Conservatism’s decline is in evidence almost everywhere. Norway’s center-right coalition government received only 40 percent support in the final polls, down almost nine points from its showing in 2017. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has been in free fall as Germans view her proposed replacement, Armin Laschet, as the least preferred of the major party leaders. The CDU and its allied Christian Social Union in Bavaria is receiving only 21 percent in current polling, a mark that would easily be its lowest ever if repeated on election day.
Traditional conservative parties in Iceland and Bulgaria are down below a quarter of the vote in recent polls. Meanwhile, three center-right parties had to band together in the Czech Republic to form the SPOLU (“Together”) alliance just to ensure that two of them didn’t fall below the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats. Eleven years ago, those parties received more than 41 percent of the vote; today, the alliance struggles to get more than 20 percent.
The right’s decline has, in most countries, not shifted votes to their traditional rivals on the center-left. Germany’s Social Democrats are the exception, as the popularity of their leader, Olaf Scholz, has propelled them to the front, albeit with a historically weak 25 percent. If current polls hold, the SPD’s winning share would be the lowest a leading party has ever received in modern Germany’s 72-year history.
The center-left is falling elsewhere, too. In Chile, the traditional coalition that spans the gamut from Christian Democrats to Socialists is collapsing. Its candidates received only 14 percent of the vote in May’s vote for the country’s constitutional convention, and its presidential candidate, Christian Democrat Yasna Provoste, gets only a shade above 10 percent in the polls. Bulgaria’s Socialists got record-low totals in two inconclusive elections held already this year and are polling only 16 percent for Bulgaria’s third vote on Nov. 14. And in the Czech Republic, the Social Democrats who won the 2013 elections are polling below the 5 percent seat threshold.
The far left, on the other hand, has been rising in many countries. Norway’s Rodt (Red) party, a Marxist party that still positively references communism in its statement of principles, had 4.7 percent of the vote with 85 percent of the votes counted on Monday, double its showing in 2017, and the Socialist Left Party had 7.5 percent. The far left’s combined strength has pushed the Labor Party, which is expected to finish first as it has in every election since 1927, down to a mere 26 percent, one of its lowest shares ever.
Chile’s far-left Broad Front’s presidential candidate, Gabriel Boruc, leads that country’s polls and is slated to win the runoff election against any of the other leading candidates. Meanwhile, Iceland’s far left wasn’t satisfied that the prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is from the leftist Left-Green Alliance. Its new party, the Icelandic Socialist Party, which accuses the Left-Greens of abandoning its eco-socialism in government, is polling at roughly 8 percent and could hold the balance of power after the Sept. 25 vote.
Populist parties of all stripes are also gaining ground. There Is Such a People, a Bulgarian party named after an album from its founder, musician and television star Slavi Trifonov, won its country’s July elections. Another populist party in Bulgaria — Stand Up! Mafia, Get Out! — entered parliament, and three right-wing nationalist parties split 6.5 percent but failed to win any seats.
The Czech Republic’s ANO Party, led by populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis, is likely to win the Oct. 8 and 9 election, with the Pirates and Mayors alliance and anti-immigrant Freedom and Democracy Party — together likely to receive more than 30 percent of the vote — holding the balance of power. In South America, two Chilean right-wing populist presidential candidates are polling nearly as well combined as the center-right’s nominee, Sebastián Sichel. Even staid Canada is warming to right-wing populists, with Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party’s current 6 percent polling average spoiling the Conservative Party’s Erin O’Toole’s chance to upend Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Americans often wonder why their traditional party system seems to be dissolving into a fractious and ungovernable mess. The answer is simple: The entire developed world is experiencing the end of the stable party systems built to answer the political questions posed by the ends of the Second World War and the Cold War. New political questions always lead to new political coalitions, and neither the United States nor the rest of the world is nearing the end of this global political realignment.