Legislative elections were held in Norway on September 9, 2013. All 169 members of Norway’s unicameral parliament, the Storting (or Stortinget), were up for reelection. The members of the Storting are elected for fixed four-year terms (and unlike in most countries,
Norway’s Parliament cannot be dissolved before the end of its term) in 19 multi-member constituencies corresponding to the 19 Norwegian counties (fylke). 150 of the seats are ‘district mandates’, elected by open list proportional representation with no threshold for representation. Each county has a variable number of seats based on its population and land area, ranging from four seats (Aust-Agder and Sogn og Fjordane) to 19 seats (Oslo). This system is somewhat controversial because rural areas, especially sparsely populated counties such as Finnmark in northern Norway, are overrepresented compared to urban areas (such as Oslo or Akershus). The number of seats allocated to each county was revised prior to this election, with five counties losing one seat, three counties gaining one seat and one county (Oslo) gaining two seats. The remaining 19 seats (one per county) are ‘leveling mandates’ which are distributed to parties, polling above 4%, whose initial seat count is not proportional to their share of the popular vote.
Therefore, while there is a 4% threshold for leveling seats, there is no official threshold for district mandates – the ‘unofficial’ threshold to win seats depends on the district magnitude, with a lower threshold in districts with more mandates. Therefore, small parties with strong urban support or a regionally concentrated base, are often able to win one or two seats even if they poll below 4%. For example, in 2001, the small Coastal Party won one seat despite winning only 1.7% nationally because it won over 10% of the vote in Nordland. Similarly, in 2009, the Liberal Party held on to two seats, both from Oslo, despite falling below 4% nationally.
Norway’s political and partisan system
Norway’s remarkable electoral stability which endured for two or so decades after 1945 was first disturbed in the early 1970s, with the rise of new political forces on the left, but especially on the right as well as increased electoral volatility and anti-incumbency.
As in other Scandinavian countries (particularly neighbouring Sweden), Norwegian politics has, since the early 20th century, been marked by a clear opposition between a dominant socialist/social democratic working-class party and a “bourgeois coalition” made up of a number of weaker so-called ‘bourgeois parties’. Despite significant changes in the character of the anti-socialist right and increased electoral volatility since the 1970s, Norwegian politics has nevertheless retained this left/right divide.
The Norwegian Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) is Norway’s dominant political party and something of a natural government party. It has been the largest party in every legislative election since 1927, and it has been in government for the vast majority of the time since 1945. As such, it has left a profound mark on Norwegian society, most notably with the creation of the generous and universal post-war welfare state.
The Ap was founded in 1887, but only elected its first MPs in the 1903 election (when Norway still used FPTP). Ap’s strength at the polls increased continuously between its foundation and 1912. In the 1915 election, Ap won 32% of the vote. However, its political ascendancy was halted by internal divisions over the Russian Revolution in 1918 – the Ap originally joined the Comintern, which led a right-wing minority to create a splinter party. In 1923, Ap withdrew/was kicked out of the Comintern, which now led a left-wing minority to create the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP) and the right-wing minority to eventually rejoin the mother party in 1927. In 1927, with 37% of the vote, the Ap became the largest party – a title it has held since, uninterrupted. Christopher Hornsrud became the first Labour Prime Minister of Norway in January 1928, but his radical agenda – ‘preparing the transition to a socialist society’ – threw the divided right into a frenzy, and they overthrew the government to replace it with a Liberal-led government.
Ap progressively moderated, and by the 1933 election, it had dropped the revolutionary socialism/Marxism in favour of reformist social democracy. It won a record 40% in the 1933 election, but fell short of an absolute majority. The Ap was unable to form a government of its own until it reached an agreement with the Farmers’ Party (Bp) in 1935, whereby the Ap agreed to policies to support Norwegian agriculture (higher prices on butter and meat, and a grain security scheme to protect farmers) in return for the Bp’s acceptance of the Ap’s Keynesian economic plan, which marked a sharp departure from the bourgeois right’s laissez-faire liberalism. Johan Nygaardsvold became the second Labour Prime Minister of Norway, remaining in office until the liberation of Norway from German occupation in 1945 (he led the Norwegian government-in-exile).
After the war, the Ap became the hegemonic force of Norwegian politics, holding an absolute majority in the Storting between 1945 and 1961 (despite PR), a feat which no party has since come close to repeating. Einar Gerhardsen, considered by some as the father of modern Norway, served as Prime Minister between 1945-1951, 1955-1963 and 1963-1965. In a period marked by political consensus across the board, even with the right, Gerhardsen’s government laid the bases of the modern welfare state, and significantly reduced poverty and unemployment through interventionist industrialization policies and redistribution of wealth through progressive taxation. Diplomatically, successive Ap governments maintained a generally pro-American and pro-NATO foreign policy: Norway received American aid under the Marshall Plan, and it was a founding member of NATO in 1949. Nevertheless, Oslo had to tread carefully, given that it shared a land border with the Soviet Union and the Soviets operated several large mining towns on the remote Svalbard archipelago (in fact, Russia continues to effectively own one mining town, Barentsburg, on Svalbard to this day).
The right finally won a majority in the 1965 and 1969 elections, but Per Borten’s bourgeois government collapsed in 1971, allowing Ap to form a minority administration until it resigned following the NO victory in the 1972 referendum on European Community (EC) membership. Ap has been rather pro-European, having backed a YES vote to EC/EU membership in the 1972 and 1994 referendums, both of which failed. The rise of a new socialist party to the Ap’s left, in the wake of the NO victory in 1972, led to sharp Ap loses in the 1973 election, which marked the end of Ap’s clear dominance of Norwegian politics. Since that election, politics have become more volatile and contested, and ideological differences between left and right have become more pronounced. Labour retained power until the 1981 elections, which saw a right-wing victory. However, a weakened right-wing coalition collapsed in 1986, allowing former Ap Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland to return to power in 1986, but a difficult economic situation in 1989 led to Labour’s defeat in the 1989 elections. Dissent within the right-wing government over EU membership led to its premature death in 1990, and Gro Harlem Brundtland returned to power, holding office until 1996, despite Ap being on the losing side of the 1994 EU referendum. She was replaced in 1996 by Thorbjørn Jagland, who resigned following the 1997 elections, in which the Ap’s result (35%) was below the ‘ultimatum’ Jagland had set for himself to remain in power (36.9%).
The Ap was weakened in the late 1990s and early 2000s by the popularity of the right-wing Bondevik cabinet, as well as a bitter and protracted leadership struggle between Thorbjørn Jagland and Jens Stoltenberg, who became Prime Minister in March 2000 after Bondevik’s cabinet fell (but Jagland remained Ap’s leader until 2002). Stoltenberg’s first term, which expired with the 2001 elections, was also marked by internal tensions in the Ap. In particular, the government’s partial privatization of the state-owned oil company Statoil, and a major hospital reform which transferred control of hospitals from county councils to regional health authorities (staffed by unelected technocrats) were quite unpopular with the Ap rank-and-file, which saw both of these reforms as being dangerously edging towards ‘market fundamentalism’.
With this backdrop, Ap suffered an historic drubbing in 2001, winning only 24% of the vote, their lowest result since 1924. Labour was thrown out of government, for the duration of the Storting’s term. However, Stoltenberg, who came out on top of the drawn-out battle for party leadership with Jagland’s withdrawal in 2002, progressively rebuilt the party, and, in 2005, the party won nearly 33% of the vote. Stoltenberg formed a coalition government, widely known as the Red-Green government, with the Socialist Left (SV) and Center Party (Sp). It was the first time since Gerhardesen’s short-lived grand coalition (1945) that the Ap governed in coalition with other parties. In the past, it had formed minority (or, from 1945 to 1961, majority) governments exclusively made up of Ap ministers. Ap’s political dominance, its detractors often argue, has made it complacent and arrogant. However, despite several policy differences and disagreements between the three coalition partners, Stoltenberg’s Red-Green coalition managed to stay together for eight years. Ap played a major role in keeping the coalition together, and voters rewarded Stoltenberg’s leadership in the 2009 election, when the Ap won 35% of the vote.
