The rise of the anti-democratic ‘centrists’

In the 1930s and 1940s, the threat to democratic institutions came from fascists and Communists, radical ideological parties of the right and left.

Many political analysts today write as if we’re still living in that kind of era.  But political researcher David Adler finds that, compared to self-described leftists or rightists, self-described centrists are:

  • Less likely to say that democracy is a “very good” form of government.
  • Less likely to say that free and fair elections are an “essential feature of democracy.”
  • More likely (in the USA) to say that a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with a legislature is “fairly good or very good.”

As I think about this, it makes sense.  If you call yourself a centrist, you mean that you’re reasonably satisfied with the status quo.

And the status quo is a government in which, according to the Princeton Study, legislators respond to the wishes of the economic elite and organized interest groups, but not at all to public opinion.

It is not surprising that so many self-described centrists feel threatened by the rise of populism and want to create gatekeepers to keep the voting public from getting out of hand.

John Burn-Murdoch of Financial Times argued that people with the least education and least interest in politics are most prone to identify as centrists.  Adler says he has allowed for this.

And, anyhow, maybe it says something that people with more education and more interest in politics are more likely to reject the status quo.







Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists by David Adler for The New York Times.

The Centrist Paradox: Political Correlates of the Democratic Discontent by David Adler.  His academic paper.

A response to David Adler by John Burn-Murdoch.  An informative discussion thread on Twitter.

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2 Responses to “The rise of the anti-democratic ‘centrists’”

  1. Ataraxik Says:

    That’s an interesting take on it. Most people blame the right or left for being “anti-democratic.”


  2. ‘Moderates’ are Extremists, ‘Centrists’ are Right-Wingers | Marmalade Says:

    […] The rise of the anti-democratic ‘centrists’by Phil Ebersole […]


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