Each party (including German and Nordic social democratic parties) has its own inner democratic election system which elects the party leaders and which proposes and changes the program of the party. Immigration and base-class economic stagnation are two pressing issues which attracted unacceptable solutions provided by the social democratic parties for the so social democratic electorate. That is why the social democratic parties experienced big losses in the recent elections and that caused the election of populist parties into power.

My question is - what can explain the following phenomenon: social democratic voters have not chosen to change and to reinvent the agendas of their own parties and instead they chose to hand down their own party and chose to vote for the populist parties? Why are the programs and thinking of the social democratic parties so rigid and so unresponsive to the voters preferences, so rigid, that parties lose power and possibility to defend their initial voters?

I have heard very strained and short-sighted thinking from social democratic parties about those 2 pressing issues, let me draw some perspective for the change of the social democratic agendas:

  • some are saying that the immigration of the low cost labour is good for welfare societies, because there are jobs that are hardly filled with the original citizens of the welfare country. This is strange thinking in the age of 4th industrial revolutions. There are bad jobs indeed, but now all of them can be automated. Humanitarian issues should be solved straightforward - by delivering international assistance to the place of origination of the migration;
  • some are saying that base-class stagnation is inevitable in the age of globalisation and the availability of cheap outsourcing options. Well - globalisation could be stopped, globalisation is not the gene of the social democracy, e.g. see more in La Monde Diplomatique editorials. And even if globalisation is accepted then it can be done in just ways - by closing tax heavens, but prohibiting trade with countries with cruel working conditions, by social democratic redistribution of the wealth for the promotion of talent growth, empowerment and self-realisation of all the people.

I added those two outlooks to show that social democratic parties can have the sound and acceptable policies indeed. And that is is not true (as some social democratic leaders aim to show) that there is no solution for the issues of immigration and stagnation. There are solutions indeed, but social democratic parties do not want to listen to their own party base. Why it is so and what should be changed?

https://activists.pes.eu/en/ is another proof of the social democratic establishment - PES activists platform is available only for the activists from the establishment parties. Some countries have created new social democratic parties that are more true to the real aspirations of the social democracy, that are more courageous in proposing solutions, but the members of those parties are not allowed to work for the advancement of PES in upcoming elections of EU parliament.

So - maybe the lack/imperfection of inner democracies in the social democratic parties are the main cause of the rising populism? How parties should overcome those imperfections?

My question is about social democratic parties of Germany, Scandinavia and Baltic countries.

  • You cannot automate elderly care
    – Martin
    Nov 4, 2018 at 13:33
  • There are efforts to do this reuters.com/article/us-japan-ageing-robots-widerimage/… and robotics if improving with each year, see cognitive robotics and so on, see hlai-conf.org and people.idsia.ch/~juergen Yes, there are things that can not be done today, but scientists are sure that this can be solved. It is so sad, that so many people, including present social democratic leaders, are so unaware of the opportunities provided by science.
    – TomR
    Nov 4, 2018 at 13:45
  • Automation of elderly care or removing death and aging altogether sens.org/research/introduction-to-sens-research/… is opportunity for social democrats - that means that more and more should be automated to free more and more people to work for this big issues and it requires empowerment of people, investing into people and only social democrats can do and will do this. This can be grand vision for social democracy, yet - establishment is not only unwilling to do this, it is unwilling even to listen to this - my experience with PES!
    – TomR
    Nov 4, 2018 at 13:54

1 Answer 1


Complicated question, with many facets.

A first facet is the notion that social democrats compete with populist parties. That is true, and is observable in voter interviews after elections. But it was not entirely expected, especially from a historical left-right perspective. Many of the populist parties are considered on the far right, certainly those intended in the question here (those that focus on immigration). Social-democratic parties are on the left. And while it was assumed that voters may wander slightly from their preferred position on the left-right scale, such a large shift was not expected.

The problem with this left-right scale is that it does not capture the position of the populist parties. Principal Component Analysis done on Dutch voter positions after the 2002 election shows that populism is a third dimension, after left/right and conservative/liberal. By ignoring this dimension, existing political parties left the huge open area. The first populist parties could attract voters from all existing parties. [I'll try to source this later]

Social Democrats were hit even worse, because of their focus on poorly educated voters. It turns out that these voters are especially attracted to populist movements. That's how these populist parties end up with such a mix of right-wing and left-wing policies: against foreigners, but in favor of high state benefits (See Italy for the current iteration).

A second facet to consider is the distinction between hard socialism and social-democrats. Social democrats around the turn of the millennium embraced a "Third Way". The failure of old-school socialism and the success of capitalism were clear. International trade was raising wages all around the world. Social democrats didn't think that they were obsolete, but instead believed that there was a new set of problems to tackle. Old-school socialists still believed in fighting the old fight. In countries with FPTP systems such as the UK, this led to factions within the socialist party (Blair-Corbyn axis). In multi-party systems, this led to the rise of competing socialist parties (PDS in Germany, SP in the Netherlands, PvdA in Flanders). Also, Green parties were another new direction for the political left. Either way, this caused fragmentation on the left.

Now back to the question. What does this mean for intra-party democracy in social-democrat parties? Well, various things. New parties (whether new left or populist) meant new chances outside the party. Why stay as a minority within a party? And if you were a majority inside a party, why change? There's no law that states a party has to follow the electorate. In fact, some of those social-democratic parties had a slight elitist tendency: lead the voters, don't follow them.

  • 1
    @Philipp: My bad, PES are the European Socialists (from the question) and they're associated with the German SPD, not Die Linke/PDS. (Die Linke was still called PDS in the "Third Way era" around 200, IIRC).
    – MSalters
    Nov 5, 2018 at 12:37
  • the PDS existed since the German reunification and mostly catered to the remaining GDR loyalists. While they had some successes in the east, they never had much traction in the west. In 2004, a left-wing faction within the SPD formed a new party WASG. This was mostly a reaction to the SPD (mainstream social-democrats) becomming more centrist under Gerhard Schröder. In 2007, PDS and WASG formed the new party Die Linke which then became the first serious socialist competition to the SPD.
    – Philipp
    Nov 5, 2018 at 13:46
  • Has anyone considered that this may just be the globalist agenda "growing pains". What I mean is that the interest in nationalism (i.e. populist) feeling is one of nostalgia for the good old days where a German was a German and a Scandinavian was a Scandinavian? Just being devil's advocate, I personally believe the globalist agenda is doomed to fail as it has done many time in the past. Nov 5, 2018 at 16:24
  • 1
    Did you maybe find this PCA?
    – Shadow1024
    Sep 20, 2019 at 6:10

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