Stoltenberg’s government since 2005 has steered clear of divisive and explosive issues like those which had killed his first government at the polls, and greatly benefited from a very robust economy: fueled by Norway’s rich oil resources, the economy has grown fairly steadily (except for one year in recession, in 2009), with 3% growth in 2012 and 2.5% growth in 2012. Unemployment is only 3%. The country’s finances are exceptionally healthy, with the debt down to 34% of GDP (59% in 2006) and consistent budget surpluses since at least 2000 (a 14% surplus in 2013).
Norway created, in 1990, the Government Pension Fund – two sovereign wealth funds into which the surplus from oil income is deposited, and invested in Norwegian and international (Government Pension Fund – Global) companies following strict ethical standards. The Government Pension Fund – Global is the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. The Stoltenberg government, in 2001, created the handlingsregelen, stating that a maximum of 4% of the fund’s value should be allocated to the government budget. With this rule, Norway has avoided the ‘Dutch disease’ and hyperinflation.
Stoltenberg has been active on the world stage, particularly invested in issues such as economic growth, rainforest protection and climate change (arguing in favour of private and corporate taxation to tackle the issue). The Ap is in favour of Norway joining the EU, but there is little chance of that happening anytime soon. Therefore, as the next best thing, the Ap strongly supports continued Norwegian membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), currently a free trade organization of four non-EU members (the others are Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). Within the EEA/EU Internal Market, Norway adopts EU legislation on almost all domains, except – crucially – agriculture and fisheries
His second term was marked by the July 22, 2011 attacks in which white supremacist/far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and injured hundreds. 8 were killed by a car bombing at a large government office complex in Oslo, while 69 – mostly children – were shot to death by Breivik in Utøya, where the Ap’s youth league (AUF) was holding its congress. Stoltenberg’s reaction to the attacks, calm and composed, were hailed by the entirety of the Norwegian political class and the Ap experienced a net uptick in support in the polls. Breivik was sentenced to preventative detention (21 years), a sentence which may be repeatedly extended for periods of five years afterwards – effective life imprisonment in Norway. The report (Gjørv Report) of the 22 July Commission, received in August 2012, found that authorities could have done more to prevent the tragedy at Utøya.
The Ap maintains a general social democratic orientation, although Stoltenberg certainly represents a centrist direction within the party – though perhaps not a Blairite Third Wayist, given how Norway has remained relatively close to the Scandinavian model and the public sector continues to play a leading role in the economy.
In this election, Ap’s platform highlighted its successful stewardship of the economy and its positive record on job creation. While stressing that “everyone must contribute” to the welfare state – notably, Ap opposes getting rid of the wealth tax and other ‘asocial tax cuts’; it also has a fairly pro-business twist, arguing that the government has reduced the costs of doing business and simplification policies have increased competitiveness. The Ap says that its tax policies are ‘fair’, increasing taxes on the wealthiest while reducing taxes for most Norwegians – by raising the minimum allowance significantly, considerably less Norwegians pay the wealth tax now than in 2005. During the campaign, Stoltenberg announced intentions to cut the corporate tax by if he was reelected (at least by 1%), the first such cuts since 1992 and a change to the principle of ‘neutrality’ in the Norwegian tax code (whereby marginal tax rates are supposed to be broadly the same, with a 28% base tax for both corporate taxation and taxation of capital income).
Ap vigorously defends public schools, and often points out that it stopped a ‘proliferation’ of private schools when it gained power from the right in 2005. Rules regarding creations of private schools are quite strict in Norway, with the vast majority of students attending public schools.
Ap is generally pro-immigration, but its platform talks of ‘balanced and controlled immigration’. It has somewhat tightened the screws on laws regarding asylum seekers, and attracted some controversy recently when asylum seekers – including children – were deported.
Stoltenberg’s tenure has also been marked by socially liberal policies, most notably the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2008. It continues to strongly support LGBT rights, equal pay for women and proposed extending paternity leave to 14 weeks (from 10, previously 6). The total parental leave period would be 53 weeks, at full pay.
The Right (Høyre, H), widely known in English as the Conservatives, is Norway’s second-oldest party and traditionally the largest anti-socialist/bourgeois party. Today, the party, whose support is disproportionately urban and suburban, is a generally liberal-conservative party which supports traditional centre-right values such as economic freedom, free enterprise, lower taxes, limited government and personal freedom – although all in a Norwegian context, which invariably gives these terms different meanings than, say, in the United States.
H was founded in 1884, a reaction to the formation of the Venstre (Left, known as the Liberals) and the birth of parliamentarianism in Norway. One of its main difference from Venstre was that it generally supported a continuation of the personal union with Sweden, which was dissolved in 1905. In the early 1900s and throughout the interwar era, the Conservatives were closely allied to a small right-wing/moderate faction of Venstre.
Conservative support, like that of the Liberals, declined significantly with the rise of the Ap. However, likely because it catered to a much more reliable and solid urban bourgeois base, the Conservatives did not suffer the same fate as the Liberals (aka, near-death) and stabilized themselves as the largest anti-socialist bourgeois party starting in 1918. Between 1945 and 1973, Conservative support was stable at low levels, winning between 17% and 21% of the vote, always placing a very distant second to the hegemonic Ap. Conservative politician John Lyng served as Prime Minister for a month in 1963 after an unholy coalition of the right and non-Labour left briefly overthrew Einar Gerhardsen’s government following a mine disaster on Svalbard. The Conservatives participated in, but did not lead, Per Borten’s government (1965-1971) and supported Lars Korvald’s government (1972-1973).
Under the leadership of Kåre Willoch and Erling Norvik, H’s support skyrocketed between 1973 and 1981, a period referred to as the høyrebølgen (right-wave). H’s support increased from 17% in 1973 to 25% in 1977 and 32% in 1981 (their highest result since 1924). Following the 1981 election, the bourgeois bloc – dominated by the Conservatives – had a solid majority and Kåre Willoch became Prime Minister, staying in office until 1986.
Willoch’s policies were the first challenge to the social democratic and Keynesian policies implemented by the Ap since 1945. His government dissolved the state monopoly on radio and television broadcasting, allowed for private radio stations, liberalized business opening hours, liberalized the housing market, allowed for private health clinics and deregulated credit policy (a controversial decision which led to a banking crisis in the 1990s). In 1985, H’s support to 30% and the bourgeois bloc lost its majority and was dependent on the small anti-tax right-wing Progress Party (FrP)’s two members. Facing declining oil prices, Willoch proposed austerity policies including increasing the gasoline tax. The FrP opposed the government’s decision to increase the petroleum tax, and, lacking support from the left, Willoch’s government fell in May 1986 and was replaced with a Ap minority government.
Conservative support collapsed in the 1990s, first to 22% in 1989 then to 17% in 1993 and a catastrophic low of 14% in 1997. After the 1989 election, the Conservatives returned to government with FrP’s external support. However, Jan Peder Syse’s government was to be short-lived. Owing to internal tensions with the Center Party (Sp) over EU membership, the Sp withdrew and Syse’s government fell a bit over a year after taking power.
The Conservatives did not participate in Kjell Magne Bondevik’s first government, between 1997 and 2000, and contributed to its downfall in 2000 when it joined Ap in voting against the government on a no-confidence motion. In 2001, H recovered somewhat, winning 21%. This time, it participated in Bondevik’s government, although it did not lead it (despite having the most seats of all coalition parties).
The Conservatives collapsed to an all-time low in 2005, winning only 14.1% of the vote and falling to third place behind the FrP. Although they recovered somewhat in 2009, H still won a paltry 17% and remained in third behind the FrP in that election. H has been badly hurt by FrP’s success since 1997. However, in the 2011 local elections, the Conservatives reemerged as the strongest anti-socialist party, winning 28% of the vote and a strong second behind Ap.
The Conservatives broadly agree to the outlines of the Norwegian welfare state; they certainly do not bring into question the country’s generous social security benefits or universal. Where they differ from the left on those issues, such as healthcare or education, is that they are far more supportive of private options. For example, on education, H’s platform promotes to right to establish, run and access private and religious schools, unlike Ap which seeks to curtail private schools.
On healthcare, the Conservatives are critical of the Red-Green government for longer health queues and allegedly ignoring vulnerable groups (mentally ill and drug addicts). It proposed to use available capacity at private clinics to provide patients with quicker treatment, and also defends ‘freedom of choice’ – allowing patients to choose where they want to receive treatment, either in the public or private sector, at the government’s expense in both cases.
