Monday, November 20, 2006

Anthony Downs and Victorian politics

The American elections were a crash and burn for the strategy of polarisation and 'mobilizing the base', but maybe the Victorian elections will show that the opposite strategy of tacking to the centre may have problems also. Victorian Liberals are making progress in the polls. So far a good opposition performance, reminiscent of Bob Carr in 1991 and 1995 and likely to be as problematic in government as promises prove impossible to deliver. If you tack to the centre will the opposition eventually work out how to do the same and win? David Cameron's good poll performance in UK is an example. My thinking influenced by a very interesting book Redeeming the Communist Past on the political adaptation of former Communist parties in Eastern Europe. On one hand a bit depressing, mostly the road to political success for these parties has been through a Downsian pursuit of the middle ground and a mass party membership just gets in the way of this. Czech voters frightened off when door-knocked by elderly Communists who thought life had been great before 1989. But the author does argue that it can be rational for a party to develop on some aspects a distinctive position, even a minority one, both as a means of mobilising its core support and of differentiation in the political marketplace. For the post-Communist Polish left this was secularism and resistance to the Catholic nationalism of the right.

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