Explaining social democratic austerity

Jonas Kraft (Aarhus University)

The balancing of budgets and spending cuts have been focal points of fiscal policies across Europe over the past years. Blurring the lines of traditional partisan divides, austerity measures have often been passed with the votes of left-wing parties. In his article “Social democratic austerity: the conditional role of agenda dynamics and issue ownership” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Jonas Kraft explores this puzzle, and explains why social democratic governments appear to abandon their key constituencies. Jonas argues that left-wing governments are traditionally plagued by a poor fiscal reputation. As concerns about balanced budgets top the political agenda, social democrats are drawn to favour austerity to covet electoral support from swing voters. His analysis of fiscal policy-making in 21 OECD countries between 1980 and 2006 offers support for this argument, yet also reveals that it is an electoral strategy seemingly doomed to fail. As left and right wing parties’ fiscal reputation has remained relatively stable, swing voters appear unimpressed by social democratic governments’ enthusiasm for austerity while core left-wing voters may turn to more radical left-wing alternatives, suggesting that “increasing attention to austerity is likely a lose–lose situation for the Left.”