What does the re-election of President Duda mean for Poland and the EU?

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda has been re-elected for a second term (Walker, 2020). In this article, I will investigate the effects of Duda’s electoral campaign on Polish society and the implications of his re-election for Poland and the EU.

In his electoral campaign, Duda made use of an anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric which had a polarizing effect and consolidated anti-European attitudes (Zerka & Buras, 2020). Among his voters, he reinforced the notion that “Polish values are under threat in Europe” (Zerka & Buras, 2020). The President thus instrumentalized European problems for his purposes. Voters that support his party share traditional and nationalist values. Therefore, his anti-European strategy resonated well with his electorate. However, Duda not only stirred up hatred against the EU but also against the LGBT+ community. In his electoral campaign, Duda propagated traditional family values and made use of a homophobic rhetoric (Walker, 2020). His party condemned LGBT+ rights as a “foreign import that threatened Polish identity” (Henley, 2020). The President’s rhetoric received a great deal of attention in the older and Catholic electorate (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020).  Krawkow’s Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski even warned of a “rainbow plague” (Chadwick, 2019). This shows that Duda’s anti- LGBT+ rhetoric was particularly welcomed in conservative Catholic circles. Duda’s anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric thus further polarized the country. The societal division was especially clear due to the closeness of the election results. Duda’s opponent Rafal Trzaskowski secured 48,8% of the votes (Walker, 2020). The voter turnout was even above average with 68,18% showing the importance of the election (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020).

The Polish sociologist Maciej Gdula Duda is convinced that Duda’s welfare policy was a decisive factor for his electoral success (Broder, 2020). During his first term of office, Duda promoted direct benefit payments for families, which was highly appreciated (Broder, 2020). Furthermore, the PiS party was able to win voters from the working and middle class in rural areas by “promising to focus on their problems and to bring down the arrogant elites” (Ciobanu, 2020). Duda’s success was thus also based on his social policy and his positive attitude towards families.

Apart from its social policy, the President’s party, Law and Justice (PiS), characterized itself as fighting for Christianity “against foreign forces” (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). The national conservative party argued that “Germany and other outside powers were trying to meddle into Poland’s affairs” (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). This fight against foreign involvement was part of Duda’s strategy to distract from real problems.

In his campaign Duda was supported by public television (Walker, 2020). His liberal opponent, Trzaskowski, was frequently criticized or attacked, also for its positive attitude towards the LGBT+ community (Walker, 2020). The elections were thus held under an „unfair media environment“ (Tharoor, 2020). Despite these conditions, the opposition was able to secure a large amount of votes (around 48%). 

Duda’s re-election has several implications not only for Poland, but also for the European Union. Duda’s political agenda of the past years already suggests what he might plan for the future (Tharoor, 2020). He might adopt measures to further politicize and hollow out the judiciary and the media. The state’s system of checks and balances is expected to be further deteriorated and it is feared that democratic institutions are further dismantled as in Hungary (Henley, 2020). The re-election might thus put the Polish rule of law, judicial independence and media independence to the test. However, it also puts the European Union to the test (Zerka & Buras, 2020). The re-election makes it harder for the EU to guarantee that Polish citizens feel supported by the EU and to ensure the rule of law in the country (Zerka & Buras, 2020). Furthermore, it remains questionable whether President Duda will be able to persuade the European Union that minority rights are respected in Poland (Zerka & Buras, 2020). For the EU, Duda’s re-election raises important questions on how to respond to the politicisation of the judiciary and to the discrimination of minorities.

In conclusion, Duda’s anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric further polarized and divided the country. The fact that Duda’s opponent was supported by 48,8% shows how deeply divided the country is. Furthermore, Duda’s re-election is expected to put the Polish rule of law and independence of Poland’s judiciary to the test. The European Union is also put to the test as it is asked to find a response to these developments.

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Broder, D. (2020, July 16). Poland’s Far Right Is Distorting the Debate on Welfare – and Winning. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://jacobinmag.com/2020/07/poland-law-justice-party-andrzej-duda-lgbt

Chadwick, L. (2019, August 03). Archbishop warns of ‘rainbow plague’ amid LGBT tensions in Poland. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://www.euronews.com/2019/08/02/archbishop-warns-of-rainbow-plague-amid-lgbt-tensions-in-poland

Ciobanu, C. (2020, July 22). Election Blues: Why Poland’s Opposition Keeps Losing. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://balkaninsight.com/2020/07/22/election-blues-why-polands-opposition-keeps-losing/

Henley, J. (2020, July 13). Andrzej Duda’s re-election set to intensify Poland-EU tensions. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/13/andrzej-dudas-re-election-set-to-intensify-poland-eu-tensions

