Monthly Archives: October 2014
Guest Post: New Brunswick (Canada) 2014
I didn’t have time to cover an interesting provincial election in New Brunswick held on September 22. Luckily enough, Kyle Hutton – who blogs on Blunt Objects – was nice enough to write a fantastic guest post which explores every facet of New Brunswick’s political history and 2014 electoral campaign. Please contact me by email if you would like to write a guest post on any electoral event.
Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of New Brunswick (fr. Nouveau-Brunswick) on Monday, September 22nd. Like all other Canadian jurisdictions, New Brunswick uses the first-past-the-post method for electing members to legislatures, whereby having a simple plurality of the votes means you have won
In the last provincial election in 2010, 55 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were elected, however a redistribution in 2013 overseen by an independent commission reduced that number to 49 to reflect a smaller but more urban population. The redistribution was not without controversy in Canada’s most bilingual province (65% English to 32% French Acadian), with challenges to the new boundary law launched by Acadian advocacy groups and local movements who claimed discrimination due to the loss of clout for Francophones in the province with the merger and elimination of ridings from Acadian regions. In the end however, the commission dismissed many of the complaints on the basis that the “predominate language of a riding does not qualify as a special circumstance” to change the boundaries.
New Brunswick is one of Canada’s four “founding” provinces, being brought into Confederation on July 1st, 1867, along with Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia – though like the latter it isn’t entirely clear that it was supported by the population at the time. The province is nestled between Quebec to the north, the US state of Maine to the west, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to the east, and has a long history of settlement by First Nations (such as the Mi’kmaq) and European colonists.
New Brunswick has a unique set of circumstances as previously mentioned, with an Anglophone majority and significant Francophone minority, and lots of sore history between the two.
The Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick was primarily settled by British Loyalist refugees from the United States following the American Revolution, and New Brunswick was created as a separate crown colony from Nova Scotia in 1784 to accommodate Loyalist refugees (much like Upper Canada/Ontario).
The predominately Francophone and Catholic Acadian minority, descendants of the original French settlers and expellees in the region with Métis (mixed First Nations and European) heritage are centered around the north and east of the province, particularly in the modern counties of Madawaska, Restigouche, Gloucester, Kent, and Westmorland, with smaller pockets in Victoria and Northumberland counties. Acadian history is a fascinating, complex, and tragic tale that is often overlooked as most in the Rest of Canada tend to think about Quebec when the subject of English/French relations comes up. If you’re interested more in the history, I suggest looking for the book The Lion and the Lily by historian Peter Landry. It focuses more on Nova Scotia’s Acadian history, but a lot of it connects back to the groups we’re talking about here.
The Acadian population presented a problem for the Protestant and Anglophone majority that government the province, many of them hostile to their Catholicism and, unlike in Quebec, able to push forward with an agenda to roll back the Church’s influence. Government policy such as the Common Schools Act of 1871, which abolished religious schools in the province (an act that was favoured by Protestants and hated by Catholics) often led to riots.
Political parties were not officially formed in the province until the 1930s, but there existed clear caucus affiliations since before Confederation. Early Conservative (Tory) and Liberal caucuses tended to have their bases among the two demographics, with the Conservatives sweeping most Anglophone counties and the Liberals sweeping Acadian counties, but this was by no means set in stone and support ebbed and flowed during various periods. The two parties regularly alternated power with each other, and like in Ontario the control of the Legislature often reflected the trends of the Parliament in Ottawa.
Early Conservatives were, unsurprisingly given their base of voters, usually less supportive of Francophone equality while the Liberal opposition was more supportive. As time went on however, both parties generally supported gradual inclusion of minorities in government, with progress made under both parties – however this tended to be piecemeal reforms or appointments that, while respectful, did not necessarily change the actual standard of living for many Acadians. This led to continued resentment and agitation among residents, who sought to at least be treated equally by the Anglophone-dominated parties.
