31

In America, the police have a reputation for being politically conservative. One rarely sees clashes between conservative demonstrators and police.

In Europe, though, there seem to be lots of clashes between anti-lockdown (presumably conservative) and (in France) yellow vests movement protestors and police? Is this because police in Western Europe skew left?

4
  • 8
    I'm not sure why some people are insisting to close this question, but I vote to leave it open. I think it's a legitimate question. Mar 18 at 14:49
  • 5
    The current question is ambiguous on whether the police institution or the individual policemen are biased. @divibisan said in a comment of one of the answer : "In the US, police are three times as likely to use force against leftwing protesters. So the question is, then, whether a similar pattern exists in Europe?" Which I feel is a more appropriate question which could be answered.
    – Simon
    Mar 19 at 5:13
  • @Simon I do think this question would be clearer if the title was "Do police in Western Europe show a bias in their interaction towards left-wing or right-wing demonstrators?"
    – divibisan
    Mar 19 at 20:14
  • Or if it clarified whether the question is about that or about the actual individual views of police officers, which is what most of the answers seem to be about and what the title suggests.
    – reirab
    Mar 19 at 20:46
78

Speaking for Germany, officially they are bound to be neutral. Practically, they lean (heavily) right.

Looking at the anti-lockdown protests (which are indeed right to far-right), the police has been very hands-off compared to left-wing demonstrations.

In recent years, many cases of far-right extremist networks inside the police have been discovered (but as of yet no far-left networks).

The largest police union (GdP) is center-right, though even they see that many police officers are sympathetic to right-wing nationalism. The second-largest police union (DPolG) is hard right. There isn't any left-wing union.

Scientific analyses have shown that right-wing ideology is not an issue of a individual cases, but a structural problem in the police. Racial profiling is prevalent and right-wing extremism is under-estimated and institutional racism is negatively affecting police work (see e.g. NSU).

9
  • 27
    I'd wager that the explanation for this could be that working as police officer is generally not as appealing to the average liberal-left person as it is to the average authoritarian-right person.
    – MechMK1
    Mar 18 at 11:28
  • 6
    There is a leftist Police Union, the Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft kritischer Polizistinnen und Polizisten, but with only around 100 members it is not really relevant. Mar 18 at 14:31
  • 4
    @der_Gottesknecht afaik it's not a union, but an association. It's great that they exist, but with 100 members and no real impact, they are indeed rather negligible (for comparison, the (at least in part) far-right dpolg has 94000 members, the center-right gdp has 190000 members).
    – tim
    Mar 18 at 14:40
  • 11
    @Clay07g A systemic problem of far-right extremists in the police does say a lot about their stance (as does the fact that those who may not be far-right extremists themselves are either unwilling or unable to reign in their extremist colleagues). And it's decidedly not about individual cases (hence why it's a systemic problem). imho my answer supports that; I wish we had even better data, but the police vehemently opposes any attempt to investigate - let alone start to resolve - the problem.
    – tim
    Mar 18 at 14:50
  • 1
    Add to it the systematic cover up of Döner Mörd where Turkish victims were put under suspicion (and most of the perpetrators either walked free or got away with slap on the wrist)
    – senseiwu
    Mar 18 at 22:34
55
+100

For France, the topic has covered been by a fact-checking article of a (left-leaning) newspaper, called Libération, published in 2018.

If you can read French, and if you know who the main figures of the different parties are, you could probably answer that police is most likely conservative there. (Note: blue is usually associated with the right wing parties, and red, with the left wing parties.)

Briefly, the article presents several surveys conducted by well-established agencies or labs, such as IFOP and Cevipof.

The method is quite direct: they asked policemen who they will vote for. The surveys include policemen, but also Gendarmerie, a similar but somewhat distinct force, as well as the military (not related to the question).

Question: How would you position yourself?

Bar chart (militaires: military, policiers: police, gauche: left, centre: center, droite: right, ne sait pas: don't know)

Question: Who will you vote for in the first round of the Presidential election (2017)?