Pronczuk, M., & Santora, M. (2020, July 13). After tight race for Polish president, Andrzej Duda wins 2nd term. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/13/world/europe/poland-president-elections-Andrzej-Duda.html

Tharoor, I. (2020, July 15). Poland’s narrow election has big consequences for its democratic future. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/07/15/poland-election-duda-trump/

Walker, S. (2020, July 13). Duda narrowly re-elected in Poland in boost for ruling nationalists. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/13/incumbent-andrzej-duda-wins-polish-presidential-election-commission

Zerka, P., & Buras, P. (2020, July 14). Poland under Duda: A divided country, dividing Europe. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_poland_under_duda_a_divided_country_dividing_europe

A Comparison Between Right-Wing Populist Parties in Eastern and Western Europe

By Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In Western Europe right-wing populist parties are less influential than in Eastern Europe, but their popularity is continuously rising. During the last French presidential elections in 2017, for example, Marine le Pen from the right-wing populist party FN (Front National) progressed to the second-round run-off against president Emanuel Macron (Eiermann, Mounk & Gultchin, 2017, p. 9). Why are right-wing populist parties so successful in Eastern and Western Europe?

In states like Poland and Hungary right-wing populist parties are increasingly expanding their power and seem to be more anti-democratic at least in comparison with Western European populist parties (Allen, 2017, p. 277). They violate basic democratic principles as judicial independence and freedom of the press. However, the continuous destruction of the media is not only on the agenda of Eastern European populists, but also part of the policy of Western European populist parties (Eiermann, Mounk & Gultchin, 2017, p. 7). The effectiveness of Eastern European populist parties is particularly visible as populist parties were able to promote an anti-Muslim propaganda even if these countries were almost unaffected by Muslim immigration (Kende & Krekó, 2020, p. 31). Why were populist right-wing parties as PIS (Poland) and Fidesz (Hungary) so successful with their anti-Muslim rhetoric? Throughout history post-communist countries experienced not only threats to their territorial integrity, but also threats to their national integrity. These insecurities concerning their sovereignty contributed to an increased fear of the loss of national identity. Since that time, populist right-wing parties were able to easily manipulate people psychologically with the help of these consolidated fears. This also explains why these parties were able to easily mobilise against minorities as the Roma or the Jews (Kende & Krekó, 2020, p. 30). The refugee crisis in 2015 was thus an ideal tool to promote an anti-Muslim propaganda even though these countries were almost unaffected by Muslim immigration. Particularly in this case the influence and power of the right-wing parties is very extreme as even in the absence of terrorism and immigrants, fears were easily fuelled by the populists. With the help of the anti-Muslim rhetoric populist right-wing parties as PIS (Poland) and Fidesz (Hungary) successfully secured their power in government. They effectively capitalised from the people’s historically consolidated fears (Kende & Krekó, 2020, p. 31).

In Western European countries right-wing populist parties are also on the rise. In Western Europe, their success lies amongst others in the voter’s political frustration. In the view of the electorate that turned to populist parties, traditional parties were unable to deal with current political challenges as for example immigration and European integration. The disenchanted electorate is therefore more prone to accept the radical solutions proposed by populist right-wing parties (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2007, p.1).

Interestingly, the most successful populist parties are those which effectively employ the rhetoric of democracy. Therefore, populist parties try to justify discriminatory policies with the claim to defend Western values. This rhetoric adaption plays an important role in their attempt to appear as a mainstream party (Halikiopoulou, 2018, p. 2). Part of this strategy is also the promotion of direct democracy, including the idea of a referendum, for example. In this manner, right-wing populist parties claim to promote the will of the people. The longevity of a party generally depends on the party’s success to recruit potential voters. For this reason, the talent of the party leader to persuade and socialise sympathisers represents a crucial factor. Socially disadvantaged groups generally represent an important target group (Pauwels, 2014, p. 7). However, different populist parties attract different social classes. Some right-wing parties mainly focus on the lower-class whereas others focus on the middle-class (Betz, 1993, p. 676).

Overall, right-wing populist parties differ significantly with regard to their rhetoric, target group, ideology and agenda (Halikiopoulou, 2018, p. 3). Due to their disrespect for minorities, pluralism and the rule of law, populism is essentially illiberal (Mudde, 2016, p. 28). A very important shared trait is their exclusionary agenda and their claim to fight for the will of the people (Immerzeel & Muis , 2017, p. 910). The reasons for the popularity of right-wing populist parties are slightly different in Eastern and Western European countries. In Western Europe, the popularity of right-wing populist parties lies in the voter’s political frustration whereas in Eastern Europe, right-wing populist parties are particularly successful due to their anti-Muslim rhetoric which effectively fuels historically consolidated fears.

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash


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