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In politics, centrism or the centre describes a political outlook or specific position that involves acceptance or support of a balance of a degree of social equality and a degree of social hierarchy or social inequality; whilst opposing political changes which would result in a significant shift of society either strongly to the left or the right. Centre left and centre right politics both involve a general association with centrism combined while leaning somewhat to their respective sides of the spectrum.
Voters may identify with moderation for a number of reasons: pragmatic, ideological or otherwise. It has even been suggested that individuals vote for 'centrist' parties for purely statistical reasons.
Usage by political parties by country
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The utmost centrist party of Flanders has been the Volksunie, which not only embraced social liberalism but also displayed the national sentiment of the Dutch speaking Belgians who felt culturally suppressed by Francophones. The New Flemish Alliance is the largest, and since 2009, the only successor of that party.
Among French speaking Belgians the Humanist Democratic Centre is a centre-right or centre party as it is considerably less conservative than its Flemish counterpart, Christian Democratic & Flemish. Another party in the centre of the political spectrum is the liberal Reformist Movement.
Although the Liberal Party of Canada was the dominant centre-left party for most of the country's history, it lost that title in the 2011 federal elections to the New Democratic Party, or NDP. The Liberals have typically positioned themselves as being more moderate and centrist than the NDP, putting them somewhere between the centre and centre-left. The Liberals are currently the third-largest party in Canada's House of Commons. The unrepresented United Party of Canada has a similar platform.
France has a tradition of parties that call themselves centriste. The most notable centrist party, often also called liberal, was the Union for French Democracy, created in 1978. Among its successors belongs the small Centrist Alliance, the most successful of them is the Democratic Movement of François Bayrou, founded in 2007.
Zentrismus is a term merely known to experts, as it is easily confused with Zentralismus ("centrism", the opposite to descentralization/federalism); so the usual term in German for the political centre/centrism is politische Mitte (literally "political middle", or "political centre"). Historically, the German party with the most purely centrist nature among German parties to have had current or historical parliamentary representations was most likely the social-liberal German Democratic Party of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933).
There existed during the Weimar Republic (and again after the Nazi period) a Zentrum, a party of German Catholics founded in 1870. It was called Centre Party not for being a proper centrist party, but because it united left-wing and right-wing Catholics, because it was the first German party to be a Volkspartei (catch-all party), and because his elected representatives sat between the liberals (the left of the time) and the conservatives (the right of the time). It was, though, distinctly right-wing conservative in that it was not neutral on religious issues (such as on secular education), being markedly against more liberal and modernist positions. The main successor of Zentrum after the return of democracy to West Germany in 1945, the Christian Democratic Union, has throughout its history alternated between describing itself as right-wing or centrist, and sitting on the right-wing (with the Free Democratic Party in its social liberal moments sitting at its left, in the centre, and themselves sitting at the centre, with the FDP in its classical liberal moments sitting at its right, in the right-wing). The representatives of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, although they have, since the 1990s, many times referred to themselves as "the new middle" (under influence of the Third way of the time), feel less at ease in describing their party as centrist due to their history and socialist identity.
Alliance '90/The Greens was found in 1993 as a merger from the East German Alliance 90, a group of centrist/transversalist civil rights activists, and the (West) German Green. The Latter was a coalition of various unorthodox-left politicians and more liberal "realists". This Bundestag party also hesitates in using the term center, although it does distance itself as well from the tag of left (which identifies it, for the moment, as a transversalist party). The transversalist moderation of the party and its position in the Bundestag in the middle of the way, between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats (while the FDP has its seats at the right of the Christian Democrats) also points somewhat to The Greens being a more or less centrist party.
In the state parliaments of specific German states there are other specifically regional parties which could be identified as centrist. The South Schleswig Voter Federation, of the Danish and Frisian minorities in the state of Schleswig-Holstein has currently a centrist political position, although in the past the party usually leaned to the left. In the German presidential elections of 2009, 2010 and 2012, it supported the candidates of the Social Democrats and the Greens. In Bavaria, the Free Voters party present at the state parliament may also be seen as a centrist party.
In the Republic of Ireland, the two main political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, both claim the political centre ground, but seem to mostly lean to the centre-right and be mostly made up of centre-right memberships. The two parties have shared broadly similar policies in the past, with their primary division being perceived as being steeped in Irish Civil War politics. Fine Gael is aligned to Christian democratic parties in Europe via its membership of the European People's Party, and is described internationally as centre-right by the likes of Reuters. The consensus in analysis seems to be that Fiana Fáil is mostly centrist, expanding to the centre-right space, and that Fine Gael is mostly centre-rightist, expanding also to the centre space.
Livable Netherlands was originally a centrist political movement of local grass-root parties with an anti-establishment touch similar to early D66. However, the party entered in 2002 national parliament with a right-wing populist programme based on security and immigration as the major issues.
The fundamentalist Protestant ChristianUnion has a transversalist position that can be confused with a certain kind of centrist position, in so far it is left-leaning on social issues, immigration and environment, and right-leaning on drugs issues and euthanasia.
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In New Zealand, the main current centrist party is the United Future party, founded by a fusion of a previous centrist social liberal party and a previous Christian conservative party. United Future currently has one seat in the New Zealand parliament, supporting the current Government led by the National Party alongside ACT and the Maori Party.
