The Freedom Party was founded in 1955, and initially held liberal political views. In 1970 Haider became the leader of the FPÖ youth movement. Haider rose rapidly through the party ranks, becoming party leader in 1986.
The Freedom Party attracted protest votes and those who desire no association with the other major parties. The party's mixture of populism and anti-establishment themes propagated by its aggressive leader steadily gained support over the years. It attracted about 27% of the vote in the 1999 elections.
In 2000, Haider's Freedom Party and the People's Party joined to form a coalition government. This caused widespread outrage in Europe, and 14 European states initiated diplomatic sanctions against Austria.
In 2001, Haider stepped down from the leadership of the Freedom Party. This was widely seen as a cynical move to appease foreign criticism, as he appeared to continue to control the party from behind the scenes.
In November 2002, general elections in Austria resulted in a landslide victory (42.27% of the vote) of the conservative People's Party led by Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. Haider's Freedom Party, which in 1999 was stronger than Schüssel's party, was reduced to 10.16% of the vote.