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In most countries this trend is followed. Even in countries like UK/Canada where 1 party is uniquely more successful instead of being even like in USA (Tories in UK, Liberals in Canada), this trend is seen. It it simply due to the structure of democratic systems ? I know FPTP systems produce polarising results with 1 large left/right winner and 1 large left/right opposition. In most countries the economic right is closely associated with religious groups too which is very consistent whereas economically left parties are secular etc.

Why is there this uniformity in political results when cultures and countries are so different ?

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  • I don't see the UK tories as being 'uniquely more successful' than Labour. The fact that they had a one-party majority in Parliament in two of the last four elections is down to the FPTP voting system. The difference between the winning party and the second party in UK elections has been below 10 percentage points in the national popular vote since the last election of Tony Blair (except in 2019 when Labour performed particularly poorly under Corbyn and was 11.5 percentage points behind).
    – Jan
    Apr 22, 2022 at 13:22

2 Answers 2

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I'm not convinced the premise of the question is true with regard to centrist governments, at least in the post-World War II era. There have been center-left, center-right coalitions in all of Europe's largest countries, for example, in the last 75 years.

Italy, for example, had various permutations of the five most centrist political parties in the country, the Pentapartito, in short lived government coalitions that not infrequently crossed center-left to center-right lines for decades, often re-forming almost identical government coalitions after elections held not long after previous elections failed to resolve deadlocks that arose in previous coalitions.

The United Kingdom famously had a "grand coalition" and skipped an election that otherwise would have been required since more than five years elapsed from the previous election, during World War II. See also the unity government of Belgium in 1946, and Canada in 1917.

Grand coalitions of center-left and center-right parties were formed in Germany following elections in 2005 and 2013, and West Germany had a grand coalition government following elections in 1966.

It is hardly surprising that far-left and far-right parties are rarely found in the same coalition. They have little or no policy common ground upon which to cooperate in a coalition forming a government.

It isn't clear how you count a minority government in a parliamentary system, such as Australia after the 2010 election, Belgium in 1958 and 2020, fifteen times in Canada (most recently in 2021), Denmark (frequently from 1982 through 2019), six times in Estonia since 1992 (most recently in 2018), several times in Germany, eleven times in Ireland (most recently in 2016), in the Netherlands in two governments from 2010 to 2017, in Norway in 2013 and 2020, in Sweden many times including a center-left/center-right minority government in 2010 and a current left leaning minority government, in the U.K. briefly in 2017, and currently also in Croatia, Israel, Poland, Slovenia and Spain.

And, it is trivially true that every time you don't have either a far-left/far-right coalition, a centrist grand coalition, or divided government (in countries like the U.S. and France, where this is possible and not terribly uncommon, and there have also been minority governments which are a close analog of divided governments in countries where truly divided government is structurally more or less forbidden), you have either a center-left and left coalition for a while, and then a center-right and right coalition, or visa versa, since those are the only remaining permutations and seem to be within the meaning of what the OP calls a "rotation" even though the transitions from left to right and back again, don't always follow one after the other.

Further, simply putting coalitions into a left leaning, right leaning, or grant box, when there isn't divided government, can conceal the fairly rare, but important complete restructuring of political parties on one side or the other of the political spectrum.

For example, the landscape of political parties in Canada profoundly changed between 2004 and 2011, despite the overall left-right balance not changing all that much.

Italy eventually broke out of being stock in its Pentapartito politics after constitutional reforms were adopted and new parties were formed.

Mexico, after about a century broke out of a PRI dominant party system into a system with competitive parties with real viability.

The Republican Party in the U.S. arose from the collapse of Northern Liberal establishment parties shortly before the U.S. Civil War.

This list is certainly not exhaustive.

So, there is infrequent but dramatic change in the lineup of political parties every now and then which simple left-right boxes don't capture.

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    There has been another grand coalition formed in Germany following the 2017 election. By contrast, though, minority governments have not been a thing at a federal level except as a direct prelude to a snap election or new government forming; twice by the FDP leaving a coalition and withdrawing its ministers (1966 and 1982) and once after an MdB was excluded from the SPD in 1972 causing the coalition to lose the last theoretical vote of majority it had. In 1966 and 1982, a Constructive Motion of No Confidence elected a new chancellor and government, in 1972 parliament was dissolved.
    – Jan
    Apr 22, 2022 at 13:34
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I'm not sure what exactly you mean when you say 'rotations of a left/centre-left or right/centre right party winning government'. I interpret it to mean there being two strong parties, one of which left of centre, the other right of centre and government typically alternating between them (although not necessarily at every election).

I think you would consider Germany such an example: at a national level, the most recent governments have been: left/centre coalition, grand coalition, centre-right coalition, grand coalition, left-of-centre coalition, right-of-centre coalition, left/centre coalition and we're already in the 1960's.

However, I feel this already breaks down at state level. Take a look at this handy graphic of the different minister presidents coloured by party affiliation throughout postwar history.

Picture as described in the text above

Bavaria has not had a non-CSU minsiter president since 1957. Baden-Württemberg was CDU-dominated from 1954 until the extraordinary events of 2011. Bremen has never been ruled by anybody non-SPD since the formation of the Federal Repblic. Brandenburg and Saxony have both seen only minister presidents from one party since they joined the FRG after the downfall of the GDR. In Rhineland-Palatinate, there was CDU-dominance until Scharping snatched the state for the SPD in 1991 where it has remained since.

The reasoning behind all of these is often the two major parties' (CDU/CSU and SPD) voter bases. As any social-democratic party, the traditional voter base of the SPD was workers in industry and city population (hence their popularity in the city states, the highly industrialised South of Hessia or the Rhine and Ruhr regions in North Rhine-Westfalia) while the traditional base of the CDU/CSU was rural voters and religious people (hence their dominance in the rural areas of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate where the rural population outnumbered urban workers).

Going back in history it doesn't look all too well either. Towards the end of the Weimar Republic, the fringe parties (fascist NSDAP and communist KPD) gained an ever-rising share of the vote at the expense of the more centrist parties (like SPD and Zentrum, which might be considered a predecessor of the CDU/CSU). In the 1930's, an antidemocratic majority occurred with KPD and NSDAP together holding over half the seats in the Reichstag. While they would never form a coalition, together they could block any centrist coalition from forming or indeed centrist politics from happening. This was part of the reason for the downfall of Weimar democracy leading to the Nazi dictatorship.

As for the current situation: At least when it comes to the question of largest parties, things are breaking down, too. SPD and CDU/CSU used to gain around 40 % of the national vote share each but in 2021 that was down to about 25 % each. With the Greens, a third party grew to an almost similar vote share and their candidate was seen as the most likely future chancellor last summer when the Greens polled ahead of SPD and CDU/CSU. There is also an extreme-right party on the rise which might shake things up and which has already polled as the single strongest party in a couple of states. A party more on the left (no longer adequately described as centre-left) has had ups and downs in the last two decades; currently, they are leading the government in Thuringia but it's anyone's guess where they will stand in five years.

All the above and I didn't even really point to grand coalitions which have occurred a lot in recent German history (both at the federal and state level) or coalitions such as the 'Kenya coalition', combining SPD, CDU/CSU and Greens, which have left-of-centre and right-of-centre parties in them and which cannot cleanly be defined as centre-left or centre-right unless you squint and look only at the colour of chancellor/minister president.

So maybe you can 'find' a 'trend' if you zoom out and generalise a lot but that, in my opinion, goes at the expense of details and is not a very helpful way to analyse things.

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