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Beware the Authoritarian Center


At openDemocracy, political researcher David Adler summarizes the results of a recent study he conducted about support for democratic norms and institutions among British voters. Adler organized the survey results according to the self-identified politics of the respondents—left, right, and center. What he discovered undermines the convention wisdom that the political center is, as he writes, “the refuge of the sensible.” Centrists voters, it turns out, show a surprising amount of support for authoritarian politics, while voters at the “extremes” tend to value democratic norms. Check out an except from Adler’s article below.

What are implications of these findings for the state of democracy and its prospects for survival?

One is that the centre is not a safe zone. If Britain continues to move toward a hard Brexit, Remain moderates may be tempted to constrict the democratic will in order to get their way. In Italy, we have just witnessed a textbook case of authoritarian centrism, as the pro-establishment president blocked the formation of an anti-establishment government. The same could happen here.

For centrists who are also committed democrats, then, these findings should be particular cause for concern. If the centre must hold against a rising tide of false populism, then centrists must fortify it – engaging with moderate voters to renew their faith in democratic politics, rather than assuming their like-mindedness.

In the effort to safeguard liberal democracy, though, they have unlikely allies. The assumption, debunked here, that radical politics are anti-democratic has led some moderates to reject candidates that call for radical change. But there is nothing incompatible between strong political views and commitment to democratic process.

Image: Luigi Di Maio, head of Italy’s Five Star Movement. Via The Guardian.