdeeldheid over acties tegen Wilders’, De Telegraaf, January 15, 2008.

55 ‘Wilders doet aangifte om internetclip’, De Telegraaf, December 30, 2007.

56 ‘Wilders doet boekje open over zijn film’, De Telegraaf, January 26, 2008.

interior called on mayors and the police to prepare for the worst.57 Prime Minister Jan Peter
Balkenende even called for Wilders to reconsider, saying he was intensively worried to what
could happen. ‘It is about the security of Dutch citizens and companies abroad and about the
military personnel doing their job’.58 Several Dutch embassies felt no longer safe to show the
Dutch flag on their buildings, because of the reactions that it could spark 59. That was mainly
because of the reaction in the Arab world to this movie. The Dutch cricket team travelled
incognito to Namibia for an international tournament, afraid of reactions to the Wilders
In general, Fitna occupied the political news, especially because of the uncertainty
about the movie. Even while this was a period of small recovery for Wilders, that was not
because of Fitna. On the contrary, in the month that Fitna became so prominent, Wilders
already started to show some decline in the polls. A poll by TNS NIPO showed that 75% of
the Dutch people did not think the movie was a good idea.61 It appeared to be a sign of what
was to follow, when Fitna actually was shown to the world.

3.3. Period 3: Fitna; 23 March 2008 – 18 May 2008

Figure 4. Opinion polls 23-3-2008 - 18-5-2008

From March until the end of May 2008 we can see what could be dubbed as the
revival of Verdonk. After she had dropped back, she now managed to reclaim support and
even reached an all-time high at the end of this period of 26 seats in the polls. This was not
something she could manage to hang on to very long, but nevertheless in this period there was
growth and signs that TON is not completely without a chance to get a good result at the next
Naturally this is the period of Fitna and its aftermath, after the fierce discussions in the
previous month the movie was now released. It should be mentioned that on the exact date

57 ‘Draaiboek gemeenten om film Wilders’, De Telegraaf, January 17, 2008.

58 ‘Op ergste voorbereiden; Balkenende houdt hart vast voor gevolgen Wildersfilm’, De
Telegraaf, March 1, 2008.

59 ‘Kamer wil vlag in top in Beiroet’, De Telegraaf, March 21, 2008.

60 ‘Cricketers bang voor moslimtaal’, De Telegraaf, March 22, 2008.

61 ‘Nederlander ziet niets in film Wilders’, De Telegraaf, December 4, 2007.

that Fitna came out, March 28 2008, Verdonk started to show a rise in the polls. Verdonk
herself did not pay much attention to Fitna, either in the previous period or in this one. The
only thing she did say was that it was a ‘big fuss about nothing’, meaning that Prime Minister
Balkenende, among others, should not have had an opinion ready before the movie was
released. Verdonk on the other hand, would stand firmly for freedom of speech.62
That she was, nevertheless, linked to Fitna, but for her in a good way, becomes clear
by the sharp movement in the polls after the release. In one week she gained five seats and
afterwards continued to grow further. As showed, this growth did come for a large part
from the PVV with 25% of the PVV voters of the 2006 election mentioning they would now
vote for Verdonk instead.63 Apparently Verdonk was seen as a mild alternative when it came
to issues concerning Islam, even though she did not explicitly responded to the movie.
Apart from this influence there was another fire starter for Verdonk. What she in fact
did was re-launch her movement by presenting the official kick-off of Trots Op Nederland.
After months of avoiding issues, this time there was substance. Verdonk argued for a tough
immigration and integration policy just as she had done when she was still a minister. She
wanted fewer rules, a solution to the traffic jams and more responsibility and trust towards the
citizens.64 Finally people managed to get idea of what she stood for and the reaction in the
polls to this was noticeable. A research among 4500 participants showed that people were
happy that Verdonk had presented her ideas and they stated they took her seriously. ‘ToN is
here to make the Netherlands more liveable without focusing too much on minorities, that I
take seriously’.65
ToN was, however, not like other parties. With her movement it was possible to
participate online to decide on issue stands. As stated before she wanted the people to think
about it and give the solutions. That raised a lot of criticism. A publicist in De Telegraaf joked
she should just ‘copy paste the newspaper and that would give her a new program’.66 The
prime minister said that she was totally on the wrong path and argued that ‘nobody could
support her manifesto, because she did not have any ideas!’.67 So even though she did present

62 ‘Verdonk steunt Geert Wilders, De Telegraaf, April 4, 2008.

63 ‘Nieuw Haags Peil van 6 april 2008’,, April 6, 2008.

64 ‘Het is genoeg: Verdonk presenteert Trots op Nederland’, De Telegraaf, April 4, 2008

65 ‘Trots op NL’ scoort’, De Telegraaf, April 5, 2008.

66 ‘Eenvoud’, De Telegraaf, April 5, 2008.

67 ‘Balkenende haalt uit naar Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, May 17, 2008.

some initial ideas, overall she gave no actual policy stands and surely did not pursue these
afterwards. In the remaining articles of this period (more than a months’ time), there was
nothing substantive to be found.
Instead she went back to the person Verdonk and again she emphasised her anti old
politics stands. In a tour around the country she said, in her first speech to people, that ‘they
think you are dumb’ and that ‘they do not trust you’, ‘they only want your money’.68 It is the
anti-politics rhetoric that she used to motivate supporters to join her movement and to start
over with a new way of politics in which citizens would have a say. She had her most loyal
supporters among business men and women; in addition to Nina Brink, who became famous
in the Netherlands for the rise and fall of her company World Online, there was Harry Mens
who had his own TV show where Verdonk was a regular guest. He also emphasised this anti
politics by stating that ‘the current elite makes it very difficult for the opposition’69.
It was definitely this unrest and uneasiness with politics in general that she built on. With a
large reader study among readers of De Telegraaf many people stated Rita Verdonk was a
good alternative: ‘We are waiting for Rita’, ‘Rita will be our rescue’.70 What they also said, as
became clear from the previously mentioned research, was that Verdonk was essential for the
survival of the party. 61% of the respondents only saw a future for ToN if Verdonk was there,
if she were to leave, the movement would collapse.56 So even with this surge in the polls and
virtually becoming the second largest party of the country, she still mainly relied on herself
and the protest feelings towards politics in general.

