State conservation programmes seek to mitigate climate change effects, one of which is biodiversity loss. Biodiversity restoration implies the introduction of extinct species. However, return or rapid growth of some species, such as wolves and wild boars, is associated with some negative consequences. Not all welcomed the new situation. Concerning wolves, attacks on herds caused complaints and reactions by farmers.

Thanks to conservation programs, the wolf (Canis lupus) has made successfuly and rapidly return in Central Europe. Germany experienced a spectacular come back of a wild animal that was considered extinct for several decades. Nevertheless, the animals should look for prey. Thus, while environmentalists rejoiced, local farmers considered the wolf a threat to their properties. The case emerged as an ideal opportunity for political exploitation, and the far-right AfD started to invest in the “fear of wolf.”

Did this policy, which is associated with the anti-environmentalist views of the party, bring votes to the German far-right? Did the farmers and residents respond positively to the anti-wolf campaign of AfD?

A recent study by Bernhard Clemm von Hohenberg and Anselm Hager, Wolf attacks predict far-right voting, suggests that “the wolf’s reemergence is a plausible source for far-right voting behavior.” [https://www.pnas.org/eprint/6SKFARH4WF3RDM38VKDV/full]

“Does the return of the wolf affect politics? 🚨 Across Europe, the wolf has made an impressive comeback, which has created significant tensions. How does this conflict play out electorally? @Anselmhager and I seek answers in a new @PNASNews paper,” tweeted Bernhard Clemm.

The study explores the relationship between wolf attacks and far-right voting behaviour by establishing a municipality-level panel in Germany relying on detailed local-level spatial data on wolf attacks.

“Using difference-in-differences models, we find that wolf attacks are accompanied by a significant rise in far-right voting behavior, while the Green party, if anything, suffers electoral losses,” write the two scholars.

The study analysed Twitter posts, election manifestos, and Facebook ads to demonstrate that AfD politicians depict the wolf as a threat to economic sources.

“Municipalities exposed to wolf attacks on livestock witness significantly rising vote shares of the far-right AfD (which first ran in 2013), as hypothesized in our preanalysis plan,” write Bernhard Clemm and Anselm Hager. “In federal elections—our preferred outcome given that they take place in all municipalities at the same time—the AfD gains between 1 and 2 percentage points once a wolf has attacked. In state-level elections, the coefficient is significantly larger, suggesting that the far-right AfD gains over 5 percentage points after a wolf attack.”

The two scientists collected 29,045 survey responses from an online panel by Civey to a question about whether “economic growth and environmental protection are compatible.”

“We geocoded these responses, constructed a weekly panel, and estimated a consistent negative coefficient: Wolf attacks make people less likely to support environmental protection compared to economic growth, which plausibly leads them to support the antienvironmental AfD. Second, we studied the AfD’s communication regarding the wolf, drawing on three data sources.”

Thus, AfD exploits wolf attacks to increase its political influence and advance policies against environmental protection. Thanks to this study, we have another piece of the complex political puzzle of the German far-right.