1960s to 2010
Louis Robichaud (1960-1970)
The movement for equal rights came to a head in 1960 with the election of Louis Robichaud, the first elected Acadian Premier and a Liberal (Peter Veniot, the first Acadian Premier and also a Liberal, served briefly as Premier from 1923 to 1925 but failed to get re-elected). Robichaud was a reformist Premier, modernizing the province’s rather backwater health, education and social service infrastructure throughout many areas of the province, but specifically in the Acadian counties (often called the Equal Opportunity program). Robichaud also moved to introduce key rights and support for the Acadian minority, such as the 1969 Official Languages Act that enshrined official bilingualism in the province, and the establishment of the Univserité de Moncton, the province’s French-language university, among other initiatives.
Though praised by many, critics called Robichaud out as “robbing Peter to pay Pierre,” as Robichaud’s method to pay for his reforms included a restructuring of municipal tax transfers that funnelled money away from the richer Anglophone municipalities to pay for improvements in the Francophone areas of the province (though, in reality, the funds went to every part of the province that needed it). This raised a lot of resentment to the Robichaud government, and by extension Acadians, among certain parts of the province, leading to some not-so-nice campaigns. Robichaud’s Progressive Conservative opponent in 1967, Charles Van Horne, often campaigned around the province lambasting Acadian’s Métis heritage (literally calling Acadians “half-breeds” and drunks – classy).
In the 1970 election, Robichaud called a snap election, banking on an unprepared and disorganized opposition, which had just elected a new leader in Richard Hatfield. But the government ended up with a major gaffe on their hands by not having their own platform prepared in time, missing the publishing deadline for newspapers, many of whom ended up running blank pages where the Liberal platform was supposed to be. Hatfield also had the advantage of not being a buffoon, as he was fluently bilingual and friendly to Acadian interests instead of an English-speaking boogeyman. Still, the 1970 election results showed how starkly divided the province had become, with the province split right down the middle in terms of support.
Richard Hatfield (1970-1987)
Though he was elected with little support from Francophones in the province and arguably because conservatives had simply had enough of Robichaud’s administration, Hatfield continued to promote his predecessor’s Equal Opportunity program and expanded the promotion of Acadian rights and culture. Hatfield established historical Acadian villages, reorganized school boards on linguistic lines, and opened up more government positions to Francophones, while cementing many of Robichaud’s previous acts in law. None of these things impressed much of his base, but they likely continued to prefer Hatfield to another Liberal government.
Hatfield was also well known on the national stage, promoting various inter-provincial forums and became an ally of Pierre Trudeau’s when the Liberal Prime Minister moved to repatriate the Canadian constitution in the 1980s. Hatfield was also instrumental in the creation of the Charter of Rights, and is credited for the inclusion of minority language rights and equalization payments (the federal oversight of provincial transfers from richer, or ‘have’ provinces, to poorer, or ‘have-not’ provinces).
However, Hatfield didn’t always have it easy, falling into scandals throughout his tenure, including the infamous Bricklin debacle. In this, the government moved to subsidize a local car manufacturer to build and provide a cheap alternative vehicle in the province and beyond, but it backfired completely due to cost overruns, poor management, and frankly a ridiculous design. In the end, the company ended up costing taxpayers $23-million.
Hatfield also had a number of personal scandals, especially in his last term. In 1984, he was charged with the possession of nearly 30 grams of marijuana found in his luggage during a royal visit. Though acquitted, rumours popped up soon after that he had given cocaine to possibly underage boys at a Montreal hotel – an allegation that played off other numerous rumours about his sexuality. These personal scandals combined with general fatigue with the PC government over seventeen years led to an historic defeat in 1987.
Frank McKenna (1987-1999)
Though they had been out of power for a decade and a half, the ‘70, ’74, ’78 and ’82 elections had been relatively close affairs for the Liberals. The party still had a strong Acadian base to work off of, and there was an undercurrent of discontent among other voters with the Hatfield government – however the Liberals were hampered by Hatfield’s truly progressive Progressive Conservativism, as well as the growing support of the fledgling New Democratic Party (NDP). The Liberals needed to craft a different kind of message to get the support they needed to form another government.
