Lessons for Democrats from Europe

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz and the French Socialist Party's Benoît Hamon deliver a news conference in Berlin, March 28
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz and the French Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon deliver a news conference in Berlin, March 28 (Facebook)

How can Democrats win back working-class voters who have switched to the right?

The obvious solution is to become more populist. Less Hillary Clinton, more Bernie Sanders. Tax the rich, spend more on welfare, make health care universal and oppose new trade deals.

Except we have seen social democrats try this in Europe and it didn’t work.

When left-wing parties cling to a shrinking working-class electorate, they end up neglecting middle-income supporters — and satisfy neither. Parties that takes sides are more successful. Read more

Old-School Leftists Break with Democratic Party in Italy

Pietro Grasso, the president of the Italian Senate, attends an international conference in Rome, October 5, 2015
Pietro Grasso, the president of the Italian Senate, attends an international conference in Rome, October 5, 2015 (Camera dei deputati)

The likelihood of elections being called soon is escalating tensions in Italy’s ruling center-left Democratic Party.

  • Senate speaker Pietro Grasso has left the party after criticizing the way it enacted electoral reforms. (By tying them to confidence votes, the government ensured they would pass without amendments.)
  • The Democrats and Progressives — left-wing critics of former prime minister and Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi — applauded Grasso’s move.
  • Former prime minister Massimo D’Alema, now a member of the Democrats and Progressives, said Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni “has become like Renzi.”
  • Four Renzi loyalists — Transportation Minister Graziano Delrio, Sports Minister Luca Lotti, Agricultural Minister Maurizio Martina and Cabinet Secretary Maria Elena Boschi — did not attend a cabinet meeting this week where Ignazio Visco was confirmed to serve another term as governor of the Bank of Italy. Renzi wanted him out. Read more

Germany’s Social Democrats Should Have Picked Side

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1 (Bayern SPD/Joerg Koch)

Germany’s Social Democrats are going the way of the Dutch Labor Party.

Both parties tried to appeal to their working- and middle-class constituents in elections this year and both lost precisely because of this indecision.

Campaigning on liberal immigration laws, social justice and international engagement alienates blue-collar voters.

Campaigning on border controls and deemphasizing identity politics turns away college graduates.

Do both at the same time and you end up with with no supporters at all. Read more

Social Democrats in Germany Make Same Mistake as Dutch

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Munich, September 14
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Munich, September 14 (Bayern SPD)

Germany’s Social Democrats are making the same mistake as the Dutch Labor Party, I argue in the Netherlands’ NRC newspaper this week.

Like Labor, which went down from 25 to 6 percent support in the most recent election, the Social Democrats are trying to appeal to both working- and middle-class supporters. It is that indecision that is turning both groups away from them.

College-educated voters in the city see the benefits of open borders in Europe and free trade with the rest of the world. Low-skilled workers and small towns feel the downsides. Progressives obsess about gay rights and gender issues that animate few blue-collar voters. Read more

Germany’s Social Democrats Need to Pick Side in Culture War

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1 (Bayern SPD/Joerg Koch)

Social democrats across Europe are caught in the middle of a culture war: they have middle-class voters, many of them university-educated, whose economic and social views range from liberal to progressive, as well as working-class voters, whose views range from the conservative to the nativist.

Germany’s are trying to bridge this divide, but a report by the Financial Times from the heart of the Ruhr industrial area does not suggest they are succeeding.

Guido Reil, a coalminer from Essen and former town councilor for the Social Democrats who switched to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, says his old party has “lost its connection to real people.”

They don’t speak their language. They’re people who have never worked, they’re all careerists and professional politicians.

Blue-collar voters — a shrinking demographic — only make up 17 percent of the Social Democrats’ electorate anymore. Read more

Denmark’s Left Must Find Balance Between Nativists and Progressives

Danish Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen, June 28, 2016
Danish Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen, June 28, 2016 (Facebook)

Denmark’s Social Democrats are eying cooperation with the nationalist People’s Party which they have shunned for years.

Under Mette Frederiksen, who took over the party leadership after its 2015 election defeat, the center-left has supported such far-right policies as a ban on prayer rooms in schools and universities.

The two parties, who are both in opposition to a liberal minority government, have also made common cause against raising the pension age.

Frederiksen argues she is defending the Danish welfare state from the challenges of globalization.

Her strategy is not too dissimilar from her Swedish counterpart’s. Stefan Löfven, the ruling Social Democratic Party leader in Stockholm, has taken a hard line on border control, crime and defense in a bid to stem working-class defections to the far right. Read more

Schulz Not the Future of Social Democracy After All

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz and the French Socialist Party's Benoît Hamon deliver a news conference in Berlin, March 28
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz and the French Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon deliver a news conference in Berlin, March 28 (Facebook)

Germany’s Martin Schulz looks less and less like the savior of European social democracy.

His party performed poorly in North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday, the third state election this year in which the Social Democrats were bested by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

I argued here earlier in the week that North Rhine-Westphalia’s election was a crucial test for Schulz. It is the heartland of German social democracy: the biggest industrial state with four of Germany’s ten largest cities and a long history of trade unionism. The state has been governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens since 2010 under a popular state prime minister, Hannelore Kraft.

If Schulz couldn’t win here, then where can he? Read more