Life after scandal for Austria’s Freedom Party

Time and time again during my first month as an ICWA fellow, focusing on the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), books I read or people I spoke with mentioned the ways in which Germany’s populist party had learned from its counterpart in Austria, the Freedom Party (FPÖ). So after my trip to Cottbus to talk to AfD voters, I booked myself a ticket to Vienna to explore these connections.

What I didn’t count on at the time, however, was a massive scandal a few days later that brought down FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache and, shortly thereafter, the entire Austrian government (more on that here).

It turns out dealing with the fallout of a major scandal is a great way to observe a party’s communication strategies and rhetorical tactics in action, so I was still able to explore my original topic. My reporting took me to a demonstration-turned-concert for the late 90s/early 2000s Dutch dance pop sensation the Vengaboys, to party and campaign offices, to a full sampling of Vienna’s world-renowned coffeehouses.

Ultimately, it seemed like the FPÖ’s strategies, often emulated by the AfD, were a big part of why many of the FPÖ’s voters were sticking by it — and why there’s a decent chance they could end up back in government in some way after September’s snap elections.

You can read my dispatch for ICWA here.

Campaign posters for the FPÖ, featuring ex-leader Heinz-Christian Strache, in Vienna