In 1985, the Liberals chose former lawyer and Chatham MLA Frank McKenna as their next leader. McKenna crafted his campaign around a focus on the perceived Hatfield government failures on the economy and job creation, accusing the PCs of being poor economic managers (Bricklin a stark example) and forcing New Brunswickers to leave the province to find a steady job elsewhere (outmigration). McKenna was also able to successfully tie Hatfield to the at-the-time unpopular Mulroney government, which had just come out of the controversial Meech Lake negotiations and was being blasted on all sides for various issues.
Calling the 1987 Liberal campaign “successful” is a vast understatement. With just over 60% of the vote, McKenna’s Liberals won all 58 seats in the Legislature, sweeping away Hatfield’s Tories and creating an awkward situation for the new government, which had no Opposition to contend with for at least four years. The solution was the creation of an “unofficial opposition” of backbench MLAs who would hold the government to account – more or less.
As Premier, McKenna was not too focused on the issue of Acadian rights (though he was widely respected by Acadians for defending a local boxing champion in a widely-publicized trial), but instead on the issue of jobs, growth, and improving the government’s relationship with the public. Under his leadership, the Liberals made wide investments to encourage small and large business growth in the province, creating viable long-term jobs for New Brunswickers, and reduced the size of bloated government departments. McKenna also worked on improving the government’s relationship with the public, though was criticised for expanding communications personnel on the public payroll and his gimmicky toll-free 1-800-MCKENNA number.
However, in the 1991 election the ugly issue of the Anglophone/Acadian divide came back to the forefront in the form of the Confederation of Regions Party, or CoR. Previously a fringe right-wing party with little support, the party grew after Tories disillusioned with Hatfield’s legacy of Acadian accommodation flocked to the party, including a few former cabinet members. In the 1988 federal election, the first signs of the coming rise of CoR came when the federal party scored 4.3% in New Brunswick, playing off the provincial Acadian divide as well as Mulroney’s image as a Francophone/Quebec appeaser, somewhat mirroring the rise of the Reform Party in Western Canada.
With the provincial Tories still in disarray and stained by unpopular association with the federal PC government, CoR managed to become the Official Opposition with 8 seats – all Anglophone ridings – on 21% of the vote while the PCs clawed their way back, barely, with three seats at 20%. The split vote among the two conservative, Anglophone-based parties allowed the Liberals to return with another strong majority, a situation that, again, would end up mirroring federal results. CoR didn’t last long however, falling to internal discord between the party’s moderate nuts and nuttier nuts over leadership of the party, and by 1995 fell to under 10% of the vote and zero seats.
McKenna won final re-election in 1995 versus now-federal cabinet member Bernard Valcourt at the helm of the PCs, but in 1997 announced his surprise resignation, ten years to the day since he was elected. McKenna went on to work in the private sector and eventually became the Canadian ambassador to the US, as well as the federal Liberal Party’s mythical saviour for a while. He was replaced on a permanent basis as leader and Premier by Kent South MLA Camille Thériault, who led the “unofficial opposition” in the legislature after the 1987 sweep and served as a cabinet member after 1991. Thériault tried to take a slightly different tack than McKenna, focusing on improving social services in the province, though banked on the the McKenna legacy’s continued appeal to muddle his government through the next election. Instead, Thériault’s Liberals fell to the Tories led by a young Moncton lawyer named Bernard Lord, who used the government’s complacency to score a massive upset in the 1999 election.
Bernard Lord (1999-2006)
Lord, elected as Tory leader in 1997, campaigned on a theme of “change” from the tired Liberal government with great success, promising “200 Days of Change,” in which Lord made twenty specific commitments his government would accomplish within 200 days of taking office. These promises ranged from providing a breakfast program for elementary school students, halving government communications staff, and creating 300 nursing positions, though some promises like the elimination of an unpopular highway toll between Moncton and Fredericton apparently went unfulfilled. Though the government’s laser-like focus on the “200 Days” platform caused critics to say that the government was focusing on gimmicks rather than actual governing, the claimed success earned praise for the Lord government from most corners of the province.
