Geert Wilders, loved and loathed
Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders has come in second in two polls for politician of the year. A panel of Dutch television viewers said he is the second best politician this year, while Wilders' colleagues in parliament named him the second worst.
Quite a discrepancy. But, actually, not so surprising. It is yet more evidence of the gap between the public and the elite.
Next prime minister
Geert Wilders has made the disillusionment of many Dutch voters his reason for being. He is always ready to fight the establishment in the name of the little guy.
Part of the success of his Freedom Party movement comes from his style of speaking directly to the public. The simple, sometimes crude, language he uses on the floor of parliament has brought reprimands from his colleagues, and praise from his followers.
And it's his followers that have put Wilders and his Freedom Party in a very strong position: second in European elections last spring, the largest party in the country for the last six months, according to one national opinion pollster. Wilders himself openly speculates about becoming the next prime minister.
Other political parties are having a tough time dealing with that scenario. The Freedom Party has been accused of having just one issue: anti-Islam. And it is precisely his fervent, if not radical, opposition to outward displays of Islam that brings condemnation from other politicians.
For instance, when Wilders proposed a tax on women who wear a Muslim headscarf, calling it a 'rag-head tax', other politicians felt Wilders had finally gone too far.
A blogger subtitled Geert Wilders' speech in parliament criticising the Dutch government's 2010 budget.
Wilders has been successful, but he doesn't owe his success solely to good political tactics. The gulf between the Dutch public and the élite has been wide, and growing, for years now. Voters are no longer faithful to one party; they no longer feel rooted in any particular ideology.
Academics and pollsters have been studying this gulf since the late 1990s. Pim Fortuyn was the first politician to appeal directly to these floating voters, but he was murdered just before elections in the spring of 2002. Since then, voters have been party hopping much more than in decades past, and the established parties have suffered.
Can be both
But whether or not Geert Wilders' popular success is due to his own talents, or to public disillusionment with the powers-that-be, in the end it is not so uncommon for politicians to be chosen best and worst in the same year.
The year-end polls ask people to choose both whom they think is best, and separately whom they think is worst. Both Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Finance Minister Wouter Bos have been in the top three and bottom three many times. It is a sign of recognition, a consequence of being outspoken and involved in the topics of the day. That triggers approval in some, rejection in others.
In that light, Wilders can take solace. He did not come in second in all this years' polls. The very public who narrowly voted him second best politician of the year, also voted him as the outright winner for the worst politician of the year.
Of course, the only poll that counts is the ballot box. National elections must take place within the next 17 months - then we will see just how large the gap is between the public and the élite.