Social Democrats in Germany Make Same Mistake as Dutch

Center-left parties in both countries try to unite working- and middle-class voters. What if those groups no longer want to be united?

Alexis Tsipras Martin Schulz
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and European Parliament president Martin Schulz answer questions from reporters in Brussels, February 4, 2015 (European Parliament)

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.

A left-wing labor party has become a contradiction in terms

We found that out in the Netherlands earlier this year. The French Socialists realized it when they lost the presidency as well as their parliamentary majority this summer. Germany’s Social Democrats cannot be far behind. Polls suggest that their support could fall to 20 percent in the election on Sunday.

Social democrats once united the working- and the middle classes, but the factory worker and the truck driver now have a very different outlook on life than do the teacher and the therapist. Social democrats need to decide whose side they’re on.