Why so centrist?
July 2, 2010 1:48 AM   Subscribe

Are there any democracies which consistently vote for centre-left or progressive governments? Are there any which consistently favour right-wing governments? Plus a bonus question.

Sweden is an example of a democracy which has tended to favour centre-left governments. Are there others? What about right-favouring countries? Japan is perhaps an example, although the opposition kept out of power for so long was not really centre-left.

Bonus question. In the UK, Tories fear a proportional representation voting system because it might keep them out of power for decades (and if you re-run past voting patterns using a PR model, that's quite plausible). But do they really have anything to fear -- it seems to me that most democracies, regardless of voting system or demographics or national character, seem to reach an equilibrium with centre-left and centre-right rotating government every 10 years or so. Is this indeed the case? If so, why is it so rare for democracies to systematically favour the centre-left or centre-right? And is David Cameron worrying needlessly about PR?
posted by dontjumplarry to Law & Government (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Left and right depend on where you are standing. I think many Canadians consider the Liberal Party (Aka Canada's ruling party) as centre left with progressive social and foreign policies but more right wing economic policies. Personally, I think they are a right-wing party and the current PM is far right-wing, but I have heard he is considered left of Obama.

PR in Canada will definately impact regional parties. The Bloc are only in one province yet have a huge impact on our politics.
posted by saucysault at 2:18 AM on July 2, 2010


Do you mean left and right in a global sense, or just internally? Because the Democratic and Republican parties are pretty much center-right and extreme-right compared to the rest of the world (the odd Kucinich or Bernie Sanders notwithstanding).
posted by Rhaomi at 2:31 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Couple of things.

I think it's probably wrong, at least over the long term, to say that "Sweden... has tended to favour centre-left governments." Sweden might consistently favor governments and policies that you, as a non-Swede, think of as center-left, but Swedes might regard them as simply centrist. (I don't really know anything about Swedish politics, but I am 1/4 Swedish...)

why is it so rare for democracies to systematically favour the centre-left or centre-right?

Because parties keep tweaking their platforms to appeal to the centrist voters they need in order to get elected. Whatever party is in power gets blamed, rightly or wrongly, for whatever goes wrong while they're in power, until enough centrist voters jump to the other side and tip the scales the other way.

In the UK, Tories fear a proportional representation voting system because it might keep them out of power for decades... But do they really have anything to fear...?

Don't know that much about UK politics either, but I'd guess that what they have to fear is that they'd need to move their platform towards the left to stay competitive. This would mean giving up on some principles and positions which they hold dear, and embracing some ideas they find distasteful.
posted by jon1270 at 2:45 AM on July 2, 2010


it seems to me that most democracies, regardless of voting system or demographics or national character, seem to reach an equilibrium with centre-left and centre-right rotating government every 10 years or so.

Similar to what jon1270 said, I think this is more to do with:
a) non-PR systems tent tp end up with 2 major parties
b) the switch every 10 years is down to the opposition winning over the not-dedicated-to-one-side voters with their "the current government is fucking everything up!" arguments.
c) ten years after b), the situation is reversed.

So I think it's more down to a 2 party system being the default situation, and every ten years the voters get fed up and vote for the opposition, rather than voters switching back and forth between a centre-left option and a centre-right option because they specifically favour centre-left, then favour centre-right, then left, and so on.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:10 AM on July 2, 2010


In the UK, Tories fear a proportional representation voting system because it might keep them out of power for decades... But do they really have anything to fear...?

It wouldn't just keep the Tories out, of course. Boundaries and constituency sizes mean that Labour is actually the largest beneficiary of the current system. In any modern election, if Labour and the Tories won identical numbers of votes, Labour would win far more seats.

By US standards, the UK votes left of center pretty regularly in the sense that our Conservative party is to the left of the Democrats. This coalition government is, in many respects, further away from the Republican Party than Tony Blair's government.

What is funny to get to grips with is that as Labour moved right, the Liberal Democrats moved leftwards. But fundamentally it is a party aimed at the middle class and was not traditionally as left of centre as it is now.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:17 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The answer to this question is "Yes, by definition."

The way we measure left and right on an international sense is by comparing it to what other countries do. So if you ask "Are there countries that tend to vote for leftist governments," well, obviously, because some countries are to the left of most other countries, even if by some "objective" standard--or more usefully, historical standard--they don't seem terribly leftist.

