Updated: March 17, 2017
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect election results.
Remember when Geert Wilders was poised to take over Europe? Browsing English-language coverage of the Dutch elections, you might have assumed the far-right party leader—who won praise from nativist controversy-hunter and Iowa Representative Steve King—was sure to be the most popular politician the Netherlands and would solidify the extreme-right’s grip on the West. That didn’t happen, but it’d be similarly wrong to think, after an election campaign where the winning party appeared to adopt some of Wilders’ anti-migrant rhetoric, that his defeat is a clear victory for anti-Trumpism.
Maybe this isn’t so surprising. We live in a climate of political upheaval right now, and Wilders, at least during the election, functioned as a visually memorable bellwether for the West’s swing to the far right. Still, there’s a problem with the English-language media’s obsession with him. Among British and American publications, the Wilders worries were as much a projection of domestic angst as a reflection of Dutch reality.
Something dramatic is indeed happening in Dutch politics right now. It’s just that Wilders and his party, the PVV, have far less to do with it than you might expect. The PVV performed slightly worse than polls predicted, earning 20 seats in the Netherlands’ 150-member parliament, instead of a projected 24 to 26. This leaves Mark Rutte’s VVD—the most successful party, with 33 projected seats—in a good position to form a coalition government.
Still, Wilders’s party remains the second largest in the Dutch parliament with 13.1 percent of the vote. Two other parties nabbed more than 12 percent of the vote. Even Rutte’s victorious VVD, whose success on is being widely trumpeted as a powerful message against extreme-right populism, only scored 21.3 percent. The once dominant Labor Party has been demolished, with a general evening-out of its former voters across a number of smaller left and centrist parties.