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Commentary | 2 December 2021

YGLN reflections: Voting trends in the Euro-Atlantic region

Image of Agathe Demarais

Agathe Demarais |Global Forecasting Director at The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU)

Image of Pavel Kanevskiy

Pavel Kanevskiy |Associate Professor of Political Science, Moscow State University

Image of Natalia Viakhireva

Natalia Viakhireva |Expert and Program Manager at Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)

Economy Governance Global Security YGLN
Introduction

This selection of contributions on voting trends aims to put a spotlight on several countries in the Euro-Atlantic region that have recently faced elections or where elections are upcoming. It is an ongoing effort by YGLN members to address changes and continuities in the electoral patterns in wider Europe and North America. While the current focus is on Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, and Russia, this is a living document that will be extended with more country studies in the future.

At the moment, we do not observe a clear voting pattern. Even the emerging Green movement in the West has not broken through in all countries. Among the five countries assessed, we see no significant shifts regarding Green parties in Canada and the Czech Republic. In Ottawa, a major line of competition persists between the Liberals and the Centre-Conservatives, with a marginalised ecologist movement. The Czech Republic is likely to see a liberal-conservative coalition, while the populist front remains strong and the left weak.

In Russia and France there are some small nuances. While the French political landscape is experiencing increased fragmentation, the major centre of competition will remain between the far-right and the centre – which could see radical change depending on the outcome of the Presidential elections next year. Meanwhile, France’s ecologist parties are lacking traction. And while Russia has its most pluralist Duma in almost two decades, its political landscape has traditionally not operated along left-right party lines, making United Russia and smaller parties alike compete for very divergent electorates. Meanwhile, Germany sees a longer-term, constant trend towards a flatter, multi-party system characterised by the demise of the popular parties and the slow rise of the Green party.

Country studies
Canada

On September 20th, Canada held early elections, as decided by Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister and leader of Canada’s Liberal Party. Liberals desired a vote of confidence for the continuation of Covid measures and decided to hold an early vote based on Trudeau’s high approval ratings after successful Сovid policies. However, after announcing the election, Trudeau’s approval rates fell drastically, demonstrating society’s disapproval of the decision to hold elections during the pandemic. In the elections, the Liberal Party got 159 seats in Parliament (compared to 157 seats in 2019) –not enough to form a majority government.The vote shares of the other parties also experienced little change. In general, it appears that voters preferred stability over change.

The Liberal Party’s key opponent was the Conservative Party, led by Erin O’Toole. Conservatives received 119 seats in Parliament (compared to 121 in 2019), despite receiving a higher share of the popular vote than the Liberals for the second time in a row. However, the Canadian plurality majoritarian electoral system did not allow them to win. When O’Toole became the party leader, the party shifted towards the centre, while the far-right portion of the electorate began to be represented by Maxim Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada. Bernier’s party did not make it into Parliament, despite receiving approximately 5% of the vote, compared to 1.6% in 2019. Both Liberals and Conservatives will fight for support of the Bloc Québécois, which received 33 seats, and the New Democratic Party, which received 25.

Climate change and the green economy are now important issues in the agendas of larger parties, taking away the Green Party’s advantage. Natalia Viakhireva

Meanwhile, the Green Party struggled, receiving only 2.3% of the vote, compared to 6.5% in 2019.  Against the background of Europe’s “green wave”, the failure of the Canadian Green Party may seem surprising, but in fact it is not: Climate change and the green economy are now important issues in the agendas of larger parties (the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party), taking away the Green Party’s advantage.Furthermore, climate issues were pushed to the back burner during the 2021 elections, with questions related to the coronavirus taking centre stage.

Natalia Viakhireva

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Czech Republic

Recent parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic brought a significant shift in the distribution of power in the country. However, this shift does not necessarily mirror any profound change in societal trends and public preferences.

ANO, the ruling populist movement of a businessman-turned-politician, Andrej Babiš, remains the strongest party; however, it will end up in the opposition since its junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats and Communists, did not pass the 5% electoral threshold. Several other parties also narrowly missed the threshold, and as most of these parties were allied with or unopposed to Mr Babiš, he is now unable to form a majority in the new parliament. Thus, two opposition coalition blocs have a shot at ruling the country together. The SPOLU coalition, consisting of three centre-right parties, won the elections with ca. 28%. The other opposition coalition bloc, PirSTAN, composed of two more liberal parties, finished third with 15.6%. This still gives the two blocs a comfortable majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

The election’s outcome indicates a return of standard politics within the established political system rather than a revival of liberalism. Magda Leichtova, Juraj Nosál

 

However, the election’s outcome indicates a return of standard politics within the established political system rather than a revival of liberalism. The strongest opposition party is the Civic Democratic Party, with a strong euro-sceptic wing and conservative socio-economic policies. Meanwhile, the most liberal party, the Pirates, gained only four seats. Moving forward, this means there will be no traditional political left represented in the new parliament. At the same time, the success of opposition parties in joining forces may encourage their colleagues in Poland and Hungary to set aside their differences and fight a united front against their own populist competitors. This can potentially give the Czech elections regional importance.

