Mainstream Parties in Crisis: The Cost of Convergence

Issue Date January 2021
Volume 32
Issue 1
Page Numbers 22-36
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Much recent discussion about democratic dysfunction has focused on polarization. In Europe, however, it is not so much polarization and partisanship that have led to democratic decay and the rise of populism, but rather party convergence and diminishing partisanship. The clearest and most consequential example of this dynamic occurred in Germany, where the main center-left and center-right parties moved to the center. This article argues that polarization over economic issues is less problematic than polarization over culture, and that convergence can also threaten democracy if parties move away from voter preferences and a “representation gap” emerges, creating a context in which extremist parties can thrive.