In recent decades, democratic electoral institutions have seen tremendous changes in both their construction and operation in countries across the world. Both the birth of electoral systems in new democracies as well as the transformation of old democracies contribute to this broad trend. Among the many changes in democratic electoral institutions is a distinct growth in the number of niche and far right parties competing for office in any given election. The growth in the population of these parties creates a number of interesting possibilities for the study of political parties, in particular the study of how these new parties respond to the strategies older and more mainstream parties attempt to limit their success in the electoral market. In this paper, I argue that the success of far right parties following mainstream attempts to damage their standing is dependent on the strategies far right parties adopt in response.
Since its formation as a political party in France in 1972, le Front national (National Front) has campaigned on a platform designed around reducing the amount of legal immigration to France from other countries. Over the following decades, the party grew in popularity, particularly with voters in France’s rural and border regions. This growing popularity led to a consolidation of competing factions within the party throughout the late 1970s and into the early 2000s. From its origin as a political party to the late 1990s, the National Front’s support among the electorate and membership in the party itself swelled. The success of the National Front during these formative years was often attributed to the deft maneuvering of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the outspoken leader of the anti-immigrant cohort within the party.
During this same period, mainstream parties in France underwent a similar consolidation of power. In 2004, the two most powerful parties in the French legislature galvanized their power and electoral positions by replacing the existing system for electing regional councillors with a system in which councillors were selected using a two-round system. This system matched rules already in place for selecting France’s president and severely limited the impact of the National Front on the outcome of elections for regional councillors. In the following rounds of French regional councillor elections, the National Front’s vote share remained virtually the same, but their seat share changed dramatically.
The story described above has played out over a wide range of time in an even wider range of partisan and electoral environments Existing theories of partisan competition and electoral institutions provide scholars with a great deal of tools to explain the cooperation of mainstream parties during this period. These arguments suggest that mainstream parties perceive the competition of niche parties like the National Front as a threat to their survival and make significant changes to electoral institutions to limit those...