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What Europe’s Populist Right Is Getting Right

Authoritarian nationalists such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán win support not only by attacking immigrants, but also by delivering economic policies that benefit the poor and middle class. Western analysts and, more important, Western leaders need to learn this lesson before it's too late.

PHILADELPHIA – On March 20, the European People’s Party, the conservative bloc in the European Parliament, will decide whether to expel Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz. The EPP has been slow to censure Fidesz and Hungary’s autocratic prime minister, Viktor Orbán, for its assault on democracy and rule of law. Yet, Orbán’s Western critics have been equally slow to understand the social and economic policies that underpin his popularity.

Consider the bold set of family policies that Orbán announced on February 10. So far, the verdict in the West on these policies, which are aimed at addressing the country’s low fertility rate and further reducing immigration, has been thunderously negative and all but blind to their effectiveness in entrenching Orbán’s support among Hungarian voters.

Western analysts fail to recognize that authoritarian nationalists such as Orbán win support not only by attacking immigrants, but also by delivering economic policies that benefit average people. Mainstream political parties in the West need to learn this economic lesson fast if they want to compete against their own populist challengers.

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