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Opinion

Opinion: The neglected middle

Angry voters are turning to right-wing parties, but their sentiments are left-wing. Whatever elites believe, right-wing frustration is rampant in today's democracies, and spreading, says DW's Alexander Kudascheff.

The erosion of the world's democracies is a fact. Almost everywhere, voters are opting for very right-wing or extreme right-wing parties. The middle has abandoned itself to a "reactive radicalism." Average voters feel neglected by political parties and blame the "system" for all their frustrations. They are rejecting parties and elites.

Angry citizens are sick of the state and are directing their frustration at democracy and its ability to find a consensus, as well as at immigrants, free trade and globalization. These angry right-wing citizens are on the defensive. They want to protect their homes, their fatherland and are skeptical and distrustful, if not more, of Brussels and the EU. In France, Britain, Poland, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Belgium or the US, angry citizens are lining up against "those at the top."

Joining hands

They are searching for parties whose programs take their frustrations seriously: the National Front in France, UKIP in Britain, the Danish People's Party, Geert Wilders' Dutch Party for Freedom, or Vlaams Belang in Belgium.

Kudascheff, Alexander

DW Editor-in-Chief, Alexander Kudascheff

Middle class and lower middle class voters are becoming more insular with values that hark back to the bygone "good old days". They are not cosmopolitan, not open, many of them reject immigrants and "others" - especially those from different cultural backgrounds, those from Muslim-majority countries such as Afghanistan or Morocco.

Their program is: "Fight the other, reject the other!". The more the established parties - moderate politicians from center-left to center-right - try to join forces against angry and unsatisfied citizens and voters, the more society erodes and the more the "disenfranchised" gel into a right-wing entity against "those at the top." And their success cements them together even more. The once secure majority has become insecure and does not know how to deal with this "emotional, reactive radicalism."

Anger is turning to hatred

The conversational tone is hardening, becoming more brutal, both online and on the street - insults and abuse, against Angela Merkel for example, are daily occurrences. There seems to be a lack of manners and constraint. The maxim seems to be, the louder and more strident, the better. Appeals to reason, respect and good manners are not a sufficient means of defense. There are nooks and crannies in the world's affluent democracies that politicians can no longer reach. People there have hunkered down, conspiracy theories are rife, anger has turned to hatred.

This is the frustration of the neglected; the middle class that feels neglected; the class that shoulders the greatest burdens of society with its loyalty and taxes. This is the class that now sees its savings evaporating into the coffers of the European Central Bank because of zero interest rates. It is a class that has looked on as the rich and super-rich, including business and industry, have taken refuge in tax havens to avoid paying their fair share at home.

This is the class that sees millions of unemployed youths, who remain jobless, despite having qualifications; a class that sees billions in tax money being spent or wasted, but not on anything that would improve their immediate daily lives.

This is the class that grits its teeth, while others are "supported" by the state, despite not working. This middle class votes "right" with left-wing sentiments and enjoys seeing "those at the top" - which include the media - responding with moral appeals for solidarity without giving it themselves.

The rampant and spreading frustration on the right in today's western democracies will be with us far longer than "those at the top" are currently inclined to believe.

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