Magda Leichtova and Juraj Nosál

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France

Three characteristics define the French political landscape: fragmentation, the normalisation of extremes, and the lack of traction of Green parties.

Three characteristics define the French political landscape: fragmentation, the normalisation of extremes, and the lack of traction of Green parties. Agathe Demarais

France’s political landscape is fragmented, with around 40 candidates inthe 2022 presidential election, including six on the far-left, three Greens, and nine far-right candidates. Not all of them will reach the first round; getting to that stage requires the backing of 500 mayors. This fragmentation will play into the hands of the current centrist president Emmanuel Macron—even though he is not a popular figure (only around 25% of French voters plan to vote for him in 2022).

The second trend concerns the normalisation of extreme views. When Jean-Marie Le Pen, a far-right candidate, reached the second round of the 2002 presidential election, this was met with consternation. Nearly 20 years later, the situation has changed. The most likely scenario is that Mr Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen (who is also on the far-right of the political spectrum), will compete against Mr Macron in the second-round run-off.This no longershocksthe French electorate.

The third trend has to do with the lack of traction of Green parties—in contrast to Germany, for example. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the centre-left candidate, Anne Hidalgo, are attracting people who would otherwise vote for the Greens. The second has to do with the comparative lack of discussion around climate change in the French public debate. Instead, most candidates focus on security and immigration (especially for right-wing candidates), as well as perceived losses in purchasing power (reflecting the Yellow Vests movement  and the recent spike in energy prices).

Agathe Demarais

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Germany

Germany is one of the countries where we can see a steady decline of traditional popular parties (Volksparteien). While the political landscape has been dominated by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) throughout most of the country’s post-war history, this trend has changed considerably in the past decades. A clear demarcation line was Germany’s 2009 election cycle, when the party system finally changed from two prominent blocs that clearly surpassed the smaller ones, to a staircase-shaped distribution.

A clear demarcation line was Germany’s 2009 election cycle, when the party system finally changed from two prominent blocs , to a staircase-shaped distribution. Julia Berghofer

The evolution of a flatter multi-party system has been a continuous development shaped by societal and historical influences: The ecologist movement helped the Green party enter Germany’s parliament in 1983, Germany’s reunification made the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS; since 2007Die Linke) popular throughout Germany from the 1990s, and xenophobic sentiments following migration flows in the 2010s have supported the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which became part of the Bundestag for the first time in 2017. Among the disadvantaged Volksparteien, the SPD has settled earlier than the CDU/CSU at a 20-25% level in the past few elections, while the Christian Democrats’ decline in the past years has been more dramatic.

At the same time, the current party landscape is characterised by polarisation on the extreme ends of the spectrum (Linke and AfD), combined with a shift towards the centre for the rest of the spectrum. The CDU/CSU and the Green party, having previously considered a possible coalition after the 2021 elections, has been most emblematic of this trend. Within Germany’s party spectrum, the Green Party is currently the only actor who experienced a slow but constant rise throughout the party’s history. Their best result so far amounting to 14.8% in the 2021 Bundestag elections, compared to 8.9% in 2017. From 2021 on, the Green Party is in Germany’s first three-party coalition with the Social Democrats and the Liberal Democrats.

Julia Berghofer

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Russia

Russian citizens view parties as symbols of power rather than real actors of change, leading to low levels of trust in the party system and limited party membership. All parties that passed the electoral barrier in all elections of the last two decades can be called centrist – albeit a peculiar kind of centrism defined by unwritten norms of loyalty to the existing political order. Étatist loyalty draws an invisible but tangible line between systemic and non-systemic opposition, with the latter having few chances of even participating in elections.

Within this system, some competition is possible. The latest Duma elections in 2021 resulted in Russia’s most formally pluralist Duma since 2003, with Russia’s Communist Party gaining 15 seats and the liberal New People party becoming the 5th party in the Duma. However, these factors did not stop the ruling United Russia party from reaffirming its supermajority and thereby ensuring full control of the law-making process.

The extent to which party alignment in the Duma reflects societal demands and interests is an open question. The Russian electorate is fragmented into loose blocs that cannot be described in the traditional left-right-centre axis, and it is often difficult to draw clear ideological lines between electoral groups and party platforms. United Russia, for example, tries to balance between conservatism, patriotism, nationalism, welfare policies and market liberalism, making it an ideal “catch-all” party for Russia. The communists, meanwhile, are increasingly successful in combining older generations’ nostalgia and traditional demands for solidarity and justice with younger protest votes. Liberalism was and remains an ideological minority, although most parties try to incorporate some of its elements to win votes from the urban middle class.

The Russian electorate is fragmented into loose blocs that cannot be described in the traditional left-right-centre axis, and it is often difficult to draw clear ideological lines between electoral groups and party platforms. Pavel Kanevskiy

In sum, these processes can hardly change broader Russian electoral dynamics, which depend more on the state apparatus than on society. While clear trends toward one end of the political axis may be apparent in parts of Europe, the picture in Russia is much more complicated.

Pavel Kanevskiy

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image: Flickr, GovernmentZA