[It is far less clear that the political circuit breakers in places like France or Italy will similarly hold back a populist movement. They have already blown in Britain, where the incautious choice of a yes-no referendum on Europe removed the usual electoral safeguards, and in the United States, where the Electoral College has twice overridden the popular vote since 2000.]
By Alissa J. Rubin
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands gave a victory speech in
The Hague on Wednesday. Credit Carl Court/Getty Images
THE HAGUE — If there is one thing the Dutch agree on, it is to preserve the dikes that protect this low-lying country from the ravages of violent seas. That sentiment translates into politics.
For the Dutch, both the British vote to leave the European Union and Donald J. Trump’s election in the United States broke political dikes, leaving the Dutch ill at ease with the conflict and uncertainty that has ensued.
That, some analysts said, helps explain why the Dutch ultimately chose to contain the populist surge led by Geert Wilders, the far-right icon, in their elections on Wednesday.
“In Europe we all see the developments in the United States, and that’s not where we want to go because we see it as chaos,” said Janka Stoker, a professor in the School of Economics and Business at the University of Groningen in the north of the Netherlands.
“We’re a coalition country, we don’t always like the coalitions, but we know it gives stability and people know here that we have to work together,” Ms. Stoker said.
It is hard to say if the same feeling will prevail in other European countries holding elections this year. The Netherlands, a nation of essentially liberal social instincts, is some barometer, but an imperfect one, with its proportional electoral system that dissipates power and enforces cooperation.
It is far less clear that the political circuit breakers in places like France or Italy will similarly hold back a populist movement. They have already blown in Britain, where the incautious choice of a yes-no referendum on Europe removed the usual electoral safeguards, and in the United States, where the Electoral College has twice overridden the popular vote since 2000.
So while the sense of relief among European-minded politicians and voters was palpable on Thursday after the Dutch vote, Europe — its project of integration, its unity, its political ideals — was by no means free of populist threats.
Even if the Dutch refused to hand a big win to Mr. Wilders, they backed center right parties that adopted some of his positions and language in order to win.
Over all, right-leaning parties, including the parties defined as populist by academics and pollsters, gained seven seats in the Dutch Parliament, giving them 57 percent of the 150-member body in this election, in contrast to 52.6 percent in the last election when they had 79 seats. At the same time, one of the oldest Dutch political forces, the mainstream left Labor Party, cratered.
The result all but guarantees that policies toward immigrants and Muslims will be more restrictive, though less than if Mr. Wilders were running the Dutch government.
Yet there are several signs the “Trump effect” that was once expected to carry similarly minded populists is less powerful, or even having the opposite impact, several analysts and pollsters said.
Similarly, the British vote to leave the European Union, known as Brexit, may look less inviting as a model as the reality of its messiness comes into view.
Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research organization, said the “Trump factor” had played a role in “making people think twice about voting for a populist, as people have seen that if you elect a populist you can get all kinds of wacky policies.”
“At the same time,” he added, “we have seen a drop in populism in Europe since Brexit, as citizens have realized that, while a protest vote is fun, it can lead to the uncertainties of Brexit, which are not funny at all. That helped shift the mood in the Netherlands.”
In polls in the Netherlands that looked at perceptions of Mr. Wilders before and after Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Wilders did significantly better before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, said Maurice de Hond, one of the Netherlands’ most seasoned pollsters.
“The reason Wilders ended in second place has to do with Trump,” he said, noting that there were other factors, like Mr. Wilders missing early debates.
Not everyone agrees, and some analysts underscored that all politics are local. More important than Brexit or Mr. Trump may have been last weekend’s diplomatic spat with Turkey, which gave the center-right party a lift after it took a strong stand against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president.
“It’s not just that the Netherlands was not that concerned with Trump and Brexit, it’s that there’s a provincialism about these European elections,” said E.C. Hendriks, a Dutch researcher in social sciences and cultural anthropology who is now at Peking University in Beijing. “Really, everyone is on his island.”
Certainly, there are factors in both France and Germany that make their respective elections idiosyncratic and potentially less affected by the American and British political winds.
Nonetheless, in France it is striking that for the most part Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, has steered clear of analogies between her politics and those of Mr. Trump.
“Geert Wilders, the Le Pen Dutch equivalent, spoke a lot about Trump, he praised him on the Muslim ban and was one of the few European political figures to praise that ban,” said Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director of the German Marshall Fund office in Paris. “Le Pen was quieter, I think she understood that to be too close to Trump right now when his administration was in a chaotic phase was not to her advantage.”
Some Dutch voters said they took Mr. Trump’s sometimes bellicose tone seriously, and consciously voted for parties that supported the European Union because they believe that Europe is stronger together and better able to stand up to the United States under Mr. Trump.
For similar reasons, some said, they did not favor Brexit. “I don’t like Brexit, it weakened the system, it weakened the European Union and indirectly the Netherlands,” said Max den Voort, 19, a student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Delft.
The Green Party, led by 30-year-old Jesse Klaver, was an unexpected winner, scoring the biggest parliamentary gains on the left. The D66 party also had a successful showing, getting the left’s largest share of votes. Both parties are pro-Europe.
One important difference between the Netherlands and countries that vote later this year is that the Dutch have already had experience with populists in government, said Ronald Kroeze, a political historian at the Free University of Amsterdam.
Mr. Wilders was part of the governing coalition in 2010, but when it came to supporting austerity measures in the wake of the recession, he refused to go along. That left the impression he was not serious about governing.
In contrast, France and Germany have no direct recent experience with populist leadership and they may be more open to it as a result.
Regardless, the continent seems to be moving in an anti-immigrant direction that relies more on identity politics, Ms. Hoop de Scheffer said.
“The mainstream parties are now stealing parts of the populist discourse, and this is undermining the attraction of the populist parties,” she said. “But it’s a dangerous game because it almost normalizes these ideas.”
Reporting was contributed by Milan Schreuer in Delft, Christopher F. Schuetze in Utrecht, and Dan Bilefsky in London.