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Kurt Richard Luther, "Of goals and own goals: A case study of right-wing populist party strategy for and during incumbency," Party Politics, 17 (July, 2011), 453-470. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
All parties entering government need to alter their behaviour if they are to prosper. The adjustment required of long-excluded parties will be especially profound. Their 'outsider' status will typically have resulted from a combination of competitors preventing their entry and strategic choices made by the parties themselves. The prior 'primary goal' (Harmel and Janda, 1994) of some will have been 'policy', whilst others will have prioritized 'votes' (Mu¨ller and Strøm, 1999). This article examines how and with what success a previously vote-maximizing right-wing populist party changed its primary goal to office. We are using 'right-wing populist' to denote parties that constitute a form of 'structural opposition' (Dahl, 1966) claiming to represent 'the people' against an allegedly corrupt and self-serving political establishment.1 Often leaderdominated, these parties' political style usually includes rhetorical aggression, especially in the electoral arena. They espouse socially-conservative or reactionary policies, but as vote-maximizers are inclined to political opportunism, so their policy packages will often exhibit a significant degree of internal contradiction.

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However, this study does not support the proposition that right-wing populist parties are necessarily doomed to failure once they change their primary goal to office. Instead, it strongly suggests that erstwhile outsider parties' likelihood of prospering once in government will owe much to their leadership's capacity to identify and implement strategies and behaviours consonant with the parties' new goal and to deal effectively with the inescapable tensions caused by the transition to incumbency. That is not to say that strategic and behavioural changes are without risk. They can and do lead to unexpected or unintended consequences, not least in view of the unpredictable responses of other actors. However, agency remains an important determinant of success. Moreover, although researching the internal working of right-wing populist parties can be extremely challenging, the insights of such supply-side studies constitute invaluable additions to the perspectives offered by the still predominantly demand-side approaches to examining these and other categories of outsider parties. Indeed, they may well be far better at explaining rapid shifts in the fortunes of such parties.

Last updated August 2011