In most of the Nordic countries, there are Nordic agrarian parties. These share in addition to the centrist position on the socio-economic left-right scale a clear, separate ideology. This position is centered around decentralisation, a commitment to small business and environmental protection. Centrists have aligned themselves with the Liberal International and European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party. Historically, all of these parties were farmers' parties committed to maintaining rural life. In the 1960s, these parties broadened their scope to include non-farmer related issues and renamed themselves Centre Party.
Neither the Centre Democrats (a now defunct centrist political party) nor the Liberal Alliance (a political party founded as a centrist social liberal party but that now is a classical liberal/Austroliberal party), both of Denmark, are rooted in centrist agrarianism.
The national party which Spanish voters most traditionally consider to be the closest to the centre, according to several opinion polls, is the Union, Progress and Democracy (this popular perception is, though, reject by the party itself, which classifies itself as transversalist and not centrist). Electors also consider as centrists the Convergence and Union coalition from Catalonia and the Basque Nationalist Party from the Spanish Basque Country.
Traditionally, though, the party which in UK politics is most commonly seen as holding the centre ground are the Liberal Democrats, which is a social liberal party often placed between centre-left and the radical centre (or on the radical centre itself) in terms of position in the political spectrum. In March 2011 the leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Nick Clegg, stated that he believed that his party belonged to the radical centre, mentioning John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, Jo Grimond, David Lloyd George and John Stuart Mill as other traditional examples of the radical centre that preceded the Liberal Democrats' foundation in 1988. He pointed to liberalism as an ideology of people, and he described the political spectrum and his party's position on it as follows: "For the left, an obsession with the state. For the right, a worship of the market. But as liberals, we place our faith in people. People with power and opportunity in their hands. Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right. But we are not on the left and we are not on the right. We have our own label: Liberal. We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics. Our politics is the politics of the radical centre."
Independent candidate H. Ross Perot garnered nearly 19% of the popular vote in the 1992 Presidential election. His "get under the hood" campaign focusing on balancing the budget has been one of the most successful centrist efforts in U.S. history, but he did not carry a single state in the Electoral College. He went on to form the Reform Party and run a second time in the 1996 Presidential election with less success.
A late 2011 Gallup poll of Americans' attitudes towards government reported that 17% expressed conservative views, 22% expressed libertarian views, 20% expressed communitarian views, 17% expressed centrist views, and 24% expressed liberal views.
Americans Elect, a coalition of American centrists funded by wealthy donors such as business magnate Michael Bloomberg, former junk-bond trader Peter Ackerman, and hedge fund manager John H. Burbank III, launched an effort in mid-2011 to create a national 'virtual primary' that would challenge the current two-party system. The group aims to nominate a presidential ticket of centrists with names that would be on ballots in all 50 states. The group banks on broad cultural dissatisfaction with the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. The Christian Science Monitor has stated that "the political climate couldn't be riper for a serious third-party alternative" such as their effort, but the "hurdles Americans Elect faces are daunting" to get on ballots.
Journalist and political commentator E.J. Dionne wrote in his book Why Americans Hate Politics, published on the eve of the 1992 Presidential election, that he believes American voters are looking for a "New Political Center" that intermix "liberal instincts" and "conservative values." He labeled people in this center position as "tolerant traditionalists". He described them as believers in conventional social morality that ensure family stability, as tolerant within reason to those that challenge those morals, and as pragmatically supportive of government intervention in spheres such as education, child care, health care as long as budgets are balanced.
In addition, Washington political journalist Linda J Killian describes the current situation in her book The Swing Vote. She writes that Americans are frustrated with Congress and its dysfunction and inability to do its job. A growing number of Americans are not satisfied with the political process because a number of factors from influx of money into politics and the influence of special interests and lobbyists. The book classifies four types of independent voters including "NPR Republicans", "America First Democrats", "The Facebook Generation" and "Starbucks Moms and Dads" who will be big determinates of Swing votes in the 2012 Presidential election.
- Oliver H. Woshinsky. Explaining Politics: Culture, Institutions, and Political Behavior. Oxon, England; New York, New York, USA: Routledge, 2008. Pp. 141, 161.
- "Probabilistic Voting and the Importance of Centrist Ideologies in Democratic Elections" Enelow and Hinich, The Journal of Politics, 1984 Southern Political Science Association
- Iran Daily - Dot Coms - 05-31-07, Bertie's Challenge, 5th paragraph
- Irish Poll Hits Fianna Fáil, 2nd paragraph
- "Irish opposition party says IMF/EU deal too costly". Reuters. 12 December 2010.
- Politieke Barometer: D66 middenpartij bij uitstek.
- DISTRIBUCIONES DE FRECUENCIA MARGINALES DEL ESTUDIO 2909 CUESTIONARIO 0 MUESTRA 0, CIS-Centro de Estudos Sociológicos (see Question number 27) (Spanish)
- Jonsson, Patrik (July 29, 2011). "Americans Elect launches centrist third-party bid amid Washington dysfunction". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
- Ekins, Emily (August 29, 2011). "Reason-Rupe Poll Finds 24 Percent of Americans are Economically Conservative and Socially Liberal, 28 Percent Liberal, 28 Percent Conservative, and 20 Percent Communitarian". Reason Magazine. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
- "Why Americans Hate Politics: A Reprise", Brookings Foundation, Winter 2000
- "4 Types of Independent Voters Who Could Swing the 2012 Elections", Linda Killian, Feb 2 2012