Bar chart 2 (extrême gauche: far left, Hamon + Mélanchon: 2 heads of left wing parties, Macron: self-described as center, Fil[l]on + Dupont-Aignan: 2 heads of right wing parties, Le Pen: self-described as neither, but usually described as far right)

7
  • 5
    The only answer on here with directly-relevant data! Good stuff. Unfortunately the article has broken links to the actual studies so I couldn't see their specific methodologies, but the article claims that the surveys are representative. Assuming that's the case, this is pretty definitive evidence (for France).
    – Clay07g
    Mar 18 at 15:21
  • Interestingly to note the color representation is just the reverse between the French and the US To my knowledge, it aligns with China though. :)
    – r13
    Mar 19 at 21:10
  • 9
    @r13 Red is a classic leftist colour worldwide, the US being the odd one (again).
    – xngtng
    Mar 19 at 23:27
  • 5
    @r13 Not sure what you are arguing about, it's interesting to note the difference, it's also interesting to note the US oddity, no? "Sorry, it is far from truth/fact." I don't know how you can be so sure, although I can't claim to know every country's political parties, but in prominent democratic countries where red/blue is used as the main scheme, to my knowledge, only in RoK and US the red is the more conservative party.
    – xngtng
    Mar 20 at 0:02
  • 2
    @R13 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… interestingly it's a newish thing, with the conventional red=left up to the 1996 election and red=republican only since 2000. (I had wondered whether it was a hang over from the early C20th when the Republican was more progressive, but that is not the case, it was just one news presenter doing it in an odd way and somehow it took hold) Mar 20 at 15:40
32

It seems obvious that armed forces (police, military, special services) attract more likely people who:

  • Do not mind carrying and potentially using weapons;
  • like to tell other people what to do;
  • don't mind being told what to do;
  • are not opposed to use physical coercion as a means to control behavior of others;
  • support the government and the ruling order.

Being affiliated with weapons, having an autoritarian-leaning mindset and appreciating the current government are all conservative traits. Applicants for such services self-select to be conservative.

(Note that the self-labelling of a regime as "democratic", "socialist", "communist", or even "anarchist" does not change this analysis. You'll inevitably find that even the henchmen of truly revolutionary regimes will self-select this way, which is one of the problems with revolutions.)

Naturally, this pattern is not confined to Europe or any other region but applies there as well.

One mitigation strategy for the mitlitary is to have mandatory mitlitary service which restricts this self-selection to the officer grades. For example, Germany's problem with right-wing military factions has become more virulent since conscription ended together with the Cold War.

12
  • 16
    "are not opposed to use physical coercion as a means to control behavior of others". Anyone who believes in the rule of law supports physical coercion. How else do you think laws are applied?
    – DrMcCleod
    Mar 18 at 11:01
  • 18
    @DrMcCleod: In democracies, laws are usually applied by consensus. The idea that violence is needed is a characteristic of totalitarian states.
    – MSalters
    Mar 18 at 11:06
  • 33
    @DrMcCleod There's a spectrum there though between: "I guess, as a last resort, if you're really sure it's necessary" and "Lets go bust some heads of these law breakers!" Mar 18 at 11:09
  • 6
    @MSalters “In democracies, laws are usually applied by consensus.” No they aren’t.
    – user76284
    Mar 18 at 21:07
  • 7
    @DrMcCleod: The reason why the huge majority of people do not kill or rape anyone is because they simply do not want to. They don't need the threat of hell or the risk of being beaten by the police in order to do the right thing. Mar 18 at 22:04
25

Not an easy question to answer, because it is hard to find unbiased reporting or studies on it.

@tim has given a good answer, I would like to add a different perspective:

When you check not the media, whose main interest is the generation of headlines, but the extremist groups whose main interest is self-defense against the police, you find that both left and right consider the police their enemy. I don't think I need to detail what the Antifa thinks about cops. But I have as well seen pamphlets circulating in right-wing circles with advise on how to act when police arrest or question you, and I could re-print them with minimal changes and give them to Antifa activists and they'd think their people wrote those.

If both the left- and right-wing outliers consider the police to be on the other side, then it follows that the police is on neither extreme. Which stands to reason given that "the police" is a rather large force with many different people in it.

Looking at the political spectrum and what the terms stand for, it's clear that "law and order" are more naturally associated with the right, so it is no surprise that studies find policemen more right leaning. That does not necessarily translate to right-wing opinions on questions such as immigration, employee laws, economic principles, healthcare, etc. etc.

The clashes you see are most easily explained by viewing the police as the defenders of the status quo and the current politics of the country, no matter what that is. When left-wing activists protest for better social support, they will clash with the police. When right-wing activists protest against immigration, they will clash with the police. And when Corona-tired conspiracy theorists protest the lockdown, they will clash with the police. Heck, if lunatics were to protest against the government keeping aliens from Jupiter prisoner in their secret vaults, they would clash with the police - and that doesn't mean the police is pro-imprisoning-aliens.

