I have always had this question in my mind, but with the latest developments in Italy it seems to be a rather common pattern. In the rare case a moderate politician wins the elections, is overthrown quickly and put aside indefinitely (and in this case I'm referring to Renzi, a centrist) favoring any kind of populism. But this is something that we come across anywhere USA, Russia, Turkey, Spain, Austria just to name a few. I personally come from a country (Greece) where a moderate party made 4% in the latest elections!

I Don't know if a better question to ask is why populism sells more than moderate views or if i am even getting my point across.

Why did Renzi fail in favor of these guys?

  • 6
    I think that this question might be too broad to answer. There are quite a lot of countries with "unusual" election results lately, and you could write a whole book about every single one of them.
    – Philipp
    May 29, 2018 at 11:20
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    I didn't downvote but you should remove the more biased parts of your question. Making a statement that there is only one "common sense" party in Greece (I'm thinking you mean Pasok) is controversial to say the least. Greece has had only two ruling parties for decades. PASOK and ND. It seems only natural to me that given the sharps consequences of the eurodebt crisis in Greece its citizens would blame the only two parties that could possibly be responsable for it. And like it or not SYRIZA didn't really do anything outside the "moderate" spectrum.
    – armatita
    May 29, 2018 at 11:26
  • @armatita i mean 'To Potami'
    – Yann
    May 29, 2018 at 11:28
  • 3
    That party is brand new. I actually had to search for it to check what it is. "Macron" style phenomena does happen but it's quite rare. Most parties start small and get bigger and bigger with enough time and support. Check for example the "Greens" case study. They started somewhere in the 70s or 80s and today there are few EU countries that do not have at least one Green party.
    – armatita
    May 29, 2018 at 11:36
  • You might find this article illuminating; there is a companion piece as well/ powerlineblog.com/archives/2018/05/…
    – user9790
    May 30, 2018 at 17:29

6 Answers 6


On a generic enough level, they fail because they:

  1. Aren't any better than non-moderates at fixing problems

  2. Are worse than non-moderates at selling the promise that they will fix problems

  3. Often, are part of "establishment" that people are dis-satisfied with due to problems - they either get blamed for the problems or for not having had fixed them.

Another factor is that "moderate" is a squishy vague term. One can argue that some of the new populist parties/leaders are true moderates and that the establishment parties went off "moderate" space some time ago and that is why they are being replaced as a choice. If you try to push the Overton window hard enough, you risk falling out of Overton window.

  • 4
    Point 1 is definitely subject to debate, but points 2 and 3 are the real heart of this issue.
    – Gramatik
    May 29, 2018 at 15:52
  • @Gramatik - If #1 wasn't an issue, people wouldn't want to change their minds from existing moderates to populists/less moderates
    – user4012
    May 29, 2018 at 20:20
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    Moderate is a squish term, more so the morality of a moderate. Compromise with stupidity or evil is no virtue. Defense of liberty is never a vice
    – user9790
    May 29, 2018 at 23:27
  • 1
    My point being that some moderate political viewpoints are independent of ethics and philosophy and are mere opportunism offering little guidance in storm tossed waters
    – user9790
    May 29, 2018 at 23:31
  • 1
    @Thern - it's a self evident truth. If they were any good, the problems that arouse the masses to want change wouldn't have existed. People don't clamor for change if they are doing OK.
    – user4012
    May 30, 2018 at 14:59

Why do moderate parties and their leaders fail?

They often don't.

However, when there are problems in a country that get enough people riled up:

why populism sells more than moderate views

Because it is populism - by nature it appeals to the annoyed people. Normally, there is a risk factor that prevents people from taking the drastic step of voting for the more extreme of these parties, due to pragmatism, habit and so on, but if the electorate are annoyed enough to take the risk it makes sense to vote for the people appealing to them.

As a final point, note that populism does not have to be extreme. You can be populist with very moderate opinions. Arguably Macron in France is/was a populist, and he's fairly moderate.


Because voting itself is an emotional response. While it is an act of governing, the contribution of any one individual to the overall vote rarely makes an impact.

Emotional appeals are usually much more effective at swaying large blocks of voters to come out and vote. The fact that it takes an emotional reaction to get a person to put in the effort to vote is also why making complicated arguments does not usually get people to vote. Even if they bother to follow the arguments and agree with them, the arguments don't animate them as much as appeals of the more emotional variety.

Another side of the fact that people need to be animated to vote is the lack of any sense of urgency in a moderate message. It doesn't do too well at painting its opponents in a sufficiently negative light to create any sense of fear. It also rarely inspires anyone.