While Verdonk presented her new movement to the world, the most important thing
for Wilders and the PVV remained the movie Fitna. In the days just before the unannounced
release of the movie on the danger of Islam, there were some problems for Wilders. First of
all since there had been so much discussion of the movie and its alleged images, there was a
discussion possibly banning the movie. Several organisations, including the Dutch Islam
Federation, went to court to ask for a ban and demanded apologies from Wilders for his
actions.71 While that was averted easily, his other problem was bigger. Not a single Dutch TV

68 ‘Verdonk: Men vindt u dom’, De Telegraaf, April 15, 2008.

69 ‘Fiscus slaat munt uit beveiliging’ , De Telegraaf, April 20, 2008.

70 ‘Lezer is het helemaal beu’, De Telegraaf, April 28, 2008.

71 ‘Turkse NIF wil excuses Wilders’, De Telegraaf, March 27, 2008.

station or network wanted to broadcast Wilders’ movie, with exception of the Dutch Moslim
Network (NMO), which Wilder declined immediately. He also tried it on the Internet, but his
site was shut down because of complaints received by the provider.72
When he finally succeeded posting it on the Internet, the reactions were mild to say the
least, with people responding that it was not as extreme as expected. Experts argued there was
no reason to prosecute Wilders on the basis of this movie, which showed some extreme
violence, but did not cross the line of freedom of speech.73 The cabinet, that immediately
convened in an emergency meeting distanced itself from the movie, saying that the only thing
Wilders tried to achieve was to hurt the feelings of people and it served no other goal. Wilders
himself responded by saying that the prime minister should be ashamed for causing so much
panic throughout the world.74
An important thing to mention is the attention to Fitna with respect to the PVV. Of the
152 documents in this period on the PVV or Wilders, slightly more than half of them were
somehow related to Fitna. Of those articles 52 were published in the 12 days after the release
of the movie. For the PVV there appeared to be nothing else than Fitna at that point in time. It
controlled their news, especially in the first days after the release. Afterwards it became
somewhat quiet around the PVV. There were already signs that people walked away when all
the commotion was raised before the release of the movie, but with the actual movie coming
out and the attention for the most part being on Fitna it becomes more clear. The movie Fitna
and the popularity of the PVV did not seem to be positively linked, on the contrary there were
strong signs that Wilders was the main victim of his own movie.
The debate that was sparked afterwards was not so much about the movie, but the
process surrounding it. It became ugly when cabinet ministers accused Wilders of wanting to
burn the Koran in his movie, arguing that to be the main reason for the cabinet to respond in
such a manner as they had done in the run-up to this. They even released confidential notes to
prove this. Wilders was outraged, called them liars and even urged the cabinet to resign
because of this.75 The matter was never settled and it was not clear who was telling the truth
in this. This was reason for the vice-president of the council of state, the highest judiciary

72 ‘Ook internet weer film Geert Wilders’, De Telegraaf, March 24, 2008.

73 ‘Keurig vertaald, geen aanzet tot haat’, De Telegraaf, March 28, 2008.

74 ‘Balkenende: Wilders wil alleen kwetsen’, De Telegraaf, March 28, 2008.

75 ‘Film Fitna wel aangepast na kritiek kabinet’, De Telegraaf, April 2, 2008.

body in the Netherlands, to argue that the ‘democracy of the Netherlands is in danger’. When
such doubt continues to exist it raises ‘serious problems with the credibility of the state’.76
There were, however, more problems with Fitna for Wilders. After the initial release
he had to change parts of the movie because of the legal claims. He had used wrong images of
people portraying them to be terrorists.77 It raised more discussion on the already widespread
opinion of Fitna being a movie of very low standards.78 These low standards also seemed to
prevail in the preparations for what Wilders intended to be a series of debates in the country to
discuss Fitna and Islam in general. It failed and in the end there was no actual discussion as he
wanted there to be. The first debate night was cancelled because there were not enough
Muslims who wanted to discuss the movie with Wilders79 and another debate in Gouda was
cancelled because Muslim societies felt threatened by the demands that Wilders presented for
debate. They wanted to discuss the movie, but under their conditions and not those of the
The apparent failure of Fitna in electoral fallout and in the way the debate proceeded
resulted in a remarkable period of silence by Wilders and the PVV. Apart from some minor
issues there was not much news in the remaining period. When Wilders spoke out again he
acknowledged that the PVV should also focus on other issues saying that ‘Islam remained the
most important point, but we sometimes have to pay attention to other matters’. He kicked off
by proposing to annex Flanders to solve the political problems in Belgium.81 It did not seem
to be a very serious issue and was rejected almost immediately, but it does show that Wilders
also saw the problems with being a one issue party focused on Islam.

Period 4: Verdonk’s Final Act; 18 May-2008 – 1 February 2009

Figure 5. Opinion polls 18-5-2008 - 1-2-2009

In this fourth period of analysis the focus will be on Rita Verdonk only. During this
period, which can be seen as the final act of her movement, we see that after re-emerging in

76 ‘Democratie loopt gevaar’, De Telegraaf, April 13, 2008.

77 ‘Wilders past Fitna aan’ , De Telegraaf, April 1, 2008.

78 ‘Onschuldig’, De Telegraaf, March 28, 2008.

79 ‘Streep door Fitna-Debat’, De Telegraaf, May 10, 2008.

80 ‘Invitatie PVV aan moslims wekt ergernis’, De Telegraaf, April 25, 2008.

81 ‘Wijk komen op voor de gewone man’, De Telegraaf, May 12, 2008.

the previous months she now drops in the polls. As shown in figure 5, she became involved in
a free fall that lasted almost eight months. Untill this day ToN has not recover from this, it
seems therefore crucial to see what happened in this period and what the focus was on.
What is illustrative for Verdonk throughout all the periods is the major focus on the
person Verdonk or as the leader Verdonk of her movement. The articles in this period again
show this pattern, although the attention was mostly negative. As seen in previous periods she
also became associated with non-politically related issues. She, for example, handed out 1200
bras to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of a local company in Bleiswijk.82 The purpose of
this action was not clear and seemed a rather strange move. She also took a part in a Dutch
Sinterklaas movie, stating it to be ‘a real Dutch product which she firmly supports’.83 It was
part of a larger strategy by her adviser Kay van der Linde who also put her up for hire to
perform at parties and barbeques. It was an idea taken over from American campaigns where
people like Clinton and Obama were also available as guest speakers. By paying 10,000 euro
one would get an entire evening with Verdonk.84
There was also a big discussion around Verdonk’s security in early June 2008. An
analysis by the Dutch anti-terrorism unit showed that there was no longer a major risk of
people wanting to harm Verdonk. The Dutch government therefore decided to stop protecting
her with bodyguards. Verdonk did not agree with this assessment and claimed still to be under
threat and did not feel safe.85 It led to a discussion in parliament where Verdonk took on the
role of a victim with the Dutch government unwilling to keep her safe. The Dutch people
seemed not to agree with Verdonk, with almost 60% agreeing with the decision made by the
justice minister that it was no longer necessary to keep her protection level as high as it had
been when she was a minister in the previous cabinet.86 All this talk about security again kept
the discussion away from issue related matters.
Security, however, was just the start of Verdonk’s problems in this period. With
advisers as Ed Sinke and Kay van der Linde, a big issue around a money donation and her
allegedly being involved in leftish action groups participating in squatting activities ultimately

82 ‘Verdonk geeft 1200 bh’s weg’, De Telegraaf, August 21, 2008.

