The middle

Doug Saunders considers the decline of centrist parties in the Western world.

The big-tent parties functioned, during their glory years in the postwar decades, as the paternal overlords of protected, closed national economies, engaging in brokerage politics whereby the fruits of growth could be spread out among clients and beneficiaries on the left and right. The big political parties were like family heirlooms, their loyalties kept for life and passed on between generations – badges of personal identity, like Ford and Chevy, Coke and Pepsi, Apple and Microsoft. Membership had its benefits.

But then, in the 2000s, there was what Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies who analyzed dozens of elections, calls a “generational rupture”: Suddenly, he says, voters no longer see parties as badges of loyalty or symbols of lifelong personal identity, but as consumer products, as tools that can be used to address specific concerns.