I wonder whether the average American has an idea of how the Republican and Democratic party are ordered on the political spectrum in comparison to other major parties in the West.

Take e.g. Germany. The three biggest German parties, that is in descending order, the conservative party (CDU), the green party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and the social democrats (SPD) are all far left of the American political two party spectrum.

Many policies, which are regarded as left-radicalism or socialism in the US are endorsed by all of these parties for decades. Germany is only one example for a wide range of European parties.

Does the American public know, that their perception of left and right is is skewed and right-shifted in comparison to many other Western countries? Or do they assume that European conservative parties refer to policies similar to the Republican parties policies?

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    Related: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/47694/…
    – user32268
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 0:58
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    @MarkSapir Most people would consider the CDU, overall and on average, to be a center-right party between the U.S. Democratic Party and the U.S. Republican Party, even though the issue by issue coalitions may not be precisely the same.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 23:21
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    @MarkSapir A lot has changed in the last 20-40 years. The U.S. Republican Party has moved significantly to the right, and a lot of quite new parties of the far right have emerged across Europe that are sometimes literally neo-fascist or close, like Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). See, e.g., en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Democratic_Union_of_Germany
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 0:54
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    @ohwilleke " to be a center-right party between the U.S. Democratic Party and the U.S. Republican Party" this is far from the truth. Both under Merkel and potentially the new chancellor Söder the CDU/CSU is left from the Republicans and Democrats. Not just when it comes to universal heatlhcare. Söder e.g. wants to end "climate-capitalism" and ban fossil fueled cars until 2035. The CDU let in a million refugees 2015 from Syria. CDU supports that students don't pay a single dollar for their university education. Bernie wouldn't feel that isolated in this party honestly.
    – user32268
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 16:49
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    One cannot meaningfully compare parties using a single axis like "conservative" or "liberal." Also FYI: US political parties swap beliefs every presidential cycle or so. In the 1990s the USA's Republicans were pro-immigration and pro-globalization but now they are the opposite.
    – Moby Disk
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 17:53

3 Answers 3


Does the American public know, that their perception of left and right is is skewed and right-shifted in comparison to many other Western countries?

The American public is mostly oblivious to the domestic politics of countries other than their own, although there is some vague familiarity with the leading political parties of Canada, Mexico and the U.K. These topics receive very little U.S. media coverage and are rarely discussed by U.S. politicians.

Politically active, college educated, progressives (perhaps 10% of voters, often via support for Bernie Sanders rather than knowledge of European politics directly) tend to be aware of the array of political parties on the left in Europe and to have a favorable opinion of Democratic Socialism and the Green Parties. A narrower swath of educated politically active people on the far right and for whatever reason, quite a few libertarians (perhaps 5% of voters in all), have some meaningful awareness of the parties of the far right in Europe, but less awareness of European Center-Right parties.

Or do they assume that European conservative parties refer to policies similar to the Republican parties policies?

I doubt that 5% of Americans have ever had any thoughts on this subject, and would have a hard time even associating famous European national leaders with particular political parties. The very internationally aware without first hand experience mostly might have some dim sense that there might be differences.

Maybe 1-3% of Americans might have some generally familiarity with European political parties and what they stand for. Those who do would mostly have either studied it academically in college, or served in the military in Europe, or otherwise lived in Europe (e.g. as an exchange student or expatriate employee).


I'm starting with a rough sense from surveys (also here and here) and exit polls of the breakdown of Americans by politics and education, I'm cross referencing that (intuitively) with categories of people I've experienced knowing about or discussing these things and prevalence of knowledge within categories, after lots of experience in politics at the grass roots level and in media quotations of people and politicians, I'm factoring in (intuitively) data on levels of depth of knowledge to similar degrees, about Europe or foreign affairs generally, It's an informed guesstimate, but order of magnitude close.

