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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Centrism is the range of political ideologies that exist between left-wing politics and right-wing politics on the left–right political spectrum. It is associated with moderate politics, including people who strongly support moderate policies and people who are not strongly aligned with left-wing or right-wing policies. Centrism is commonly associated with liberalism, radical centrism, and agrarianism. Those who identify as centrist support gradual political change, often through a welfare state with moderate redistributive policies. Though its placement is widely accepted in political science, radical groups that oppose centrist ideologies may sometimes describe them as leftist or rightist.

Centrist parties in multi-party systems hold a strong position in forming coalition governments as they can accommodate both left-wing and right-wing parties, but they are often junior partners in these coalitions that are unable to enact their own policies. These parties are weaker in first-past-the-post voting and proportional representation systems. Parties and politicians have various incentives to move toward or away from the centre, depending on how they seek votes. Some populist parties take centrist positions, basing their political position on opposition to the government instead of left-wing or right-wing populism.

Centrism developed with the left–right political spectrum during the French Revolution, when assemblymen associated with neither the radicals nor the reactionaries sat between the two groups. Liberalism became the dominant centrist ideology in the 18th century with its support for anti-clericalism and individual rights, challenging both conservatism and socialism. Agrarianism briefly existed as a major European centrist movement in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The eugenics associated with the Holocaust caused centrists to abandon scientific racism in favour of anti-racism. Centrism became more influential after the dissolution of the Soviet Union as it spread through Europe and the Americas, but it declined in favour of populism after the 2007–2008 financial crisis.

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Ideology and political positions

As with all ideological groups, the exact boundaries of what constitutes centrism are not perfectly defined,[1] but its specific placement on the left–right political spectrum makes its position clearer relative to other ideologies.[2] Centrism most commonly refers to a set of moderate political beliefs between left-wing politics and right-wing politics. Individuals who describe themselves as centrist may hold strong beliefs that align with moderate politics, or they may identify as centrist because they do not hold particularly strong left-wing or right-wing beliefs. In some cases, individuals who simultaneously hold strong left-wing beliefs and strong right-wing beliefs may also describe themselves as centrist.[3] Although the left-centre-right trichotomy is well established in political science, individuals far from the political centre may occasionally reframe it, with the far-right alleging that the centre is leftist and the far-left alleging that the centre is rightist. Likewise, they may allege that their more moderate counterparts, the centre-left and the centre-right, are actually centrists because they are insufficiently radical.[4]

Liberalism is commonly associated with the political centre.[4] Both left-leaning and right-leaning variants of liberalism may be grouped within a broader understanding of centrism.[5] In Europe, left-leaning liberalism emphasises social liberalism and is more common in nations with strong conservative movements, while right-leaning liberalism emphasises economic liberalism and is more common in nations with strong Christian democratic movements.[6] Social liberalism combines centrist economic positions with progressive stances on social and cultural issues.[7] Left-leaning liberalism generally sits closer to the centre than right-leaning liberalism.[8]

Parties associated with social democracy and green politics commonly adopt the liberal position on social issues.[9] Green parties, usually associated with left-wing politics, have a history of centrist economic policies in Central and Eastern Europe.[10] Christian democracy, often considered a centre-right ideology, is sometimes grouped with the centre.[11]

Agrarianism may also be grouped with the centre.[12][5] Agrarian parties are associated with the interests of farmers and other people associated with agriculture.[9] Decentralization and environmental protection are also major agrarian ideals.[13] These parties often developed in European countries where there was not a strong liberal movement, and vice versa,[5] but they became less relevant by the mid-20th century.[13]

Radical centrism is a form of centrism defined by its rejection of the left–right dichotomy or of ideology in general.[14] Liberal scepticism and neo-republicanism can both be elements of radical centrism.[15] Third Way politics is a radical centrist approach taken by centre-left parties to find a middle ground between capitalism and socialism.[16]

Though populism is commonly associated with strong left-wing or right-wing beliefs, centrist populism is critical of the political system independently of social, economic, and cultural issues.[17] Centrist populist parties often do not have a strong ideological component, instead making anti-establishment politics the core of their message to capitalise on voter dissatisfaction and receive protest votes. These parties are most common in Central and Eastern Europe.[18]

Centrism advocates gradual change within a political system, opposing the right's adherence to the status quo and the left's support for radical change.[19] In contemporary politics, centrists generally support a liberal welfare state.[20] Centrist coalitions are associated with larger welfare programs, but they are generally less inclusive than those organised under social democratic governments.[21] Centrists may support some redistributive policies, but they oppose the total abolition of an upper class.[19] Centrist liberalism seeks institutional reform, but it prioritises prudence when enacting change.[22] European centrist parties are typically in favour of European integration and were the primary movers in the development of the European Union.[23][24] Whether political positions are considered centrist can change over time. When radical positions become more widely accepted in society, they can become centrist positions.[25]