11
  • 16
    This is a better and more balanced answer, but it runs into the common sematics problem. You correctly note that police is (almost by definition) conservative, but conservative is NOT right. Conservative is just conservative. In the ex-communist countries of the 90s, "conservatives" were communists (yes, they were actually called that). Individual liberty is the inherent right concept, not conservatism or "law and order".
    – Zeus
    Mar 18 at 6:31
  • 43
    The problem with this answer is that, yes, the police will clash with any set of protesters, but the nature of their response, and it’s level of violence, varies greatly. In the US, police are three times as likely to use force against leftwing protesters. So the question is, then, whether a similar pattern exists in Europe?
    – divibisan
    Mar 18 at 13:11
  • 16
    "If both the left- and right-wing outliers consider the police to be on the other side, then it follows that the police is on neither extreme." - no it doesn't, this is completely specious reasoning. As you say further on, police are defenders of the status quo - that's pretty close to a definition of conservatism.
    – llama
    Mar 18 at 23:54
  • 10
    I have downvoted this answer, because (1) it offers no sources, and (2) it's factually incorrect.
    – gerrit
    Mar 19 at 10:19
  • 15
    Yeah, it’s not a good look that this answer, that has not data, evidence, or sources and doesn’t even mention Europe was accepted. It really does nothing to answer the question
    – divibisan
    Mar 19 at 13:18
3

Police officers (and really any individuals that serve to guard the state to some capacity such as soldiers, intelligence officers etc.) have two influences on their political leanings as a generalisation, they are more likely to be associated closely with the power structure of the state and they are more likely to take a tough on crime perspective.

Most Western governments (including Western European) generally lean conservative, and as such the power structures of these nations tend to lean conservative. When most of the commanding officers of a police force are providing orders that align with their conservative political view, then this will be reflected in the police force (fear from officers to go against accepted beliefs also comes into play here; few people want to raise their voice against the crowd).

This as well as the fact that "tough on crime" is generally a conservative approach means that the person (police officer) holding that view is more likely to be conservative. Crime is mostly conducted by disadvantaged or ill individuals, and as the only tool (generally) available to police is to punish criminals to deter them, it can be clear to see why this goes against a left-leaning approach.

One thing that interests me is in most Western nations when a strong left-leaning party comes to power the police (and army and intelligence agency) seem to often attempt to undermine said ruling party. I wonder if a left-leaning party were to be able to hold onto power for a generation in a Western nation, if police (and others) would eventually fall in line with the shifting power structures of the state and become more left-leaning?

As an example of this last point I have often remembered a shocking (from my perspective) story from Australia between the years of 1951 and 1975 or so. The centre-right party of the time in 1951 created ASIS (Australia's international intelligence agency) without informing anyone of its existence outside of this party's highest members. During this time ASIS spent a great deal of its resources creating smear campaigns against the centre-left party at the time and have been confirmed to have been involved with the secretive disappearances and arrests of left-leaning public individuals. The centre-left party only eventually found out about ASIS in 1975 (about four years after they came to power) and even after ASIS was publicly revealed to exist they still directed most of their resources to undermining the ruling party.

I always found this story interesting (and shocking) and a good reflection of all these factors I talk about.

5
  • 4
    ASIO was founded in 1949 by the then Labor (center left) government. You are probably thinking of ASIS, which was secret from the public until the 70s, but there is no suggestion that it was secret from the PM.
    – Jack
    Mar 18 at 22:14
  • 3
    Has any strongly left-leaning party gained power in any western country since the Second Spanish Republic? I'm aware that the YPG in Kurdistan/Syria wants to abolish the police, but I'm not aware of any other examples.
    – gerrit
    Mar 19 at 10:15
  • @Jack yes I did mean ASIS sorry (has now be corrected in OP). I often get the two mixed up. I am struggling to find clear information on exactly when Labor ministers became aware of the existence of ASIS, but it appears almost certain that they had no (confirmed) knowledge of such an organisation prior to Gough Whitlam's succession to position as PM.
    – James
    Mar 19 at 17:46
  • @gerrit I can't think of any examples of strongly left-leaning parties in Western nations since the fall of the Second Spanish Republic, but there may be parties that are considered more than just centre-left as the status quo in the West is conservative.
    – James
    Mar 19 at 17:50
  • 1
    @gerrit Depending on how "strong" you consider them, Syriza in Greece, and lately "Unidas Podemos" in Spain through a coalition with PSOE could qualify.
    – Rekesoft
    Mar 22 at 9:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .