How Immigration Debates Are Disrupting Political Parties

In the U.S. and Europe

One of the most striking developments in global politics today is the decline of traditional political parties. We’ve seen it in Donald Trump’s stunning successes in the U.S. Republican presidential primaries and in the dramatic gains that Germany’s far-right party made in three recent state legislative elections. Several factors could be driving this, but one common theme is the candidates’ anti-immigrant rhetoric, which highlights the complexities of companies looking to do more business abroad.

To be sure, neither the parallels nor the worries should be exaggerated. Public support for the Alternative for Germany Party still trails far behind that of the more traditional parties, just as Donald Trump’s supporters remain a distinct minority of U.S. voters. But in Germany and the U.S., these minorities are large and increasing. In both countries, increased support has shown up in actual elections, not just opinion polls; voter turnout has been unusually high; and first-time voters have heavily fueled the success of these extremist factions. Perhaps most importantly, the dominant mood of those voters has been an intense, visceral, and sometimes violent rage.

The conventional explanation for this fervor is immigration. In the U.S., Trump has publicly called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” though he allowed that “some, I assume, are good people.” He promises to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. He would ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. But what’s most alarming are the tumultuous cheers he receives from huge audiences when he routinely repeats these themes at campaign rallies. By contrast, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pledge to admit 800,000 refugees fleeing for their lives from Syria was both morally commendable and uncommonly courageous. But it has not played well with voters and is most likely the largest single element in the surging popularity of the far-right German parties.

By Stephen Legomsky for Fortune
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