In politics, centrism—the centre (British/Canadian/New Zealand/Australian English) or the center (American English)—is a political outlook or specific position that involves acceptance or support of a balance of a degree of social equality and a degree of social hierarchy, while opposing political changes which would result in a significant shift of society strongly to either the left or the right.
Centre-left and centre-right politics both involve a general association with centrism combined with leaning somewhat to their respective sides of the spectrum.
Usage by political parties by country
There have been centrists in both sides of politics, who serve alongside the various factions within the Liberal and Labor parties.
The Australian Democrats is the most prominent centrist party in Australian History. The party had representation in the senate, from 1977 through to 2007, frequently holding the balance of power in the that time. Formed by Don Chipp, on a promise to “Keep the Bastards Honest,” it was known to have represented the “middle ground.” The party regained registration in 2019.
In addition, there are a number of smaller groups that have formed in response to the bipartisan system who uphold centrist ideals. South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon had launched his own centrist political party called the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) in 2014, renamed Centre Alliance in 2018.
The traditional centrist party of Flanders was the People's Union which embraced social liberalism and aimed to represent Dutch-speaking Belgians who felt culturally suppressed by Francophones. The New Flemish Alliance is the largest and since 2009 the only extant successor of that party. It is, however, primarily composed of the right wing of the former People's Union, and has adopted a more liberal conservative ideology in recent years.
Another party in the centre of the political spectrum is the liberal Reformist Movement.
There are several centrist parties in Brazil, such as the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), which is catch-all party one of the largest political party in Brazil.
The Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) is also another example of centrist party in Brazilian politics, though it was supported by right-wing political parties from 2002, 2006, pros 2010 and 2014 elections.
And they have anothers like Brazilian Labour Party (PTB), Social Democratic Party (Brazil) (PSD), Avante (AVANTE), PODEMOS (PODE) and Republican Party of the Social Order (PROS)
Throughout modern history Canadian governments at the federal level have governed from a moderate, centrist political position practicing "brokerage politics". Both the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada (or its predecessors) rely on attracting supports from a broad spectrum of voters. The historically predominant Liberals position themselves at the centre of the Canadian political scale being more moderate and centrist than the center-right Conservative. In the late 1970s, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau claimed that his Liberal Party of Canada adhered to the "radical center". Far-right and far-left politics have never been a prominent force in Canadian society.
Croatian People's Party - Liberal Democrats and People's Party - Reformists may be considered as centrist parties. Agrarian Croatian Peasant Party during last years became moderate and centrist, having been centre-right in the past.
The Czech Republic has a number of prominent centrist parties, including the syncretic populist movement ANO 2011 (currently in government), the civil libertarian Czech Pirate Party, the long-standing Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People's Party and the localist party Mayors and Independents.
France has a tradition of parties that call themselves "centriste", though the actual parties vary over time: when a new political issue emerges and a new political party breaks into the mainstream, the old centre-left party may be de facto pushed rightwards, but unable to consider itself a party of the right, it will embrace being the new centre: this process occurred with the Orléanism, Moderate Républicanism, Radical Republicanism and Radical-Socialism.
Another party is the Democratic Movement of François Bayrou, founded in 2007. However, the centrist parties often oppose the left-wing parties such as Socialists and Left Front. It often support the centre-right Gaullist parties and have joined several coalitions governed by Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.
Zentrismus is a term only known to experts, as it is easily confused with Zentralismus ("centralism", the opposite to decentralisation/federalism), so the usual term in German for the political centre/centrism is politische Mitte (literally "political middle", or "political centre"). Historically, the German party with the most purely centrist nature among German parties to have had current or historical parliamentary representations was most likely the social-liberal German Democratic Party of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933).
There existed during the Weimar Republic (and again after the Nazi period) a Zentrum, a party of German Catholics founded in 1870. It was called Centre Party not for being a proper centrist party, but because it united left-wing and right-wing Catholics, because it was the first German party to be a Volkspartei (catch-all party) and because his elected representatives sat between the liberals (the left of the time) and the conservatives (the right of the time). However, it was distinctly right-wing conservative in that it was not neutral on religious issues (such as on secular education), being markedly against more liberal and modernist positions.
