Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.



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The vast majority of political parties can be categorised into a handful of party families, such as liberals, conservatives, social democrats and greens. Parties within the same family share a common ideological heritage, occupy similar positions within their respective party systems (with social democrats typically on the left, liberals in the middle, and conservatives on the right), and tend to align on a wide range of issues. They also seek proximity to one another, often forming party groups in institutions such as the European Parliament.


While most parties maintain fidelity to their ideological legacy, shifts do occur, as seen when former communist parties across Western and Eastern Europe rebranded themselves as democratic socialists following the end of the Cold War.


The continuity of ideology is significant to voters, as various explanatory models of voter behaviour suggest. While economic, social, and individual factors all play a role, studies consistently indicate that voters generally align closely with the ideology of the parties they support. Therefore, for voters, knowing that a party is “socialist,” “green,” or “liberal” is crucial in informing their choices on election day.

In what follows, we discuss the relevant aspects of the changes in European politics over the past seventy years. While unique circumstances may explain individual election results for specific parties in particular countries, there are likely common circumstances underlying long-term trends for entire party families.

social democrats

Social democratic parties have considerably influenced western European politics for over a century. According to our index, they reached their zenith in 1982, commanding average support of over 32 per cent. Even at the turn of the millennium, their support remained robust at around 28 per cent. However, in the past two decades, they have witnessed a sharp decline, plummeting to an all-time low of just over 17 per cent in 2022.

Southern Europe and Scandinavia remain strongholds of social democracy, and countries such as Spain, Portugal, Malta, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are the only ones where support still exceeds 30 per cent.

While support is declining in most countries, Social democratic parties in Denmark, Finland, Spain, and Slovakia have experienced a positive trend over the past decade.

With the exception of Czechia, social democrats hold representation in all national parliaments in Europe. As of March 2024, they govern thirteen out of 31 countries: they have formed single-party governments in Malta and Portugal, and participated in governing coalitions in Romania, Cyprus, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Norway, Estonia, Slovenia, and Switzerland.


Conservatism is one of the oldest ideologies and was originally conceived in opposition to liberalism. However, from the 1970s onwards, conservative parties began to incorporate liberal ideas, initially focussing on economic issues and later including social matters. This was not a dramatic shift but a gradual evolution, underscoring conservative parties’ ability to adapt and gradually embrace new concepts.

The graph illustrates the trajectory of the predominant centre-right parties in most countries, with exceptions noted in nations where a robust Christian democratic party holds sway, such as Germany, Austria, and Italy.


Support for liberal conservatism reached its pinnacle as recently as 2011, commanding an average of 21.5 per cent of the vote. However, over the past decade, this support has waned. The statistics for 2023, standing at 18 per cent, mark the lowest level since 1994. The index shows the most positive trends for Romania and the United Kingdom.


Presently, the strongest support for liberal conservatism is observed in the United Kingdom, Greece, and Croatia. Conservative parties demonstrate consistent performance across post-communist Europe.


Liberal conservative parties are today part of governments in Sweden, Ireland, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. As of March 2024, liberal conservative parties are also part of caretaker governments in Bulgaria and the Netherlands.


Christian democratic parties experienced significant success in western Europe during the initial post-war decades, dominating politics in countries such as Germany, Italy, and Austria, as well as the Benelux nations. The index highlights their peak in 1958, with average support nearing 20 per cent. However, their electoral fortunes began to decline in the 1970s, a trend that has persisted ever since. In 2023, their support hit its second-lowest point on record, with the lowest support having been seen in 2022.

Support for Christian democratic parties remains strongest in countries where they historically thrived. At present, Christian democrats maintain support above ten percent in seven nations: Malta, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. In recent years, Austria and Finland are the only countries where christian democratic parties have gained support in two consecutive elections.


Currently, Christian Democratic parties participate in governments in five countries: Czechia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland and Sweden. The Christian Democratic party is also part of the care-taker government in the Netherlands.


In several countries, the primary centre-right parties function as broad ideological coalitions, encompassing elements of conservatism, Christian democracy, and liberalism. The European People’s Party, the predominant parliamentary group in the European Parliament, exemplifies this phenomenon, successfully uniting Christian democratic and conservative parties, liberal conservatives.


Liberal parties have been a fixture in all democracies, typically positioning themselves in the centre between the leftists (socialists) and the rightists (conservatives), often able to collaborate with both. Liberal ideas have influenced the ideological development of both the right and the left, with socialists and conservatives incorporating liberal ideas on economic, social, and international issues.

The category of liberal parties is diverse, encompassing social-liberal, libertarian, green liberal, and some conservative liberal parties. While most parties fall under the umbrella of social liberalism, there is considerable variation within this category.


Electoral support for liberal parties has shown relative stability over time, hovering between seven and ten percent. However, the early 2000s witnessed a gradual decline, with support dipping below seven percent in 2009 and 2010. Since then, there has been a resurgence, culminating in a record level of 12.3 percent in 2023.


