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NSM Focus | Kristof Jacobs: "The coronavirus gives the elections a completely different dynamic"

Date of news: 10 February 2021

The upcoming House of Representatives elections will have a completely different dynamic because of the coronavirus, says Kristof Jacobs, Associate Professor in Political Science and co-director of the Dutch Parliamentary Election Study (DPES). ‘These elections are going to be incredibly interesting.’

The Dutch Parliamentary Election Study (DPES) is a representative sample survey held since 1971 among the Dutch electorate. “We ask people questions about various social themes and political views,” says Jacobs. “The survey takes place both before and after the elections.”

Although the latest DPES results have not yet been published, it seems fair to assume that the coronavirus will dominate the elections. Jacobs: “Crises of this magnitude, which affect everyone, are rare. The last time was the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing budget cuts. These kinds of issues can have a serious impact.”

Childcare benefits scandal

How great this impact will be remains guesswork. “Looking at other countries, we see that things can go either way. There may be a rally ‘round the flag effect, with the government gaining a lot of support. Or the government may be penalised if voters feel it has failed in its coronavirus policy.”

Then there is the childcare benefits scandal, which led to the cabinet’s resignation earlier this year. “But that is of a completely different order since it only affects a relatively small group of people. Odds are that this scandal – together with many other issues – will attract much less attention than the coronavirus crisis.”

A common mission

Jacobs predicts that the upcoming elections will have a very unusual dynamic. “One that centres not so much on politics as on the feeling that ‘We’ve got a job to do!’. Of course there are differences between political parties, but they all share the same mission: defeating the coronavirus.”

Jacobs believes this will also affect sentiment among voters. “In times of crisis, parties at the extremes of the political spectrum tend to do less well. Many people have a number of parties they consider voting for. The choice for a specific party depends on a several factors. In these elections, the coronavirus will be the decisive factor for many people. They will choose from their preferred parties the one they see as most capable of addressing the coronavirus crisis.”

‘Chancellor’s bonus’

In practice, says Jacobs, this means that the cabinet and in particular the VVD will probably do well. “Rutte is a very skilful and experienced politician. He knows when to shift position and on what issue. In addition, as Prime Minister, he may benefit from what is known as the ‘Chancellor’s bonus’: the tendency to ascribe anything that goes well to the parties in power. Rutte is particularly good at cashing in on this potential electoral advantage.”

However, much remains unclear, emphasises Jacobs. “Electoral campaigns really take off in the last three weeks before the elections, and many people only decide who to vote for in the last week. Anything that happens during that week can greatly affect the results. Remember the visit of the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs right before the previous elections? Things like that can be decisive for people who haven’t made up their mind yet.”

Interested in political topics? You can find more about the research of the Political Science department on their website.