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WHAT FOLLOWS IS a self-encouraged civics lesson concerning political parties, right, left, and center, as identified by the Manifesto Project. This organization’s findings were the subject of “What Happened to America’s Political Center of Gravity?,” by Sahil Chinoy in The New York Times, June 26, 2019.

My Self-Encouraged Civics Lesson is less about the study’s findings than it is my gaining insight on the Manifesto Project itself.

Initially, the word “manifesto” was a bit off-putting. Isn’t that what wackos scribble prior to their evil deeds?

And, for example, in studying anything as complex as the political right, left, and center, I first needed to consider the source. I’d heavily discount anything proclaimed by the likes of patrobotics, RT America, Fox News, or InfoWars. To me, such outlets subscribe to a Political Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: Their extreme views affect whatever they’re analyzing. Their fabrication level is high; their veracity is low.

The Manifesto Project’s methodology, by contrast, derives “from a content analysis of parties’ electoral manifestos. It covers over 1000 parties from 1945 until today in over 50 countries on five continents.”

According to Wikipedia, “In 2003, Hans-Dieter Kligemann of Social Science Research Center Berlin received the American Political Science Association’s Liijphart/Przeworski/Verba Data Set Award for the project. Since October 2009, the Manifesto Project has been financed by a long-term funding grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.” The DFG, German Research Foundation, is a counterpart to the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Succinctly, the Manifesto Project is legit.

Who’s Left? Right? Center? Manifesto Project researchers analyze what political parties profess, not what the parties actually accomplish or claim to.

A sampling of criteria used in Manifesto Project analyses. Image assembled from The New York Times, June 30, 2019.

The following infographic describes America’s two-party system among political parties in more than 50 countries, data going back to 1945.

Source: Analysis of data from the Manifesto Project. The New York Times, June 30, 2019.

The circles are sized based on percentages of the vote won by parties in their latest elections. Only parties that won more than one percent of the vote and are still in existence are shown. Parties are in a selection of Western European countries, Canada, and the U.S.

A Sampling of Far Right Views. The New York Times infographic identified by number several Far Right parties’ typical characteristics: The U.K. Independence Party (1) proposed Muslim-only prisons. France’s National Rally (2) changed its name to shed a racist image; it used to be the National Front. Austria’s Freedom Party (3) has ties with a far-right extremist group. Finland’s Finns Party (4) has campaigned against climate action. Alternative for Germany (5) wants to ban burqas in public. The Danish People’s Party (6) eschews a “multiethnic society.” The Swiss People’s Party (7) is committed to “Western Christian culture.” And the Party for Freedom (8) wants to shut down the Netherland’s mosques.

Contrasting Democrats and Republications. In analyzing Manifesto Project data, Sahil Chinoy cites that “The Republican Party leans much further right than most traditional conservative parties in Western Europe and Canada, according to an analysis of their election manifestos…. The Democratic Party, in contrast, is positioned closer to mainstream liberal parties.”

Chinoy contrasts Europeans’ many political parties with the U.S. two-party system, “which leaves less room for fringe groups.” He quotes Richard Bensel, a political scientist at Cornell, on the growing split between Democrats and Republicans. Bensel said, “Democracy doesn’t work with that kind of polarization.”

A thoughtful infographic; a thoughtful article. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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