Animal welfare and the populist radical right

In this blog, Jakob Schwörer & Belén Fernández-García discuss the findings of their recent article in Environmental Politics, ’Understanding and explaining populist radical right parties’ commitment to animal welfare in Western Europe’. They analyse far right parties in Western Europe, and find that the ideological links between the far right and animal protection is via nativist discourses against cultural and religious minorities.

There is a significant interest in the environmental agendas of populist radical right parties (PRRPs) in Western Europe, both in academia and beyond, as evidenced, for example, by the great appeal of the second “Political Ecologies of the Far Right” conference in Uppsala this year. A growing body of scholarship, including our recent work, examines PRRP behavior on climate issues. While PRRP tend to be skeptical about strong climate action, these parties are generally perceived to have a positive relationship with domestic environmental protection. As one of these environmental aspects, animal welfare is expected to be a relevant issue for PRRP, as recent research on the Sweden Democrats suggests.

In our recent comparative study of PRRP positions and engagement on animal welfare, we argue that while ideological aspects may matter, animal welfare remains a niche issue. Its salience depends on whether the issue is prominent among other parties, whether PRRP have fascist roots, and whether animal welfare offers nativist discursive opportunities.

The ideological link

PRRP share a populist worldview that divides society into a homogeneous people – whose will should guide politics – and an evil elite representing special interests. The ideology of the radical right consists of nativism (sometimes called “ethnic nationalism”), the idea of a culturally homogeneous nation-state. According to this ideology, any element perceived as non-native (e.g. Islam) is considered a fundamental threat to national identity and sovereignty. Authoritarianism, as the final building block, emphasizes a “punitive conventional moralism” – where deviations from conventional norms are subject to severe punishment.

None of these ideological elements directly produce a commitment to animal protection. More generally, however, PRRP consider the domestic natural environment as a source of identity for the “native” people and the nation-state, such as landscapes, rivers, flora, and fauna, which could generate a pro-animal welfare discourse. In this context, some scholars suggest that particularly the fascist and Nazi roots of some of today’s PRRP manifest themselves in a rejection of anthropocentrism and a decentring of human relations, which in turn leads to positions favourable to animal welfare. Although former fascist PRRP have moderated their positions and discourse, animal welfare positions are not publicly contested and may therefore have survived the transformation of these parties in Western Europe. But PRRP in general could benefit from referring to animal welfare, as the issue can be linked to nativist discourses against cultural and religious minorities. A recurring example of this is the portrayal of Islam as animal-hostile because of its halal slaughter methods.

Our findings

In our study, we conducted content analyses of PRRP election manifestos and Twitter campaigns in eight Western European countries, measuring positions on animal welfare (pro/con) and salience (frequency of sentences/tweets per manifesto/campaign). We analyzed parties in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal. Compared to other party families (except the Greens), PRRP talk more about animals in their manifestos, but not in their Twitter campaigns, where the issue is not very prominent.

However, when it comes to positioning, some PRRP even reject animal welfare. Vox in Spain, Chega in Portugal, the Swiss SVP and the German AfD explicitly support forms of animal exploitation in their election manifestos, while on Twitter, where parties and their candidates address their supporters more directly, positive references to animal welfare are more dominant. In Spain and Portugal in particular, animal welfare is neglected when it challenges the supposed cultural traditions of the ‘native’ population. In its election manifesto, CHEGA states, ‘CHEGA identifies hunting and bullfighting as relevant traditional activities’, and the Vox Twitter account states that ‘VOX will be the key to put a stop to the environmentalists and rampaging animal rights activists’. The leader of the French far-right Reconquête party, Éric Zemmour, considers hunting practices an important national tradition.

The occasional rejection of animal welfare – or support for practices of animal exploitation – shows that PRRP ideology is not necessarily linked to support for animal welfare. Nevertheless, several parties – particularly in the UK, Austria and to some extent France – emphasize the issue in their manifestos. Typically, PRRP call for tougher legislation against animal exploitation (e.g. more control and transparency, tougher penalties) and for better treatment of pets and farm animals. Some parties also emphasize banning certain slaughter practices (“halal” slaughter) and limiting animal transport. Almost all parties, at least occasionally, link nativist elements (discrimination against Chinese, Roma and Muslims) to the animal welfare discourse.

Based on assumptions from the literature, we used crisp-set QCA to investigate the conditions under which PRRP emphasize pro-animal welfare positions. We found that PRRP with a certain fascist legacy (FPÖ; Rassemblement National; Fratelli d’Italia) or those operating in a party system where animal welfare is emphasized by other parties and where there is no relevant green party that ‘owns’ the issue (Lega; UKIP; FdI) are more likely to address animal welfare.


Animal welfare is not a campaign issue for PRRP, and their ideological background does not necessarily lead to pro-animal welfare agendas. However, we have observed that a fascist/Nazi background can explain why some PRRP are more engaged in animal advocacy than others, and that PRRP are somewhat “forced” to talk about the issue when raised by other parties. Animal welfare is addressed by PRRP as long as it does not contradict national traditions (e.g. bullfighting or hunting) and when it allows the exclusion of non-native groups due to exploitative practices (e.g. Islam). In conclusion, we should not exaggerate the role of animal welfare and other environmental issues for the populist radical right. It is at best of secondary importance for PRRP. Climate change may be the exception, as PRRP are increasingly campaigning on this issue, as it is of much greater public importance and allows for more direct blame attribution.


Jakob Schwörer is Policy Advisor at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Stockholm. He was postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Political Science at Leuphana University Lüneburg, visiting scholar at the Center for Research on Extremism (C-Rex) at Oslo University, at the Department of Government at Uppsala University and at San Francisco University in Quito. His research focuses on party behaviour, populist, nativist, religious and environmental communication of political actors in a comparative perspective.
Twitter: @SchworerJakob

Belén Fernández-García is PhD and Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Granada. She was a visiting scholar at the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics of Sciences Po (France), the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and the Institute for German and International Political Party Law and Research of the University of Düsseldorf (Germany). She also was a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon (Portugal). Her principal research interests lie in the area of populism, radical right, political parties and party competition. Her most recent publications include: “Understanding and explaining populist radical right parties’ commitment to animal welfare in Western Europe” in Environmental Politics and “Climate Sceptics or Climate Nationalists? Understanding and Explaining Populist Radical Right Parties’ Positions towards Climate Change (1990–2022)” in Political Studies with Jakob Schwörer; “En los márgenes de la democracia liberal: Populismo, nacionalismo y radicalismo ideológico en Europa” in Comares and “Populism in Southern Europe” in CEU Press with Ángel Valencia (In: Democracy Fatigue: An East European Epidemy).
Twitter: @ABelenFg

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