The main successor of Zentrum after the return of democracy to West Germany in 1945, the Christian Democratic Union, has throughout its history alternated between describing itself as right-wing or centrist and sitting on the right-wing (with the Free Democratic Party in its social liberal moments sitting at its left, in the centre and themselves sitting at the centre, with the FDP in its classical liberal moments sitting at its right, in the right-wing). The representatives of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, although they have since the 1990s many times referred to themselves as "the new middle" (under influence of the Third way of the time), feel less at ease in describing their party as centrist due to their history and socialist identity.
Alliance '90/The Greens was founded in 1993 as a merger from the East German Alliance 90 (a group of centrist/transversalist civil rights activists) and the (West) German Greens. The latter was a coalition of various unorthodox-left politicians and more liberal "realists". This Bundestag party also hesitates in using the term centre, although it does distance itself as well from the tag of left, which identifies it for the moment as a transversalist party. The transversalist moderation of the party and its position in the Bundestag between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats (while the FDP has its seats at the right of the Christian Democrats) also points somewhat to The Greens being a more or less centrist party.
In the state parliaments of specific German states there are other specifically regional parties which could be identified as centrist. The South Schleswig Voter Federation, of the Danish and Frisian minorities in the state of Schleswig-Holstein has currently a centrist political position, although in the past the party usually leaned to the left. In the German presidential elections of 2009, 2010 and 2012, it supported the candidates of the Social Democrats and the Greens. In Bavaria, the Free Voters party present at the state parliament may also be seen as a centrist party.
In Greece centrism has its roots to centrist politician and founder of Agricultural and Labour Party, Alexandros Papanastasiou. In 1961, Georgios Papandreou created along with other political leaders the coalition party of Centre Union. Five parties were merged: Liberal Party, Progressive Agricultural Democratic Union, National Progressive Center Union, Popular Social Party into one, with strong centrist agenda opposed equally to right wing party of National Radical Union and left wing party of United Democratic Left. The Centre Union Party was the last Venizelist party to hold power in Greece. The party nominally continued to exist until 1977 (after the Junta it was known as the Center Union – New Forces), when its successor Union of the Democratic Centre (EDIK) party was created.
Union of Centrists was created by Vassilis Leventis in 1992 under the title "Union of Centrists and Ecologists", though the name was changed shortly after. The Union of Centrists claims to be the ideological continuation of the old party Center Union. The party strives to become "the political continuance of the centrist expression in Greece". Leventis aimed to become part of the Venizelist legacy of some great politicians of the past, such as Eleftherios Venizelos and George Papandreou Sr. However, the party's total influence had been marginal until 2015, with 1.79% of the total votes (in the January 2015 Greek legislative election) being its highest achievement before finally making its way to the Greek Parliament in September 2015 with 3.43% of the total votes and 9 members elected.
In India, actor turned politician Kamal Haasan has launched a party named Makkal Needhi Maiam meaning People's Centre for Justice. He claims that the party's ideology is Centrism as the name suggests and looks to focus on the politics of the state Tamil Nadu. As a self-proclaimed rationalist he claims to usher in a scientific rational centrist outlook to seek, analyse and solve various issues instead of falling for the binary polarizing political trap which the right wing and left wing tend to.
In the Republic of Ireland, both two main political parties (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael) claim the political centre ground, but seem to lean to the centre-right and be mostly made up of centre-right members. The two parties have shared broadly similar policies in the past, with their primary division being perceived as being steeped in Irish Civil War politics. Fine Gael is aligned to Christian democratic parties in Europe via its membership of the European People's Party and is described internationally as centre-right by the likes of Reuters. The consensus in analysis seems to be that Fianna Fáil is mostly centrist, expanding to the centre-right space and that Fine Gael is mostly centre-rightist, expanding also to the centre space.