However, the new Tory government soon ran into trouble as time went on and issues started to pile up. Lord’s government started facing off against stiff opposition after the Liberals, under new leader Shawn Graham, capitalized on voter anger over skyrocketing auto insurance rates in the province going into the 2003 election. The Liberal campaign ran flawlessly against the fumbling Tories, whose changing positions on key issues contrasted starkly with Graham’s focused platform and government criticism. In the end the Lord government was re-elected with a bare majority – 28 seats to 26 seats for the Liberals and one New Democrat, a virtually untenable position. Just 4,000 votes separated the two main contenders from each other across the province, though unlike previous polarized elections in the Hatfield era, this one did not feature as stark a divide between Anglophone and Francophone counties – the Liberals and PCs were both led by fluently bilingual men from the southeast of the province, and there was little real difference between the party platforms.
The Tory government continued to function, barely, and started dropping in the polls as the government was forced to take unpopular stances, notably with changes to the health care system that closed beds at hospitals in rural areas and unpopular consolidations of hospitals in the Upper Saint John River Valley (areas surrounding Fredericton, Carleton, and Victoria). Graham’s Liberals continued to gain in popularity while Lord was forced to call a snap election in 2006 after the resignation of one of his members reduced his government to a minority in the legislature.
Shawn Graham (2006-2010)
The 2006 campaign featured a tight, too-close-to-call race throughout five weeks that had everyone on the edge of their seats. The Tories campaigned on jobs, healthcare, and Lord’s leadership (and Graham’s lack of it), and by copying some of the tactics from their successful 1999 campaign, including the “twenty promises” idea. The Liberals put out an extensive platform with 250 promises, but most focused on specific themes of education, economic development, and the emerging issue of energy prices (an issue that jumped to the forefront due to the government’s introduction of gas price regulation at the beginning of the year). In the end, Graham managed to lead his Liberals to a majority government with 29 seats to the PC’s 26, though the Liberals lost the popular vote by 1,300 votes. This election continued the positive trend for the party in Anglophone ridings, with the Liberals winning a large number of districts, including sweeping Fredericton and holding three of Saint John’s four seats.
Shawn Graham enjoyed a popular honeymoon early upon taking office, at one point leading with two-thirds popular support in polls. The new Premier acted on some of his promises quickly, cutting the excise tax on gasoline, reduced student tuition, setting aside funds to improve ferry service, and a bunch of other things aimed at pleasing everyone he possibly could. Things continued to go well, with by-election wins and defections from the PCs testifying to the government’s popularity, but issues started piling up one by one. The refurbishment of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Reactor, a costly and controversial venture, started coming into focus; changes to French early immersion in favour of universal curriculum caused considerable opposition (and made Kelly Lamrock, then Education Minister, a popular person to hate); the economic downturn then hit and turned the province’s $12-million surplus into a $285-million deficit; costly bailouts to unpopular corporations caused people to question the government’s judgement; and then, finally, the sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec.
In fairness to the Graham government, this idea seemed like a good one at first, with Hydro-Québec promising to take on the massive debt of NB Power and freezing residential electricity rates in the province for five years. In exchange, most of the energy-related assets (including generation, transmission, and distribution) owned by the province would be transferred to Hydro-Québec’s – essentially giving the government of Quebec control over power and transmission in the province. This of course raised the heckles of other Premiers, specifically Danny Williams of Newfoundland & Labrador, who opposed the deal for several reasons (Quebec and NL have a longstanding rivalry over energy in the region), but provincial business groups widely supported the move, and the decision was supported by audits from independent sources showing that ratepayers would save over $5-billion thanks to the deal.
However, the Tories and New Democrats, under new leaders David Alward and Roger Duguay respectively, saw their opportunity and vigorously stated their opposition to the sale of NB Power, calling it a reckless sellout. Local advocacy groups started to encourage New Brunswickers to build up popular pushback against the government, holding protests outside the offices of government members and cabinet ministers. Eventually a poll showed that nearly 60% of residents opposed the deal, compared to just 22% that supported it. This lead initially to an attempted renegotiation of the deal, but eventually the entire thing fell through. Discredited and unpopular, the Liberals and Shawn Graham then had to call an election.
