The New York Times today offers an opinion column by researcher David Adler demonstrating what every radical has always known — that it is the “centrists”, not radicals, who are least supportive of democracy in real, everyday life. Adler offers charts demonstrating that in recent international polls, centrists in the developed world reported the least support among “far left”, “centrist”, and “far right” for statements that:
1) Democracy is a “very good” political system
2) Free and fair elections are an essential feature of democracy
3) Civil rights are an essential feature of democracy,
and showed significant support, while less than that of the “far right” (especially in Spain, Germany, and Italy, countries with modern histories of dictatorial government), that “a strong leader who does not have to bother with a legislature is “fairly good” or “very good”.
Adler references a more complete version of the discussion in his online paper, which is a reasonably quick read that shouldn’t waste anyone’s time. He makes a half-hearted attempt to explain the results with the idea that centrists are in general less politically-invested than extremists, and are therefore “apathetic” in regards to politics; however he quickly notes that this is not merely insufficient, but directly contradicted by the evidence.
Of course, speaking as a lifelong radical, I see nothing paradoxical in this at all. “Centrists” are people who are comfortable with life and the economy exactly as it is. The last thing they need or want is change, and as insulated as they may be in their nice little bubbles, they can’t help but be aware that a true majority rule would involve changes. Psychological literature is full of studies showing that humans are, as a group, far more motivated by fear of losing what they have, than greed or desire for what they don’t.
Centrists know in their hearts of hearts that the world-as-it-is favors some more than others, and that they happen to have it good just the way it is. Allowing the Have-nots to actually exert political power always entails some risk for the Haves. Centrists by that very declaration label themselves as risk-averse. Democracy? That’s a gamble they don’t really want, if they’re honest.