The notable increase in support for liberal parties, representing an 84 percent rise over 12 years, is a story often overlooked in media and literature. This surge is primarily driven by shifts in the Baltic states, Central Europe, and Southern Europe, though Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom have experienced waning support for liberalism during the same period. Currently, support for liberal parties is strongest in Slovenia, Estonia, France, Bulgaria, and Slovakia. A positive trend (growth in at least the two last elections), can be identified in Croatia, Germany, Romania, Finland, Estonia, Slovakia and France.


As of March 2024, liberal parties are part of coalition governments in Sweden, Luxembourg, Germany, Estonia, Slovenia and Lithuania.


Green parties emerged within most West European party systems during the 1980s, marking a significant shift in political dynamics. While the average support for Green parties peaked in 2021, it remains at historically high levels in 2023. The initial strongholds of Green parties, such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, continue to show robust support. Positive trends can be seen in Ireland, Romania, Germany, Norway and Slovenia.

However, Green parties have encountered considerable challenges in gaining traction in post-communist Europe, where their presence remains limited.


Currently, Green parties are represented in less than half of the parliaments in Europe. As of March 2024, they participate in government coalitions in four countries: Germany, Ireland, Belgium, and Austria.


In the aftermath of World War II, communism experienced a surge in popularity among both voters and intellectuals across Western Europe, leading to the inclusion of communist parties in early post-war governments in several countries including Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, and France. However, by 1950, all communist parties found themselves back in opposition.

Although average voter support for communist parties was above ten percent in the 1940s, it declined sharply in the following decade. The 1960s saw a minor revival of the support for far left parties, coinciding with a fragmentation among the far left. A new generation formed radical factions influenced by Maoism and other revolutionary ideas and split from the established parties, which many considered – in the words of student revolt leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit – ‘basically senile’. However, these splinter groups rarely achieved electoral success. More significantly, an ideological shift towards eurocommunism emerged in the 1970s, advocating for the abandonment of revolutionary ideals and Marxist-Leninist doctrines in favour of a socialism compatible with democracy, aiming to broaden the appeal of the radical left. This shift proved successful for the Italian Communist Party and also led to a shift on the far left in Denmark and Norway.


By 1989, the average support for communist parties in the West had dwindled to around seven percent, subsequently falling to approximately two percent. Despite this decline, communist parties continue to find relatively stronger support in southern Europe (Cyprus, Greece, Portugal) and north-western Europe (Belgium, Norway, Denmark).

Democratic socialism can be a confusing phrase. Several of Europe’s social democratic parties actually refer to themselves as socialist parties, and “democratic socialism” was used by many of them to distinguish themselves from the non-democratic branch of the labour movement. However, in this context, democratic socialism refers to parties that are positioned to the left of social democracy, based on socialist ideas, and reject non-democratic methods. Analytically, this also includes the Italian Communist Party from the 1970s. It was an anti-system party that abandoned the dream of revolution.


Democratic socialist parties saw an increase in voter support immediately after the 2008 financial crisis. This increase held steady for a decade and peaked in 2018 with an average support of 5.1 percent. Since then, support has slightly declined. A few countries, especially in southern Europe, stand out with much stronger voter support, for instance, France, Spain, Greece, and Ireland. Support is weakest in former Eastern Bloc states.


Parties to the right of the established right wing constitute the least consolidated party family. This is due to several factors. Firstly, nationalist parties have traditionally struggled to cooperate with other nationalist parties. Secondly, there is no sharp divide in this case, such as the one between democratic socialism, social democracy, and non-democratic communism, which have long been established on the left. Instead, this divide is analytical and normative, with individual parties occupying different sides throughout their lifetimes. Thirdly, this party family consists of parties that have long been defined in terms outside of ideologies: populists, protest parties, discontent parties, and anti-establishment parties. Although accurate, this way of portraying them has led to underestimating the common, underlying ideological core that still exists.

The most important division today is the one between far-right and national conservative parties. They unite on many fronts and often share both nationalism and conservatism. However, far-right parties distinguish themselves from national conservative ones through their view of democracy and unreserved support for authoritarian ideals.


As shown, support for far-right parties is very weak, although it has increased over time. In 2023, they reached the highest level to date: 1.7 per cent. When such low levels are involved, it is to be expected that individual parties would naturally play a significant role, and the increase in 2023 is driven mainly by the Bulgarian Revival party. Greece, France, Poland, and Hungary also stand out with stronger support for these parties

National conservative ideas have traditionally been accommodated within broader conservative parties, so the graph may potentially underestimate their historical significance. However, there is no doubt that we have seen a remarkable growth in the number of parties that can aptly be described in these terms. The average support in 2023 was 13.9 per cent, a slight decrease from the record high in 2022 at 14.2 per cent. National conservatism garnered 0 per cent support in 2023 in only two countries – Iceland and Ireland – meaning it is an ideology with measurable support in most countries. Support for it is highest in Hungary, Poland, Italy, and Switzerland, followed by the Netherlands and the Nordic countries.