Over the past two decades, postcommunist countries have witnessed a sudden shift in the electoral fortunes of their political parties: previously successful center-left parties suffered dramatic electoral defeats and disappeared from the political scene, while populist right parties soared in popularity and came to power. This dynamic echoed similar processes in Western Europe and it raised a question: Were these dynamics in any way connected?
This book argues that they were. And that the root of the connection between them lies in the pro-market rebranding of the ex-Communist left—the key explanatory variable. I argue that, though the left’s pro-market shift initially led to electoral rewards, it had a less straightforward impact on left parties’ electoral fortunes in the long run. Traditional left supporters (working-class and economically vulnerable groups) were alienated by the new economic policies, and the middle-class voters newly drawn to these parties did not compensate for those losses. As result, several electoral rounds following the rebranding reformist left parties suffered dramatic electoral defeats. In response, right-wing parties in their respective countries adopted more redistributive economic platforms consistent with preferences of former left supporters, and incorporated sizeable shares of these electorates. This contributed to the growth of populist right parties in the countries with a pro-market left.
The book traces this process in postcommunist Europe on different levels of analysis: cross-country observational data, case studies, and individual-level experimental surveys. It argues that scholars should incorporate the economic policy dimension when explaining the demise of the left and the rise of the populist right in the region. It also examines important parallels between the dynamics of Western and postcommunist countries by arguing that the idiosyncrasy of Eastern European politics has been overstated in scholarly literature.