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The risk-opportunity cleavage and the transformation of Europe’s main political families\ud

By Albena Azmanova

Abstract

Analyses of the last two rounds of general elections in the EU (old) 15 member-states, as well as of the 1999 and 2004 European elections, reveal some of the symptoms of what Key and Burnham called "critical elections": elections that mark a sudden, considerable and lasting realignment in the electorate, leading to the formation of new electoral majorities. I explore the hypothesis that these series of critical elections at the turn of the century are triggering a radical realignment under the pressures of a new fault-line of conflict aggregation -- one shaped by attitudes to globalization. As a result, an opportunity-risk cleavage is emerging which is challenging, and opting out to replace, the capital-labor dynamics of conflict that have shaped the main political families in Europe over the 20th century. This paper traces the dynamics of realignment in terms of shifts at four levels: 1) The public agenda of political mobilization; 2) The social composition of electoral constituencies 3) the ideological basis of party competition. On this basis, an alignment is taking place, on the one hand between the centre-left and centre-right midpoint around an "opportunity" pole and, on the other, the circumference of far-right and radical-left parties around a "risk" pole. To what extend will these pressures of realignment manage to unfreeze (in reference to Rokkan and Lipset) the established party-political constellations in nation-states remains to the determined. However, tensions between the analyzed pressures of realignment and existing institutionalized forms of political representation go a long way in explaining the current crisis within both Social Democracy and European Conservatism, as well as the rise of new forms of populism in Europe

Topics: H, J
OAI identifier: oai:kar.kent.ac.uk:10930

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