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    I was getting ready to argue that more people in the US must be familiar with European political parties, from sources like The Economist. Then I looked at the subscription figures for The Economist. I suppose I will count myself among the <1% of people in the US who are aware of European political parties via another source than those listed here. (And then only "general familiarity", as you say. Mostly with the ones that make the news often, particularly the far right.) Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 21:05
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    @GlennWillen The business press is the best source of information. It makes sense. They trust their readership.
    – user32268
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 22:50
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    @GlennWillen Readership for modern publications is much, much wider than subscriptions. I can think of several British publications that I regularly read articles from, but I have subscriptions to zero of them. I expect the same is true of the majority of their readers in the U.S. British media (very much unlike the remainder of European media) is actually pretty popular in the U.S. Economist, BBC, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, and even Daily Fail all have pretty wide exposure in the U.S.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 12:42
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    This actually extends beyond just political parties, especially in younger demographics. It's unusual here in the US for people who aren't in some rather direct way impacted by what's happening elsewhere in the world to actually know about those events (and even then it's not unusual for them to be clueless). I still come across people who have no idea what's going on in Belarus right now on a regular basis despite it having been major international news for months now. Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 14:02
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    my only real gripe with this answer is from the beginning: "The American public is mostly oblivious to the domestic politics of countries other than their own". I would posit that the so-called "American Public" is oblivious to the domestic politics of most of the rest of the US. Me included. I could (generally speaking, and for the most part) couldn't care less about California propositions. I live on the East coast and they have no bearing on my life.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 14:55

ohwilleke's answer is correct that most people in the U.S. aren't familiar with many of the particular political parties in Europe, aside from maybe those in the UK. Aside from the UK Labour and Conservative parties (and, during the campaigning for the Brexit vote, UKIP,) particular European political parties rarely make the news in the U.S., aside from maybe a passing mention of which party won an election or the party affiliation of a politician being mentioned.

That being said, most Americans are nevertheless aware that European politics are generally farther left than those in the U.S., especially with regards to economic policy. The more economically left-leaning elements of the U.S. Democratic Party (and the portion of the media that supports them) bring this up incessantly, with the economic policies of the Nordic countries being especially frequently cited.

Americans also tend to be aware that average European views on many other issues tend to be farther left than American ones (private ownership of firearms being an extreme example.) Americans are generally aware of different attitudes in Europe towards foreign relations, especially with regards to issues regarding such places as Israel, Palestine, Iran, China, etc.

I don't think many Americans would equate an average European conservative party with the U.S. Republican Party. Most are generally aware that they would be farther left. However, most Americans wouldn't be very familiar with the particular views or platforms of any given European political party. This shouldn't be particularly surprising given the number and size of countries in Europe. The average European would be similarly unaware of the minutiae of the political environments of any given U.S. state, which are similar in scale to European countries. Similarly, both Americans and Europeans are unlikely to be familiar with the parties and their positions in countries in South or Central America, Africa, or most of Asia or of the political environments of various regions of larger countries like China, India, or Brazil.

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    "The average European would be similarly unaware of the minutiae of the political environments of any given U.S. state" That's an interesting point, because to me the political differences between US states are vanishingly small compared to European states. Of course a Democrat in Alabama will be more conservative overall than a Democrat in California; but that's all window dressing compared to Europe with real cultural and political differences that developed over centuries. This topic might justify its own question though. Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 20:02
  • @RobertTausig I'd agree that the differences are of a different magnitude, but that wasn't the point. I was just pointing out that people on the other side of the world tend to be mostly unaware of the local issues and individual political parties' stances on them in areas on the scale of most European countries. I couldn't name the political parties, let alone tell you their platforms, of most countries in South America, Africa, or East Asia, for example, and I doubt most Europeans could either. Similarly, I doubt that people those areas are more familiar than Americans with European parties.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 16:52
  • (Of course, there will be special-case exceptions to that, such as in former colonies of European countries.)
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 16:53

The relative position of the European parties relative to the US can't really be classified as simply left or right. Here is a helpful image/diagram on the issue. This diagram was produced by the New York Times, but the data was gathered by the Manifesto Project.

Diagram of Political Parties

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    Can you add something about which properties were used by NYT to plot this? As funny as it is to me to see Party for Freedom listed as ultra-right, I'm having a hard time figuring out by which metrics they'd be to the right of the Republican Party.
    – Erik
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 7:23
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    Saying that something cannot be classified as a left-right thing, and then proceeding to do exactly and only that, is somewhat self-contradictory.
    – JdeBP
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 7:23
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    I am rather sceptical about this graph, it almost feels like it's showing each country's parties relative to the median in that country, and then the countries have been overlaid (lining up the median). Rather than showing each countries parties relative to one another.
    – DBS
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 10:16
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    The key from that article, however: "The difference is that in Europe, far-right populist parties are often an alternative to the mainstream. In the United States, the Republican Party is the mainstream."
    – gktscrk
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 15:01
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    You say their relative positions "can't really be classified as simply left or right", but the diagram looks, at least at first glance, like it's pretty much doing that. Can you please clarify what you mean? Are you just saying that there are varying degrees of "leftness" and "rightness", and that we shouldn't just oversimplify everything to a simple matter of "this party's on the left, and that one's on the right"? Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 19:40

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