Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.


Populism Rank: 20


Voter support for radical left in last elections (2019): +1,5%.
Voter support for radical right in last elections: -11,2%.
Populist or authoritarian parties in government (March 2024): NONE
Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 3/18

01 Speakers

Much has changed in Europe since Austria faced a boycott from other EU countries in the early 2000s when the centre-right ÖVP entered into a coalition government with the right-wing populist FPÖ. Despite facing corruption scandals and several tumultuous periods in government, the FPÖ remains one of Europe’s strongest populist parties.


The first challenge to the established parties came from the far left. The Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ [Kommunistische Partei Österreichs]), which was loyal to the Soviet Union, experienced some popularity after World War II. It participated in the Austrian government between 1945 and 1947 and garnered approximately five percent of the votes in the first post-war elections. However, support for the party waned in the early 1960s, and for decades, the communists remained largely irrelevant in Austrian politics.

In recent years, however, the KPÖ has experienced a kind of revival, with notable showings in regional elections, such as in Salzburg in 2023, where they achieved their best result ever and won seats in the state parliament for the first time since 1949. As of March 2024, they are polling around three percent on the national level.


Another early challenge came from The Federation of Independents, formed in 1949. It was a coalition with roots in pan-Germanism and national liberalism. It aimed to provide an alternative to Austria’s two major parties at the time: the social democrats – Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ [Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs]) – and the Christian democrats – Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP [Österreichische Volkspartei]). In 1955, it merged with the Freedom Party, which led to the establishment of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ [Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs]) the following year.


FPÖ and its predecessor maintained an “openness to all” policy, which meant that even former Nazis and nazi collaborators were welcomed into the party. The first leader of the FPÖ, Anton Reinthaller, had been an SS officer, and his successor, Friedrich Peter, also had a Nazi background. While the proportion of former Nazis in the FPÖ was higher, it should be noted that the SPÖ and ÖVP also had members with Nazi background. Although the FPÖ cooperated with ÖVP and SPÖ at local and regional levels, they did not do so nationally where they had a cordon sanitaire against the party.

Anton Reinthaller. Photo: APA

In 1967, a more extreme faction of the FPÖ split off and formed the National Democrats (NDP), which was seen by some as a definitive break from the Nazi roots of the FPÖ. The NDP was founded by Norbert Burger, who had previously led the student movement within the FPÖ. The NDP was considered a sister party to the German NPD and advocated for a union (“Anschluss”) with Germany. Burger received over 3 percent of the vote in the presidential election in 1980. However, in 1988, the party was banned by the Supreme Court.


Following the split, the FPÖ took a more liberal direction and in 1980, Norbert Steger became the party leader. Despite declining voter support, the FPÖ entered into a coalition government with the SPÖ in 1983. This marked a first in the party’s history but also led to disagreements within the party.


During the same year, Jörg Haider became chairman of the party in the region of Carinthia. This sparked a power struggle between Haider and Steger, which Haider eventually won, assuming party leadership in 1986. In 1989, Haider became the governor of Carinthia after the party achieved second place in the regional elections. However, two years later, he had to resign following an infamous statement where he praised the labour market policies of Nazi Germany.


In 1993, the FPÖ launched its “Austria First” campaign, advocating for a referendum on immigration. The party argued that migration threatened welfare, and that Islam posed an existential and cultural threat to Austrian, which never had been a nation of immigrant. Additionally, the FPÖ shifted its position on European integration and campaigned against Austria’s membership in the EU in the 1994 referendum. These changes led to a split within the party, with five MPs leaving to form the Liberal Forum, which later became NEO and replaced the FPÖ within the Liberal International.

Jörg Haider.

The latter half of the 1990s was very favourable for the FPÖ, which capitalised on dissatisfaction with austerity policies, partly motivated by EU membership, as well as increased immigration to Austria (mainly as a result of the Yugoslav Wars). This also had policy implications, with the FPÖ moving to the left on economic issues and to the right on socio-cultural issues. The 1999 election marked the most successful outcome for the FPÖ thus far, as the party garnered almost 27 percent of the votes. Following unsuccessful negotiations with the SPÖ, the ÖVP turned to Haider and invited the FPÖ to join the government, despite the threat of sanctions from other countries.


