Is Western Europe Really Turning to the Right?

A large-scale and widely-noted survey, “The Conversion of Europeans to the Values of the Right,” suggests that Western Europe is trending conservative. But a close look at the survey data finds that not to be the case.

In other words, the “values of the Right” mentioned in the Fondapol survey represent but an attenuated version of what a true conservative understands by the phrase. The survey focuses on economics, specifically on the extent and role of the state. It barely involves traditional values, education, individual responsibility, national independence, free markets, a single law for all, the nuclear family, criminal punishment, and freedom of speech and religion; much less do they include such culture-war topics as racism, affirmative action, income inequality, climate change, cancel culture, abortion, homosexual marriage, or trans-sexuality.

It is only among the Western European political parties deemed “far-right” that one finds even a semblance of true conservatism, such as those above. These parties, however, are delegitimized and insulted, limiting their appeal while simultaneously attracting fringe elements to them.

From this larger perspective, Western Europeans are not in the least turning to the “values of the right” but are ever-more distant from them. Fondapol has it exactly wrong: except in economics, the values of the Left are preponderant and growing, exactly as it seems to us on the outside.

A large-scale and widely-noted survey, “The Conversion of Europeans to the Values of the Right,” suggests that Western Europe is trending conservative. But a close look at the survey data finds that not to be the case.

La Fondation pour l’innovation politique (or the Fondapol Foundation), which calls itself a “liberal, progressive, and European think tank,” surveyed 7,603 respondents in Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy between January 20 and February 10, 2021. In striking contrast to historic trends, it found the young to be more conservative than the old, suggesting a move toward conservativism.

To be precise, 41% of the young (defined as ages 18-34) associate with the Right, as well as 38% of the elderly (age 50 and above). Likewise, 24% of the young associate with the Left, as do 30% of the elderly. It bears noting that the pollsters do not define these terms but allow respondents to do so. The statistical differences are not large; but given that the young usually grow more conservative with age and, presuming that these four countries are typical of Western Europe as a whole, this data suggests that the Right in Western Europe will likely further build its lead over the Left.

The author of the Fondapol survey, Victor Delage, explains this turn to the Right as due mainly to three of Western Europe’s hottest-button issues: “hostility to immigration, mistrust of Islam, and a preference for economic liberalism.”

Scrutiny of Fondapol’s data on the first two of these issues, however, stunningly contradicts Delage’s explanation. First, the young accept immigrants significantly more than their elders: only 46% of the 18-24 cohort agree that “there are too many immigrants” in their country, whereas an average of 60% of those older agree with it. Second, Fondapol finds that 44% of the young in France (it only asked this question there) agree that “Islam presents a menace to the country,” while 72% of the elderly agree with it — a massive difference.

Assuming that the French numbers apply to the other three countries, Great Britain, Germany and Italy, these figures point to a seeming contradiction: while a plurality of the young identify with the Right, they are also less worried about immigration and Islam, attitudes widely associated with the Right. How can they possibly be more on the Right than their elders while less anxious about the priority issues of immigration and Islam?

Looking at the parties and leaders associated with the Right in Western Europe solves the conundrum. Led by Angela Merkel of Germany, the dominant voice of the respectable Right, her epigones in the United Kingdom (e.g., David Cameron), the Netherlands (Mark Rutte), France (Nicolas Sarkozy), Spain (Mariano Rajoy), Sweden (Fredrik Reinfeldt), and elsewhere have little problem either with the current number of immigrants or the compatibility of Islam with indigenous values.

To focus on Merkel: she promoted the idea of Willkommenskultur, or a culture of welcoming migrants, thereby implying that foreigners, no matter where they come from or whatever their legal status, have a legitimate place in Germany. Responding to her interior minister, Horst Seehoffer, who stated that “Islam does not belong to Germany,” Merkel insisted that “Islam belongs to Germany.” Other conservative figures have made similar statements.

In other words, the “values of the Right” mentioned in the Fondapol survey represent but an attenuated version of what a true conservative understands by the phrase. The survey focuses on economics, specifically on the extent and role of the state. It barely involves traditional values, education, individual responsibility, national independence, free markets, a single law for all, the nuclear family, criminal punishment, and freedom of speech and religion; much less do they include such culture-war topics as racism, affirmative action, income inequality, climate change, cancel culture, abortion, homosexual marriage, or trans-sexuality.

It is only among the Western European political parties deemed “far-right” that one finds even a semblance of true conservatism, such as those above. These parties, however, are delegitimized and insulted, limiting their appeal while simultaneously attracting fringe elements to them.

From this larger perspective, Western Europeans are not in the least turning to the “values of the right” but are ever-more distant from them. Fondapol has it exactly wrong: except in economics, the values of the Left are preponderant and growing, exactly as it seems to us on the outside.

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