83 ‘Filmrol Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, May 24, 2008.

84 ‘Verdonk te huur voor tien mille’, De Telegraaf, June 14, 2008.

85 ‘Ik voel mij niet veilig’; Kabinet staakt bewaking Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, June 5, 2008.

86 ‘Steun voor verminderen beveiliging van Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, June 8, 2008.

cost her many votes. Before this period there was some talk about problems in her party but
this period the party seemed to rapidly fall apart financially as well as organisationally.
It started out with her party celebrating the official start of her new movement TON.
She organised an evening inviting all kinds of people, who had to pay to gain access to the
party itself and Verdonk to raise money for her. The problem, however, was that it did not sell
out. A business man then promised Verdonk millions of euros for the remaining tickets. He
wanted to buy them and spread them around party faithful. Verdonk, however, never received
the money, which led to an argument over what was agreed and whether that person should
pay ToN or not.87 It characterised the financial problems the party was in and the fact that
there was no real control over it.
It remained an issue when Verdonk, in June 2008, accused her former adviser Ed
Sinke of stealing campaign money. Sinke, having left ToN weeks before, allegedly used party
funds for his own companies without the permission of Verdonk. He denied it, but it was too
late. ToN was immediately compared to the LPF. This party, formerly led by assassinated
politician Pim Fortuyn, fell apart by internal struggles and fights.88 Talk started about the
organisation of Verdonk’s movement in general. It was openly questioned whether Verdonk
was capable of fulfilling the ambition she had outlined for herself. It was clear that things
were not going well within the party.89
Until then, however, she always had the image of being an iron lady, firmly obeying
the Dutch law and doing what she had to do for her country. This was questioned when it
came out that Verdonk had a past of being a leftish activist. In September 2008 several Dutch
politicians were outed as being active as such in the 1980s, but for Verdonk’s image it was a
major blow. According to a Dutch current affairs magazine, she had participated in
demonstrations to defend squatting and joined sit-ins for this purpose.90 She tried to defend
herself by saying that she had not broken the law, but it was not believed with a tv host asking
her whether she was just there for a ‘picknick’ than?91 Her image of always doing the right
thing, no matter how difficult, was now blown away. Verdonk, starting out as the right wing
candidate, was now associated with left wing issues she always claimed to be against.

87 ‘Donateur’: TON niet opgelicht’, De Telegraaf, July 3, 2008.

88 ‘Oorlog in TON over geld’, De Telegraaf, June 19, 2008.

89 ‘Afbreuk’, De Telegraaf, June 19, 2008.

90 ‘Verdonk actief als kraker’, De Telegraaf, September 2, 2008.

91 ‘Bewijs’, De Telegraaf, September 3, 2008.

A final push came from her most loyal adviser, the person that had always defended
her throughout the years: Kay van der Linde. As mentioned earlier, he was the one who had
come up with the strategy of creating the image around Verdonk instead of using issues to
promote the party. His Judas kiss was a guest lecture at the University of Amsterdam in which
he stated his surprise that so many people had supported Verdonk. According to him there
was ‘just a person, no party, no issues, no nothing’ and ‘that is what they want to give their
vote to?’. According to van der Linde the party was a hoax.92 He claimed not to have known
that the lecture was being recorded and that it was blown out of proportions, but it was too
late. Van der Linde left the the movement a day after.93 The man who had been so important
for the image of the party was now forced to leave criticising it.
In just a few months Verdonk had lost two important advisers and saw her image
shattered. Meanwhile she still failed to become leading on any issues with only presenting an
opinion every now and then with most of the time not being clear about them. Instead she
accused the prime minister of the day Jan Peter Balkenende of a conspiracy against her. ‘The
elite in the Hague saw her as a threat’ and therefore they would come up with things that
would make her look bad. As an example she mentioned the prime minister referring to her
alleged squatter past. She found this to be a small piece trying to destroy her party.94 It
seemed to have been a final act of desperation of a politician who knew she was never going
to reclaim the position she once had as the iron lady of Dutch politics, a person that ultimately
could never convince in terms of issues and got beaten by her own party.

3.5. Period 5: Poll position; 21 December 2008 – 12 April 2009

Figure 6. Opinion polls 21-12-2008 - 12-4-2009

What can be seen from this period, as was the case in previous ones, was that the PVV
focused on a wide range of issues, some of them indeed centred around themes as
immigration and security that are mostly associated with right wing populist parties. What
sets the PVV aside from other such parties is, however, the focus on issues as healthcare,
animal rights and the position it takes in labour market discussions. When it came to securing
decent levels of healthcare in the Netherlands and discussions surrounding that, we can see

92 ‘Kay van der Linde: Verdonks TON gebakken lucht’, De Telegraaf, November 29, 2008.

93 ‘Ook linkerhand Rita Verdonk verlaat TON’, De Telegraaf, November 30, 2008.

94 ‘Verdonk: Balkenende in complot tegen TON’, De Telegraaf, December 14, 2008.

the PVV actively supporting left wing positions.95 When events occurred with animals being
treated wrongly and neglected it was Dion Graus, the PVV MP, who was one of the first to
stand up and demand better regulation of animal rights.96 And when discussion arose on
pension rights for working men performing hard labour, the PVV sided again with the
Socialist Party and showed its human face fighting for a better life for people.97 Naturally
Islam was important as well during this period, but definitely not as passionately as during the
Fitna discussion. The PVV could surely not be qualified as a one issue party during this
period, for that the focus was too widespread and inclusive.
It must be said that there were also signs of a more populist approach, with the PVV
focusing on the average Joe in their plans. Barry Madlener directed his attention to the rise in
water taxes, claiming that these were ‘difficult times for many people and it would therefore
be very hard for them to pay up such amounts’.98 Wilders suggested giving every person in
the Netherlands a cheque for 400 euros to revive the economy. The PVV would not take away
money from people, but would support them in their needs.99 These plans were naturally
accompanied by a lot of rhetoric aimed against the current government and their way of
treating the Dutch citizen. During the ING bailout discussion, trying to save one of the most
important Dutch banks from going bankrupt, the PVV claimed that with the government plans
‘the average Joe was financing Joe Sixpack’.100 Another favourite was labelling the
environment, art subsidies and development aid as ‘leftist hobbies’. These were plans that
were of no use to the average Dutch citizen and that should be eliminated. 101
It were words
that later became a symbol for everything Wilders did not agree with in these parties.
The importance of this period, however, can be characterised by a couple of events or
developments around Wilders as a person. The court case being one of them. After an initial
rejection by the public attorney to prosecute Wilders, the court decided on January 21st 2009
that they did have to do so. It stated that Wilders had ‘offended the Muslim people and acted

95 ‘Overname ziekenhuizen weer onzeker’, De Telegraaf, January 17, 2009.

96 ‘Nederland treurt om Annabel’, De Telegraaf, March 3, 2009.

97 ‘Politiek buigt niet voor metaalsector’, De Telegraaf, March 11, 2009.

98 ‘Kamer onthutst over hoge waterschap nota’, De Telegraaf, March 3, 2009.

99 ‘Wilders: Geef iedereen 400 euro’, De Telegraaf, March 20, 2009.

100 ‘Potje nakaarten’ Ing-deal ontstemt kamerleden flink’, De Telegraaf, February 4,


101 ‘Wilders; Snij in linkse hobby’s’, De Telegraaf, February 18, 2009.

in violation with the foundations of a stable democracy’.102 In the eyes of many this decision
was not a one to prosecute, but to convict. Geertjan Knoops, professor of international
criminal law, claimed it to be ‘a blueprint for conviction’ and VVD MP Fred Teeven said that
‘a member of parliament is being silenced’.103 Although there were also some positive
reactions to this decision, the general opinion appeared to be one of disagreement. A public
opinion study among 7000 respondents showed that people could not understand why this was
done and almost 90% of them said that he had to be cleared of the charges against him.104 The
court case would eventually take place with the outcome still unsure until this day, although
the prosecution continues to stand by its initial decision not to punish Wilders for his actions.
On February 12 of that same year another remarkable event occurred. Wilders wanted
to fly to London to show his movie Fitna in the British upper house, but was refused entrance
to the United Kingdom upon arrival because of disturbance of the public order and being a
security risk.105 Similar to the reactions to the courts’ decision to prosecute, there again was a
general sense of disapproval of this refusal by the British government. Even his most fierce
opponents stood by his side. Deputy prime minister and Labour leader Wouter Bos stated that
‘Wilders was unjustly being portrayed as being involved in hate crimes’.106 Nobody really
understood why the British government had taken this decision and just as with his
prosecution it occupied the news for several days. Only a few weeks later his was admitted in
to the United States to show Fitna and to express the opinions he wanted. It was during this
visit that he found out that for the first time in its existence the PVV had virtually become the
largest party in the Netherlands. Since January the party had grown twelve seats.107
What happened with these two examples is that even though it was very personalised,
it created and revived a much larger debate. It was no longer just about Wilders being
prosecuted or Wilders not being allowed to enter the United Kingdom to show Fitna, it was
about freedom of speech and being able to say what you want without the fear of prosecution.
It was this that triggered Rutte to argue for unlimited freedom of speech, saying that ‘Citizens

102 ‘Voortbestaan PVV in gevaar’, De Telegraaf, January 22, 2009.

103 ‘Parlementariër mond gesnoerd’, De Telegraaf, January 22, 2009.

104 ‘Vrijspraak voor Wilders’ , De Telegraaf, January 23, 2009.

105 ‘Ongehoord en niet te geloven’, De Telegraaf, February 11, 2009.

106 ‘Bos op de bres voor Wilders’, De Telegraaf, February 12, 2009.

107 ‘Wat ben ik hier blij mee’, March 1, 2009.

and politicians should be able to say what they want’.108 It was also exactly for this reason
that Mayor Bloomberg of New York, during the visit of representatives, also said that ‘you go
down a slippery slope when you start to reduce freedom of speech’.109 Wilders was no longer
subject in a debate on Islam or his views, it was about the freedom to express opinions. It was
in this that Wilders had become a victim. It is no surprise that because of the reaction of
people and the general opinion with both of these events that it directly translated into the
PVV gaining seats in the polls.110,111
All of this was also in the midst of the aftermath of the world wide economic crisis.
The Dutch government therefore had to take steps to tackle the consequences. Most of these
plans were being made behind closed doors, without the opposition having any influence over
the process. During the parliamentary debate on this Wilders took a rigorous theatrical step:
he left parliament with his entire caucus during the debate. They claimed that the government
had not for a minute listened to the opposition and denounced the decision making process as
a hoax.112 Wilders wanted to be heard and he succeeded in this, during this period he grew to
his ultimate high in the polls and from that moment the tone changed somewhat.
When Wilders noticed that he might have a chance of becoming the largest party after
the next election and showing a steady grow in the polls, he showed some of, what later
during the 2010 formation process proved to be, his willingness to compromise. He
announced that his favourite government composition would consist of the PVV, CDA and
VVD. He was even prepared to make concessions in order to make sure that the PVV would
end up in government.113 It was seen by others as a remarkable turn away from his old
straightforward political decision making towards an opening to others. It was now a
discussion whether other parties would join up and possibly form coalitions with Wilders.
Alexander Pechtold of the Democrats 66 party refused and would ‘request asylum in another
country’ if Wilders would enter the cabinet.114 It was however apparent that Wilders and the
PVV had become ‘salonfähig’.

108 ‘Weg met die wet’, De Telegraaf, January 25, 2009.

109 ‘Bloomberg helpt Rutte en Wilders’, De Telegraaf, January 29, 2009.

110 ‘Wilders Rukt op’, De Telegraaf, January 26, 2009.

111 ‘Wilders wint met vliegreis’, De Telegraaf, Frebuary 16, 2009.

112 ‘Weglopen is fout en theatraal’, De Telegraaf, March 27, 2009.

113 ‘Samen met CDA en VVD’, De Telegraaf, April 5, 2009.

114 ‘Pechtold zoekt asiel als PVV in kabinet zit’, De Telegraaf, April 8, 2009.