Eric has a good post on the provincial election from 2010 that I’d recommend people visit to get more detail, but essentially it went really, really poorly for the Graham Liberals. The attempted NB Power sale had completely ruined the government’s reputation, leading many to question Graham’s judgement as Premier and his overall competence. The early opposition from the PCs, even if somewhat hypocritical given the Lord government’s own similar attempts to sell off assets, gave David Alward and his strategists an easy attack line versus the government, while overall playing up a cautious platform. Many of the less severe issues during Graham’s tenure came back to haunt the government, leading to a death by a thousand cuts – vigorous local campaigns targeted several ministers, including Kelly Lamrock and Energy Minister Jack Keir, for their roles in Liberal debacles.
Alward and the Tories ended up winning a fairly impressive victory over the Liberals, with 48.8% support over the Liberal’s 34.5%, a massive swing from 2006 and the lowest recorded level of popular support for the Liberals in their history. Their previous gains in Anglophone New Brunswick were also rolled back, with all but one of the Liberal’s remaining thirteen seats located in Acadian ridings. A rise in support for the New Democrats, as well as the arrival of two new parties – the provincial Greens under former Liberal Jack MacDougall and the People’s Alliance under former Tory Kris Austin – took chunks out of the two major parties’ support. And to add insult to injury, Graham’s government became the first one-term government in the provinces history.
Like his predecessor, Alward came into power with an impressive honeymoon period, but it didn’t last long. By mid-2012, the Tories were already falling behind in the polls as the fairly hapless government stumbled into issue after issue with little to else to say. While the Alward government introduced some popular reforms to pension programs and a prescription drug program, the former of which received quite a bit of support from all sides, the government’s popularity nosedived after a rise in the income tax (that Alward promised he wouldn’t do in 2010), somewhat shady backroom deals (particularly with the forestry industry), and patronage appointments to campaign managers and former MLAs, things that as Opposition leader Alward had criticised Graham for doing. The continuing sad state of the government’s budget, increasing outmigration due to high unemployment, and other various issues also chipped away at the government’s confidence.
In late 2013, escalating protests and RCMP intervention near Rexton made national headlines. The protesters, many of whom were members of the Elsipogtog First Nation nearby, were angry over continuing shale gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing development (“fracking”) in the area, concerned about its impact on the environment after media reporting on the mining process raised alarms in the public. This issue had been stewing for a while and finally exploded after the RCMP intervened to clear road blocks, only furthering the protesters’ anger.
The Alward government, despite popular opinion generally being on the side of the protesters, continued to defend fracking as safe and the best way to create jobs in the province, especially in the Acadian east. The New Democrats and new leader Dominic Cardy seized on the opportunity to make hay out of the issue, calling for legislated bans and moratoriums on fracking and expressing support, if somewhat guarded, for the protests. The Liberals, under new leader Brian Gallant, were much more reserved with their opinion, though finally settled in opposition to continued fracking until more studies were complete. The issue also breathed new life into the Green Party and its new leader, David Coon, a well-known environmentalist who made vocal statements against the industry and its potential impact.
By the time the 2014 election was called, the Alward Tories were sitting behind the Liberals by, in some cases, twenty points or more. Combined with the unpopularity of the federal Conservative government’s EI reforms and the rise of federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, the Alward government looked pretty much cooked – however that was far from the only story, as we’ll get into now.
The 2014 Campaign – Parties, Leaders & Platforms
Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick
The New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives, like their cousins in other Atlantic Canadian provinces, tend to be more moderate (sometimes called “Red Toryism”) than the current incarnation of the federal Conservative Party, though by comparison they are probably the most “conservative” of the Conservatives in the region, simply by nature of their party base in the rural, religious areas in the southwest of the province (Upper Saint John River Valley) and their pro-business base in cities like Saint John, Moncton, and Fredericton. Since Hatfield, they also retain support in a few Acadian ridings with popular local members, such as Madeliene Dubé in Edmundston or Paul Robichaud in Lamèque-Shippagan-Miscou. However the PC base is undoubtedly located in the rural south of the province, with strong support in Carleton, York, Charlotte, Sunbury, Queens, Kings, and Albert counties, with significant support in Victoria and Northumberland as well.
