Political revival can only be judged by the ballot box and a review of last year’s elections shows signs of progressives[_] recovering. This is not to be mistaken for a full revival. Last year’s elections in Slovenia, Brazil, Denmark, Australia and the United States showed that voters aren’t necessarily voting for a progressive offer but rather voting against something else. Still, when presented with a cohesive, moderate option, voters more often than not chose to embrace it.
There is little evidence of a cohesive, coalition-building progressive agenda delivering consistent electoral success across geographies. There has been no progressive wave but nor has there been a populist one: Brett Meyer’s report Repel and Rebuild: Expanding the Playbook Against Populism notes a 20-year low in the number of populist leaders worldwide.
The challenge for parties of the centre ground going forward in 2023 will be to build a sensible yet ambitious set of policies that equip governments to best address the key challenges facing voters today, in concert with other likeminded parties across the world. Creating a pragmatic yet bold and ambitious agenda that positions progressives as the flag-bearers for evidence-based policy will by no means be a simple task, as governments must also contend with both immediate and long-term global issues, from the war in Ukraine’s impact on food and energy prices to the climate crisis. Critically, a progressive agenda must have a strong economic message at its core.
2022 Was a Step Forward for Progressives
2022 was marked by a number of positive progressive performances in elections across the world. Out of a total 44 national-level elections in 2023, 24 – or roughly 54 per cent – were won by centrist or centre-left parties.[_] There is, however, little evidence of alignment in global progressive policy in achieving these victories, but signs do point to the opportunities of successful coalition building. These coalitions are often organised against opposition, rather than around a clear policy agenda.
In France, Emmanuel Macron benefitted from the collapse of the historic Socialist Party (centre-left) and The Republicans (centre-right) to successfully bridge the growing divide between the left, embodied by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, and secure a second term as president. In Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, known as Lula, led a wide coalition of interests to narrowly defeat populist incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
In the United States, the Democratic Party defied predictions of a red wave to retain the Senate and lose the House of Representatives by a much smaller margin than widely predicted. Anwar Ibrahim became Malaysian prime minister after leading the multi-ethnic and progressive Pakatan Harapan coalition to first place in the Malaysian election. The Australian Labor Party secured a majority in the May general election, with a public desire for climate action driving the power shift from the Liberal–National Coalition to Labor.
As all these elections took place under very different circumstances and there was little consistency across progressive parties’ manifestos, it is premature to talk about a progressive wave of the kind seen in the late 1990s with the Third Way movement. However, results from the past year show that with the right efforts, we could move from a period of isolated progressive victories to one of global progressive renewal.
Progressives must lead with a clear and accessible policy agenda that is relevant to voter concerns. The unifying aspect of all elections in 2022 was the cost-of-living crisis, with countries around the world struggling to deal with rising inflation. Centrist parties need to work towards implementing a unifying economic strategy with technology at its heart to navigate today and tomorrow’s economic challenges.
There must also be a concerted effort to share best practices and build networks in order to turn isolated progressive parties into a progressive movement. Examples of best practice include Joe Biden’s focus on improving border security and rejection of the far-left base’s support for “Defund the Police” policies in his 2020 campaign. Denmark’s Social Democrats implemented a strict migration policy, which effectively nullified the far-right threat and brought huge success in November’s snap elections. On the other hand, Sweden’s Social Democrats failed to convince voters they were best placed to deal with the country’s increasing levels of gang-related violence, prompting the left-wing bloc to lose its majority. This shows that progressive parties should learn from one another to help turn isolated victories into sustained success.
Far-right populist parties around the world, supported and connected by the likes of Steve Bannon, have enjoyed success by sharing strategies and enhancing their standing abroad. Progressives must do the same in order to show that their values are shared across borders – something that would boost their own electoral chances.
Conclusion and Recommendations for Centrist Parties in 2023
While there is evidence to suggest that there have been signs of recovery for the centre in 2022, 2023 will be a critical year for progressives if they are to turn this into a global renewal. Within this, how effective progressives are in taking concrete policy steps to address key issues like the global cost-of-living crisis will shed light on the credibility of such a renewal.
The progressives elected last year may be joined by others in key countries as 2023 gears up to be another pivotal year for elections around the world. Progressives will have the chance to challenge populist leaders in Turkey and Argentina, and secure renewed mandates in Estonia and Finland.
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change will monitor elections taking place around the world, providing analysis on results and what progressive parties and organisations can learn in order to help build and sustain an international movement for progressive change. Here are our recommendations for progressive parties competing in elections taking place this year.
Prioritise Key Voter Concerns
In 2022, successful centrist parties were the ones that engaged with voters to address their key concerns, even on issues traditionally reserved for populist parties, such as security and immigration.
Develop a Sensible and Optimistic Agenda Focused Around a Unifying Economic Strategy
The international agenda progressives develop this year must be radical but deliverable. It must be rooted in an optimistic vision of the future and built on tangible answers to current challenges. An agenda must be constructed around a unifying economic strategy, and we believe the opportunities of technology can be central to that vision.
Engage and Coordinate with Other Likeminded Parties
Although elections are contested at the national level and based on individual contexts, parties have much to gain from communicating with sister organisations in other countries in order to understand what policy and messaging worked and what didn’t. Only then will progressive victories worldwide begin to grow from a series of isolated successes into a true progressive wave.
Be Willing to Form Coalitions When Needed
Elections in Italy and Israel over the past year have shown that when progressives have failed to form alliances, populists have been the ones to benefit. In 2023, progressive parties should be pragmatic and form competitive coalitions in the lead-up to elections in order to increase their chances of success.