In the Netherlands, four moderate centrist to centre-right parties have sent members into the Third Rutte cabinet since 2017. From them, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) tend to be centre-right whilst the social liberal Democrats 66 (D66) are more centrist. The Protestant Christian Union is a small Christian Democratic party that has transversalist positions less typical in European centrist parties. Whilst it is left-leaning on issues such as immigration, welfare and the environment, it is more conservative on social issues, such as drugs and euthanasia. They have participated in several coalitions due to their moderate centrist politics.
Livable Netherlands was originally a centrist political movement of local grass-root parties with an anti-establishment touch similar to early D66. However, the party entered in 2002 national parliament with a right-wing populist programme based on security and immigration as the major issues.
In the 1980s and 90s there were two self-described "centre" parties, the Centre Party and the Centre Democrats who at some point were represented in Dutch parliament. However these parties were considered as far right (in the case of the Centre Democrats) or even extreme right (in the case of the Centre Party) in their opinion about foreign immigration. Both parties denied being racist or extremist in character. The party slogan of the Center Party was "niet rechts, niet links" ("Neither rightist nor leftist"), and in some respect could be seen as a centrist (or more correctly Third Position) party since it borrowed ideas from the political (far) right (a tough stand on immigration combined with typical racial prejudice) and the political left (mixed economy, green politics). However both of these two parties didn't really have a coherent ideology; they were basically one-issue parties focussed on what the perceived as mass immigration from non-European countries.
In most of the Nordic countries, there are Nordic agrarian parties. These share in addition to the centrist position on the socio-economic left-right scale a clear, separate ideology.
This position is centred on decentralisation, a commitment to small business and environmental protection. Centrists have aligned themselves with the Liberal International and European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party. Historically, all of these parties were farmers' parties committed to maintaining rural life. In the 1960s, these parties broadened their scope to include non-farmer-related issues and renamed themselves Centre Party.
Neither the Centre Democrats (a now defunct centrist political party) nor the Liberal Alliance (a political party founded as a centrist social liberal party, but that now is a classical liberal party), both of Denmark, are rooted in centrist agrarianism.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), founded by Imran Khan, claims to be a centrist political party. Following the general election of 2013, PTI emerged as the second-largest political party in Pakistan by number of votes. In July 2018 it won the general elections of Pakistan and Imran Khan, its chairman, became Prime Minister.
The Third Way is a small centrist Palestinian political party active in Palestinian politics. Founded on 16 December 2005, the party is led by Salam Fayyad and Hanan Ashrawi.
In the January 2006 PLC elections, it received 2.41% of the popular vote and won two of the Council's 132 seats. The party presents itself as an alternative to the two-party system of Hamas and Fatah.
Civic Platform (PO), ruling in 2007–2015, began in 2001 as a liberal conservative party, but later under the leadership of Donald Tusk turned into typical centrist in order to attract left-leading liberal voters. Depending on the context, it is described as either Christian Democratic (it is a member of European People's Party), conservative, liberal, or social. Its pragmatism, technocracy and lack of ideology have been nevertheless criticized and currently, under the new leader Grzegorz Schetyna announced that it is returning to the right, but as part of Civic Coalition it turns to progressivism again. Other political groups like Polish People's Party (PSL) may be described as centrist too (in Poland, national-moral right-wing Law and Justice is social conservative, usually at the same time economical left and favor protectionism policies).
There's the Bareunmirae Party, Democratic Peace Party and Evergreen Korea Party in the centrist political parties, advocating centrism in South Korea, though these parties are dissidents from the two mainstream parties, the liberal Democratic Party and conservative Liberty Korea Party.
The Democratic Party does not have the insistent centrism ideology. It implies an ideology similar to the social liberalism that the U.S. Democratic Party is proposing. However, compared to U.S. Democrats, the Democratic Party of Korea is progressive on economic justice but conservative on social issues.
The only national party that defends itself as a centrist party is Citizens, whose platform is been increasingly perceived as right-wing by the Spanish citizens as the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas surveys show. In April 2018 Ciudadanos obtained a 6,77, when ranging political parties from 1 to 10, where 1 was farthest left and 10 its equivalent in the right. It first entered the Cortes Generales in 2015.
In Catalonia, where the party was born, many people even consider it as an extreme right-wing party, considering its fierce "opposition to nationalism". Not even the media agree on its place and several newspapers from different ideologies manifest that Citizens is either left or right, depending on their political line. Regardless of subjective opinions, the truth is that Ciudadanos has always tried to reach agreements with Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD), which Spanish voters most traditionally consider to be the closest to the centre according to several opinion polls. This popular perception was pointed out by UPyD, which positions itself simultaneously on the political centre and cross-sectionalism, thus embracing ideas across the political spectrum.
UPyD has lost a great deal of its voters to Ciudadanos, the latter counting with 32 representatives in the Spanish Congress in the last election. Electors also consider as centrists the Convergence and Union coalition from Catalonia and the Basque Nationalist Party from the Spanish Basque Country, although these two usually consider themselves as right-centrist parties.
In Switzerland the political centre (in German: die Mitte; in French: le Centre; Italian: il Centro) is traditionally occupied by the so-called "bourgeois" parties: FDP.The Liberals (centre-right), the Christian Democratic People's Party (centre to centre-right) and the much smaller Evangelical People's Party (centre to centre-left). Recently some new parties were founded who claimed to be part of the political centre: the Conservative Democratic Party (centre to centre-right), a split from the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party is a self-styled centre party and is widely conceived to be a party of the political centre as is shown in a recent study. and the Green Liberal Party (centre)) a split from the leftist Green Party.
In Switzerland the centrist parties tend to co-operate closely in Canton parliaments and municipal councils.
In the 1970s, the traditionally socialist Labour Party moved further to the left, causing discomfort to MPs who saw themselves as belonging to the party's social democratic tendency. On 25 January 1981, leading figures from the Labour Party (Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers, known collectively as the "Gang of Four") launched the Council for Social Democracy, which later became the Social Democratic Party in March, after outlining their policies in what became known as the Limehouse Declaration. The "Gang of Four" were centrists, who had defected from the Labour Party due to what they perceived to be the influence of the Militant tendency and the "hard left" within the party. After waning electoral success, the SDP merged with the Liberal Party in 1988 to create the centrist Liberal Democrats.
In the late 1990s, Labour under the leadership of Tony Blair began to move towards a centrist Third Way policy platform, creating the New Labour movement. The new New Labour era is seen as ending when Blair's successor Gordon Brown lost the 2010 election to the Conservatives. Brown's successor as leader, Ed Miliband, moved the party (slightly) to the left of New Labour era position. Miliband set out his stall to "redefine the political centre", with pundits declaring New Labour "dead". The Blue Labour movement, launched in 2009, attempted to cultivate a new path for Labour centrism that would appeal to socially conservative working class periods, and was a mild influence on Labour during Miliband's tenure. The party later moved decisively to the left when the socialist Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015, as a result of the introduction of a one member one vote system under Miliband.
In March 2011, Nick Clegg, the-then leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, stated that he believed that his party belonged to the radical centre, mentioning John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, Jo Grimond, David Lloyd George and John Stuart Mill as examples of the radical centre that preceded the Liberal Democrats' establishment in 1988. He pointed to liberalism as an ideology of people and described the political spectrum and his party's position as follows: "For the left, an obsession with the state. For the right, a worship of the market. But as liberals, we place our faith in people. People with power and opportunity in their hands. Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right. But we are not on the left and we are not on the right. We have our own label: Liberal. We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics. Our politics is the politics of the radical centre".
