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Is Immigrant-Bashing a Vote Winner for the Left?

With Europe's traditional voter blocs now scattered like never before, some center-left parties have been tempted to siphon off working-class votes from the right by adopting an anti-immigrant agenda. But aping far-right populists is a mistake for progressives, on both moral and tactical grounds.

LONDON – Is a hardline position on immigration the key to electoral success for Europe’s beleaguered center left? Denmark’s Social Democrats certainly think so. They took first place in a general election this month after arguing that immigrants threaten the country’s social cohesion and generous welfare state. The far-right Danish People’s Party, whose line that message echoed, suffered significant losses.

Center-left parties undoubtedly need to bolster their appeal. In last month’s European Parliament election, their share of the vote plunged to new lows in Germany, France, Italy, and Britain; they finished first in just five of the European Union’s 28 member states. And while center-right parties have also languished in Europe’s increasingly polarized and fragmented political environment, they have not flagged as much as center-left parties.

But notwithstanding the Danish Social Democrats’ victory, opposing immigration is not the answer. Though some voters have deserted center-left parties for populists who blame immigrants for everything, no self-respecting progressives should be aping the far right. Principles aside, such a strategy will generally backfire.

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