On the Origins of Left-Wing Extremism – Analyzing the Determinants of Extreme Left Attitudes in Germany

Political Sociology
Political Ideology
Public Opinion
Sebastian Jungkunz
University of Bamberg
Sebastian Jungkunz
University of Bamberg

Left-wing extremism (LWE) has been widely disregarded by scholars of public opinion thus far. If studied at all measurement was mainly based on indicators that are now acknowledged to be leading to drastic misspecifications of the left-wing extreme potential. The current study expands prior research on the determinants of LWE by using a new and unique index that provides an improved and effective way of identifying citizens with left-wing extreme opinions. Determinants of LWE are then drawn from deprivation and value-based theories as well as approaches of political support, which have been neglected heavily by scholars of left- and right-wing extremism in the past. In order to show the development of LWE predictors the article looks at data from Germany at three points in time across a twenty year span. Hence it is possible to assess changes from shortly after the end of the Cold War up until most recently. The results show that economic deprivation and mistrust in parties and politicians have been the main drivers for someone to turn left in the past. Value orientations seem to play no role among West Germans, yet they are becoming increasingly important for citizens from the east. What is more, the personal feeling that one can influence politics is playing an important role in the foundation of extreme attitudes today. On a greater perspective, East Germans are far more likely to generate extreme left-wing attitudes. Building on the country’s diverge history the results are thus used as a case study that enable us to draw generalized implications for Western Europe and post-communist countries.
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