Political function

Most political party systems lean toward the centre, with centre-left and centre-right parties compromising with centrist parties.[26] Centrist parties hold a strong position in the formation of coalition governments, as they can accommodate both left-wing and right-wing parties,[27] giving them additional leverage in the formation of a minority government.[28] When radical parties become viable, forming a coalition with the centre can force them to moderate.[29] Once in a coalition, the centrist party is typically a junior partner that has little ability to enact its own policy goals.[30] Centrist-controlled governments are much rarer than left-wing or right-wing governments. While approximately 30% of world leaders were centrist in the 1950s and 1960s, this declined to approximately 15% by 2020.[31] Centrist dictatorships rarely occur.[32]

The overall effect of strong centrist parties on a political system is a subject of debate in political science. One theory suggests that they exert a centripetal force on other parties, causing left-wing and right-wing parties to move closer to the centre. Alternatively, they may cause a centrifugal force in which left-wing and right-wing parties move away from the centre to pressure the centrist party into choosing a side.[33] According to the mean voter theorem, parties are incentivised to move toward the political centre to maximise votes and to have the final say on closely-contested policies.[34] Politicians with high approval might move to the centre to capitalise on their popularity with a larger voter base, while those seen as uncharismatic or incompetent may shift away from the centre to capture more reliable activist voters who will invest more into the politician's campaign.[35] Relative to left-wing and right-wing parties, centrist parties are infrequently studied in political science.[36]

In multi-party systems, the centre is challenged by parties that seek to undermine the legitimacy of the political system. These parties come from both the left and the right and have different positions on how the government should function, which prevents them from unifying against the centre, giving the centre an opportunity to retain power.[29] Centrist parties face some intrinsic disadvantages when competing with left-wing and right-wing parties.[37] Elections based on first-past-the-post voting or proportional representation provide less incentive for parties to hold centrist positions.[34] Proportional representation systems weaken centrist parties because they incentivise the capture of specific voters instead of the general population.[38] The popularity of centrism in the Western World is contradicted by the relative electoral weakness of centrist parties. One possible explanation for the paradox is that centrists may be perceived as lacking the leadership or capability demonstrated by leaders of other ideologies. Another is that centrists are unable to increase their vote share because the ideological space around them is already occupied by other parties.[37]

In the Nordic countries where social democracy dominates politics, centrism competes with the centre-right to form a rightward flank.[39] Centrist liberalism has only a minor presence in the Middle East, where it is overshadowed by leftism and Islamism.[40] More developed countries in Latin America often have prominent centrist parties supported by the middle class. These have historically included the Radical Civic Union of Argentina, the Brazilian Democratic Movement, the Radical Party of Chile, and the Colorado Party of Uruguay. Christian democracy, usually a conservative movement, serves a similar role in Latin America as its opposition to more rightward politics moves it toward a centrist or centre-left position.[41]


18th and 19th centuries

Centrism is part of the left–right political spectrum that developed during the French Revolution.[2] When the National Assembly was organised, reactionary conservatives coalesced in the seats to the speaker's right, while the radicals sat on the speaker's left. The moderates who were not affiliated with either faction sat in the centre seats, and they came to be known as the centrists.[42]

While liberalism began as a centre-left challenger to conservatism, it came to occupy the political centre of Western politics at the beginning of the 19th century as it also opposed radicalism and socialism.[43] Liberal support for anti-clericalism and individual rights developed in opposition to conservatism, establishing the ideals that would accompany liberalism as it became the predominant centrist ideology in Europe.[44] By the 1830s, conservatism and radicalism in Western Europe began a shift toward moderation as they accepted ideas associated with centrist liberalism.[45] The United Kingdom was spared from the many revolutions during the early 19th century as its conservatives took a decisively centrist position, enlightened conservatism, and expressed willingness to compromise with the nation's strong radical element.[46] As radicalism declined in Western Europe, liberalism and conservatism became the two dominant political movements.[47]