In this campaign, the Conservatives placed considerable emphasis on infrastructure development. It wishes to increase investment in infrastructure, and initiate major public-private partnerships for road and railway construction yearly.
The Conservatives are concerned by the economy’s dependence on oil wealth (which is post-peak) – the oil economy has led to higher salaries and higher costs, which has hurt other sectors of the economy (particularly those exposed to foreign competition) and led to a decline in the competitiveness of the Norwegian economy. H supports the handlingsregelen, but it wants to invest revenues more in infrastructure, R&D and tax cuts. The Conservatives proposed to abolish the inheritance tax, and reduce the wealth tax (by increasing deductions and cutting the tax rate) before it is eventually abolished. It also campaigned, as it often does, on tax cuts for low and middle-incomes. They contend that the wealth tax drains capital from workplaces and reduces the motivation to save and invest. Ap counters that the Conservatives want to make millionaires pay no taxes. Overall, though, many noted that the Conservatives moved towards the centre on taxation and were less vocal about major tax cuts.
For businesses, the Conservatives want to reduce bureaucratic constraints and red tapes on private businesses (for example, allowing for longer opening hours on weekdays and Saturdays and allowing businesses to open on Sundays). While the Conservatives have traditionally been quite keen on privatization, they significantly moderated their positions on that controversial issue this year. They want to gradually reduce state ownership of industries, and reduce the state’s share in Statoil from 62.5% to 51%, but apart from that its platform was mum.
The party has a strong law-and-order line. This year, the Conservatives proposed increasing the police’s manpower, prosecuting and punishing even minor offenses and raising the penalties for violence and abuse. While the Conservatives are generally pro-immigration, they do support stricter laws on immigration and asylum seekers and call on immigrants to integrate into society by learning the language. The party’s current platform wants to make it easier for businesses to attract highly qualified labour, including from non-EEA countries. Low unemployment in Norway means that the country, especially the oil industry, needs to attract qualified immigration to fill jobs.
On foreign policy issues, the Conservatives strongly support EU membership, and, like Ap, also strongly support Norway’s continued membership in the EEA/EFTA and Schengen Agreements as the next best thing. However, Conservative leader Erna Solberg said during the campaign she would not hold a referendum on EU membership during her term if elected. H is also strongly supportive of NATO.
The Conservatives’ fiscal conservatism does not extend to social issues. The party supports same-sex marriage (and voted in favour of the bill), although, unlike the Ap, its platform does not mention LGBT rights or gender equality issues. In 1980, Kåre Willoch refused to impose stricter abortion regulations as the Christian democrats (KrF) demanded, two years after the country legalized abortion.
The Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP), a right-wing populist party founded in 1973 (as the Anders Lange Party), is certainly Norway’s most controversial party. It is also a rather contradictory. It is often identified (mostly by detractors and the foreign media) as a far-right party, with some degree of truth, but it is also clear that while the FrP has often used more extreme language on immigration, its positions are considerably more moderate and less controversial than those of continental far-right parties in Europe or even that of the Sweden Democrats or the Danish People’s Party. Anders Behring Breivik, the white supremacist terrorist who killed 77 in 2011, was a member of the FrP in the early 2000s (before leaving it, finding it too moderate) and that has certainly worsened the party’s international image, but it is clear that Breivik was far more extremist than the party and the FrP never sympathized with his actions (which is more than can be said for some members of the Lega Nord or FPÖ…). Others, often more friendly to the party, say it is a libertarian party, but while it is anti-tax and supports limited government, it also opposes the handlingsregelen (unlike all other parliamentary parties) and is generally supportive of the welfare state. It might be described as a nationalist party, and its positions on immigration and identity do reflect a certain nationalism, but at the same time it is surprisingly ambivalent about the EU issue, unlike the Centre Party (Sp).
The party was founded in 1973 by Anders Lange, a political activist and World War II resistance member, as a right-wing populist protest party against high taxes, subsidies, regulations and bureaucracy. It was modeled on Mogens Glistrup’s Danish Progress Party, which won its remarkable electoral breakthrough that same year. Lange’s success was not as spectacular, although his party did win 5% and 4 seats in the 1973 election. Lange died in 1974, and the party took its current name in 1977 under the leadership of Carl I. Hagen. It retained its anti-tax and generally libertarian image. In the 1977 election, its support collapsed to 2% and it lost all seats. It returned to the Storting in 1981, winning 4.5% and 4 seats, and held two of those seats in the 1985 election. Following the 1985 election, Kåre Willoch’s bourgeois government was dependent on FrP support and promptly collapsed when Hagen refused to back him on a gasoline tax increase, having campaigned against any tax increases in the 1985 election (in which the FrP was also very critical of the Norwegian welfare state).
The FrP made immigration one of the cornerstones of its platform starting in 1987. During the campaign for that year’s local elections, Hagen read out the infamous Mustafa-letter, a fake letter written by a “Muslim immigrant” which portrayed a Muslim invasion of Norway and the Islamization of the country. Its support increased to 10% in the 1987 local elections, and it gained over nearly 10 points over its 1985 results in the 1989 election, winning 13% and 22 seats.
The FrP suffered sharp loses in the 1993 election, winning only 6% and 10 seats, a poor performance attributable to internal divisions between Hagen and a more extreme libertarian minority, as well as the polarization of the 1993 election on the EU issue (on which the FrP was ambivalent, in contrast to the vocally anti-EU Sp). The party split at a 1994 convention, during which the libertarian minority – which emphasized economic issues and was supportive of immigration – split from the FrP. Hagen was able to re-centre the FrP around ‘core issues’ such as immigration and cement its right-populist profile. The FrP recovered lost ground in the 1997 election, winning 15% and 25 seats – becoming, for the first time, the largest anti-socialist party.
There was more turmoil prior to the 2001 elections, this time with a more extremist anti-immigration minority opposing Hagen’s leadership and his intention to moderate the FrP to make it a tolerable coalition partner for other right-wing parties. Dissidents were expelled, many of them going on to try their luck with a small anti-immigration far-right party (Democrats). As a result of the turmoil, the FrP was unable to make gains in 2001, but won 26 seats and 14.6%. The right-wing bloc refused to allow the FrP to join the Bondevik cabinet, but the party provided Bondevik’s cabinet with external support although it was rather annoyed by its refusal to allow it to join cabinet. In the 2005 elections, the FrP cemented itself as the second largest party, winning 22% and 38 seats. Hagen stepped down in 2006 and was replaced by Siv Jensen.
In 2009, the FrP increased its support slightly, to 23% and 41 seats. It was, however, a disappointing showing for the party in comparison to pre-electoral optimism for a record showing (up to 30% in polls).
2011 was an annus horribilis for the FrP. It began with a sex scandal involving FrP rising star and Stavanger mayoral candidate Trond Birkedal, accused of sexual relations with underage boys and filming sex scenes with young party members. Siv Jensen broke her back and was rushed to the hospital while party elder and Oslo mayoral candidate Carl I. Hagen clamored for a larger role in the campaign. The July 2011 terrorist attacks, finally, had a terrible impact on the party, which lost considerable support. It won only 12% of the vote in the 2011 local elections, a distant third behind Ap and H.
FrP has caused the bourgeois right a great amount of headaches as it has gotten increasingly influential and powerful since 1997. Unlike far-right parties such as the FN in France which reject government participation, the FrP has been eagerly looking to participate in a right-wing cabinet since 2001, but each time they have been excluded. They have tried to tone down their more controversial positions and keep the extremists on a tight leash, in order to present a more respectable image. However, in 2001, all right-wing parties in Bondevik’s majority refused to allow the FrP to participate in government. The FrP grudgingly tolerated that government from the outside. After 2005, however, the FrP has clearly stated that they would not support a government in which they do not participate. They reiterated that in 2009. The Conservatives, originally hostile to governing with FrP, came around to accepting FrP cabinet participation. However, the two smaller right-wing parties, the Liberals (V) and Christian democrats (KrF) have remained far more reluctant to such an idea. In 2009, the Liberals ran a virulently anti-FrP campaign, whose failure likely motivate V’s leadership to a more measured attitude of grudgingly accepting FrP in a cabinet. Prior to 2011, when the FrP was the strongest right-wing party, the question of what would happen if the right won the elections but with FrP as the leading party, further complicated matters.
The FrP defines itself as a liberal or libertarian party, in a “Norwegian and Western tradition with a Christian worldview.”
On economic issues, the FrP is strongly individualistic, placing ‘freedom’ as one of its core values. Throughout its history, it has remained extremely critical of Norway’s tax burden, one of the highest in the world, and wants to limit taxes ‘to the greatest extent possible’, abolish certain taxes such as the property tax and create a flatter tax system by limiting the surtax on higher incomes. It is critical of bureaucracy and the large public sector, wishing to liberalize the economy, reduce bureaucracy and remove certain regulations on private businesses. Furthermore, unlike the Conservatives, the FrP wants to privatize the state broadcaster (NRK) and the state railways. Strongly supportive of free trade, it wants to reduce tariffs and bring down trade barriers. Subsidies to businesses, they say, should also be reduced or cut.
The FrP strongly promotes the idea of ‘freedom of choice’ in the delivery of public services. Through unit price financing, the state should allow the public to choose where they wish to receive their treatment (in public or private hospitals) or send their children to school. The party supports Norway’s public healthcare system (unlike in its first years) but it also wants to boost private hospitals.
One major contrast between the FrP and the other parties, including the Conservatives, is that it opposes the handlingsregelen on the use of oil funds. It wishes to use oil revenues to invest more money in infrastructure (notably roads and hospitals), healthcare, welfare services and to pay for tax cuts.
The party’s platform places particular emphasis on seniors and elderly care, pushing for more investment in healthcare and elderly law, notably by creating a legal entitlement to places in nursing homes.
The FrP wants to make welfare benefits subject to ‘enforceable conditions’ to ‘prevent misuse’ and sees welfare as a last resort for those who cannot make ends meet on their own.
The FrP’s immigration policies have caused the greatest amount of controversy for the party. Wishing to embellish their image, especially given how the foreign media has taken to branding them ‘Breivik’s party’, the FrP denies that they are anti-immigration – they just want controlled immigration and stricter integration of immigrants into Norwegian society, they say. However, at the same time, it is also quite clear that FrP’s position on immigration is markedly to the right of all other parties and, since 1987, it hasn’t hesitated to use immigration as a wedge issue (often presenting immigrants as scourges on the welfare state or associating them with crime). The FrP wants to significantly reduce the intake of asylum seekers and refugees, especially from non-EEA countries. It has a strict policy on family reunification, wishing to limit it to spouses and children under 18, and setting a high income threshold for Norwegians to bring in foreign wives to the country (setting it at about $70,000). Their English summary of their policies says that they want that “people who take up residence in Norway do not automatically receive welfare rights, which burdens the Norwegian taxpayer.”
Unsurprisingly, the FrP takes a strong ‘law-and-order’ position on crime, proposing to increase police visibilty on the streets and stricter punishments for serious crimes.
The FrP tends to be fairly conservative on social issues. It opposed same-sex marriage in 2008, but it recently changed its policy and supports both same-sex marriage and adoption. The party laments that Christianity and the country’s Christian heritage has lost its place in religion/life/ethics courses in schools, and wants to replace Christianity at the centre of such courses.
On foreign policy issues, the FrP is strongly pro-NATO and pro-American, and, in contrast with most other parties, is also militantly pro-Israeli – it was the only Norwegian party which supported the 2008-2009 Gaza War. The party is ambivalent on the EU, calling it a non-issue and pledging to respect any referendum result on the issue. The party’s development policy is markedly orthodox, wishing to reduce foreign aid and claiming that free trade is the key for developing countries to achieve growth and prosperity.
FrP leader Siv Jensen in the past denied man-made climate change, but again as part of its recent ‘moderation’ and respectability evolution, it has stopped talking about climate change and its environmental policy is vague and non-committal, consisting mainly of meaningless pablum although it opposes ‘market-distorting regulations’.
The Christian Democratic Party or Christian People’s Party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) is a centre-right bourgeois party largely known for being Norway’s most socially conservative party, although it is otherwise rather moderate.
The KrF was founded in 1933 as a response to the secularization of society and the disaffection of certain Liberal voters in southern and western Norway, members of low-church groups (notably the Indremisjonen and Kinamisjonen). It won its first seat that same year, but its support only took after 1945, stabilizing at around 8-12% of the vote until the 1997 election.
KrF’s support peaked in 1997, winning 13.7% and 25 seats. Kjell Magne Bondevik, KrF’s leader between 1983 and 1995, who had softened the party’s image and expanded its reach, served as Prime Minister between 1997 and 2000 and again between 2001 and 2005. The party, which held tight with 12% in 2001, lost nearly half of its support and seats in 2005, winning only 6.8% and 11 seats. The Christian democrats have been hurt by the success of the FrP, which took many of their former voters in southern and western Norway.
In 2009, the party won 5.5% and 10 seats, setting a new post-war record low for the party.
The party’s platform focuses on family and human life, and opens with topics such as abortion, families and children. The KrF is pro-life, but it does not support criminalizing abortion – it seeks to change or at least amend the current law in a more pro-life orientation. The party supports ethical sex-ed and free contraceptives to limit abortions by young women. The party opposes euthanasia, late-term abortions, surrogacy, cloning, biotechnology and early ultrasound screenings for pregnant women.
On family policy, the KrF wants to increase total parental leave to 68 weeks, significantly increase child cash benefits and improve the quality of kindergartens.
KrF opposes same-sex marriage and adoption and wants to overturn the law.
On other issues, KrF is significantly influenced by the Christian democratic tradition and Christian social teaching (human dignity, compassion, charity, social justice), and the overall flavour of positions on those issues is significantly less right-wing . Their healthcare platform barely mentions private healthcare, unlike FrP or H, and even on education their mention of private school is fairly brief. The party’s environmental policy is fairly ‘green’, similar on the broad outline to Ap. Furthermore, unlike the three main parties (Ap, H, FrP), they oppose oil exploration in the Lofoten/Vesterålen/Senja area, for environmental and fisheries reasons. On immigration, the party’s policies are rather left-wing. KrF wishes to strengthen the development aid and policy, setting aside some of the oil fund for investment in poor countries.
Economic and fiscal policy is a lesser focus for KrF, which has moderately right-wing positions – reducing bureaucracy for businesses, removing the wealth tax on working capital – but compensating loss of income with ‘green taxes’ on environmentally harmful behaviour.
KrF opposes EU membership, appreciating the ‘freedom of action’ which Norway’s EEA/EFTA membership gives it (and which, they argue, it would lose if it joined the EU).
The Centre Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) is a centrist agrarian party, in the tradition of Nordic agrarian parties like the Finnish and Swedish Centre parties. Arguably, Norway’s Sp has remained an even ‘purer’ agrarian party than Sweden’s C or Finland’s KESK – it certainly hasn’t had the weird transition towards green-libertarianism which the Swedish Centre Party is currently ongoing. Like other Nordic agrarian parties, Sp’s core themes are protection for farmers, rural development and decentralization.
Sp finds its roots in the Bondepartiet (Farmers’ Party or Agrarian Party), founded in 1921 as the political wing of a powerful farmers’ union, the Norsk Landmandsforbund (later Norges Bondelag, which exists to this day, independent of Sp), founded in 1896. Farmers’ candidates first won seats in 1915, and by its first election (1921), the Bp already won 13% and 17 seats – from the outset, an important player in politics. The party’s main issues were protection for grain farmers, lower taxes for farmers and government intervention (through protectionist policies and state aid) for agriculture. That latter position stood in sharp contrast to the prevailing ideology of laissez-faire liberalism backed by both the Conservatives and Liberals. The Bp’s support increased continuously, reaching an historic high of 16% and 26 seats in the 1930 election.
The Bp tolerated bourgeois cabinets in the 1920s and early 1930s, but they were unreliable allies for any government. Following the 1930 election, two Bp leaders served as Prime Minister: Peder Kolstad (1931-1932) and Jens Hundseid (1932-1933). The farmers switched their political allegiances in 1935, when it reached a ‘crisis settlement’ agreement (kriseforlik) with the Ap, accepting the Ap’s Keynesian interventionist economic policies in return for protection for farmers. The Bp did not participate in Johan Nygaardsvold’s cabinet, which was an exclusively Ap cabinet, but provided it with external support. During this era, however, Bp’s support began a slow decline: 14% in 1933, 11.5% in 1935 and 8% in 1949 and 1949.
The party flirted with nationalism and even fascism in the 1930s, which remains a rather controversial period for the party. Infamous traitor Vidkun Quisling was minister of defense in Jens Hundseid’s government, and Hundseid himself went on to join Quisling’s pro-Nazi Nasjonal Samling after the German invasion of Norway. He was sentenced to ten years in jail after the war for collaborating with the Nazis.
After the war, in an era of Ap dominance, the Bp slowly moved back towards the bourgeois parties. In 1959, the party adopted its current name. Per Borten, the Sp leader between 1955 and 1967, served as Prime Minister between 1965 and 1971, at the head of a bourgeois coalition including H, KrF and the Liberals (V). The Sp returned to cabinet under Lars Korvald (1972-1973).
Sp’s popular support, remarkably steady at 9% between 1953 and 1969, increased to 11% in 1973 (because of Sp’s strong anti-EEC stance), but fell significantly afterwards: 8.6% in 1977, and settling at around 6.5% until 1993. The party’s new environmentalist outlook, skeptical of Norway’s oil boom in the late 1970s, was a poor fit in an increasingly urban electorate. The Sp participated in Kåre Willoch’s second cabinet (1985-1986) and Jan Peder Syse’s cabinet (1989-1990). It was Sp which pulled the plug, prematurely, on Syse’s Conservative-led cabinet over the EU issue in 1990. That year, the Sp broke with the bourgeois bloc – forming an independent centrist alternative between right and Ap – and became the leader of the anti-EU movement which was heating up in Norway. In the 1993 elections, fought largely over the EU issue, Sp’s support skyrocketed to nearly 17% and 32 seats, winning more seats that any single bourgeois party. Sp won another victory with the NO’s victory in the 1994 EU referendum.
As the EU issue faded, however, Sp’s support returned to the 5-6% (10-12 seats) level it had stayed at between 1981 and 1993. Sp participated in Bondevik’s first cabinet, in office between 1997 and 2001. In 2005, in another shift of political allegiances, the Sp joined Stoltenberg’s Red-Green coalition government, which was reelected in 2009. Since 2005, the Sp held the portfolios of Local Affairs and Regional Development (held by Sp’s leader, Liv Signe Navarsete, since 2009), Transports and Communications, Agriculture and Food, Oil and Energy.
This year, Sp’s platform was centered around ‘transport and communications’, ‘food and environment’ and the elderly. These priorities somewhat betray the party’s strong rural and agrarian focus. The party wants to continue building or upgrading more roads and railways, but at the same time their platform also reveals another key aspect of Sp’s ideology: environmentalism – the party considers climate change to be the most important issue facing the world. In urban area, they wish to reduce pollution by expanding public transit, restricting car traffic and accommodating cyclists and pedestrians. They also want to increase the use of renewable energy, make significant investments in renewable energies (including wind, hydro, biofuels etc) and major domestic emission cuts. Like other smaller parties, Sp opposes oil exploration in Lofoten/Vesterålen/Senja.
‘Food’ seems to be a neater way of saying that they’re still a rural farmers’ party. Sp’s platform talks of increasing domestic food production by 20% over 20 years, reducing income inequalities between agriculture and other sectors, weaken the power of large food distributors and increase subsidies. In government, the Sp continues to lobby for tariff protection and higher subsidies for Norwegian farmers and producers. In 2012, the government – pushed by Sp – significantly increased tariffs on meat and cheeses, an unpopular decision which strongly displeased the EU but also irked Norwegian consumers, who have been forced to pay even higher prices for food when they already pay some of the highest food prices in the world.
The Sp has long supported decentralization and local autonomy, notably through the devolution of more powers to the municipalities. For example, the Sp wants to devolve management of hospitals to the municipalities. In contrast with other parties, Sp strongly opposes the forced amalgamation of municipalities – Norway has 428 municipalities, and many argue that there are too many small municipalities which struggle to be viable as they are.
Sp sees itself as a guarantor of Norwegian independence. It strongly opposes EU membership, and also wants Norway to withdraw from Schengen and the EEA, which, they say, should be replaced with free trade agreements. They also want stricter border controls.
The Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) is a democratic socialist party, to the left of Ap, founded in 1975.
SV finds its roots in the Socialist People’s Party (SF), a party founded in 1961 by Ap dissidents at odds with Ap’s foreign and security policy, namely its pro-EEC and pro-NATO. SF’s support was limited, winning 2 seats in 1961 and 1965 before losing both of them in 1969. SF supported what they called the ‘third position’ (det tredje standpunkt) – independence from both the US and the Soviet Union, unlike the small communist party (NKP) which was aligned with Moscow. In 1963, SF briefly allied with the bourgeois parties to bring down Einar Gerhardsen’s Ap government following the mining disaster on Svalbard, but the unholy alliance broke down and Ap returned to power within months.
The EEC controversy in the early 1970s provided a chance to anti-EEC leftists. In the wake of the 1972 referendum, SF allied with the NKP and smaller socialist groups and parties to form the Socialist Electoral League for the 1973 election. The league won 11.2% of the vote and 16 seats, a resounding success which drew on Ap loses – Ap lost about 11 points from its previous result that year. In 1975, the alliance transformed into a party, SV, but the NKP refused to join the new party and went their own separate way.
Success, however, was short lived – and that’s remained a constant in SV’s history since then. Internal struggles, between a more social democratic right-wing seeking to collaborate closely with the Ap and a more doctrinaire left-wing which argued that Ap was moving too far to the right, severely weakened the party, which collapsed to 4% and 2 seats in the 1977 election. It increased its support to 5% in 1981 and 5.5% in 1985. In 1989, because of an unpopular Ap government, SV’s support shot up to 10% and 17 seats. Again, however, success was ephemeral – it suffered loses in the two next elections, being reduced to only 6% and 9 seats in 1997. In 2001, the annus horribilis for Labour because of Stoltenberg’s controversial economic and deregulatory policies, SV cashed in on Ap’s collapse, winning a record high 12.5% and 23 seats.
Between 2001 and 2005, SV leader Kristin Halvorsen, who took over in 1997, built a strong relationship and de facto alliance with Jens Stoltenbrg which culminated in the Red-Green coalition with the Ap and Sp. However, the 2005 election proved disappointing for SV, whose support fell back to 8.8% and 15 seats after a poor campaign. In 2009, its support declined to 6% and 11 seats. In the 2011 local elections, SV won barely 4%.
Halvorsen resigned after SV’s catastrophic showing in 2011, and was eventually replaced by Audun Lysbakken, a fellow cabinet minister. Lysbakken, however, had just been involved in a scandal involving the award of funds from his ministry to a girl’s self-defense organization affiliated with the SV’s youth wing and, later, allocation of funds to an NGO he had been a member of before joining cabinet. He resigned from cabinet five days before he was elected to the SV leadership.
SV has held the portfolios of International Development; Environment; Children, Equality and Social Inclusion; and Education. Between 2005 and 2009, SV leader Kristin Halvorsen was Minister of Finance. SV lost that office, their fifth portfolio, after their loses in the 2009 election.
SV is a democratic socialist and environmentalist party, which is also strongly influenced by feminism and, to a lesser extent since 2005, pacifism. The party’s platform focused on the environment, social justice and education.
SV wants to reduce Norway’s dependency on oil and gas revenues, by reducing investments in the oil industry and setting limits on oil and gas activities. Unsurprisingly, they strongly oppose oil exploration in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja. The party wants environmental ‘green’ taxes which would lay the burden on polluters, while cutting taxes on low incomes.
On economic and fiscal policy, SV’s priorities are defending the welfare state, re-distributive tax policies, reducing poverty and housing. SV supports increased taxation of high incomes and imposing a tax of the financial sector (they also support a global tax of financial transactions), to support the welfare state and reduce income inequalities. The party holds that public ownership of essential public assets and infrastructure is essential. Education and housing are other main priorities for SV.
