Social democracy without the people

Case study of the Polish Democratic Left Alliance (SLD)

Policy Study


Poland has been governed alternately by the populist and neoliberal right for 18 years. During this time, we have witnessed a steady decline in the importance of Poland’s center-left, including its strongest party, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD, Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej). Over the years, Law and Justice (PiS, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) has successively gained support, becoming the dominant party in Poland in 2015. we can see that, over the past two decades, we have witnessed interdependent processes: an exponential increase in the electoral popularity of the populist right in Poland and an uneven decline in the political importance of social democracy. This analysis aims to find a causal relationship between these phenomena, focusing on analyzing the support flow between the SLD and PiS in the group of voters of the so-called “popular class.” 

For the purpose of this joint FEPS and FES Warsaw office study, IBRiS conducted in-depth quantitative research entitled ‘The popular class – its social and political profile’ to answer the question of who the representatives of this class are, what political views they hold, and to what extent they have changed their voting behaviour in recent years. The study’s author also focused on analysing the spatial support of the SLD and PiS. In doing so, he tried to explain the sources of the dichotomic nature of the voters of the illiberal, populist right, and social democracy in Poland. 

The study’s conclusions on the relationship between the popular class and the Democratic Left Alliance may prove helpful for the successor of the SLD, the New Left (NL, Nowa Lewica), and European social democracy as a whole. Regaining the trust of the popular class is crucial in reducing the popularity of the populist and far-right in the whole Europe.

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