Pandering to populists and the backfire effect

Politico has a feature on the rise of the Bavarian Greens. The bit that leapt out at me was this:

Green leaders say that voters appreciate the party’s clear stance on issues like migration, climate change and European integration.

As in other countries, the rise of a far-right party has pushed Germany’s national debate toward the right, with many parties adopting a harsher rhetoric, particularly on migration. The CSU, in particular, has moved sharply to the right.

The Greens, however, have stuck to their pro-immigration, pro-European position. As other parties became consumed by quarrels over asylum policy, with the CSU’s rightward shift bringing the government close to collapse, the Greens exuded a calm stability.

All too often, when the populists start shouting, the mainstream parties start shifting their positions in the hope of winning back populist voters. This approach can work in the short term but fails to recognise that populists are a minority and many of the votes they amass are protest votes rather than an indication of a fundamental shift in values.

By following the populists, therefore, the established parties will find themselves losing the more moderate, mainstream voters upon which their success depends. More insidiously, they also grant the populists’ agenda a much wider hearing than it deserves.

Populists are a shouty minority that seek to exploit real concerns to support an agenda that neither properly addresses those concerns nor reflects the underlying values of a community. These concerns should, obviously, be addressed, but the simplistic and unworkable solutions that the populists propose should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

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