In the 2000s, David Cameron also moved the Conservative Party towards the centre, allowing his party to be elected in 2010 in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In the 2015 election, the Conservatives gained a majority and the Liberal Democrats lost most of their seats. They regained a small number of seats in the 2017 election. Cameron's successor Theresa May used left-wing rhetoric on her appointment as Prime Minister, stating her wish to tackle social inequality, and adopted some of Ed Miliband's policies; for example, on regulating energy companies. However, the party's 2017 manifesto was seen as sharp break from the centre ground, appealing to traditionally Tory heartland issues in the aftermath of the UK's Brexit referendum.
Following the Brexit referendum, politics in the UK was seen as having reverted to traditionally polarised "left and right" politics. For the 2017 election, the group More United was set up in the vein of the US Super PAC model to support candidates from multiple parties who meet its values; it gave support primarily to Labour and Lib Dem MPs, as well as one Conservative. In April 2018, amid The Observer newspaper reported that a group setup by Simon Franks had amassed £50 million to start a new centrist political party in the UK to field candidates at the next general election. It has reportedly been named United for Change.
In early 2019, difficulties and party clashes regarding Brexit caused a number of Labour and Conservative MPs to leave their parties, forming a pro-European group named The Independent Group. They later announced their intention to register as a formal party named Change UK. The party has been identified as centrist by most sources, with Change UK MP Chris Leslie describing the party as "offering a home to those on the centre-left." Former Change UK MP Chuka Umunna joined the Liberal Democrats shortly after the formation of the party after disappointing results in the 2019 European Parliament election. He gave the reason there is "no room for two in the centre ground"
Independent candidate H. Ross Perot garnered nearly 19% of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election. His "get under the hood" campaign focusing on balancing the budget has been one of the most successful centrist efforts in U.S. history, but he did not carry a single state in the Electoral College. He went on to form the Reform Party and run a second time in the 1996 presidential election with less success.
A late-2011 Gallup poll of Americans' attitudes towards government reported that 17% expressed conservative views, 22% expressed libertarian views, 20% expressed communitarian views, 17% expressed centrist views and 24% expressed liberal views.
Americans Elect, a coalition of American centrists funded by wealthy donors such as business magnate Michael Bloomberg, former junk-bond trader Peter Ackerman and hedge fund manager John H. Burbank III, launched an effort in mid-2011 to create a national "virtual primary" that would challenge the current two-party system. The group aims to nominate a presidential ticket of centrists with names that would be on ballots in all 50 states. The group banks on broad cultural dissatisfaction with the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. The Christian Science Monitor has stated that "the political climate couldn't be riper for a serious third-party alternative" such as their effort, but the "hurdles Americans Elect faces are daunting" to get on ballots.
Journalist and political commentator E. J. Dionne wrote in his book Why Americans Hate Politics, published on the eve of the 1992 presidential election, that he believes American voters are looking for a "New Political Center" that intermixes "liberal instincts" and "conservative values". He labelled people in this centre position as "tolerant traditionalists". He described them as believers in conventional social morals that ensure family stability, as tolerant within reason to those who challenge those morals and as pragmatically supportive of government intervention in spheres such as education, child care and health care, as long as budgets are balanced.
Washington political journalist Linda Killian wrote in her 2012 book The Swing Vote that Americans are frustrated with Congress and its dysfunction and inability to do its job. A growing number of Americans are not satisfied with the political process because a number of factors such as influx of money into politics and the influence of special interests and lobbyists. The book classifies four types of independent voters including "NPR Republicans", "America First Democrats", "The Facebook Generation" and "Starbucks Moms and Dads" who were big determinates of swing votes in the 2012 presidential election. Political Columnist and author John Avlon wrote in his 2005 book Independent Nation that centrism is not a matter of compromise or reading polls; rather it's an antidote to the politics of divisiveness, providing principled opposition to political extremes.
Centrists in the two major U.S. political parties are often found in the New Democrat Coalition and the Blue Dog Coalition of the Democratic Party and the Republican Main Street Partnership of the Republican Party. Outside of the two major parties, some centrists inhabit the Libertarian Party and independent candidacy movements, such as The Centrist Project co-founded by Charles Wheelan.
List of centrist political parties