Do Bad Economic Conditions Explain the Success of Radical Left Parties in Europe?

Do Bad Economic Conditions Explain the Success of
Radical Left Parties in Europe?
Raul Gómez and Luis Ramiro

While most of the literature on economic voting focuses on mainstream parties, and particularly on the incumbent party, little is known about how support for non-mainstream parties is affected by bad economic conditions. The literature on radical-right and Green parties is inconclusive, as unemployment has been found to have positive, negative or no significant effects depending on the study (Mudde 2007: 205-206; Müller-Rommel 1998). It has been often argued that these parties do not fare particularly well in contexts in which the economy becomes particularly salient because they tend to focus on values rather than economic issues (Ivarsflaten 2005).  In contrast, previous aggregate-level studies on the radical left had found a positive correlation between unemployment rates and radical-left parties’ (RLP) vote share in European countries (March and Rommerskirchen 2015). This is consistent with anecdotal evidence from the Great Recession, when RLPs fared remarkably well in countries with particularly high unemployment rates like Greece and Spain.

In our recent study published in Party PoliticsBeyond the 2008 Great Recession. Economic Factors and Electoral Support for the Radical Left in Europe, we argue that economic conditions have an unconditional impact on voters’ probability to support RLPs in Europe. This is because, unlike other non-mainstream parties, the radical left tends to focus very strongly on economic issues such as unemployment and redistribution, and this is the case even for those RLPs that have adopted a new left agenda based on socio-cultural cosmopolitan/libertarian values (Gomez et al. 2016). We therefore theorize that contexts of high unemployment will be particularly suitable for RLPs to attract new voters. We also theorize that the effect might not be the same for all voters. First, it is possible that bad economic conditions only encourage those with a leftist ideology to vote for RLPs. Conversely, as voters with weak party attachments have been shown to be more strongly influenced by economic performance (Kayser and Wlezien 2011), it is possible that economic conditions may contribute to increasing support for RLPs among less ideological voters. Lastly, we hypothesize that negative economic conditions might not help RLPs if there is a right-wing incumbent, because strategic voting could mean voters concentrate around larger mainstream left-wing parties to try and eject the government. Continue reading “Do Bad Economic Conditions Explain the Success of Radical Left Parties in Europe?”