As mentioned above, David Alward led the Tories to government in 2010 but failed to remain popular as issues piled up at his government’s feet. There seemed to be a sense of “drift” with the government, despite proposing some good reforms here and there – there just didn’t seem to be a major motivation to do, well, anything, and the government instead had to react to issues to get itself moving, taking controversial but polarizing stances on things like support for fracking in the province. This could have been due to the general feeling that the government was going down to defeat no matter what, and only until the campaign did that idea ever turn around.
The PC platform was released halfway through the campaign reflected this malaise, with the uninspiring slogan of “Say Yes!”. The platform focused mostly on general accolades about improving the economy, job creation, and how awesome they are compared to the mess left behind by the Liberals. The platform also showed that the PCs were ready to double down on their support for fracking, with clear support for the industry and various promises about supporting it and other industries (forestry, the Energy East pipeline, etc.) as a way to employ New Brunswickers. The calculation here is slightly puzzling, given fracking’s unpopularity in the province – though at the same time, it’s likely they believed it couldn’t hurt any worse than they already were.
New Brunswick Liberal Association
The Liberals in New Brunswick are, and remain, the traditional opposition to the Tories, though often times the differences between the two are hard to decipher. Many Liberals are proud of their history of supporting Acadian equality and the progress made under Robichaud, though many previous Liberal Premiers served impressive terms as well. Like most other Canadian Liberals, the NBLA has its bout of reformist impulses but generally carries forward a status-quo agenda, leading to accusations of being a party of government rather than ideology, unlike the New Democrats and various conservative parties. The Liberal base is in the rural Acadian counties – Madawaska, Restigouche, Gloucester, Kent, and Westmorland – as well as pockets of support in Victoria and Northumberland counties. The Liberals also do well, on a good day, in Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton, but the cities remain a battleground. As an aside, the NBLA is also officially linked with the federal Liberals, a rarity these days, but a useful one as the two sides share resources during elections.
After such a stinging defeat in 2010, the Liberals remained in some disarray as they tried to refocus. Graham resigned as Leader and was replaced by Shediac-Beaubassin-Cap-Pelé MLA and former Finance Minister Victor Boudreau until the leadership selection in October 2012. Three people entered the race, all of them not members of the Legislature – Brian Gallant, who previously ran against Bernard Lord in 2006; Mike Murphy, former cabinet member and MLA; and Nick Duivenvoorden, former mayor of Belledune, an Acadian town in northern New Brunswick. Many other prominent Liberals declined, which was taken to be a bad sign. Gallant ended up cruising to an easy victory over Murphy, though there was some controversy over the electronic voting process – kind of a theme as we’ll see – leading to hilarity when the Tories’ executive director managed to register his dog and vote online in the contest.
Gallant, a young Moncton lawyer with no previous political experience outside of his run in 2006, won a subsequent by-election in the riding of Kent, vacated by former Premier Shawn Graham. Kent, of course, is right in the heart of the protests against fracking (though the by-election was before the protests erupted into riots), making for a possibly interesting race (it wasn’t). He immediately became popular as opposition to Alward continued to grow, and comparisons were made favourably between him and federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau when the latter was elected in April 2013 – both were young, bilingual up-and-comers who seemed to earn accolades for doing nothing.
The Liberal platform is fairly insipid – and I say that as a Liberal supporter. Much like the PC platform, it focuses on bland assurances that we’ll invest money into this and that to create jobs and make your life better, unlike those dastardly Tories. This election campaign is boring in terms of party platforms, with all the parties sprinkling goodies around here and there but lacking anything inspiring to say. A couple things stand out, such as lowering the small business corporate tax rate to just 2.5% and increasing the taxes on the “richest 1%,” a clear attempt at populism that kind of falls flat, but that may just be me.
