Dutch parties woo older voters
By Peter Teffer
Dutch MP Henk Krol does not shy away from hyperbole.
“All affairs that affect the elderly, whether it is their state pension, private pensions, health care, were all absolutely taboo during the previous elections,” he told EUobserver recently.
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That statement is at best an exaggeration, and at worst a lie.
The major parties all had elderly-related plans in their electoral programmes ahead of the 2012 general election, and there was considerable time spent at television debates on issues affecting Dutch senior citizens.
But the statement fits perfectly within Krol's main message, which is that only his party defends the interests of older Dutch people. His party even has an age threshold in its name: 50PLUS.
“The 50PLUS party was founded by people who thought the elderly had lost their voice in the lower house of the Dutch parliament,” said Krol in an interview on the streets of Amsterdam, where he was trying to win voters at a popular market.
“The example is standing in front of you, because I am the oldest member of the Dutch parliament,” said Krol, 66 years old.
That is only true for the lower house of the Dutch parliament – the upper house, or senate, has sixteen members who are older than Krol, including two 50PLUS senators. But it is true that Dutch MPs in the lower house are, on average, among the youngest in Europe.
Krol is currently his party's only MP in the 150-seat lower house, but after the 15 March elections that could be increased to between four and six seats, according to polls.
50PLUS has the theoretical advantage that the number of its potential voters is only increasing, at least for now, thanks to the ageing of the baby boom generation that was born shortly after World War II.
In 2005, 32.7 percent of the Dutch population was 50 years or older, according to Eurostat figures. Last year, that share had risen to 38.8 percent. The EU average, which was 39.3 percent in 2016.
Political parties appear to be aware of the fact that senior citizens have an increasing political clout. Several campaign promises so far have specifically targeted the older share of the population.
Krol thinks that it is thanks to 50PLUS that other parties take notice of older people in the electorate.
“Because of the fact that we are running, you see all parties presenting beautiful plans for the generation of 50 years and older, two weeks before the elections. And what have those parties done in the past? Nothing,” he said.
Copying the animal-rights party
“You saw the same with the Party for Animals, suddenly all the other parties became more animal-friendly,” Krol noted.
The Party for Animals, which has been trying to put animal rights on the political agenda since 2002, has been represented with two MPs since 2006.
50PLUS was elected to the lower house in 2012 for the first time, and won two seats - although it lost one of them in 2014 when one of its MPs split and began his own party.
The Dutch electoral system makes it easier for parties focussed primarily on a single issue to achieve electoral representation than in many other EU countries.
A party needs only 0.7 percent of all votes cast to win a seat – a much lower threshold compared to Germany's and Poland's 5 percent.
However, just calling yourself 50PLUS is not enough to appeal to everyone over the age of 50.
Yvonne Christ, aged 57, told EUobserver she would “absolutely not” vote for 50PLUS. “It does not appeal to me at all,” she said. Until now, she had often voted for prime minister Mark Rutte's centre-right Liberals, but is tempted to vote for the centre-left Labour party.
She spoke to EUobserver in Amsterdam, during the break of a political event organised by a network of unemployed people over the age of 50, who meet every month.
Prejudices about old people
Christ said that employers often think that people over 50 are too expensive to hire, or are too old to keep up.
“When they see that I'm from 1960, they often think: that's an old harridan. When they meet me, they see that I am not old. But the prejudice is there,” she said.
The event was attended by around one hundred people, who were asked to participate in a mini-poll, the results of which were immediately shown on a screen.
Of the 39 who went online to give their preference, none said they intended to vote for the 50PLUS party. Instead, the left-wing GreenLeft and Socialist parties came out on-top, with 9 and 8 votes respectively.
It showed that the 50PLUS party will not automatically win the votes of those in the targeted age group.
Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb told EUobserver on Tuesday that he saw national politics becoming “more segmented”.
But he also noted that voters think about more than just their personal interests.
“That elderly voter may also have grandchildren, who need education, or has an aunt who is chronically ill,” said Aboutaleb.
However, it can also not be excluded that Krol's party receives votes from younger people.
During his canvassing in Amsterdam, EUobserver could see him talk jovially to a girl, who said she had tried an online voting aid and found she most agreed with the 50PLUS party.
Unfortunately for Krol, though, she was not 18 years old yet and could not vote.