3.6. Period 6: Responsibilities and problems; 6 March 2010 – 8 June 2010
Figure 7. Opinion polls 6-3-2010 - 8-6-2010

The last three months before the general election of June 9 2010 were quite busy
months. In comparison to other periods there are many news articles on the PVV or Geert
Wilders. In these three months there were about 300 articles referring to the PVV, of all the
periods analysed this were the most articles on average. On February 20 the cabinet fell over
an internal dispute concerning the war in Afghanistan and on March 3 elections for the
municipal councils were held. Wilders was at an high in the polls during these events and won
a very large share of the seats in both the municipalities he competed in during the these
elections. The PVV, however, showed a decline in the polls directly after this and continued
to drop until very close to when the parliamentary elections were held.
The problem with the PVV seemed to have been that they never really profited from
the coalition break up and the upcoming elections. They seemed to have lost the momentum
and one reason definitely was the council elections which almost coincided with events of late
February. Wilders deliberately participated only in two cities, The Hague and Almere. In both
cities they PVV won a considerable number of seats and even became the largest party in
Almere. In The Hague it became almost immediately clear that the PvdA (Labour), the largest
party of that council, was not going to govern with the PVV. This was mainly because of their
ideas on ‘Islam, a ban on public display of headscarves, them wanting to ban all new mosques
and a zero tolerance policy towards security issues’.115 The ban on headscarves aimed at
Muslim women had made headlines recently and seemed to be the centrepiece of PVV policy
at the time. The image, however, was not of a PVV trying to fight for their issues, but one of
not wanting to compromise at all. According to the other parties, the PVV in the Hague was
‘not prepared to negotiate and say what they wanted for the city’.116
In Almere, they even gave up coalition talks, which they as the largest party were
leading. They themselves announced that there was no point ‘to continue to talk about the
PVV in the local government’.117 Here again it was the important Islam related issues that
played a key role, especially the headscarf discussion. This PVV stand led to protests outside
115 ‘PvdA Den Haag wijst PVV af’, De Telegraaf, March 10, 2010.

116 ‘informateur op zoek naar nieuw college’, De Telegraaf, March 17, 2010.

the Almere city hall, claiming that women had the right the wear whatever they wanted.118
Holding on to such a plan, which they knew they were never going to turn into local law led
to speculation whether the PVV ever was prepared to take on responsibility.119 Giving up so
soon after the elections and not being reasonable in negotiations seemed to have been a
widespread feeling.
It was also a period of change within the Labour party. Job Cohen took over from
Wouter Bos who chose family life over the busy days of being a deputy prime minister, party
leader and finance minister. Cohen was announced by Bos himself as the new leader of the
Labour party.120 Wilders immediately responded by saying that ‘Cohen is the largest
multicultural tree hugger in our country’ and that he ‘was the last thing the people need right
now’.121 It set the tone for a series of attacks on Cohen and his plans for the Netherlands.
What Wilders, however, misinterpreted was the initial picture of Cohen that prevailed among
many voters. Where later on in the campaign he somewhat lost the image of a skilled
politician, at first it led to a peak in the polls winning seven seats.122 People also saw him as
the most preferred candidate for the premiership.123 Even though it was a temporarily effect
for Cohen, Wilders seemed to have jumped to gun a bit and consequently he also did not
profit in the polls.
Bigger problems rose, however, towards the end of March with new developments
lasting until the middle of May of that year. For the first time in the existence of the PVV,
Wilders now had to deal with MPs who had allegedly performed unlawful actions, candidates
that misled the public and internal struggles. It started with Hero Brinkman who got in a fight
with his next door neighbours. During construction of his house things got out of hand leading
to several accusations of abuse and even attempted man-slaughter.124 It was a story that
dragged on for several days and Brinkman was punished by Wilders by placing him on a

117 ‘PVV in oppositie in Almere’, De Telegraaf, March 18, 2010.

118 ‘Hoofddoekjesprotest’, De Telegraaf, March 19, 2010.

119 ‘PVV wil helemaal niet meeregeren’, De Telegraaf, March 20, 2010.

120 ‘‘Iedereen zei juist: De oude Wouter is terug’; partijgenoten verbijsterd over vertrek’,
De Telegraaf, March 13, 2010.

121 ‘Wil daadkracht tonen ‘multiculti-knuffelaar’’, De Telegraaf, March 13, 2010.

122 ‘Zeven zetels winst PvdA’, De Telegraaf, March 19, 2010.

123 ‘Cohen krijgt bijles; ‘Leek’ huurt economen in’, De Telegraaf, March 20, 2010.

124 ‘ Brinkman (PVV) slaags met aannemer; Herrie in huize Brinkman’, De Telegraaf,
March 27, 2010.

lower position on the list of candidates for the elections.125 This same list sparked a series of
new articles on candidates who had lied on their résumé or worse. Some of them mentioned
diplomas they never received.126 One candidate claimed to have been the aunt of a murdered
child that was famous under the name ‘the Nulde girl’, referring to the place where her body
was found. It turned out to be completely false and she left the party for ‘medical reasons’.127
Another candidate, Gidi Markuszower made bigger headlines when it was made public that
the Dutch security service, AIVD, had red flagged him as being a risk for the integrity of the
Netherlands.128 On top of this, Brinkman, possibly as a reaction to Wilders demoting him,
questioned the way the party was controlled by its leader. He openly called the party
undemocratic and he wanted more openness and internal debate, something Wilders had
always refused.129
The party that profited from this internal PVV struggle was not ToN, but the VVD.
The party that Wilders himself had left and that after the fight with Verdonk was diminished
in the polls now grew out to become the largest party of the Netherlands. Mark Rutte was now
seen as a great communicator and skilled political leader and a preferred choice of becoming
prime minister especially among potential PVV voters.130 Also during the election debates it
was Rutte and not Wilders who successfully claimed right wing issues and appeared to be a
sensible choice for many voters. He was subsequently announced as the winner of these
debates.131 The VVD would continue to hold this position and showed up as the winner of the
elections and the largest party when the results were announced.
The attention for the person Wilders was not that prominent in this period. It more or
less seemed to focus around the events mentioned above. It is, however, not the complete
picture and it should be noted that the last polls for Wilders were slightly off when compared
to the actual election results, where he got more seats than predicted. Notwithstanding the fact
that these struggles would have cost Wilders voters, the key difference with problems within

125 ‘Brinkman laag op lijst PVV’, De Telegraaf, April 13, 2010.

126 ‘Smet op PVV-nieuwelingen’, De Telegraaf, April 14, 2010.

127 ‘Ook cv van Hemert klopte niet’, De Telegraaf, April 16, 2010.

