My dissertation examines the rise of populist radical right parties in post-Communist Europe. I argue that specific policy choices made by left-leaning parties played a decisive role in the rise of these parties.

In my research, I use the example of Hungary and Poland to illustrate my argument. Party systems in these countries are often described as volatile and fluid, but my research demonstrates that the basic ingredients for stable socioeconomic cleavages existed in these countries. It was only after ex-Communist left parties proved instrumental in enacting austerity and market liberalization policies, that resulting party dealignment created volatility by pushing traditionally leftist constituencies toward the right. I show that it is these failures to align parties programmatically, and anchor them in relevant social cleavages, that account for the volatility of party systems in general, and for the rise of populist right parties in post-Communist Europe in particular. Blue-collar workers’ dissatisfaction with mainstream parties in Hungary and Poland over the years kept pushing them further to the right, leading to their increasing support for Fidesz,  Jobbik and Law and Justice parties.

I also explore the tactics used by Russian actors and proxies who circulate disinformation to exploit these dynamics. Social groups with anti-establishment attitudes, dissatisfied with the policies of the political mainstream, tend to be most vulnerable to alternative news channels, which are the main sources of disinformation. These groups often constitute the electorates of the populist radical right parties.

I test my hypotheses using various levels of analysis: cross-country observational and quantitative comparisons, individual-level surveys, and experimental surveys. In a series of cross-country surveys and case studies, I apply my argument to post-Communist transitions. Specifically, I run a baseline model on data from eight rounds of the European Social Survey to illustrate working class respondents’ continual exodus from post-Communist left parties, and their embrace of populist radical right parties in the region. Using individual-level surveys in Hungary, I trace the dynamics of working-class support for the post-Communist left party MSzP. I demonstrate that while blue-collar working class status was positively and significantly associated with the odds of supporting MSzP in 1994 (prior to the implementation of the Bokros package), the working-class population in Hungary exhibited a political shift after the implementation of austerity reforms. After this point, the blue collar working class became increasingly associated with support for the populist (Fidesz) and radical right (Jobbik) parties. In an experimental survey in Hungary, I demonstrate that working-class constituencies are more likely to embrace populist radical right parties if center-left parties adopt a pro-market and pro-globalization economic platform.

My argument makes an important contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of political systems, and the rise of radical right parties in Europe.