Are French and Greek Election Results That Surprising?

I’m fascinated by articles finding any mystery in the recent French and Greek elections. Do the results prove or disprove the sagacity of recent austerity drives in European budgets? Do they presage the resurgence of socialist initiatives in France?  Do they sound the death knell for established political parties in Greece?

Hardly. The French and Greek governments were only the latest two of perhaps a dozen to fall in the past few years. Some count Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States in 2008 and the Republican Party’s recapture of the House of Representatives a mere two years later as similar political upheavals.

Throughout the developed world we are seeing the electorate respond to two powerful forces. The first: the Great Recession and its aftermath. In the wake of this severe economic downturn, no political party is safe, and public opinion bounces from left to right to everywhere in between. Voters are mainly rejecting whoever is in power, with the source of popular frustration switching from the recession to the lack of a better recovery.

The second, less obvious force: a new fiscal era whose details have yet to be resolved. Since World War II, politicians have been able to operate mostly on the give-away side of the budget, with legislation dominated by tax cuts and spending increases. Now these generous governments have shot their wads, giving away not just current resources but any that ever will be available—and then some. That’s tough. Politicians usually do not run on what they are going to ask for from us, as opposed to what they are going to give us. And we voters punish politicians when they try to either pay for all those past give-aways or pare them back.

These problems are not the left-right issues of the 20th century. Political parties themselves must redefine themselves for this new era, and, since they haven’t figured that out, their internal upheavals match their external ones in dealing with the voter.

Expect the political turmoil to continue.

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