128 ‘AIVD vond PVVér risico voor de staat’, De Telegraaf, May 25, 2010.

129 ‘Muiterij in PVV’, De Telegraaf, May 11, 2010.

130 ‘Titanenstrijd; VVD van Mark Rutte grootste stemmentrekker’, De Telegraaf, May 22,

131 ‘Rutte garandeert renteaftrek; Kijkers roepen VVDer uit tot winnaar debat’, De
Telegraaf, May 25, 2010.

the Verdonk movement seemed to have been that the PVV continued to present ideas and
participated in the public debate. Even though less than in previous periods, still some 15% of
the articles where issue related. Again here we see the same picture as in all the other periods,
a wide range of topics being discussed, from animal cruelty132 to demanding extra money for
the Department of Defense.133 There was also a debate started by the PVV on the presence of
special police forces in suburbs to tackle problems with certain groups of people.134 It showed
the PVVs continued action on security issues. This attention to issues seemed to have
prevented the talk on the PVV to be too much on the problems. By showing also to be a party
that had many views and ideas on society, they ultimately claimed 24 seats in parliament and
are now a major force on which the Dutch government relies. Wilders survived his problems
and showed for the second election in a row that the PVV was a success story.

4. Dutch National Election Study data

The results of the newspaper reconstruction show that most of the attention for
Verdonk was on her as a person. Except for a few occasions there were never any real issues
presented or linked to her. Instead the focus was on her appearance and her typical populist
rhetoric. Verdonk was popular and showed growth in the polls during some key moments, the
announcement of her party and the aftermath and during the discussion on Fitna. In all this
time she never really present any issue stands. Her popularity seemed not to be derived from
that. In contrast to that, Wilders was more associated with issues than Verdonk. Even though
the person Wilders was a matter of interest throughout the analysed period, the main part of
the articles focused on issues. The interesting thing in this respect was also that it was not a
single issue the party focused on, it is clearly noticeable that there was a plurality of interest
for the PVV. Whereas Islam and the problems they saw with that religion was the cornerstone
of the party, other issues also played an important role in the media.

4.1. Personal
When we look at the differences between the personal appeal and that of the
importance of issues for both parties and their leaders, we can see interesting results

132 ‘Kamer wil grazers voederen’, De Telegraaf, March 23, 2010.

133 ‘PVV vraagt om ontwikkelingsgeld voor Defensie’, De Telegraaf, March 11, 2010.

134 ‘Klaar met softe aanpak’, De Telegraaf, March 30, 2010.

confirming the reconstruction. Verdonk as a person was in general more popular than
Wilders, on average she got higher scores than Wilders did. More importantly however, as
table 3 shows, Wilders unpopularity was much larger than that of Verdonk. Overall it seems
that Wilders gets more negative response to his person, with 21% rating him a zero on a scale
from one to ten. It shows that people in general do not have such a positive view of him. In
contrast much less people rated Verdonk with a zero and a larger percentage rated her with a
five or higher, more or less holding a positive view of her.
Table 3. Feeling thermometer scores Wilders and Verdonk
Feeling thermometer score Wilders % Verdonk %

0 21 11,1

1 14,2 11,1

2 13,2 13,2

3 11,5 12,7

4 9 12,7

5 11,1 13,2

6 7,8 10,8

7 6,5 9

8 3,1 4,9

9 1,3 0,9

10 1,3 0,5

Mean 3,08 3,72

N 2461 2443

The Dutch people held Verdonk in higher esteem than Wilders. The image of iron lady
Rita Verdonk was clearly more alive among the public than seeing Wilders as the man to
solve their problems. More people preferred Verdonk over Wilders than the other way around.
In fact, as indicated in table 2, almost half of the participants of the Dutch National Election
Study would pick Verdonk when they had to choose. That staggering 49,3% shows that
Verdonk indeed was more popular than Wilders and that focus on appearance was not
necessarily a bad move by her campaign. Just 25% of the people rated Wilders higher than
Verdonk. On the basis of personal popularity there was potential for her to outgrow Wilders
and to have more success.

Table 4. Differences in feeling thermometer scores Wilders and Verdonk

N Percent Cumulative percent

Verdonk higher 1201 49,3 49,3

Equal 626 25,7 75,0

Wilders higher 608 25,0 100,0

Total 2435 100,0

4.2. Party vs person

Furthermore there was also a strong correlation between the two political leaders. The
people that hold Wilders in high esteem are also very much likely to think of Verdonk in a
positive way and the other way around. They show the second highest coefficient with respect
to the feeling thermometer scores. The only two that have an even higher coefficient are Van
der Staaij (SGP) and Rouvoet (CU). The relationship between these two leaders can be
explained by the fact that they are both people leading a relative small Christian party, that
have always shown a strong connection. The party feeling thermometer score shows a similar
picture with the PVV and ToN showing a .581 correlation coefficient significant at the 0.01
level. The correlation between the PVV and ToN is the strongest among all the other party
correlations. In general it could therefore be argued that the two parties or movements were
fishing in the same pool. On the basis of personal appeal Verdonk should have won that race.
Seeing the election results it was however not the defining factor.

Party 5.
leaders Balke Cohen Rutte Pech Halsem Roeme Wilders Rou V.d. Thieme Ver
(Party) n (PvdA) (VVD) told a (GL) r (PVV) voet Staaij (PvdD) donk
eli ende (D66) (SP) (CU) (SGP) (ToN)
ng (CDA)
Balkenende - (,208* (429* (149* (-,058** (-,064** (,048*) (,413* (,377**) (-,037) (,151**)
(CDA)mo *) *) *) ) ) *)
Cohenter(PvdA) , - (-,028 (,380* (,507**) (,449**) (-,203** (,146* (,063**) (,205**) (-,084**
sc 193** ) *) ) *) )
Ruttees(VVD) , ,118** - (,253* (-,166** (-,182** (,170**) (,164* (,133**) (-,092** (,217**)
cor 362** *) ) ) *) )
ati (D66) , ,405** , - (,485**) (,307**) (-,205** (,077* (-,108** (,145**) (-,101**
on 168** 328** ) *) ) )
Halsema (GL) -,018 ,434** ,053* ,432** - (,597**) (-,250** (,098* (-,040) (,357**) (-,152**
) *) )
Roemerrs (SP) ,041 ,360** ,018 ,316** ,407** - (-,081** (,090* (,031) (0,330* (-,023)
an ) *) *)
Wilders ,042* -,284* , -,150* -,193** -,029 - (,109* (,226**) (,144**) (,581**)
rti * 131** * *)
Rouvoet (CU) , ,207** , ,161** ,119** ,194** ,094** - (,647**) (,132**) (,102**)
399** 209**

