Nicholas Maduro Evo Morales Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

The Siren Song of Left-Wing Populism

A growing number of commentators believe that populism represents the best strategy for the left to reclaim power and advance policies needed to provide economic security in the face of globalization. But these thinkers should look beyond populism's electoral effectiveness, and acknowledge the threat that it can pose to democracy.

SANTIAGO – Social democratic parties around the world are struggling. In France’s 2017 presidential election, the candidate for the Socialists – once the mainstream party of the French left – received a mere 6% of the vote, and the party has since been forced to sell its headquarters on the chic Rue de Solférino in Paris.

Likewise, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) gained just 20% of the vote in that country’s federal election last fall – the party’s worst showing in the postwar period. And the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) secured just over 20% of the vote in the 2015 and 2016 general elections, which is half the share it received a decade ago.

Meanwhile, in each of these countries, left-wing populist parties have been capturing a significant share of the vote. Twenty percent of French voters cast ballots for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) in 2017; 9% of Germans voted for Die Linke (The Left); and 21% of Spaniards backed Podemos.

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