Seniors save Europe from slipping into one of

Seniors save Europe from slipping into one of

Seniors save Europe from slipping into one of the political extremes. For now. But the pattern is changing, and the political scene is becoming more fragmented, giving way to experimental movements that challenge the political establishment as we know it.

Emmanuel Macron won his second term at the Élysée Palace, a premiere in the last 20 years, and that was due to senior voters. In fact, the fact that he reached the second round was due to them, notes an analysis of the British from The Economist. If in the first round on April 10 only the votes of voters under the age of 60 were counted, Macron would have placed third, after his opponents Marine Le Pen (far right) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (far left). ).

In fact, throughout most of Europe, leaders at the center of the political scene owe their victory primarily to seniors, who go to the polls with discipline unmatched by the next generation of voters. The problem is, they won’t be around for long.

Therefore, those who follow will either improve their options and migrate to the political center, or Europe will slide from a predictable centrism, in which it has been comfortable for decades, to one of the extremes.

In Europe and beyond, voter preferences follow a predictable pattern as they age. Overflowing with the idealism and empathy that parents seem to lack, younger citizens tended to tip the balance of their preferences to the political left. However, as they got a little older – they also took out a mortgage, they also saw the income tax – they began to be seduced by the political right.

But ideological reorientation often takes place under the umbrella of the same political party. Wagon-like parties such as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU, center-right), Germany, or the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE, center-left) also include factions that can accommodate almost any preference, from those full of social solidarity to those with more liberal orientations.

One of two

Many European countries today have two options. Voters in the 70-year-old segment are in the area of ​​major historical parties (as are Republicans and Democrats in the United States). German pensioners have the CDU or the Social Democratic Party (SPD), parties that even their parents would have recognized. The same in Italy – where the septuagenarians vote with the Democratic Party or Forza Italia, the same in Spain and so on.

For the younger ones, the big political groups that crowd the political center are just one option among many. The reasons that linked their parents to a certain party of this kind – belonging to a parish community or to a certain union – are no longer valid. Even the inclination towards bolder political experiments has contributed to the emergence of new political movements in Europe – environmental parties and nationalist parties.

Some are strange, as in the case of the Five Star movement in Italy, a party with a changing identity, but which has attracted many young voters in recent elections in Italy. Some have a brutal history, such as Sinn Fein in Ireland and Northern Ireland, the political arm of a terrorist group (Irish Republican Army, IRA), but which now manages to attract more votes than the former political duopoly gathers together ( Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil). Xenophobic groups such as Jobbik in Hungary or the Swedish Democrats – both more reformed in recent times – have also managed to grow thanks to the votes of young people.

The Alternative Party for Germany (AfD) has been pulled down by voters over the age of 70, to which the far-right group has no support. Among voters under the age of 30, AfD was the party with the most votes – every fifth voter born after 1991 voted with AfD. Explication? Kerstin Völkl, a doctor of political science at Martin Luther University in Halle-Witteberg, said that the main reason was the position of the Conservative and Eurosceptic group, which sought to “create the image of a party that would be closely concerned with youth issues, “Deutsche Welle quoted after last summer’s election in Saxony-Anhalt.

Interestingly, successful political experiments of this kind can evolve into big parties, as was the case with the La République En Marche movement! – which propelled Macron to the supreme position in the state in 2017. After five years, En Marche became part of the establishment, and its success is due to the baby boomer generation. About 36% of French voters at least 60 years old voted for Macron in the first round (more than eight percent above his overall score), twice as many as those who voted for him, and they are under 25 years old.

Electoral generations

How do you explain this generational cleavage when it comes to electoral options? I just see politics differently. Retirees are attached to the parties that helped secure peace after a war they still remember, but also to decades of economic prosperity.

Young people in the millennial or Z generation have gone through two more serious economic crises – the one in 2008 and, more recently, the one associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The far left does not seem so frightening to those who do not know what the Cold War is.

For the elderly French electorate, for example, a far-left politician like Jean-Luc Mélenchon is alarmingly reminiscent of the French Communists who joined the Soviet Union, while the young perceive him as a voice against the rich.

Many young people rightly believe that politicians in traditional parties are pursuing policies to the liking of older citizens, who bought their homes before prices exploded, and enjoy inflation-resistant pensions that leave huge public debt behind. and ecological disaster.

The old clash of social classes has now turned into one of generations. Baby boomers have their own political parties, new generations – their own, which are unfortunately more and more radical groups. A common sense logic holds that the young electorate, as it matures, begins to adhere to mainstream, traditional parties, but this evolution is increasingly debatable. It is also the reason for the decline of central political mammoths in the last two decades.

Taming the extremes

Adherence to the dominant duo of traditional parties is not a guarantee of moderate policy. The American Republicans are a good example. On the other hand, fragmentation is not synonymous with extremism either. France has eroded its major traditional parties, favoring the spectrum of the political center. In Belgium and the Netherlands, parliaments have dozens of parties. Elections are becoming more and more the beginning of a long series of negotiations – for months or even years – for the formation of governing coalitions. This is why small parties often access such larger political constructions of government, without the risk of coming to control them.

The fragmentation of the political scene induced by the young electorate entails greater competition in the public sphere. Which is good. But the historic parties that have dominated European politics have so far managed to force extremist forces to moderate their position and migrate further to the center or otherwise risk extinction. A new model is gaining ground, in which all those whom the elderly electorate keeps on the sidelines for the time being will find their place, concludes The Economist.


On April 24, French President Emmanuel Macron became the second French head of state to win a second term in office since Jacques Chirac, winning the 1995 and 2002 presidential elections.

SALVATION. In a crucial electoral competition not only for the future of France, but also for the unity of the European Union and the Transatlantic Alliance (NATO), Macron (candidate from La République En Marche!) Obtained 58.5% of the votes in the second round , while his opponent, Marine Le Pen (president of the National Front) – only 41.5%. In the previous election race, in 2017, Macron also defeated Marine Le Pen in the final, with 66.1% -33.9%. THE POWER. France currently holds the six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, is the founding member state of the European Union, the second largest economy in the EU bloc, the first EU military power and the only EU country with nuclear power and a member of the United Nations Security Council. United Nations (UN).

This article appeared in issue 139 of . magazine.

Illustration: Getty