V. d. Staaij , ,084 , -,088* -,020 ,214** ,188** ,645** - (,158**) (,251**)

(SGP) 415** 137**

Thieme (PvdD) ,029 ,240** ,062* ,173** ,348** ,338** ,101** ,138** ,231** - (,270**)

Verdonk (ToN) , -,115* , -,081* -,111** -,021 ,556** ,124** ,198** ,199** -
206** * 215** *

*P<,05; **P<,01

To explain the apparent paradox of the popularity of Verdonk in contrast to Wilders,

but not receiving any seats, we will have to turn to the appeal of the party. That was in the
end more important than the popularity of the party leader. People indeed viewed the person
Verdonk as better than the person Wilders, but they considered voting for the PVV to be a
better option than voting for ToN. For each group of voters, whether they are left wing, centre
or right wing, this holds true. It is even the case that the chance of voting for the PVV in
comparison to ToN becomes bigger the more right wing a voter is. Right wing voters, so it
seems, give the PVV almost twice the chance of voting for them than for ToN. Looking at the
election outcome the party appeal was the most important thing for people to decide their vote
Table 6. Left/Right divide by person and party
Left/Right divide Feeling Feeling Chance of voting Chance of voting
thermometer thermometer PVV ToN
score Wilders score Verdonk

Left Wing Mean (N) 1,71 (561) 2,53 (559) 1,83 (556) 1,45 (548)

Centre Mean (N) 3,13 (1130) 3,75 (1125) 3,57 (1121) 2,11 (1111)

Right Wing Mean (N) 4,22 (349) 4,60 (350) 5,11 (348) 2,74 (348)

Total Mean (N) 2,93 (2040) 3,56 (2034) 3,36 (2025) 2,04 (2007

4.3. Issues
This party appeal will have to be seen in the light of issues. As was already clear from
the reconstruction, the PVV got more associated with issues than ToN. In fact the association
of Verdonk and or her party with issues was hardly ever present. Only about 9% of ToN vote
can be explained by looking at the issues. Verdonk herself also shows a very weak link with
the issues presented in table 7. It is therefore save to say that issues did only play a very small
role in the vote choice for ToN. For the PVV this relationship was much stronger, with 31%
the explained variance is remarkably higher than with Verdonk’s party. Wilders shows a
similar higher percentage of that link with issues. Issues clearly mattered a big deal more for
the PVV vote.
As for the actual ideas there is a similar picture visible. The PVV gets multiple more
stronger effects from certain issues when compared to ToN. Issues as development aid, tax
relief, Muslims and Europe show to be influential when it comes to deciding who to vote for.
Whether negative or positively influenced, they have a significant effect on the vote chance.
Comparing this to the vote chance of ToN, we can hardly see any influential issues. For the
party none of them can actually be said to have a big impact. Some issues are somewhat more
influential for the personal appeal of Verdonk, but that does not explain the vote chance.
The explanation of the success of Wilders and the failure of Verdonk should in that
context be explained. For Wilders it was more about the issues, this is where he got his
success. It is for that reason that this paradox of lack of personal popularity and the big win on
the election day can be explained. For Verdonk her popularity was not enough, but evidence
can be found that it could have been the other way around.
What can also be seen and again supports a finding from the newspaper analysis is the
strong negative influence of the stands on Muslims (and Islam). This highly significant
coefficients is one of the strongest issues to have any influence on the voting chance for the
PVV. In general people do not appreciate the political ideas of the PVV on Muslims. It could
have a large impact on people walking away from the party. As seen in the reconstruction,
when all the attention was focused on Islam related issues or events, the PVV started to drop

in the polls. Even though the PVV somewhat made Islam its core business, people in general
do not seem like it that much.

Table 7. Issue influence on feeling thermometer (FT) scores of leaders and

voting chance of parties
Issues FT FT voting chance voting
Wilders Verdonk PVV chance ToN
Gay adoption -,016 -,059 -,047 -,043

Development Aid ,118** ,083** ,125** ,029

Turkish EU membership -,022 -,009 -,004 -,005

Threat of big companies to ,045 ,043 ,026 ,026


Tax relief -,135** -,098** -,138** -,092**

Sunday opening shops ,012 -,021 ,024 ,013

Pardon for current illegal ,126** ,064** ,132** ,052*


Mortgage taks benefits -,002 ,063** ,008 ,051*

Genetic modification ,028 ,033 ,047* ,023

Immigrant stop for Muslims -,252** -,161** -,238** -,080**

Government pension ,029 ,109** ,052* ,094**


Ban on gay marriage -,047 -,017 -,007 ,015

Military mission to Uruzgan -,041 -,112** -,042 -,007

Pension age to 67 ,072** ,103** ,097** ,073**

Bank bailout -,020 -,048 ,004 -,019

Euthanasia -,014 -,039 -,020 -,030

Income difference ,010 -,008 -,031 ,006

Asylumn policy ,004 -,013 -,024 -,030

Crime policy -,011 -,008 -,010 -,012

multicultural policy -,003 ,022 -,002 -,010

European integration ,119** ,068** ,196** ,093**

Nuclear energy -,049* ,002 -,049* -,022

Evinronmental policy ,004 ,033 -,011 ,011

R square ,253 ,167 ,309 ,087

* P<,05; ** P<,01

The positioning of the parties is also important. Both the PVV and ToN are most often
characterised as right wing populist parties. As seen, people that are more right wing have an
even stronger tendency to vote PVV than ToN compared to centre or left wing voters. In the
eyes of the voter, the PVV clearly has positioned themselves on the right of the VVD. They
are also seen as more right wing as ToN. That party shows to be very close to the VVD when
it comes to positioning by the voter. It might be an explanation of people seeing more of a
difference between the VVD and the PVV than with ToN. For more right wing voters the
PVV could therefore be a better option than ToN. It is also the case, confirming the fact that
people were less sure about issues with ToN, that people have a harder time positioning
Verdonk’s party. More than 12% did not know where to place them, compared to 8,5 % for
the PVV. The only parties people had more trouble with were the SGP and the PVDD. Issues
and where the party actually stood was clearly the Achilles heel of Verdonk.

