The Right is on the Rise in the U.S. But it’s Failing Elsewhere.

By: Amy Herd and Daniel Melia

Much of the political news absorbed by citizens of the United States and citizens of the world is U.S.-centric. Were one to focus only on the political scene in the U.S., they would get a distinct impression that the political left is floundering, while the right seems poised to make big gains ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Though this is true, the right’s domestic ascendance cannot be extrapolated into a larger world trend. A significant number of foreign elections this year have resulted in the left making remarkable strides, thus rendering the political scene in the U.S. a sort of anomaly.

The Serbian General Election, which took place on April 3, 2022, resulted in incumbent President Aleksander Vučić’s re-election as well as a left-wing majority in Parliament. Vučić won 59.8% of the vote in the presidential election, while his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won 44.3% of the vote in the parliamentary elections. The Socialist Party of Serbia came in third, with 11.8% of the vote, adding 31 seats to the SNS’s 120 to give the left a healthy majority in the 250-seat body. 

While Vučić’s politics are certainly not the paragon of left-wing ideals (in 2019, demonstrators rallied for weeks to protest his stifling of media freedoms and political opposition), he is by far a more progressive candidate than his opponent, Zdravko Ponoš. Ponoš has previously supported an effort to de-democratize Serbian presidential elections, instead proposing that the president should be elected in a secret vote held by the National Assembly. He is also an opponent of LGBTQ+ adoption. 

On April 24 in France, Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in a historic victory, becoming the first French president to win re-election in 20 years. The victory was critical, not only for the French left but also for the left of Europe. Macron promised voters a “globalized, economically liberal France at the head of a muscular European Union,” winning out over Le Pen’s domestically-centered platform. With the war in Ukraine roaring in the background, many Europeans feared the repercussions that would come if Le Pen were elected. Her non-interventionist policy would have undoubtedly changed France’s relationship with the European Union—perhaps resulting in France’s leaving it all together—at a time when the world is looking to Paris to lead in the fight against the world’s biggest challenges. 

Looking ahead to the French legislative elections, slated to take place on June 12 and 19, opinion polls show that left-wing parties are poised to have a plurality in the French Parliament. If the polls prove to be accurate, then the French left stands to make significant gains from where they were in the 2017 legislative elections, in which they only won 45 out of 577 total seats.

The 2022 Slovenian parliamentary elections saw a meteoric rise of the Freedom Movement, a green-liberal party formed only months prior to the election. Freedom Movement usurped the former majority party, the conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDP), by winning 34.45% of the votes and 41 seats in a historic victory. SDP only gained 2 seats, making its total 27. However, other left-wing parties, including the Social Democrats and The Left, lost ground in Parliament, with their total seats falling from 10 and 9 in 2018, respectively, to 7 and 5 in 2022. However, the left was still able to maintain a majority, holding 53 of the 90 seats in Parliament.

The United Kingdom also saw a left-wing rise in its local elections on May 5, in which Conservatives made a net loss of 487 seats. The Labour Party, made up of “social democrats, democratic socialists and trade unionists,” in comparison, gained 108 seats across England, Scotland and Wales. These elections coincided with Northern Ireland’s, in which Sinn Féin, composed of democratic socialists, became the country’s largest party.

Despite these recent victories for the left, the rise of the right in other states cannot be ignored. Hungary recently elected the conservative Katalin Novák to be their next president, making her the first woman and youngest person to assume the office. Her agenda consists of a “crackdown on independent media” and efforts to curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ people. The Fidesz-KDNP Party Alliance, a right-wing national political alliance led by outgoing conservative President Viktor Orbán, won 135 of 199 seats with 54.13% of the vote in the 2022 Hungarian parliamentary elections.

The recent Philippine Presidential Election also did not bode well for the left. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, won in a landslide victory with 30.8 million votes. Vice President Leni Robredo, a candidate passionate about human rights, finished second with 14.7 million votes. 

Etta Rosales, a woman who was arrested and tortured twice during Marcos’s reign in the 1970s, said that Marcos Jr.’s victory brought her to tears. The president-elect has defended his father’s legacy, refusing to hold him accountable for numerous human rights violations, including 3,257 known extrajudicial killings, 35,000 known tortures, and 70,000 incarcerations.

In the United States, where the midterm elections are a little less than 6 months away, the outlook for the Democratic Party is grim. Incumbent President Joe Biden’s low approval rating, high inflation, general economic downturn planned Democratic retirements from the House of Representatives, and the failure to pass signature legislation in Congress are all harbingers of a red wave forthcoming in November.

The obvious discrepancy between the U.S.’s political situation and that of the world at large invites speculation about its cause. One potential reason could be a change in the global political environment due to the war in Ukraine. With the brutal authoritarianism of the Putin regime in Russia laid bare, there is evidence that a shift towards the traditionally left idea of globalism is well in the making—Sweden and Finland have both made moves to join NATO, while Marine Le Pen’s ties to Russia were a key issue in the French presidential election. The U.S. has a history of resistance to globalism, and as a superpower is comparatively unaffected by the Russian invasion in Ukraine, limiting the effects of this shift on domestic affairs.

Climate change offers a secondary rationale for the global leftward shift, as green parties and green-centric campaigns have seen increased success around the world. This has been exacerbated by the Russian war in Ukraine, which has resulted in significant limits on international fossil fuel supplies, forcing many countries to look to alternative energy sources, a policy shift long advocated by left-leaning activists. The U.S., however, has plentiful supplies of fossil fuel, as well as accessible trade partners, which has prevented any such dramatic power switches.

Finally, worldwide economic struggles may be a motivating factor for the global left. Keynesian economics tends to gain prominence in times of recession, and these pro-government economic views mesh well with the pro-government philosophy of the left. However, rapid inflation in the U.S. is at least partially blamed (however accurately) on excessive government spending, which has culled support for further left economic policy. 

Although it is impossible to isolate a single spearheading factor in the rise of the political left, its mounting dominance is certain. It is impossible to say whether this trend will continue in future election cycles—countries that are currently left-wing could very well be subsumed by right-wing administrations or dictatorships via greater right-wing turnouts, coups, or, perhaps more unlikely, ideological shifts in their populations. It is imperative for the current left-wing elected officials that they do not take their majorities for granted; if they truly want to make good on their campaign promises, they must take action while they have the chance.