The party opposes EU membership and would also withdraw from the EEA, claiming that the agreement endangers the Norwegian model. It would replace the EEA with a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU. It also remains opposed to Norway’s membership in NATO, but after joining government in 2005, SV was compelled to reluctantly support Norway’s NATO commitment in Afghanistan. The party, alongside the Liberals, have one of the most pro-immigration policies. They opposed Labour’s toughening of the immigration law and want to increase the quota for refugees.
The Left (Venstre, V), widely known as the Liberal Party, is Norway’s oldest party, founded a few months before the Conservatives in 1884. The party’s Norwegian name – which means ‘left’ in English – reflects the party’s position on the left on the political spectrum in the late nineteenth century, like the Venstre party in Denmark. And just like the Danish party, V is no longer a left-wing party – they’re a member of the bourgeois bloc, although still the most leftist and reluctant of the bourgeois bloc’s parties.
The party was founded in 1884, advocating for parliamentarianism, independence from Sweden, universal male (and later female) suffrage and linguistic equality between bokmål and nynorsk, the two written forms of the Norwegian language. As a party representing farmers, low-church members from western Norways, urban radicals and some workers, the party was prone to divisions. The more right-wing Liberals quickly split off and became close allies of the Conservatives. The Liberals saw their support fall sharply at the turn of the last century with Ap’s emergence. The Liberals last won a plurality of the vote in the 1915 election. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Liberals were further hurt by the creation of the Bp and KrF, both of which largely backed by former Liberal constituencies. Between 1915 and 1965, Liberal support collapsed from 33% to 9%.
The Liberal Party suffered a major split in 1972 over the EEC issue. A pro-EEC wing, including the party’s leader and most of its MPs, walked out and created the Liberal People’s Party (DLF). As a result of the split, Liberal support fell from 9% in 1969 to 3.5% in 1973 (the DLF won 5%, but its support collapsed after that). Liberal support remained stable at around 3-4% until 2005. In 1985 and 1989, the Liberals were shut out from the Storting. The Liberals enjoyed a small recovery in 1997 (4.5%, 6 seats) and 2005 (6%, 10 seats).
The Liberals have been a member of the bourgeois bloc, with the exception of the 1985 election when V said that they would back a Labour government. V participated in John Lyng, Per Borten, Lars Korvald and Bondevik’s cabinets. However, V, which is known for its pro-immigration, environmentalist and socially liberal politics, has been a reluctant member of the bourgeois bloc in recent years. It has, alongside KrF, been the right-wing party most strongly opposed to FrP and potential FrP cabinet participation. In the 2009 election, V leader Lars Sponheim led a virulently anti-FrP campaign in which the Liberals said that they would not govern in coalition with FrP. The result was disastrous, with the Liberals winning 3.9%, falling under the 4% threshold and winning only two seats. Since then, under a new leader, Trine Skei Grande, the Liberals have been far less vocal about their opposition to FrP, being willing to support a government with FrP participation.
Education, environment, small businesses and welfare formed the four key themes in the Liberal platform this year. The party’s general orientation is centrist and socially liberal; somewhat left-libertarian on the whole, perhaps slightly more right-wing on economic issues.
The Liberals have tried to paint themselves as an environmentalist party, but their efforts to impose themselves as Norway’s leading green party have been stymied by competition on that front from SV, but also Sp and KrF. As a result, the Liberals could be said to be the only of the small parties which are not strongly associated with a pet issue – social conservatism for KrF, agrarianism and rural communities for Sp and eco-socialism for SV. Like those parties, V opposes oil drilling off of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja, they also want to cut GHG emissions (by 40% by 2020, like SV), invest in renewable energy, provide tax credits for environmental measures and invest more of the oil fund in climate-friendly projects.
The Liberals’ focus on ‘small business’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ reflects a more right-wing policy on economic issues. It emphasizes reducing bureaucracy, cutting corporate reporting requirements and red tape, supporting the self-employed and promoting ‘innovation’. The party also wants to progressively eliminate the wealth tax and cutting taxes on labour income (to be compensated by ‘green taxes’ on environmentally harmful consumption). On the other hand, it is not overly enthusiastic about private options for welfare services (only saying they are a possible option), it supports increasing funding for post-secondary education and research as well as social assistance.
Venstre has a liberal immigration policy, seeking to loosen some of Norway’s immigration requirements. On foreign issues, while Venstre is fairly internationalistic – pro-NATO and pro-UN – it has often been split down the middle on the issue of EU membership; the party’s current platform is noncommittal about the topic and keeps it vague.
A number of smaller parties have sometimes managed to win representation in the Storting. The last such party to do so was the Coastal Party in 1997 and 2001, a small right-wing party based in two small fishing villages in northern Norway. Its support has collapsed since it lost its two seats in 2005.
In 2009, the Red Party (Rødt), a small far-left party founded in 2007, was the largest non-parliamentary party. Red was founded by the merger of the Red Electoral Alliance (RV) and the Workers’ Communist Party (AKP). RV was founded in 1973 as a political front for the AKP, a Maoist organization (the NKP was pro-Soviet). RV gained independence from the AKP in 1991, and dropped the more radical aspects of the AKP’s ideology – most significantly weird Khmer Rouge fanboyism. RV won less than 1% of the vote between 1973 and 1993, at which point it won 1.1% and a single seat. It lost that seat, although its vote share increased to an historic high of 1.7% in 1997. Since then, RV/R’s support has oscillated between 1.2% and 1.3% (in 2009). The party has no chance of passing the 4% threshold, but it has come very close to winning a district mandate in Oslo (the party’s best county) on several occasions.
Red is a socialist party which advocates for a proletarian revolution to overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist state. In the meantime, the party supports strengthening the welfare state, stop privatizations, taxing the rich (including a 100% tax on incomes over 1.5 million kroner), reduction of oil production, increased taxation of oil companies, free dental and eyecare, withdrawal from the EEA and NATO, and abolishing the monarchy (among others).
The Greens (Miljøpartiet Dei Grøne, MDG) is a green party, founded in 1988, but which never achieved electoral success until 2011. The party claims to be neither left or right, but the Conservatives consider them a left-wing party. The party won 0.4% in its first election, in 1989, but initial support and enthusiasm for the party soon disappeared and Green support fell to 0.1-0.3% in elections after then. It won 0.3% in 2009. Likely as a result of environmental issues and politics already being dominated and ‘owned’ by several parties, both left and centre/right, the Greens failed to achieve any kind of electoral success.
In the 2011 local elections, Green support rose sharply, winning 1.3% of the vote and winning seats in major cities including Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger.
The Greens policy agenda is centered around environmental issues, climate change and sustainability. They consider climate change to be the planet’s biggest challenge and want major cuts in emission (but just to show how some of the other small parties have strong environmental policies, their emission target proposals are the same as SV or the Liberals). Its economic policies appear rather eclectic, although it is clearly left-wing on immigration.
Election results and aftermath
Turnout was 78.2%, up from 76.4% in 2009. Although it was not an exciting campaign or even a closely fought battle, the change of government as well as the ruling Ap mobilizing its voters led to increased turnout. The results were:
Labour (Ap) 30.8% (-4.5%) winning 55 seats (-9)
Conservative (H) 26.8% (+9.6%) winning 48 seats (+18)
Progress Party (FrP) 16.3% (-6.6%) winning 29 seats (-12)
Christian Democrats (KrF) 5.6% (nc) winning 10 seats (nc)
Centre Party (Sp) 5.5% (-0.7%) winning 10 seats (-1)
Liberal (V) 5.2% (+1.4%) winning 9 seats (+7)
Socialist Left (SV) 4.1% (-2.1%) winning 7 seats (-4)
The Greens (MDG) 2.8% (+2.5%) winning 1 seats (+1)
Red (R) 1.1% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
All others 1.6% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Bourgeois (right) coalition 53.9% (+4.9%) winning 96 seats (+13)
Red-Green (left) coalition 40.4% (-7.3%) winning 72 seats (-14)
Without much suspense, the opposition centre-right coalition – the so-called bourgeois bloc – won the Norwegian election handily, ending eight years of Red-Green government.
