Monday, May 16, 2016

Presidential Elections in Austria and the U.S.: There is No Longer a Majority in the Political Center

There is an interesting article, "Long Dominated by Center, Austria Splinters to Left and Right," by Alison Smale about this coming Sunday's presidential runoff in Austria between the far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer and the independent former Green Alexander Van der Bellen.

What caught my eye is the passage that summarizes the vote totals of the two long-ruling, establishment parties in the first round -- the center-right People's Party and the center-left Social Democrats:
The forces that vaulted Mr. Hofer into the spotlight are evident across much of the Continent, where many traditional parties in the center are embattled and voters are signaling increased discontent with politics as usual. Austria could be a test case for how far voters will go to demand change as immigration joins with diminished economic security and resentment of entrenched elites to create a combustible political mix.
In France, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front is polling far ahead of the governing Socialists, and President François Hollande’s approval ratings have slumped as low as 13 percent a year before he faces another election.
To Austria’s east, Prime Minister Viktor Orban rules Hungary with an authoritarian touch, and a conservative government in Poland is molding the news media and the judiciary to its taste. Germany is confronting growing support for the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, and the British referendum in June on whether to leave the European Union is cleaving Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives. That vote could turn on many of the same issues rattling politics elsewhere, including immigration, nationalism and disenchantment with the European bureaucracy in Brussels.
But the disruption has been especially pronounced in Austria, the crossroads of a troubled Continent. Despite having dominated politics since 1945, or perhaps because of that dominance, the two major centrist parties could not muster even a quarter of the popular vote between them in the first round of the presidential contest.
Mr. Hofer won 35 percent. Behind him was the former Green Party leader, Alexander Van der Bellen, with 21 percent. There has not been any polling for the runoff, but all indications are that the race will be tight.
While what is happening in Austria seems astounding -- imagine the Republicans and Democrats unable to achieve 25% between the two -- something similar is in fact happening in the United States, which has a diabolically complex 50-state system guaranteeing that there is no multi-party democracy.

Establishment Republicans -- Kasich, Bush, Rubio -- won a fraction of the GOP vote compared with frontrunners Trump and Cruz. Hillary is good for half the Democratic electorate. So all told, let's say the U.S. political center is polling at 37% nationwide. Not altogether different from situation unfolding in Austria. I'm sure if the U.S. had Muslim war refugees pouring into Penn Station that 37% would be much closer to 25%.

As anti-capitalist protests continue in France, it is no coincidence that Cold War is being repackaged at a time of paradigm shift. The same thing happened in the 1970s when neoliberalism began its ascent and the "excess of democracy" of the 1960s was beaten back. Now that we are being herded into a digital version of the same old "Washington Consensus" structural adjustment, the Russian Bear and Chinese Dragon are coming in handy once again.

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