Recent regional elections in Austria bring sweeping gains for the Freedom Party. The party formerly lead by Jörg Haider almost doubled its votes in the regional states of Vorarlberg (25,1%) and Upper Austria (15,3%) in the elections on September 20 and 27, 2009. In both elections, the governing conservative Peoples Party was strengthened, while social democrats suffered massive losses.
After it had entered a governing coalition with the Peoples Party in 2000, the Freedom Party (FP) was wrought with internal conflict culminating in the break-up of the party in April 2005, when leading party members founded the new Alliance for the Future of Austria. Four years later, in 2009, the Freedom Party has consolidated under its new leader Heinz Christian Strache who once again focuses on anti-immigrant political rhetoric.
Research from the Austrian SORA Institute (EAPC member) reveals a massive gender gap among the FP electorate: more than two thirds of its voters are male. Furthermore, the party is significantly stronger among young voters (under 30 years old) and slightly stronger among blue-collar workers than other occupational groups. Law and order topics such as immigration and security were key issues for FP voters in both elections.
In the region of Vorarlberg, the FP was able to mobilise especially former non-voters with its campaign. In Upper Austria, on the other hand, the most substantial transfer of votes came from the social-democrats who had benefited from the FP losses in the previous election in 2003.