Centrism in the United Kingdom was primarily supported by the Whigs and the middle class urbanites.[48] The Bonapartism of Napoleon III brought French conservatism to the centre when it maintained an element of working class revolution.[49] Empires were forced to maintain the political centre, avoiding reactionary or revolutionary politics that could have affected their stability.[50] Centrist liberalism was slower to develop outside of the great powers of Western Europe.[51] The United States saw a centrist liberal movement develop in the late-19th century through the Mugwumps of the Republican Party.[52] The radical movement gave way to centrism after the 1870s as they both coalesced around ideals of republicanism, secularism, self-education, cooperation, land reform, and internationalism.[53] Toward the end of the 19th century, agrarianism became a significant political movement in Europe to represent farmers' interests.[9]

Western social science intertwined itself with centrism in the 19th century. As research universities became more common, advocacy for centrist reform was taken up by academics. Instead of engaging in direct activism, they considered social issues and presented their conclusions as objective science. Other ideological groups did not have success in this endeavour, as taking strong partisan stances risked one's reputation.[54] Centrist liberals in Europe accepted scientific racism in the 19th century, but it did so less than its primary advocates,[55] and it rejected the related concept of social Darwinism.[56] Instead of the idea that non-white races could not achieve European-style civilisation, centrist liberals believed that they could but it would take them longer to do so.[57]

20th and 21st centuries

Centrist liberalism was one of the two major global ideological groups at the beginning of the 20th century, where it was challenged by right-wing conservatism and Catholicism.[58] Centrism faced increased pressure beginning in the interwar period as left-wing politics saw a resurgence, meaning centrism was challenged from both directions.[59] Agrarianism lost much of its influence in the 1930s as nations fell under right-wing dictatorships, and its return in the 1940s was short-lived as nations fell under communist rule. The Nordic countries, which were mostly spared from both movements, were the only nations to retain strong agrarian parties.[9] The Holocaust ended support for any scientific racism and eugenics espoused by centrist liberals, as they instead adopted antiracism as scientific truth.[60] Following World War II, middle class centrist parties in developed countries became less common as they moved leftward or rightward.[41] Industrialisation reduced the appeal of agrarianism in the post-war era. The Agrarian Parties of Sweden, Norway, and Finland changed their names to the Centre Party in 1958, 1959, and 1965, respectively. This left Denmark as the only nation with a major self-proclaimed Agrarian Party, but it also described itself as liberal beginning in 1963.[13] As dictatorships fell in countries such as Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Portugal in the 1980s, centrist parties were the primary forces in transitioning the nations to democracy.[61]

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, centrist liberalism was seen as the dominant force in politics.[62][63] The centre-left and the centre-right both moved closer to the centre in the 1990s and 2000s.[64] The centre-right, previously dominated by neoliberalism, became more accepting of the welfare state, and it showed more support for combatting poverty and inequality. This included the "kinder, gentler America" championed by George H. W. Bush in the United States, Die Neue Mitte (transl. The New Centre) of Gerhard Schröder in Germany, the British "Thatcherism with a grey face" led by John Major, and the anti-neoliberalism of Mexican president Vicente Fox.[65] The centre-left adopted Third Way policies, emphasising that it was neither left nor right but pragmatic. This adopted ideas popular among the centre-right, including balanced budgets and low taxes. Among these movements were British New Labour led by Tony Blair.[64] Social democratic parties became more accepting of supply-side economics, austerity policies, and reduction of welfare programs.[66] Some authoritarian powers, such as China and Russia, resisted the western liberal consensus.[67]

After a long period of strong left-wing and right-wing movements, Latin American nations trended toward centrism in the 2000s.[68] This came about as the nations' economies strengthened and the reduction of wealth inequality created a larger middle class.[69] Following the pink tide that saw several left-wing politicians take office, those in democratic nations adopted relatively moderate policies, including Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Mauricio Funes in El Salvador, and Tabaré Vázquez and José Mujica in Uruguay.[70] These nations implemented the Washington Consensus, which mixed deregulation and privatisation with the use of social programs.[71] In many Latin American nations, opposing presidential candidates campaigned on similar platforms and often supported retaining their predecessors' policies without any significant changes, shifting the focus of elections to personality over ideology.[72]

Support for centrism declined globally after the 2007–2008 financial crisis as it was challenged by populism and political polarisation.[73][74] As of 2015, centrists made up a plurality in most European countries.[75]

