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Left for Dead in Far-Right Times? The Decline of Social Democracy and the Rise of the Far-Right in Western Europe

Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 12:45pm to 2:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

Far-right political parties have recently been on the rise throughout Western Europe while social democratic parties have experienced an electoral decline. By asking what the roots of the far-right’s success are, why social democratic parties have lost ground, and if these developments are related, this talk explores one of the most topical areas in contemporary European politics. How has partisan attachment to social democratic/ far-right parties developed over time? Which policy positions have led to electoral success/debacles for social democratic/far-right parties? Where are social democratic/far-right parties ideologically located relative to their partisans/voters? How do social democratic/far-right parties explain their gains/losses? Which voters do social democratic/far-right parties target? I argue that in those countries where social democracy is on decline, social democrats have lost more partisans and remaining partisans’ attachment to social democratic parties is also weaker due to structural causes such as the erosion of working-class milieus. As strongly attached partisans vote for parties no matter how big the policy distance between them and the party is, weaker ties between partisans and social democratic parties mean less ideological flexibility. This flexibility is necessary to catch non-partisan floating voters. Parties are dependent on these volatile voters, as no party can win an election based on their core electorate alone. Floating voters then get targeted by the far-right instead. Where social democracy has lost fewer partisans, it enjoys the flexibility of ideologically adapting to floating voters and leaves no room for the far-right. How well parties have understood this, also affects their fate. 

Mona Krewel, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), Director of the Internet, Social Media, and Politics Research Lab (ISPRL), Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Cornell University

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Institute for European Studies, Government


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Maeve Coughlin

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Mona Krewel

Speaker Affiliation

Victoria University of Wellington

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