UCL European Institute


Political Entrepreneurs: The Rise of Challenger Parties in Europe

27 January 2021, 6:00 pm–7:15 pm

UCL's European Politics Series

Professor Sara Hobolt discusses the rise of challenger parties in European politics.

This event is free.

Event Information

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Claudia Sternberg

This talk is based on Sara Hobolt's new book with Catherine De Vries.

ABSTRACT: Challenger parties are on the rise in Europe, exemplified by the likes of Podemos in Spain, the National Rally in France, the Alternative for Germany, or the Brexit Party in Great Britain. Like disruptive entrepreneurs, these parties offer new policies and defy the dominance of established party brands. In the face of these challenges and a more volatile electorate, mainstream parties are losing their grip on power. In this book, Catherine De Vries and Sara Hobolt explore why some challenger parties are so successful and what mainstream parties can do to confront these political entrepreneurs.

Drawing analogies with how firms compete, De Vries and Hobolt demonstrate that political change is as much about the ability of challenger parties to innovate as it is about the inability of dominant parties to respond. Challenger parties employ two types of innovation to break established party dominance: they mobilize new issues, such as immigration, the environment, and Euroscepticism, and they employ antiestablishment rhetoric to undermine mainstream party appeal. Unencumbered by government experience, challenger parties adapt more quickly to shifting voter tastes and harness voter disenchantment. Delving into strategies of dominance versus innovation, the authors explain why European party systems have remained stable for decades, but also why they are now increasingly under strain.

As challenger parties continue to seek to disrupt the existing order, Political Entrepreneurs shows that their ascendency fundamentally alters government stability and democratic politics.


Headshot of Sara Hobolt
Professor Sara Hobolt is the Sutherland Chair of European Institutions at the London School of Economics. She has published six books and over 60 journal articles on elections, referendums, parties and European politics. Her most recent book is 'Political Entrepreneurs. The Rise of Challenge Parties in Europe' (Princeton University Press, 2020, with Catherine De Vries). Sara is the Chair of the European Election Studies (EES), a Europe-wide project studying voters, parties, candidates and the media in European Parliamentary elections.

Chair: Christopher Wratil

Find more information on the UCL European Politics Series, including our full preliminary programme, here.

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