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Austria's Populist Puzzle

Why One of Europe's Most Stable States Hosts a Thriving Radical Right

A worker passes presidential election campaign posters for Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen in Vienna, September 2016.  Heinz-Peter Bader / REUTERS

For many international observers, Austria’s flirtation with right-wing populism is something of a puzzle. Austria is one of the European Union's most prosperous countries and has long been a model of political and social stability. It has an efficient government, excellent public infrastructure, and generally low unemployment and crime rates. And although Austrians could once be faulted for their unwillingness to confront their nation’s culpability for Nazism and the Holocaust, that too has changed in recent years, as public awareness of the country’s role in both of those tragedies has deepened.

Nevertheless, over the past three decades, radical right-wing populism has been more electorally successful in Austria than perhaps anywhere else in western Europe. On December 4, in Austria’s presidential election, voters delivered a clear victory to Alexander Van der Bellen, the former head of the left-wing Greens. Yet Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the right-wing populist

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