Wilders's Party Slumps in Final Dutch Polls on Election Eve

  • I&O respondents supportive of Rutte’s handling of Turkey spat
  • Freedom Party down to fifth in one poll, third in another

Dutch Voters Head to Polls to Test Populism

The prospect of Geert Wilders emerging as the winner of Wednesday’s Dutch election was thrown into doubt by two polls on the eve of voting that showed his anti-Islam, anti-European Union Freedom Party slumping to fifth place in one survey and third in another.

The final poll from I&O Research showed Wilders’s party on 16 seats in the 150-member lower house of parliament, down four seats from a survey released just the day before. The last Ipsos survey before the election gave the Freedom Party 20 seats, a drop of three from last week. Both polls showed Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals gaining three seats -- to 27 and 29 respectively.

The bulk of the polling by both companies was conducted after a diplomatic dispute erupted over the weekend between the Netherlands and Turkey, which Rutte was deemed to have handled well. While polling has a mixed reputation after failing to predict the outcome of the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, the Dutch findings are the culmination of a trend in the past couple of weeks that has seen Rutte gradually overturning the clear lead that Wilders previously held in the polls.

“There is support among voters of all parties for the performance of Mark Rutte” in the Turkish crisis, I&O said in a commentary to its poll. It found 62 percent of voters backing the way Rutte acted, including 59 percent of Freedom Party backers, with only 10 percent of all voters supporting the way Wilders performed.

Read how Dutch election night will unfold.

The Freedom Party’s 16 seats in the I&O poll compared with a high of 33 seats in December. It fell behind the centrist D66 party, the Greens and the Christian Democrats, all of which are possible partners for Rutte in the multiparty coalition that will have to be formed after the election to govern the Netherlands for four years. All the other main parties have ruled out working with Wilders.

The Ipsos poll saw the Christian Democrats moving into second place ahead of the Freedom Party. But there are differences of as many as five seats between the estimates for some parties in the the two latest surveys, and voters may still be swayed by party leaders’ performances in the final televised debate Tuesday evening.

A third poll released Tuesday -- by Kantar Public -- showed less dramatic movements, but still had the Liberals extending their lead over the Freedom Party to four seats from two seats last week.

The diplomatic dispute saw Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing the Dutch government of Nazi-like behavior after Rutte refused to let Turkish ministers address a pro-government rally in Rotterdam. Rutte sought to de-escalate the spat, while Wilders said he should have taken tougher action against Turkish diplomats.

Debate Clash

When Wilders and Rutte faced off on national television Monday evening, the Freedom Party leader told the prime minister that “we must directly expel the Turkish ambassador and the rest of his staff from the country, otherwise we accept that we are being insulted.”

Rutte’s response was to tell Wilders: “That’s the difference between tweeting from your couch and governing the country. If you govern the country, you have to take sensible decisions, and that isn’t sensible.”

For I&O’s final poll, 2,248 voters were questioned, mostly online, from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning. Ipsos polled 1,163 voters online Monday afternoon through Tuesday, while Kantar interviewed 2,141 adults online Sunday through Tuesday. The margins of error vary according to the size of the party.

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