It may seem surprising that the government lost reelection, by such a significant margin, when the Norwegian economy is doing so well and unemployment is so low. In fact, the government lost reelection because of voter fatigue rather than any one unpopular policy or major scandal. No Norwegian government, left or right, has won a third term in office since 1961, which was a whole different political era. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Red-Green parties lost, despite a robust economy and a relatively good record.
Voter fatigue was certainly the main factor playing against the government, after eight years in power. It was, however, not the only issue which ‘did it in’. There were clear signs that the government, particularly its leading party, Ap, was running out of steam and energy after two terms in power. Ap did propose any new flashy ideas or proposals, and their overall flair of their platform was defending their record. The Ap’s campaign also gave that impression: it mostly played a negative campaign, playing on the bourgeois bloc’s internal divisions and attacking the leading right-wing party – the Conservatives – on fiscal (taxation) and economic policies, notably on the wealth tax. Ap’s detractors called it a ‘scare campaign’ warning of doom and gloom if the right won power. Negative campaigning does certainly work out for a lot of parties, but it doesn’t work out when it appears like a halfhearted bid to win reelection for a tired government. The Red-Green government had been trailing the opposition parties for almost the duration of the Storting’s four year term (often by double digits, 10 to 20 points), and they knew that a third term would be extremely unlikely.
Nevertheless, Ap’s result wasn’t all that bad. It was about 2% below its 2011 local election result, which, it must be noted, was boosted by likely the same amount from the fallout of the July 2011 terrorist attacks. More importantly, perhaps, for the symbolism and all that, Ap remained the largest party – retaining the title it has held since 1927. Polling since 2012 had shown that the party was in second place behind the Conservatives, who polled upwards of 30% until the start of the actual campaign. Labour, as in the last election, was still able to mobilize its core supporters to turn out and boost its vote share.
Ap’s coalition partners, Sp and SV, have both been dragged down by their participation in government and their close association with it. The government, for example, cut aid for farmers, hurting Sp with its core electorate. SV has been rocked with internal turmoil and a lackluster new leader whose leadership began with a scandal which had forced him to resign his ministerial portfolio five days before becoming leader.
Voters, however, were also angry at the government over a few issues. There is a widespread feeling, in both rural and urban areas, that the country’s infrastructure – especially roads and rail – remains sub-par despite Norway’s oil-fueled prosperity. That explains why all parties placed significant emphasis on infrastructure development in their platforms, often through quicker construction of roads and a renewal and expansion of Norway’s poor rail service. The opposition also successfully played on concerns related to healthcare, where healthcare/hospital reforms still haven’t gone down all that well with a lot of voters. Hospital queues were, for example, a significant issue in this campaign and were emphasized in H and FrP’s platforms. A wedge issue – introducing a ban on begging (supported by the Conservatives, FrP and Sp; but opposed by Ap) – might have hurt Ap as well.
On the right, the main winner was the Conservative Party, which won 27% of the vote, its best result since the 1985 election and one which firmly re-establishes the Conservatives as the leading force of the bourgeois coalition. The Conservatives had placed third, behind the FrP and with less than 20% of the vote, in the last two elections. However, their result is basically the same as their result in their 2011 local elections – in fact, actually 0.8% lower.
The Conservatives largely benefited from FrP’s decline, as in 2011, although the Conservatives likely won the backing of a sizable share of voters who had voted for Ap (or the two other Red-Green parties) in the last election as well. The FrP significantly moderated or toned down their politics since 2009, in a bid to become respectable and accepted as a full governing partner by the other right-wing parties. It focused less on immigration and totally sidelined other controversial topics such as climate change. In doing so, the FrP lost its ‘protest’ edge which made it attractive to many voters. The party was also dragged down by the 2011 terrorist attacks or the scandals involving the party that same year, although the impact of both those events was likely rather limited in 2013. Besides, while FrP lost over 6.5% of their support from the 2009 election, they improved on their 2011 local election results by 4.6%.
With the economic turmoil in the rest of Europe, combined with fears that it might spread to Norway, voters were perhaps more likely to vote for moderate parties with reputations as being ‘fiscally responsible’ (Ap and the Conservatives).
To appeal to the middle ground of politics, the Conservatives have also moved to the centre on a number of issues. As briefly mentioned above, the Conservatives placed much less emphasis on privatization of state assets or tax cuts this year, two positions which had been damaging to the party in the past. The party focused on more consensual issues: jobs, healthcare, education and infrastructure. The Conservatives also ‘softened’ the image of their leader, Erna Solberg, who had become known as ‘Iron Erna’ after tightening immigration rules when she was a cabinet minister in Bondevik’s cabinet nearly a decade ago. For example, the Conservatives showed their leader all smiles and made heavy use of hearts in their their campaign lit and on the party’s website.
Sp and KrF both held their electorates. Sp’s stability over the years, except for 1993, remains rather remarkable. It has won between 10 and 12 seats in all elections since 1977 (except 1993, obviously). The Christian democrats won almost exactly the same percentage of the vote as in 2009, which was the party’s lowest point in the post-war period.
SV suffered sizable loses, as in the 2011 locals, and ended up barely above the 4% threshold. On election night, the party dropped below the 4% threshold on a few occasions, which would have meant that the party would have been wiped out besides one or two district mandates from Oslo (SV leader Audun Lysbakken, whose seat is in Hordaland county, would have lost). By placing above 4%, the party saves face and its future outlook is slightly brighter. There is, arguably, a chance that SV could die off: the right-wing would join Ap, the environmentalists would join the nascent Greens and the left-wing would join Red. However, such an event still looks fairly unlikely: the Ap will likely remain dominated by Stoltenberg-like centrists, nothing says that the Greens aren’t a fad which will pass and Red is far too radical and dogmatic to go anywhere. Furthermore, there is a place for a parliamentary party to the left of Labour – even if it isn’t very big, like in the 1980s.
The Liberals recovered lost support fairly well, pulling back over the 4% threshold and increasing their seat count by quite a bit because they did so. The party’s clearer ideological positioning this year likely explains their relative success.
The Greens finally scored a breakthrough and won one seat, a district mandate from Oslo, and nearly 3% of the vote nationally. They very likely fed off left-wing dissatisfaction with SV, which likely lost the lion’s share of its support to Ap or the Greens. It remains to be seen if the Greens manage to become a new force in Norwegian politics, or if they will go the way of other parties which have won a seat or two in the past and eventually faded away for a variety of reasons.
With 96 seats, the bourgeois bloc has a comfortable governing majority in the Storting. It is clear that the next Prime Minister of Norway will be Conservative leader Erna Solberg, and that it will be a right-wing government. What remains murkier, however, is the composition of her government. Three options were evoked during the course of the campaign. The unlikeliest option is a Conservative minority government, supported by the three other parties from the outside. The FrP insists on cabinet participation, so it is unlikely they would agree to such a government. Slightly likelier is a Conservative-FrP coalition government, with outside support from KrF and V. That idea might have stood a stronger chance of seeing light of day if the two parties had won a majority of seats (85) to themselves, which they did not (77 seats). Besides, the idea of a Conservative-FrP was met with strong resistance from KrF and V.
The likeliest scenario is a four-party coalition led by the Conservatives with FrP, KrF and V cabinet ministers. The Conservatives have no issues with FrP participating in cabinet. However, the centrist parties – KrF and V – remain much cooler on that possibility. Prior to the election, both parties warned against a Conservative-FrP coalition and also listed a number of issues on which they disagree with FrP – notably oil exploration, immigration policy and the environment. Erna Solberg prefers a four-party government. While KrF and V are both rather cool on the idea, they will probably accept it as the least worst of the options presented to them. Both parties recognize that being inside government, even alongside FrP, would increase their chances of weighing on policy making and governance.
The map above (below the results) show the results by municipality, showing both the leading party and the leading coalition/bloc.
Certainly one of the most striking aspects of the results map is a noticeable coastal – inland divide, at least in southern and western Norway. The governing coalition won their best results in inland counties of eastern Norway, such as Hedmark, Oppland and Nord-Trøndelag, while right-wing support was strongest along the coast in southern and western Norway.