When the ÖVP proceeded with the coalition, Israel recalled its ambassador to Vienna, and all EU countries isolated Austria in an unprecedented boycott. However, in September 2000, the other countries had to back down after an expert report did not find that the Austrian government or the FPÖ ministers posed a threat to the values of the EU. It’s worth noting that Jörg Haider never participated in the government and also stepped down from the party leadership during this period.


The subsequent elections proved disastrous for the FPÖ, as they lost almost two-thirds of their voters in 2002. Despite this setback, they remained in government, causing increasing internal conflicts within the party. In 2005, Haider eventually departed and founded the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which took over FPÖ’s position in government while the FPÖ moved to the opposition. Following the 2006 election, both parties remained in opposition. After Haider’s death in a car accident in 2008, Josef Bucher succeeded him and steered the BZÖ towards a more right-wing economic direction, with reduced emphasis on opposition to immigration. However, without Haider’s leadership, the BZÖ struggled to maintain voter interest and eventually disappeared from the political scene in the 2010s.


Under the leadership of Heinz-Christian Strache, the FPÖ slowly recovered, adopting a more radical stance with a heightened focus on immigration with Strache claiming that a population exchange is under way. In 2016, amidst the migration crisis, FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer nearly won the presidential elections, finishing first in the initial round but ultimately losing the runoff with 49.7 percent of the vote. In the 2017 general election, FPÖ achieved 26 percent of the vote, approaching its best-ever result. Forming a coalition with the ÖVP for the second time, under the chancellorship of Sebastian Kurz, the government’s tenure was short-lived. The Ibiza affair, a significant scandal in Austrian history, resulted in the collapse of both the government and the leadership of the FPÖ. The scandal revealed, through a secretly recorded video, that Strache was willing to engage in corrupt activities in exchange for clandestine assistance with FPÖ’s election campaign.

Matthias Strolz, Heinz-Christian Strache, Christian Kern and Sebastian Kurz. Photo: SPÖ/Zach-Kiesling

Following snap elections in 2019, ÖVP formed a coalition with the Greens, marking a departure from the previous ÖVP-FPÖ coalition. Meanwhile, Strache was succeeded as FPÖ party leader by Hofer, who maintained the party’s political trajectory. In a notable speech in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hofer controversially stated that the Quran posed a greater threat to Austria than the coronavirus. 


The Ibiza scandal initially caused a sharp decline in FPÖ’s popularity, but the party has made a remarkable comeback since late 2022, consistently leading the polls ahead of the 2024 elections. In 2021, Herbert Kickl succeeded Hofer as party leader. Kickl, who previously served as interior minister, garnered attention for his controversial remarks about the European Convention on Human Rights, suggesting that legal structures hinder necessary actions and advocating for politics to dictate legal proceedings: “I believe that it is up to the law to follow politics and not for politics to follow the law”. 


During the pandemic, Kickl was among the harshest critics of the restrictions, refusing to wear a face mask in parliament, and spreading conspiracy theories on the vaccine.


FPÖ has always been right-leaning on economic issues, placing themselves just to the left of the ÖVP. FPÖ is among the more radical anti-immigration parties in Europe, and the issue has been important for them since the early 1990s. The pan-germanism of the party’s early years has been replaced by a more direct Austrian nationalism. FPÖ has continued to be supportive of Russia, even after the invasion of Ukraine. Kickl argued that Russia and Nato “shared responsibility” for the invasion, and when Zelensky held a speech in the Austrian Bundestag, Kickl and other FPÖ MP:s walked out.


Since 1990, Austria has consistently seen a right-wing majority in parliament, yet the ÖVP has opted to form a government with the populist right only on three occasions. This reflects the ambivalent stance within the ÖVP regarding alliances with right-wing parties

EP elections

Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 3/18


Since Austria joined the EU in 1995, FPÖ has held representation in the European Parliament. Initially, FPÖ MEPs were non-inscrits until the formation of the EFN in 2015, except for a brief period with the ITS group in 2007. The EP elections in 2019 occurred shortly after the Ibiza Affair, resulting in a poorer outcome for FPÖ than anticipated. They currently hold three seats in the ID group.

FPÖ summary

Economics: RIGHT
Social issues: MODERATE
Democratic credibility: LOW

KPÖ summary

Economics: LEFT
Social issues: PROGRESSIVE
Democratic credibility: MEDIUM