Table 8. Right wing positioning of parties

Party GL SP PvdA PVDD D66

Does not know 7,50% 9,20% 7,20% 17,70% 9,30%

Mean 2,41 2,57 3,26 3,77 4,62

N 1956 1913 1956 1688 1909


Does not Know 10,60% 7,10% 13,80% 7,60% 12,20% 8,50%

Mean 5,47 5,92 6,38 7,35 7,36 7,78

N 1876 1967 17,92 1954 1833 1930

4.4. Prime ministerial appeal

A final point that resulted from the newspaper analysis was the drop of the PVV just
before the elections. A point that was raised was that of not taking responsibility. There was
some distrust of the PVV as a possible governing party. As we can see people do not trust
Wilders as a possible prime minister. On a scale from one to seven the average score is 1,42.
In general the PVV leader is not seen as a future PM, people do not trust him as the leader of
the country.
An interesting comparison can be made when we look at the numbers for the PvdA
and VVD leaders Cohen and Rutte. When Cohen entered the race just after the municipal

elections there was a lot of talk of him being more prime ministerial than others and therefore
possibly receiving more votes. In general it is the case that Cohen is seen as a trustworthy
possible Prime Minister. He scores high on this scale, certainly compared to Wilders. It could
therefore very much be true that the PvdA took back some voters because of this appeal of
The key point however is the trust in Mark Rutte as prime minister. As we can see,
from all the leaders mentioned in table 9, he shows the highest scores in terms of
trustworthiness. Just towards the end of the campaign the VVD rose in the polls and
ultimately challenged the PVV for the number one spot. It might have been this attraction of
Rutte that ultimately caused the VVD to become the largest party and not the PvdA or the
PVV. In general, as with the feeling thermometer scores, Wilders calls on a lot of rejection by
many voters. Mark Rutte showed to be a safer choice in the end.

Table 9. Trust in party leaders as PM

Trust in PM Trust in PM Trust in PM Trust in PM Trust in PM

Wilders Balkenende Pechtold Cohen Rutte

N 2131 2103 2037 2119 2114

Mean 1,42 2,74 3,36 3,69 3,78

5. Conclusion/Discussion

The newspaper analysis as well as the NES data show similar patterns of what this entire
campaign of the PVV and ToN was about and what mattered in terms of success and failure.
We can see a clear distinction on focus and emphasis for the two parties. There were different
strategies that led to different outcome and that give a realistic picture of why Verdonk failed
while Wilders prevailed. The three research sub questions can therefore be answered in this
One way of winning votes for populist parties, focusing on the protest vote, was not all
that present among the two parties. As we have seen, there were some occasional outings of
trying to set themselves apart from the establishment. Most notably in this respect was Rita
Verdonk and ToN, she did try to focus on getting the protest vote from time to time and tried
to present herself as being the complete outsider with rethoric focusing on the failure of the
system. Wilders as well presented himself as non-establishment and a new way for Dutch
politics. He in that respect definitely tried to get away from his former VVD alliances.
It was however not the main focus or explanation for electoral success or failure. For that
the focus on leadership on the one hand and ideas on the other was vital. Verdonk followed
the first pattern, that of leadership focus. Throughout the entire period this has been the most
present and ideas were never really presented. It should however not be said that this focus on
leadership was completely unsuccessful. There were definitely times were Verdonk as a
person sparked much enthusiasm among the general public and saw the party ToN grow as a
result. Overall, however, the leadership focus proved to be a house of cards once internal
struggles started to rise within the party. When a party is only based on the image of its leader
and that is exactly what gets destroyed, a party simply cannot survive. This was the case with
Rita Verdonk. Despite her popularity, people did not consider the party to be a realistic choice
to vote on. As expected, the focus on leadership alone proved to be an unstable bases for a
successful future.
The other line, as shown by Wilders and the PVV clearly was more successful. The focus
on ideas and creating substance really showed a breakthrough for them. Many people resent
Wilders as a person, but the important thing not to be forgotten is that the PVV is not about
the person Wilders. Admitted he plays a vital role and it has to be seen whether the PVV can
survive without him, but there is more than meets the eye. There is a strong focus of PVV
MPs on multiple issues that matter to the party. Some of them are the regular law and order
issues normally assumed to be central to a right wing populist party, but others are more
noticeable in that respect. The focus on healthcare and animal rights and even an issue as the
government pension age made the PVV a much broader party and gave it a much stronger
base and appeal to voters. They used the issues to get to the position they ultimately claimed
in June 2010, whereas Verdonk tried to do it on her image alone. This explains the paradox of
Verdonk’s popularity but her parties decline.
Even though by now it seems unlikely that Rita Verdonk will ever play an important role
in Dutch politics, it could have been the other way around. Verdonk had the appeal as a
leader, she was more popular than Wilders, there was a large correlation between the parties’
appeal and from time to time ToN even seemed to outgrow the PVV in the polls. Her decline
shows that to hold that position means a party needs substance. Why Verdonk never focused
on that is not a question for this thesis, but an important lesson never the less for any new

It is interesting to look at the future developments. While it is unlikely that Verdonk will
return in Dutch politics, the PVV goes through a period of transition. Since the elections of
2010 they have entered an agreement to lend support to the government of VVD and CDA.
Wilders now has to compromise and deal with these parties. Haven given up his fight to keep
the government pension on 65 on the very first days after the elections raised some eyebrows.
Other issues are likely to follow, some of them, more police officers on the streets, have
already proven to be difficult to realise. Until now the PVV has showed a steady growth over
the years and the several parliamentary elections. The question is where will this lead to? Will
Wilders be Prime Minister one day or will he find his Waterloo in participating in
Another important point for discussions remains the slowly growing dissatisfaction with
the way the party is organised and led. Just before the election Hero Brinkman and others
started the discussion to democratise the PVV, a thing Wilders has tried to prevent from the
start. It is this that has gone wrong with other parties in the past, but it is also exactly this what
he claims to bring to the people of the Netherlands: freedom. If this freedom is not internally
organised it might form a problem in the upcoming years. The issue of Islam or rather the
fight against this also remains interesting. It has shown to be a large negative association with
the party in general and if the Fitna tsunami showed us one thing it is that it can be too much
for some of the PVV voters. If the PVV wants to find a way to retain its current position it
needs to settle on how to mix these Islam stands with the other goals of the party.
Overall however the focus on issues seems the right way forward. To find new common
ground that speaks to the wishes of the people is something that Verdonk never really got
around. Up until now the PVV seems to understand the importance of this. The appeal of a
leader will get you started and will provide initial success, but the only way forward from that
is to show the people what you want to do. This is the thin line between success and failure.
To get it right means you end up in government, to get it wrong means you will only be a
footnote in history.

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