See also


  1. ^ Ostrowski 2023, p. 1.
  2. ^ a b Rodon 2015, p. 178.
  3. ^ Rodon 2015, p. 181.
  4. ^ a b Ostrowski 2023, p. 6.
  5. ^ a b c Ruostetsaari 2007, p. 218.
  6. ^ Ruostetsaari 2007, p. 220.
  7. ^ Close & Legein 2023, p. 152.
  8. ^ Ruostetsaari 2007, p. 221.
  9. ^ a b c d Ruostetsaari 2007, p. 223.
  10. ^ Carter 2023, p. 186.
  11. ^ Brambor & Lindvall 2018, p. 214.
  12. ^ Brambor & Lindvall 2018, p. 113.
  13. ^ a b c Ruostetsaari 2007, p. 226.
  14. ^ Tormey 1998, p. 148.
  15. ^ Tormey 1998, p. 165.
  16. ^ Tormey 1998, pp. 147–149.
  17. ^ van Kessel 2023, p. 274.
  18. ^ Engler 2020, pp. 307–309.
  19. ^ a b Woshinsky 2007, p. 110.
  20. ^ Woshinsky 2007, p. 161.
  21. ^ Noël & Thérien 2008, p. 121.
  22. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 243.
  23. ^ Vasilopoulou 2023, p. 306.
  24. ^ Zur 2021, p. 1756.
  25. ^ Woshinsky 2007, pp. 144, 161.
  26. ^ Woshinsky 2007, p. 112.
  27. ^ Close & Legein 2023, p. 155.
  28. ^ Schofield & Sened 2005, p. 355.
  29. ^ a b Enyedi & Bértoa 2023, p. 35.
  30. ^ Zur 2021, p. 1758.
  31. ^ Herre 2023, pp. 743–746.
  32. ^ Herre 2023, pp. 743, 746.
  33. ^ Green-Pedersen 2004, pp. 325–326.
  34. ^ a b Schofield & Sened 2005, pp. 355–356.
  35. ^ Magyar, Wagner & Zur 2023, p. 205.
  36. ^ Rodon 2015, pp. 178–179.
  37. ^ a b Zur 2021, pp. 1756–1757.
  38. ^ Noël & Thérien 2008, p. 40.
  39. ^ Close & Legein 2023, p. 153.
  40. ^ Kraetzschmar & Resta 2023, pp. 415–417.
  41. ^ a b Di Tella 2004, p. 194.
  42. ^ Woshinsky 2007, p. 109.
  43. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 6.
  44. ^ Ruostetsaari 2007, p. 219.
  45. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 75.
  46. ^ Wallerstein 2011, pp. 160–161.
  47. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 160.
  48. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 72.
  49. ^ Wallerstein 2011, pp. 91–93.
  50. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 137.
  51. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 93.
  52. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 261.
  53. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 173.
  54. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 233.
  55. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 213.
  56. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 253.
  57. ^ Wallerstein 2011, p. 215.
  58. ^ Brambor & Lindvall 2018, p. 119.
  59. ^ Brambor & Lindvall 2018, p. 118.
  60. ^ Wallerstein 2011, pp. 236–237.
  61. ^ Di Tella 2004, p. 172.
  62. ^ Foster & el-Ojeili 2023, p. 199.
  63. ^ Sommers & Marian 2019, p. 20.
  64. ^ a b Noël & Thérien 2008, pp. 166–167.
  65. ^ Noël & Thérien 2008, p. 167–168.
  66. ^ Bremer 2023, p. 168.
  67. ^ Sommers & Marian 2019, p. 21.
  68. ^ Shifter 2011, pp. 107–108.
  69. ^ Shifter 2011, p. 108–109.
  70. ^ Shifter 2011, p. 113.
  71. ^ Shifter 2011, p. 114.
  72. ^ Shifter 2011, pp. 110–111, 116–117.
  73. ^ Foster & el-Ojeili 2023, pp. 199–200.
  74. ^ Sommers & Marian 2019, pp. 21–22.
  75. ^ Rodon 2015, p. 179.



  • Carter, Neil; Keith, Daniel; Sindre, Gyda M.; Vasilopoulou, Sofia, eds. (2023). The Routledge Handbook of Political Parties. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780429263859. ISBN 978-0-429-55441-4.
  • Di Tella, Torcuato S. (2004). History of Political Parties in Twentieth-Century Latin America. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4128-2545-0.
  • Noël, Alain; Thérien, Jean-Philippe (2008). Left and Right in Global Politics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-47252-4.
  • Ruostetsaari, Ilkka (2007). "Restructuring of the European Political Centre: Withering Liberal and Persisting Agrarian Party Families". In Cotta, Maurizio; Best, Heinrich (eds.). Democratic Representation in Europe: Diversity, Change, and Convergence. Oxford University Press. pp. 217–252. ISBN 978-0-19-923420-2.
  • Wallerstein, Immanuel (2011). The Modern World-System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26760-2.
  • Woshinsky, Oliver (2007). Explaining Politics: Culture, Institutions, and Political Behavior. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781135901349.


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