So, for example, Sweden is generally considered a center-left country, because its policies are to the left of most other countries today, but it's definitely centrist if not a little right wing when you compare it to 1950s Russia. Then again, even the US--generally considered a center-right country on the whole, is radically leftist compared to sixteenth-century France. That's why most people limit the scope to the current situation, which reduces the question to a tautology.

In short: this is chatfilter. You've got too many questions mucking about in there, most of which are either 1) tautological, 2) far too academic for something like AskMe, or 3) entirely speculative.
posted by valkyryn at 3:18 AM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ireland is worth looking into for an example of consistent centrist to firm to neo-liberal right governance over the Republic's existence. Ireland consistently favours coalition governments dominated by right-wing parties - and thats because the two biggest parties in the state (Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael) are right-wing. At the moment, FF are in government with the Greens for the first time (and with one Independent who used to be in the freemarket fanatical, socially conservative, Progressive Democrats who they were in power with since 1997). although the Greens have passed some good legislation while in government, they are hopelessly compromised by their association with FF, who have made some of the most ideologically based decisions in relation to the financial crisis in Europe, including the setting up of NAMA. Fine Gael recently had an internal schism, attempting to throw out their leader Enda Kenny, and then re-elected him, although his presence is widely blamed (even within the party) for the routing they got in the 2007 general election, when it was said that the people threw out the opposition. Ireland still favours this two party system of clowns because they emerged from the civil war and people vote for them in a traditional fashion because their granny did, particularly in rural areas. It isn't a commitment to right wing government as such, just a general inertia, dearth of ideas, and fear of change. Many people (particularly the under 40s in urban areas, who are better educated and travelled and have higher standard of living expectations than ever before) would like a good left-liberal alternative, but any time Labour or the Greens get into government, its always with a bigger right wing party who mostly compromise them.

It is much harder to be on the left here than it is in many continental European countries or even in the UK - your expectations of what a leftwing or even liberal party can do in government always become very checked.

There were some very interesting articles about the state of Britain and what might happen next in the London Review of Books about a month ago or so, which speculated a bit on what direction both Labour and the Tories would go next
posted by iamnotateenagegirl at 3:19 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


In Holland we are still in the awkward process of forming a coalition government. There is no majority in parliament for two or three likely allies. This possibly boils down to a bizarre situation where sworn enemies are forced to cooperate in a majority government. Part of the confusion among the voters here, lately, is that the traditional barriers between left and right have crumbled and that before the elections mayor parties announced that they were willing to put up every point of view for negotiation. I kid you not. Even blonde-by-choice-media-superstar-slash-obnoxious-asshole Geert Wilders, gave in on his promises (a pension for everybody at 65) even before the negotiations started. The result is an incomprehensible mess, where left and right are merely vague indicators for the original party program.
To add to the confusion. Our Liberal Party are traditionally at the rights side of the Dutch political spectrum and Republicans don't have a political party, but the movement itself attracts a lot of traditional left-wingers (we still do have this thing called a queen you know).
So if you think you have got your left/right theory covered, google for the latest Dutch political news and you can start all over again.
posted by ouke at 5:50 AM on July 2, 2010


Until every adult actually exercises their right to vote we can't really know...
posted by mareli at 6:31 AM on July 2, 2010


The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, a center-right party by Japanese standards, ruled almost continuously for 54 years until 2009. In that time it was out of power for only 11 months between 1993 and 1994. Remember, of course, that Japanese government changed radically post-WWII, so the LDP has ruled Japan for almost the entire time its current system of government has been in existence. That's probably one of the best examples of what you're asking about.
posted by jedicus at 7:01 AM on July 2, 2010


The way we measure left and right on an international sense is by comparing it to what other countries do. So if you ask "Are there countries that tend to vote for leftist governments," well, obviously, because some countries are to the left of most other countries, even if by some "objective" standard--or more usefully, historical standard--they don't seem terribly leftist.

So, for example, Sweden is generally considered a center-left country, because its policies are to the left of most other countries today, but it's definitely centrist if not a little right wing when you compare it to 1950s Russia. Then again, even the US--generally considered a center-right country on the whole, is radically leftist compared to sixteenth-century France. That's why most people limit the scope to the current situation, which reduces the question to a tautology.

In short: this is chatfilter. You've got too many questions mucking about in there, most of which are either 1) tautological, 2) far too academic for something like AskMe, or 3) entirely speculative.


