Why Poland's Law and Justice Party Remains So Popular

It Has Effectively Combined Nationalism and Welfarism

Leader of Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks during a joint news conference with Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, Speaker of Parliament Marek Kuchcinski, Speaker of Senate Stanislaw Karczewski, and Parliamentary head of Law and Justice Ryszard Terlecki in Warsaw, December 2016. Slawomir Kaminski / REUTERS

Not since the days of the Cold War has a Polish government received as large an amount of criticism from Western media and institutions as that run by the Law and Justice Party (PiS). The right-wing populist party swept to power in Warsaw two years ago this week, winning 37.5 percent of the vote and with it a parliamentary majority.

Since then, Poland’s ruling party has come under fire for truncating democratic norms and institutions through policies set up to neuter judicial independence, weaken civil liberties, politicize the civil service, and exert control over media. PiS has also faced much criticism in Europe for its migration policies, particularly for refusing to accept any relocated refugees despite the previous Polish government’s pledge to accept 7,000 of them. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski even suggested that migrants could bring “epidemics” to Europe and that they carried “various parasites and protozoa, which don’t affect their organisms, but which could be dangerous here”—language that recalled anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda.

The European Commission has pressed Warsaw to stop its attacks on the rule of law, threatening to potentially scrap Warsaw’s EU voting rights if it does not. The U.S. State Department has also warned of dangers to democracy in Poland. Yet PiS has either ignored such criticisms and demands or reacted with scorn.

Despite the barrage of criticism from abroad, PiS is more popular today than it was two years ago. Recent opinion polls suggest that if elections were held today, PiS could count on an easy victory. One survey suggested that the party would garner 41 percent support, while its closest rival, the center-right former ruling party, Civic Platform, would be backed by 18 percent of voters. Another poll had PiS with as much as 47 percent backing, compared to 16 percent for Civic Platform. Until recently, no Polish government could have survived such widespread criticism from Western institutions and opinion-makers without losing credibility at home. It is worth examining, then, why the PiS has remained so

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