Rutte Closes Gap With Populist Wilders in Dutch Election Poll

  • Wilders’s Freedom Party and Rutte’s Liberals in poll tie
  • The Dutch will vote in general elections on March 15

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party closed the gap with Geert Wilders’s populist Freedom Party in a poll Tuesday, improving his chances of remaining in power.

The parties would each take 22 seats in the elections on March 15, according to an EenVandaag poll published Tuesday. The two parties haven’t tied in an EenVandaag poll since June 29, 2015, when they were both at 25 seats. Rutte on Monday said his party would win 41 seats, matching its performance in 2012. The Freedom Party would win 15 seats, he predicted.

“I don’t think the Liberal Party will lose,” Rutte said at an event at Twente University. “This is not what I hope but what I expect.”

Mark Rutte

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Rutte’s confident tone two weeks before the country’s parliamentary elections comes as several polls show that the lead that Wilders’s party holds over his Liberals has been narrowing.

“It’s really a possible scenario,” Andre Krouwel, a professor of political science at Amsterdam’s VU University, said in a phone interview. “Rutte managed to do this four years ago by mobilizing centre-right voters that either considered voting for the Christian Democrats or the Freedom Party.”

The vote in the Netherlands is the first of three closely watched elections in Europe this year that will determine whether the populist surge that delivered the Brexit vote in the U.K. and helped Donald Trump into the White House will spread into the European Union’s core. Wilders, like populist leader Marine Le Pen in France -- which goes to the polls in April and May -- is running on an anti-immigrant, anti-euro platform.

Leaning Right

The lower house of the Dutch Parliament has 150 seats. No party ever wins a majority, making coalitions inevitable. A coalition needs to have the support of parties totaling at least 76 seats to ensure it can get its legislation through. While Wilders has been riding high in the polls, he will need allies to form a government. He doesn’t really have any.

In another poll published by Kantar Public on Tuesday, the Freedom Party led with 28 seats, unchanged from the last survey. The Liberal Party would get 27 seats, two more than in the poll a week ago, narrowing its gap with the Freedom Party to one seat from three. Labor under Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher’s leadership would take 12 seats, one more than a week earlier but still down 26 seats from the 38 the party won in 2012.

Rutte expects the Christian Democrats, led by Sybrand van Haersma Buma, to get 17 seats and predicts that the Labor party would come in third with 16 seats.

Almost all the established Dutch parties, including the Liberals and Labor, have excluded governing with Wilders. That, however, hasn’t stopped them from courting his followers. Immigration featured in a televised debate among party leaders on Sunday evening, with Labor and the opposition Christian Democrats both arguing for a halt to new arrivals.

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