A guide to the upcoming Dutch parliamentary election

Posted by Paul, 2017-03-05

On March 15, the Netherlands are holding a general election to elect all 150 members of its House of Representatives. Opinion polls taken during the first half of 2016 indicated that Geert Wilders’ right-wing nationalist Party for Freedom would win a large plurality of the seats in the House, but more recent reports have suggested that their lead has dwindled.

Let’s review the Dutch electoral and party system, review the recent opinion polls and otherwise prepare you for your Dutch election results viewing party.

Electoral system

The Dutch electoral system assigns the 150 seats using proportional representation. First, a quota is determined equal to the total number of valid votes divided by 150. Then, each party receiving at least that number of votes is assigned a number of seats equal to their number of votes divided by that quota, rounded down.

For example, in the most recent election, 9,424,235 votes were cast. 9,424,235 divided by 150 (the number of seats) equals 62,828. The largest party received 2,504,938 votes, which results in them being assigned 39 seats at this stage.

However, since all the numbers are rounded down, something has to be done with the residual seats, of which there are usually on the order of half a dozen. These are then assigned using the D’Hondt method. This process involves taking the number of votes received for each party individually and then dividing that by the number of seats assigned to that party so far (plus one). Then the party with the highest resulting quotient (the result of the division) gets that extra seat. This makes sure to always give the next extra seat to the party with the fewest seats per vote. This process gets repeated until all remaining seats are assigned.

The seats are assigned to individuals using a party list, where parties submit lists of candidates in an order. For example, on a list of 150 candidates, if your party wins 43 seats, the first 43 candidates on the list are declared elected. However, we’re not quite done yet, because candidates can be moved up and down the list in the Netherlands by voters who can assign votes to specific candidates in addition to parties.


As a result of their highly proportional system with a low threshold for receiving a seat, the Netherlands has many parties who might end up in the House of Representatives. According to polls released in the last few months, at least 7 parties are expected to win at least 10 of the 150 seats. (The seat counts in parentheses are the range of forecasts from polls taken since February 15. The arrows compare their 2012 result with polling numbers from the last few weeks.)

↑↑ Party for Freedom (20-29 seats): Led by Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom is a far-right, nationalist party that wishes to withdraw the Netherlands from the EU. In the European Parliament, they are part of the Europe of Nations and Freedom parliamentary group, alongside the Freedom Party of Austria, the French National Front, and the Alternative for Germany. Sometimes called the Donald Trump of the Netherlands. They initially supported the Rutte government from 2010 to 2012, withdrawing over concerns about austerity measures. In 2012, they won 15 seats.

↓↓ People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (22-28 seats): The VVD, led by incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte, is a centre-right party aligned in the European Parliament with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, which contains parties like Germany’s Free Democratic Party or the British Liberal Democrats. They are currently in coalition with the centre-left Labour Party. In 2012, they won 41 seats.

↑↑ Christian Democratic Appeal (16-21 seats): The CDA is a centrist, Christian democratic party. Formed as a merger of the successful Catholic People's Party with two Protestant Parties in 1977, the CDA, a regular governing coalition member, won 13 seats in 2012.

↑↑ Democrats 66 (14-20 seats): Created in, of all years, 1966, D66 is a centrist party in favour of introducing democratic reforms. At their peak in 1994, when they won 24 seats, they generally win between 6 and 12. In 2012, they won a dozen seats.

↑↑ GreenLeft (13-20 seats): An environmentally focused party, their seat count of 4 in 2012 saw the party reach their historic low. Polling suggests that 2017 might end up being their best election ever, with the party potentially besting their 1998 seat haul of 11.

↓↓ Socialist Party (10-16 seats): Serving in opposition from their first entry into the House in 1994, they peaked in 2004 at 25 seats. Led by Emile Roemer (and Tiny Kox in the Senate), they are on the far left of Dutch elected parties.

↓↓ Labour Party (11-14 seats): As a major part of the grand coalition with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, the Labour Party is facing electoral disaster: averaging 40 seats over the last ten elections, they seem on course to lose more than half of their seats this time. They have been led by Lodewijk Asscher, the Deputy Prime Minister under Rutte, since December 2016. They won 38 seats in 2012.

↑↑ Other parties (21-27 seats): A larger number of parties (including the ChristianUnion, the Reformed Political Party, the Party for the Animals, 50PLUS as well as several others) appear to be on track to each win a handful of seats, up from their collective count of 12 in 2012.

Opinion polls

Through much of 2012, it seemed like the Wilders-led Party for Freedom would by-far win the largest number of seats (though it would still have been difficult for them to find too many enthusiastic coalition partners). However, in recent polls, they drawn close with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Christian Democratic Appeal, with a few of the other parties hardly far behind.

The big question will be to see on election night whether the polling shift has been real, or is the result of poll respondents no longer feeling that it is socially undesirable to admit support for party most enthusiastically compared to Donald Trump.

Read about what happens when a by-election has two candidates-- but only one voter.