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Is the world really turning right? | Leo Barasi

The main parties on the centre-left are having a slightly harder time, but voters generally haven’t crossed the political divide

The left is retreating around the world. The Great Recession has produced a landscape so favourable for rightwing parties, their opponents can only feel sorry for themselves as they watch support drain away from them. At least, so goes the popular narrative.

At the last Labour conference, Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “For a decade around 1997, the centre-left was defeating the right. Now the centre-right is beating the left.” Matthew D’Ancona agreed, with the assertion that “across Europe centre-left parties are in electoral retreat”.

But the last 12 months don’t bear out the argument that the left is on a losing streak.

What we see instead is that while the main centre-left parties have indeed lost some ground to the main centre-right parties, left and centre-left parties have generally done slightly better than parties of the right and centre-right.

If we look just at the performance of the main centre-left party in each country, and compare it with the result for the main party of the centre-right, we do indeed see a drop for the centre-left. The average swing is about two points to the main centre-right party.

But that’s only part of the picture.

If we count all parties of the left and centre-left, and compare them with all parties of the right and centre-right, the result is reversed.

Now, we see left parties gaining slightly, and right parties falling back a little. The average swing is about one point to the left parties.

So it seems that the main parties of the centre-left are having a slightly harder time than their counterparts on the centre-right. But their voters generally haven’t crossed the political divide. Instead, they’ve split to smaller parties on the left, and perhaps have picked up a small number of extra supporters from the right.

Given that most of these countries have proportionate systems and are ruled by coalitions, the result has been a slight move towards more governments by parties of the left (two gains for the left, one gain from the centre for the right). Clearly that is an outcome that wouldn’t translate easily to Britain, were the results to be replicated.

• The methodology and a longer version of this post is at Noise of the Crowd © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds