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The Consequences of Collective Discontent: A New Measure of Zeitgeist Predicts Voting for Extreme Parties

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In recent years, extreme right‐wing and left‐wing political parties and actors have gained popularity in many Western countries. What motivates people to vote for extreme right‐ or left‐wing parties? In previous research, we showed that a collectively shared sense of doom and gloom about society can exist among citizens who, individually, experience high well‐being. Previous research developed an operationalization of this collective societal discontent as an aspect of Zeitgeist, which can be compared to personal experiences (van der Bles, Postmes, & Meijer, ). In the present research, we investigated whether this Zeitgeist of societal discontent predicts voting for extreme parties. We conducted a field study during the 2015 Dutch provincial elections (N = 407). Results showed that collective societal discontent (Zeitgeist) predicted voting for extreme parties but that personal discontent did not. Results also showed that pessimistic Zeitgeist was associated with lower education levels and tabloid‐style media consumption. These findings advance our understanding of the discontents that fuel extreme voting outcomes: Global and abstract (negative) beliefs about society are more consequential than concrete personal experiences.
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Keywords: Zeitgeist; education level; extreme right‐wing parties; media use; societal discontent; voting

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2018

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