Europe's populists aren't the threat people think

For more than a year, the big scare out of Europe has been that populist movements, often far-right and euroskeptic, would win elections across the continent. But electoral landscapes are shifting fast, and it’s time to consider a different scenario — in which the populists lose everywhere.

It’s more than wishful thinking. In the Netherlands, nationalist Geert Wilders’ party, PVV, polled to win at least 40 seats in February 2016; it was down to 30 a month ago. Now, polls average out at 25 seats for Wilders, one behind the ruling center-right party, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. This dynamic has to do with a peculiarly Dutch behavior when answering pollsters’ questionnaires: Where in some other countries people will hide their intention to vote for a far-right party, the blunt Dutch will sometimes exaggerate their protest intentions just to send a signal. Come election time, they want to make a rational choice rather than an emotional one.

It’s common knowledge that even if Wilders gets a plurality of votes, he won’t take part in governing because other parties don’t trust him after a failed attempt at cooperation in 2011. But if his PVV comes second, after all the hand-wringing it has caused among centrists internationally, it will be a symbolic defeat as well as a practical one.