>> Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I've been meaning to find the time to write about this, but Daniel over at Crooked Timber makes a lot of the same points that I wanted to make in offering a fairly classic Downsian analysis. One major extension to his thesis is that I would argue, somewhat lazily, that the wholesale move of the left to the center is not completely a function of internal dynamics and strategic electoral decisions; rather there is also an exogenous force at work as well. If I really wanted to move beyond my comfortable niche in electoral systems and comparative political behavior, I would explore globalization and its effect on domestic electoral politics. I suspect that it is more than coincidence that as globalization has increased, mainstream parties of both the left and the right have gone to the center (and, hence, turnout has declined). I teach as much in a class I designed on the effects of globalization on domestic politics and institutions -- but I do allow as how the link is suggestive, and far from firm in an empirical sense.
My personal view is that what we’re seeing is the end of the electoral strategy which began with Bill Clinton and which (arguably) is still being kept alive by Kevin Rudd in Australia. Basically, it’s the view that you can keep a balloon flying by constantly chucking out left-wing ballast. Which worked very well in the 1990s and early 2000s, but it does have a limited lifespan built into it. After a while, you run out of ballast to throw out and you find that the hot-air burners aren’t working any more; the traditional left-wing base of your party has switched off, the unions can’t provide blocks of support and you’re left as a more or less identikit technocrat party, largely indistinguishable from your opponents and trying to compete on the basis of more efficient provision of “public services”.