On the outstanding issues, the Liberals took the stance of proposing a moratorium on fracking in the province, a position that gave them some breathing space as it was/is the popular position to take, at least among their base, and provided clear contrast with the PCs. Another issue, though mostly among the Liberals and New Democrats and a select few advocacy groups, was abortion services in the province; New Brunswick has some of the most restrictive policies on abortion in Canada (though not as bad as PEI), and the closure of the Mortengaler Clinic in 2013 highlighted the issue among activists on both sides. Gallant, though himself pro-choice and supportive of removing barriers to abortion services, initially waffled back and forth on whether he would whip his caucus when it came to a vote. He eventually relented and said he would, but not before he was knocked around by the NDP and others for being unclear on the issue, and gaining opposition from anti-choice groups in the meantime.
As the campaign went on, Gallant ended up becoming something of a gaffe-machine and less-than-inspiring on the campaign trail, causing support for the Liberals to shrivel quite a bit. The most severe incident occurred during an interview with Gallant on CBC News on September 12th, just nine days before the vote. In it he incorrectly stated numbers relating to his promise to increase taxes on the richest residents, and had to ask for a “redo” (similar to Dion’s infamous interview, though this wasn’t unfairly characterised as that was) five hours later to give the correct numbers. Obviously this didn’t help his reputation at all, and caused a lot of worry up at Liberal HQ (as well as in Ottawa I imagine, where federal Liberal minders worry about Justin’s own gaffe-making tendencies).
New Brunswick New Democratic Party
If you’ve read everything above, you’ll notice that I rarely mention anything about the NDP in the province’s political history. This is because the NDP’s particular brand of social democratic politics had a rough time catching on in Atlantic Canada, despite strong support for government intervention, fairly robust labour industries (fishing, logging, shipbuilding, etc.), and a need for effective for social services. Part of the problem is the traditional “red-blue” division and patronage, but also that the Liberals and Tories in the eastern provinces tend to be moderate, and the need for a more radical reform party like the NDP isn’t necessary. That said, the New Democrats have had recent success in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, taking the place of the Liberals in major urban centres with left-leaning populations and making inroads among rural ridings as well – well, they were successes, but have unfortunately been rolled back with the defeat of the Dexter government in Nova Scotia and the collapse of the NDP in Newfoundland.
Outside of PEI, the New Democrats in New Brunswick are the weakest provincial cousins, having never held more than two seats in its entire history (the second came from a by-election win in 1984, who crossed the floor to the Liberals in the same term), and reached a previous high of only 11% under the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, or CCF, banner in 1944. The party earned its first seat in the 1982 with a surprise win in Tantramar, a seat which was lost in the 1987 Liberal sweep. Greater success came when Elizabeth Weir was elected leader and won her seat in Saint John Harbour in 1991, and held it until her resignation in 2005. Since Weir’s resignation however, the NDP have been shut out of the Legislature.
Weir resigned both her party leadership and then her seat after being appointed by the Lord government to head up Effiency NB, a crown corporation. She was replaced as leader by Allison Brewer, a Fredericton-based social activist who incredibly, somehow, managed to decide to not run in the by-election to replace Weir in Saint John Harbour, which the NDP subsequently lost – badly. Brewer then led her party to its worst result since 1974 in the 2006 election, and resigned shortly thereafter.
The next NDP leader was Roger Duguay, an Acadian and former Catholic priest who earned the most votes as an NDP candidate in the province in 2006. Duguay led the party to mild success in 2010, improving the NDP vote in Acadian areas of the province but overall falling short of winning any seats, himself going down to defeat in Tracadie-Sheila by a fairly wide margin.
In 2011, the NDP took another shot at this leadership thing, acclaiming NDP activist Dominic Cardy as their leader. Cardy had previously worked as a campaign director in 2010 and co-founded moderate internal factions inside the federal NDP (modeled after the politics of Gary Doer, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schröder). In a 2012 by-election in Rothesay, Cardy finished a strong third in a traditionally Tory riding, impressing many despite falling short.
