After World War II, European politics shifted sharply to the left. Much of Eastern Europe, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, East Germany and Yugoslavia — each of which was occupied by the Soviet Red Army after the war— went, often by intimidation by the occupiers, to the very far communist non-democratic left and became vassal states of the USSR in the Cold War period from 1947 to the late 1980s.
Greece and Italy had active communist parties, but voted for socialist governments. Great Britain, even before the war ended, elected a socialist Labour regime. France, Belgium, and the Netherlands soon moved to the left. The Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland adopted celebrated social welfare programs that were held to be the models of Europe’s left-wing future.
Only Spain and Portugal, neutral during World War II, maintained right-wing governments under longtime dictators until the 1970s, when, discarding totalitarian rule, they too voted for liberal governments.
Many U.S. Democrats — liberals, progressives, and radicals alike — idealized this European leftward shift, especially the Scandinavian social welfare models.
Thus in the period of conservative government in the U.S., from 1981 to 1993, and of more centrist politics from 1994 to 2009, American politics stood in clear contrast to regimes chosen by Europeans.
Flash forward to 2023, and we see a dramatic change in this political picture. In recent elections, Greek voters elected conservative candidates. Just as recently, Italian voters also elected a new conservative government. The latter, defying predictions, is doing well and remains popular.
Eastern Europe, including Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria have conservative governments.
Although they won the just-completed national election, Spanish conservatives are unable to assemble the necessary parliamentary majority, and a new election might be necessary. Nevertheless, Spanish voters have moved to the right.
Throughout Western Europe, conservative parties are growing, and left-wing parties are shrinking.
Because most European countries employ multi-party parliaments, conservatives are not yet governing. In some countries like Spain, it might only be a matter of time and one more national election before they do.
Even with the centrist government in France, led by relatively moderate Emmanuel Macron, voters have taken away Macron’s parliamentary majority and forced him to govern in an unstable coalition. Conservative opposition leader Marine Le Pen, polls say, has gained voters — although so far she lacks enough support from the smaller French parties to form a government.
Germany, too, has elected moderate governments even longer, but now that Angela Merkel is gone, voters are polarizing to left and right. With its World War II legacy and its delayed unification, not to mention its post-war revived continental economic dominance, German voters do not fit easily into any contemporary ideological model. Its left flank is the Green Party, not its socialist party. The current chancellor is a Social Democrat, but weak. Left leaning parties are in disarray, but the centrist Christian Democrats and right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) parties are not allies, and the German right can’t yet form a government. Far-left “green” energy policies are also making the German industrial sector weaker, and unpopular immigration policies have enabled the AfD to do increasingly well in recent elections.
In the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden, conservatives are gaining and winning. Even the leftist Danish government has adopted a conservative immigration policy not unlike those adopted in Eastern Europe.
Because of local issues, the left still governs and wins in a few European nations, but overall the continent’s voters are turning away from unsuccessful socialist and social welfare policies.
It is ironic perhaps that, as many Europeans embrace more and more U.S. conservative policies and ideas, the American government under Joe Biden advocates and implements the failed leftist models that Europe is abandoning.
There are increasing signs, as evidenced in almost all public opinion polling, however, that not only Republicans and conservatives are ready to reject this in 2024, but that many independents and even some moderate Democrats are also ready for new leadership and a new program beginning in January 2025.