It is often said that we live in a time of crisis for social democracy. Many of the West European centre-left parties that seemed the natural parties of government in the second half of the twentieth century are in decline. The most common long-term explanations centre on a shrinking working class, a widening gap between the party elite and their core voters, and the challenges from new populist parties and/or greens. Short-term policy factors include the failure to address the recent financial and refugee crises. None of these factors carry much explanatory weight for developments in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in the three decades since the transition from communism. We find that much of the explanation for the rise and the fall of the five social democratic parties in these countries lies in the dynamics of party competition and party system change. All parties face dilemmas of policy, electoral appeal and coalition-building. The Central European cases suggest that it is how social democrats handle such challenges and make difficult choices about strategy and tactics that ultimately shapes their long-term fate. Centre-left parties are stronger masters of their fortunes than much of the literature on the decline of social democracy suggests. Consequently, seeking a common structural explanation for the rise and decline of social democratic parties might be a double fallacy: both empirically misleading and a poor base for policy advice.
Bakke, E. and Sitter, N. (2021), "Each Unhappy in Its Own Way? The Rise and Fall of Social Democracy in the Visegrád Countries since 1989", Brandal, N., Bratberg, Ø. and Thorsen, D.E. (Ed.) Social Democracy in the 21st Century (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 37-68. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0195-631020210000035003
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