Over the past couple of months, I’ve written quite a bit in these pages about the electorate’s shift away from moderate political parties. I’ve also speculated on the proximate cause behind the semi-global populist uprising that swept Donald Trump into the White House and now threatens to tear the EU apart at the seams.
My contention, as regular readers are no doubt aware, is that circumstances have conspired to create an environment that’s ripe for exploitation by enterprising, would-be demagogues.
The (real or imagined) decline of the middle class in Western democracies, growing income inequality, terrorism, the free flow of people and capital across borders, and the perception that globalization has created more losers than winners in advanced economies are all factors that, when taken together, help to explain why voters have decided that their only way “out” (so to speak) is to support candidates that promise to effect change through radical agendas.
The point here however, isn’t to discuss the merits of this shift in voter sentiment, but rather to demonstrate, with a few simple charts, the gravity of what’s taken place. Have a look.
Figure 1 plots for 22 advanced countries the drop in the combined vote share of centre-right and centre-left political parties, or the political centre, versus three different benchmarks: the 1980s average, the 1990s average, and the post-2000 peak. In every country, at least two of the three measures show an erosion of the political centre.
Figure 2 charts a time series of the centre vote share in advanced economies, grouped by type, from 1970 to the present. While there has been a longer-term trend of mild erosion, a cross-country collapse in the political centre of the current scale has not occurred previously. Reviewing the entire post-WWII period, there is no other similar event. Nor was such a wide-ranging drop in the political centre visible during the inter-war, Great Depression years.
While centre parties on both sides of the political aisle have lost market share, the collapse on the left has been more severe, albeit from a higher level (Figure 4). In some cases, the collapse of the centre left has been deep enough to knock them out of contention to form a government, eg, in Greece and Spain. The greater collapse of the centre left is an important clue as to the source of voter rage, as is the consistency of polling showing that working class voters – the traditional base of the centre left – are most likely to defect to alternative parties.
This, Barclays says, is “the politics of rage – a long-gestated rejection of establishment centre- right and centre-left political parties across advanced economies.”
I contend this will ultimately prove to be a disastrous turn that will be looked down upon by history.