Does The Radical Right Thrive In Two-Party Or Multi-Party Systems?
Co-Written By Carson Markley and Bethan Johnson
Despite a diverse set of political landscapes with unique histories, it is nonetheless the case that the Alt-right has managed to orchestrate major electoral success across the world from Australia to Germany, the United States to Brazil, and elsewhere. Much has been made of its victories at the polls, but the reality is that the degree of Alt-right political parties’ success globally is variable.
This leads to questions of which characteristics may prove to be most advantageous to the Alt-right’s ability to organize. One such significant contextual factor is democratic structure. This deep dive reveals how different democratic structures serve the Alt-right. This analysis was performed in two parts: first, a theoretical analysis, and second, a case study comparison.
Liberal democracies fall under two broad categories: two-party and multi-party systems. Political theorists at Britannica have elucidated the advantages and disadvantages of each system. A multi-party system is deemed highly representative and offers a wide range of political solutions. However, multi-party systems usually rely on coalition governments, which can be unstable.
Additionally, multiple parties can increase the intensity of political conflicts which also decreases government efficiency. A two-party system serves as a foil to the multi-party system. Two-party systems are considered to result in more stable governments, higher government efficiency, less representation, and fewer political solutions in comparison.
Theoretically, it appears that multi-party systems provide several advantages to the Alt-right. First, it allows them to form a mainstream party with viable electability, which is far less likely to happen under a two-party system. One of the main tactics of the Alt-right is recruiting members of society who feel isolated from politics. They then offer political solutions that only they can provide. Second, multi-party systems produce politically alienated people through unstable governments and political gridlock. Multiparty systems, therefore, provide a fertile ground for recruitment.
Case Study: Norway and Germany
This theoretical hypothesis, however, is not supported by real-world scenarios, as a myriad of examples could demonstrate. For example, consider the multi-party systems in Germany and Norway. Germany’s Alt-right party is called the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD). In the 2017 federal elections, they won 13.3% of the vote, making them the third-largest party in the country. Despite this election success, they have had no governmental power because other political parties refused to form a coalition with them.
This has resulted in unusual coalitions with three political parties instead of the normal two. Some of the collations include “Jamaica”, “Traffic Light”, and “Kenya,” which are named after the patterns created by colors of the three political parties involved. With no membership in a coalition, the AfD has no control over that passage of legislation and gets no political appointments despite its popularity.
Elsewhere, Norway’s Alt-right party is known as the Progress Party. In the 2017 parliamentary election, they won 15.3% of the vote and formed a winning coalition with the Norway Conservative Party, the second election in a row in which they were able to do so. It’s important to note that this is the only example of a far-right party sitting in a coalition. However, it is not as right leaning as most Alt-right parties.
The Progress Party is populist, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic, but they do possess some more mainstream beliefs, such as libertarian economic policies. The mixture of fringe and semi-ordinary, in fact, have translated into some debate within the literature on whether the party should truly be considered Alt-right.
Case Study: The United States and Malta
While two-party systems are a rarity, a second pair of countries including the United States and Malta are worth noting. The former is a democracy that has recently had issues combating the Alt-right, while the latter is a democracy that has proven successful against the Alt-right.
The United States has, for decades, had a stable two-party system contested between the Republicans (right-leaning) and the Democrats (left-leaning). However, former President Donald Trump (Republican) has come under scrutiny for being a political sympathizer of the Alt-right. Firstly, Mr. Trump embraced certain policy positions and utilized rhetorical strategies that many have interpreted as Alt-right, such as: his campaign accusations about Mexican immigrants as ‘drug-dealers, criminals, rapists’; Middle Eastern policies such as the supposed ‘Muslim ban’; and his attempts to sow distrust in the validity of elections that he or his party did not win).
Beyond this, there were also specific moments in his presidency which people have used to evidence his leanings. One was his soft response to the events of the Charlottesville rally that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer. Another was his role in the January 6th Capitol riot, which escalated to the point of his facing a second impeachment and earning a sustained ban from several social media platforms.
On the other hand, Malta has had a stable two-party democracy since the 1950s, and the competition has been between the Labour Party (left-leaning) and the Nationalist Party (right-leaning). Despite what the name may suggest, the Nationalist party has no connections to the Alt-right, and ideologically aligns as a center-right Christian democratic party. In 2019, the Alt-right Imperium Europa Party became the third largest party in Malta with a measly total of 3.17% of the vote. Overall, the rise of the Alt-right in Malta has had marginal effects if any. This makes Malta a two-party system that successfully held off the rise of the Alt-right.
These case studies suggest that government structure is not a primary factor in Alt-right successes and failures. In a multi-party system, the Alternative for Deutschland seems to have gained no power, no matter how well they perform, while in Norway, The Progressive Party has gained all the advantages of being a part of a governing coalition. In a two-party system, Malta’s Imperium Europa Party is claiming major success after only winning 3% of the vote. Meanwhile, in the United States a candidate supported by the Alt-right was able to win the most powerful office in the entire country.
One possible alternative reason for the success or failure of Alt-Right parties is political gatekeeping. Germany has had an atrocious history with fascism and therefore political parties from across the ideological spectrum have been willing to make unlikely coalitions to stop the AfD. By contrast, Norway is not as aggressive in its preventative measures, as perhaps the Progress Party is seen as comparatively less extreme to other Alt-right parties.
Malta’s mainstream political parties, meanwhile, have rejected the Alt-right and continued to outperform them, forming governments without the need for coalitions or alliances with the Imperium Europa Party. Amidst the fracturing two-party system in the United States, some members of the Republican Party have chosen to endorse the Alt-right not exclusively because they agree, but in some instances because doing so has become politically expedient.
Through examples in Germany, Norway, Malta, and the United States, it appears that democratic structure has no effect on the electoral success of the Alt-right in practice. Instead, the examples point to domestic political parties’ ability to gatekeep which should be the subject of future research into the Alt-right.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world. Rantt has been partnered with CARR for 3 years. We’ve published over 150 articles from CARR’s network of PhDs, historians, professors, and experts analyzing extremism and combating disinformation.