Red-Green support in inland Eastern and Northern Norway is due not only to Ap’s strength – the aforementioned counties are the three counties where the Ap won over 40% of the vote – but also strong Sp results in most rural municipalities. Sp won a handful of municipalities in the region – although its best results (by far) came from Sogn og Fjordane (21%), the three other counties were it won over 10% of the vote were again these aforementioned counties. The cumulative totals of Ap and Sp make for extremely big numbers for the Red-Greens.
Labour’s strength in inland Eastern (and Northern) Norway reflects the working-class nature of the counties. The Ap polled best in small industrial centres – many of them aluminium smelting towns. The party’s best result in the entire country, Årdal (Sogn og Fjordane, 63% for Ap), is an aluminium smelting town, just like Sunndal (Møre og Romsdal, 52% for Ap). It also performed very strongly in other aluminium smelting towns – 46% in Rana (Nordland), 40% in Vefsn (Nordland) or 44% in Høyanger (Sogn og Fjordane). Other industries include timber – Labour won 46% in Namsos, an industrial town historically driven by timber (sawmills) in Nord-Trøndelag. Other towns and regions in the east and north have a mining history – Labour, for example, won 45% of the vote in Røros, an old copper mining community in Sør-Trøndelag; or 47% in Bindal, a gold mining town in Nordland. It alsp polled well in mining towns in Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost county. Simply put, Labour’s support is, unsurprisingly, strongest in small industrial towns – especially, it seems, those which are not overly popolous and somewhat isolated.
The second half of the explanation for Labour’s strong support in rural, inland Norway is that it has historically had a strong grassroots base in those counties. The party built up a strong network of local organizations throughout the Norwegian territory, even in rural communities, in the late 1930s and early-to-mid 1950s. In contrast, the bourgeois parties, except perhaps Sp, were far less efficient at establishing their own distinct branches in smaller towns. Impoverished farmers and husmen (a kind of tenant farmer), subjected to a larger landowner, were radicalized in the last half of the nineteenth century and have provided Ap with a strong base.
In contrast, Southern and Western Norway has been the Norwegian right’s traditional base. Although it has its share of industrial or mining centres, the region’s contemporary economy tends to be driven by oil, with Stavanger (Rogaland) considered as Norway’s oil capital. The area is also considerably more religious than the rest of Norway: the Norwegian ‘Bible Belt’ extends along the southwestern coast from Agder to Møre og Romsdal, with some outcrops further north in isolated fishing communities on the Lofoten and Vesterålen. The conservative branch of the Church of Norway (Indremisjonen) as well as Free Churches are strongest in this region, which also exhibits significantly higher rates of church attendance than the rest of the country. KrF support closely reflects the Norwegian Bible Belt. This year, KrF won 14% in Vest-Agder (Norway’s most conservative county), 11% in Aust-Agder and 10.6% in Rogaland. These results were very low for KrF, which won upwards of 20% in Vest-Agder in better years. The FrP and, perhaps, the Conservatives (this year) ate into their support in the Bible Belt.
Conservative support was more evenly distributed this year than in past years, with the party making important gains throughout the country. However, the Conservatives remain a very urban and suburban party. The party won its best results (see here) in more populous municipalities. Its best result was, as always, Bærum (Akershus), Oslo’s most affluent upper middle-class suburb where the Conservatives took 46% of the vote. Their second best result was 43% in Asker, which neighbours Bærum to the south.
Conservative support is also above average in the country’s largest cities. While Ap won a bare plurality in Oslo (30.4% vs 29.8%), the Conservatives polled a plurality (and the right-wing bloc overall won a majority) in Bergen (33.6% H, 60% right), Stavanger (33.4% H, 62.9% right) and Kristiansand (29.6% H, 66.7% right). The left won Trondheim (36.8% Ap, 47.9% RG). While Ap won a narrow plurality of the votes in Fredrikstad/Sarpsborg (an old shipbuilding city in Østfold), Skien and Tromsø, the combined sum of the right-wing bloc was higher in all three cities than that of the governing coalition.
Norway’s capital, Oslo, is a city divided. The right won a narrow majority of the votes, although, as mentioned above, Ap outpolled the Conservatives by a tight margin. As these maps show, Oslo is internally divided between the West End and the East End. Conservative (and right-wing support overall) is strongest in Oslo’s West End, the wealthiest boroughs of the city. The Conservatives won 42.5% in Frogner, 47.7% in Vestre Aker and 46.9% in Ullern, all affluent West End boroughs. On Bygdøy peninsula in Frogner, an area considered as the most expensive in Norway, the Conservatives won 53% and Labour only 13.9% (third place). Labour (and left-wing support) is strongest in Oslo’s East End, which covers the city’s historically lower-income working-class neighborhoods, which are now home to large immigrant populations – immigrants, most of them from Asia or Africa, make up about 30% of the population in the boroughs of Bjerke, Grorud, Stovner and Alna, four working-class districts in the Grorud Valley of eastern Oslo. Ap won 38.9% in Bjerke and well over 45% of the vote in the three other boroughs. It also won 44% in Søndre Nordstrand, a southeastern borough with a 32% immigrant population.
In the four downtown boroughs, smaller parties – namely the Liberals, SV, the Greens and Red – find their strongest support. Historically working-class in good part, these boroughs (Gamle Oslo, Grünerløkka, Sagene, St. Hanshaugen) are gentrified, with a large number of young(er) highly-educated professionals. While Gamle Oslo, where SV and Red (11.7% and 7.5% respectively) find their strongest backing, is still fairly poor and has a large non-white immigrant population, it has also been gentrified and includes the usual ‘hip’ trendy inner-city areas. The other districts are wealthier, with high property prices. Grünerløkka and St. Hanshaugen also have a high proportion of immigrants from EU/EEA countries, like other West End districts (where most immigrants are European). The Liberals and the Greens, as well as SV, strong with academics and students, won very strong results in these boroughs.
The exception to the East-West divide in Oslo is Nordstrand, a very affluent coastal borough on the East End. The Conservatives won 37.5% of the vote in that borough.
A victory for the right, now led by the Conservatives, ends eight years (two terms) of left-wing rule in Norway. It was a fairly unremarkable election, fitting in the with the cycle of Norwegian politics which sees governments serve no more than two terms since the 1960s. In fact, the most interesting changes came within the blocs, particularly the bourgeois blocs: the success of the Conservatives, regaining a position of prominence and power over the bourgeois bloc that they hadn’t held since the 1980s, and the failure of FrP, dramatically halting the party’s gradual advances since the mid-1990s. However, paradoxically, after a poor election showing (still their ‘third best’, but their top two best showings were the last two elections), FrP now finds itself more powerful than ever. It seems very likely that, for the first time ever, the controversial party will be allowed to have cabinet ministers in a right-wing government. While the FrP’s clear attempts to make themselves more respectable have not paid off electorally, they have paid off in terms of power calculations. If the FrP is on the verge of entering government, it is because they have managed to turn themselves into a respectable right-wing/libertarian party rather than a repugnant right-wing populist/far-right party (like they were under Carl I. Hagen). The cordon sanitaire which had confined FrP to the sidelines of Norwegian governance in the past, despite strong electoral showings since 1997, has come down. To be sure, a good dose of realpolitik from the traditional right, especially the Conservatives, played a major role as well: they have understood that they need to come to terms with FrP if they wish to govern themselves.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg will have a tough time, however, keeping her likely four-party coalition together. While relations between the Conservatives and FrP should not be too rocky, as long as FrP is willing to partake in give-and-take (mostly give) on contentious points; relations could be far more tumultuous between the FrP and the two smaller parties (KrF and V). Both are fairly reluctant members of a coalition which includes FrP, a party which they generally dislike and disagree with on a number of issues, including important ones. Both (especially V) could potentially be convinced, in the long run, to switch allegiances, though certainly not for the time being. Will Solberg be able to keep an unwieldy governing coalition together for four years?
It will be interesting to evaluate how government participation affects the FrP, both ideologically and electorally. Will the party keep ‘moderating’ itself, pushing ever so slowly towards the centre-right, or will they keep to their more extreme positions and play a role not unlike that played by DF in the Danish government between 2001 and 2011? How will FrP’s voters, including 2005-2009 supporters they lost this year, react to their party being in government?
Next: Germany, and two German state elections (Sept. 15/22) and Austria (Sept. 29)