I'm using centre-left and centre-right in a rather more specific sense to mean social democratic parties associated with labour, or conservative parties associated with capital.

In Sweden, after 1932, voters elected the social democratic party aligned with the labour movement on all but four occasions (up until recent years). In the UK, Scotland has almost always returned parties associated with the labour movement. The Northern Territory in Australia (until recent years) always elected the conservative party aligned with capital. I'm looking for concrete examples where countries have consistently elected a social democratic party (which would usually be a member of the Socialist International) or a party associated with capital, the free market and fiscal conservatism. Either such countries do or do not exist, I don't see any tautology or chatfilteriness about it.

The reason I'm asking this is because of the second part of my question. Is David Cameron correct in fearing that the UK would become a country dominated by a social democratic party?
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:18 AM on July 2, 2010


Left and right depend on where you are standing. I think many Canadians consider the Liberal Party (Aka Canada's ruling party) as centre left with progressive social and foreign policies but more right wing economic policies. Personally, I think they are a right-wing party and the current PM is far right-wing, but I have heard he is considered left of Obama.

Canada's Liberal Party are Republicans lite and I would class them as right wing too. But Canada has a natural centre-left majority... its just that that majority is fragmented at the moment <=P
posted by Bwithh at 7:57 AM on July 2, 2010


Left and right depend on where you are standing. I think many Canadians consider the Liberal Party (Aka Canada's ruling party) as centre left with progressive social and foreign policies but more right wing economic policies. Personally, I think they are a right-wing party and the current PM is far right-wing, but I have heard he is considered left of Obama.
--
Canada's Liberal Party are Republicans lite and I would class them as right wing too. But Canada has a natural centre-left majority... its just that that majority is fragmented at the moment

Just to clarify with regards to Canadian politics: The Conservative Party is currently Canada's ruling party. They are considered the right-wing party; the Liberal Party is more centrist; the NDP and Green Party are to the left. The current PM Stephen Harper tends to lean very right and in that way, the Conservative party = American Republicans (and then in this analogy, Canadian Liberals = U.S. Democrats; NDP and Green = the American far left), like this:

NDP/Green..........Liberal................Conservative
US Left...............Democrats..........Republicans

But politically these analogies don't really line up. As Bwithh says, Canada in general tends to be more left-leaning than the States; the whole American system is way to the right of the Canadian system so that the spectrum looks like this:

NDP/Green.....Liberal......Conservative |.......US Left.........Democrats....Republicans
posted by pised at 9:12 AM on July 2, 2010


By your standards, the elected government of Singapore is consistently to the right.

By my standards, the elected government of Greece has consistently been to the left, which is why they're in the mess they're in.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:40 AM on July 2, 2010


In the UK, Tories fear a proportional representation voting system because it might keep them out of power for decades (and if you re-run past voting patterns using a PR model, that's quite plausible). But do they really have anything to fear -- it seems to me that most democracies, regardless of voting system or demographics or national character, seem to reach an equilibrium with centre-left and centre-right rotating government every 10 years or so. Is this indeed the case?

You might be interested in this article:
Iversen, Torben, and David Soskice, “Electoral Institutions and the Politics of Coalitions: Why Some Democracies Redistribute More Than Others,” American Political Science Review 100:2 (2006): 165-181. [Memail me your email address if you don't have academic access.]

Here is part of the abstract:
"Our argument implies (1) that center-left governments dominate under proportional representation systems, whereas center-right governments dominate under majoritarian systems; and (2) that proportional representation systems redistribute more than majoritarian systems."
posted by andoatnp at 10:20 AM on July 2, 2010


seems to be the trend in several Latin American countries now:
left: Venezuela, Bolivia
center-left: Brazil, Chile, Argentina
posted by nimmpau at 10:57 AM on July 2, 2010


pised is correct the Conservatives are in power in Canada but the fact that the Liberals were in power for
70% of the 20th century (I believe some kind of record) gave them the nickname of "the ruling party". Sorry that was unclear in my earlier comment.
posted by saucysault at 6:07 PM on July 2, 2010


I'd argue that the US political spectrum is very narrow from a global perspective, and we have consistently elected center-right governments since, say, Truman. I'd call Carter, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama all center-right in effect, if not always in rhetoric.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 3:46 PM on July 3, 2010


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