  • do you think that voting on the internet (and thus reducing the cost for the voter to vote) would have any impact on the quality of the results? What if there weren't election days but instead one could store his vote on the 'voting system' and change it when he/she naturally felt he/she needed to. That way voting would be more of an intimate matter and detached from any emotionally loaded pre-electoral political campaign. Would populism then start failing?
    – Yann
    May 30, 2018 at 18:40
  • Indicating a vote and keeping it until you decide to change it is an interesting idea. Voting on the Internet is inherently dangerous. It's not possible to fully secure votes even in voting booths. Internet voting would be inherently not anonymous and subject to social pressures. Imagine, for example, a certain group forcing all of its members to vote (on the Internet) in the presence of all of its other members.
    – grovkin
    May 30, 2018 at 18:54


Yes, this is mainly the answer. Politicians failing? Well, we had that all the time. When was there a period when politicians did everything right all over the world? From a German point of perspective, after WWII we had the 50s with Nazis returning unscathed to many positions of power, the SPIEGEL affair where government critical news should be censored, then the 60s with the Cuba crisis and the student revolts, the 70s with the terror of the RAF, the 80s with the environmental panic, the 90s with the Neonazi murders in Solingen etc, mass refugees from the former communist states, the 2000s with Al Qaeda terror and the world-wide financial crisis - there have always been problems that seemed like the end of the world in the respective era. And in all cases, politicians could arguably have acted better than they did.

So "failing politicians" can't be the real point to explain what is going on, as it would be necessary to explain why somehow at some point nearly everywhere in the world politicians start to fail.

Also, the situation can be seen in such different countries as the USA, Turkey, the Philippines or Hungary (and many many more), making it difficult to blame a specific culture or way of thinking.

But one thing is common: the access to the internet, with its abundance of unproven sources of information. Whatever your political opinion may be, you will find sources where it is "proven" that this opinion is the ultimate best with no disadvantages. In former years, most of the information that was easily accessable went to a long process of checking (and, arguably, censoring) so that the presented political options remained quite narrow. Some things might have changed over time (for example, the acceptance of homosexuality), but in general, especially concerning fundamental views about democracy, capitalism, liberalism etc., nothing changed much. There was the Soviet Union as the only alternative role model, and it failed miserably. So, political discourse was narrowed down strongly, or at least confined to a relatively slow pace.

Enter internet. This directly bypassed the predominant ways of generating public opinion by enabling practically everyone to announce the own political views - and to realize how many people actually supported these views. The result is a much faster pace of development of political opinions; too fast to be checked and shaped in a moderate way, so those ideas remain edgy and ugly and untested, but require immediate implementation "because democracy".

The best example for this is Donald Trump, the archetype of a populist politician. Most of his decisions are impulsive and sort of ugly (which means that he often just says what is in his mind, rather than making a well-designed argument), they are often inconsistent ("North Korea is evil!" - "Me and Kim will meet soon!" - "I will not meet Kim!" - "Maybe I will still meet Kim!") and confusing. That doesn't mean that they are necessarily all wrong, it is just that the pace of events has quickened up, leaving few room for checking and balanced measures. Populism is the hecticness of the public mind, amplified by the internet and clotted as politics.

And yes, there have been populists at least since the Roman Republic, but the amplification of the Internet has made the things much worse.

  • This answer is almost certainly correct with regard to the current wave of populism, but is such a new topic by nature that not enough study has really gone into this to formulate a grounded-in-fact answer.
    – Gramatik
    May 30, 2018 at 18:44
  • This answer makes assumptions that information gatekeepers before the internet honestly and diligently presented the truth. Which may work out for someone if their ideology matches the gatekeepers' and thus one believes everything they say. Me, I somehow doubt that the people who awarder Pulitzer for Holodomor denial are as different from "Internet" as they pretend to be.
    – user4012
    Jun 1, 2018 at 13:25
  • @user4012 No, this assumption is not necessary. The only assumption necessary is that the "gatekeepers" narrow down the Overton window and the pace of discussions, which is in my view a reasonable assumption. I never even used the word "truth" in my answer.
    – Thern
    Jun 2, 2018 at 2:27

You ask a really great question if we define moderate as less than any extreme (political compass extreme).

If you want to know the answer from a historic perspective without modern day bias which can easily be tainted, I suggest The Raven of Zurich. The author (Somary) predicted the rise of the Nazi and Communist parties almost perfectly due to the economic situation. A quick summary would be that when people's standard of living is not rising (rising costs in necessities, not what a bank defines as necessary), they begin to grow dissatisfied with their system and look for answers. The extremes always have the answers because the moderates had power before these events, thus become turn to extremes.

When people list things like immigrate, they miss the economic effects of immigration, which sometimes reduce wages, causing natives to see a lower standard of living. What Somary understood is that these economic pains cause permanent political shifts that will eventually lead to war.

There's no way to do perfect service to his book - you really have to read it. The politics is explained because of the underlying economics.


Moderates represent status quo

To qualify as moderate, your political platform would be that current political system works, it just need to be tweaked a little using this or that political measure.

In practice, moderates usually win. People in general are inert and afraid of radical changes. Therefore, if they have at least slight faith in current political system, they would choose moderate politicians.

But when people loose their faith in political machinery, moderates loose. Current situation in Italy is a good example of that : Italy is in grave demographic problem, Third World invasion is going on, free speech is stifled in the name of political correctness, unelected politicians and EU bureaucrats decide the fate of millions.

Italians in general are aware that this could not go on, and that people who created problems could not be trusted to solve them. Of course, Italian public still does not have consensus what needs to be done, but they are certain that they do not want to be ruled by any "moderate" politician that would only deepen current crisis.

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