What explains the political momentum of far right parties? I argue that the far right has broadened its base by mobilizing contingent extremists—supporters who have long held extreme beliefs, but who were inactive in more hostile political opinion climates. To test this theory, I field a priming experiment in Germany, Hungary, and France (n=4,776) to measure respondents’ willingness to identify as far right supporters when assigned to more or less ‘favorable’ information about far right party popularity through experimentally varied polls. I find strong evidence that (1) contingent extremists exist; and (2) that significantly more extremists are ‘contingent’ in voting districts where the far right is electorally weak. This suggests that extremists’ direct social environments moderate the effect of the media on their political mobilization. Moreover, I identify a minimal ‘climate of opinion’ threshold at which extremists begin to support the party openly.
Laura Jakli is a Predoctoral Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, and a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research examines emerging threats to democracy, focusing on political extremism and authoritarian encroachment. Her related research examines how information networks shape migration patterns and refugee behavior. Her research appears in International Studies Quarterly, the Virginia Journal of International Law, and Democratization (Oxford University Press).