from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

Austria’s Presidential Election and the Race for the White House

VanDerBellen

June 14, 2016

VanDerBellen
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Anna-Sophia Haub is an Interdepartmental Program Assistant at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Just .6 percent was needed to defeat the far right candidate for the Austrian presidency. That was the difference of 31,000 votes in favor of Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent and former Green Party delegate, to defeat Norbert Hofer of the far right, anti-immigration Freedom Party. Although the Austrian presidential role is mostly ceremonial, it is nevertheless important to the development of the country’s national identity.

Preliminary voting pointed to the Hofer, who was leading by 35 percent to Van der Bellen’s 21 percent. It was unsurprising that a far right politician was winning in the preliminary round. Austria is a predominantly conservative, Catholic country, whose people are dissatisfied with the current center-left, center-right coalition in dealing with unemployment, the euro crisis, and especially the refugee crisis. Hofer campaigned on the premises of strengthening Austrian boarders and armed forces in order to limit the number of Islamic refugees crossing through or remaining in Austria, and to reducing the ever-encroaching presence of the European Union. On the other hand, Van der Bellen encouraged voters to be “open, Europe-friendly, [and] Europe-conscious” and favored a fence–free immigration policy for refugees. The rise of Hofer’s right-wing party is attributed to the refugee crisis and the rise of a modern democratic retreat in Europe and in the United States. Yet, while refugees were a factor, the elections exposed a multiplicity of fissures that pre-existed in Austria that deeply frustrated the electorate. These include the steady increase in unemployment, the euro crisis, and security concerns directly related to terrorist attacks in Europe.

Of course, these electorate issues are not unique to Austria, and polls in the United States suggest that the top three concerns for U.S. voters include: terrorism and homeland security, the economy, and employment. What implications does Austria have for the U.S. presidential race in regard to these electorate concerns?

Trump’s campaign shares similar extremist views to Hofer’s, whereas Clinton’s relates more to Van der Bellen’s. Yesterday, Trump officially stated in a recent national security speech, “I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there’s a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies until we fully understand how to end these threats” in response to the horrific tragedy in Orlando. Additionally, he supports deportation policies, including mandatory return of all criminal aliens after detainment, cracking down on refugee and asylum-seekers, and of course, building his infamous wall on the Mexican border. On the other hand, Clinton vows to keep Americans safe by strengthening the home front by calling for more stringent restrictions on guns, strengthening alliances with Middle East, Asia, and Europe, and taking out the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s “strongholds in Iraq and Syria by intensifying the air campaign.”

As for economic insecurity and inequality, Trump vows to eliminate economic inequality by reducing the $19 trillion of national debt, providing tax relief for middle class America, simplifying the tax code, and discouraging corporate inversions. Clinton promises to put forth a middle-class tax-cut plan, create good-paying jobs, and provide salary raises by investing in infrastructure, clean energy, and scientific and medical research, and closing corporate tax loopholes. In regard to employment and jobs, Trump argues that he will be “the greatest jobs president” by keeping the minimum wage at its current rate ($7.25) to maintain the United States’ competitive edge in the foreign spectrum and implementing nationwide e-verify to protect jobs for unemployed U.S. citizens from immigrants. Conversely, Hillary’s goals include increasing the minimum federal wage to $12 an hour and raising incomes for lower and middle class families.

Although Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee and opinion polls suggest larger support for Trump regarding the three electorate concerns above, Clinton leads in the primary polls. Will Clinton be able to maintain her lead come November? Quite possibly by a small percentage, if the outcome of the Austrian election provides any indication.

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