Following his debut, the NDP were hitting highs in public support not seen previously, reaching 27% support – two points behind the PCs, though fourteen behind the Liberals – in May 2013. This confirmed Cardy as a serious contender in the eyes of a lot of pundits, but his changes to party policy, especially in the last year, have alienated former supporters, including former leader Allison Brewer. Their complaints stem over the direction the party was heading, especially in tone, with Cardy adopting “right-populist” appeals, taking on the language of the right – lower taxes, effective but lean government, fiscal responsibility – while combining it with general social democratic values on services and social issues. Though the party started dropping in the polls following Gallant’s arrival, Cardy was successfully able to recruit ex-Liberals (including Kelly Lamrock) and ex-Tories, most notably sitting Hampton-Kings MLA Bev Harrison, to run for his party in this election.
The NDP platform, to its credit, is much more fleshed out than its major party competitors (to the point of being a wall’o’text). The focus is definitely on job creation, balancing budgets, and providing strong support for small businesses, while paying lip service to the traditional NDP muses of social justice and improving government services.
Much like the Liberals, the NDP’s stance on shale gas exploration and fracking changed over the course of the last year, though in the opposite direction. In October 2013, Cardy had stated that he would push for and sign an immediate moratorium on all development; by the time the campaign had rolled around, the NDP had a more nuanced position, calling for a two-year waiting period on development, royalties, and a free vote in the Legislature. This opened up a critical flank on the NDP’s environmental left, with the Liberals and Greens calling out Cardy as “flip-flopping” on the issue. It’s obvious why the direction was taken, however – one of the biggest opportunities for jobs in the province comes from resource development, and that’s what the NDP are all about.
Green Party of New Brunswick
The NB Greens are one of the latest additions to the Canadian Green family, forming following a November 2008 convention in Moncton. The party was created at the spurring of federal and provincial organizers, in particular Jack MacDougall, a former Liberal Party organizer and leadership candidate in 2002 who switched parties and became the Maritimes Organizer for the federal Greens in August 2008.
The Green Party in Canada has been around for a couple of decades, but has only really come into focus – especially in Atlantic Canada – in the last decade. In the 2004 election, the first featuring the new leaner and meaner Conservative Party of Canada (the result of the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance/Reform parties), the federal Greens managed an impressive breakthrough, winning over 4% of the vote across Canada, though no seats. Under Torontonian Jim Harris, the Greens combined pro-environmental policies with fiscal conservatism (“blue greens”), appealing to a fair number of different demographics – the Greens manage to win support in both cities and rural areas, with their biggest trouble spot being in Quebec.
Following two unsuccessful elections, Harris stepped aside and was replaced by Elizabeth May, an environment activist and lawyer from Nova Scotia. May has an appeal about her that many appreciate – she is a friendly, positive, and open-minded person who has found a way to connect with voters, though she has faced criticism over perceived centralization of the Party around her. She ran unsuccessfully in a 2008 by-election in London, Ontario, but ended up a surprisingly close second to the Liberals, increasing her profile by leaps and bounds. May ran in the riding of Central Nova in the 2008 federal election against Conservative cabinet member Peter MacKay, ending up an impressive second once again, though nowhere close to winning. The important aspect of that election, however, was her inclusion in the televised leaders’ debates – May was now a major federal player, and the Greens had increased profile across the country, including in New Brunswick.
In 2011, May became the first elected Green parliamentarian by winning a seat in British Columbia, despite her party losing nearly half of its vote from the 2008 election. This strategy of pouring resources into one riding has shown some success; not only has it netted May a win, but in 2013 a Green was elected in the BC provincial election. At the same time, it is fairly controversial, given that other ridings suffer to put up a good showing without any resources – according to some estimates, over half of the federal Green Electoral District Associations have become inactive or deregistered in the past few years.
The New Brunswick Greens made a significant splash in the 2010 provincial election under leader Jack MacDougall, winning 4.5% of the vote and posting impressive numbers, but no wins, in several ridings. MacDougall resigned in 2011 and was replaced by David Coon a year later. Coon is well-known in New Brunswick, heading up the Conservation Council of New Brunswick for nearly three decades and spearheading several initiatives, such as one to make the fisheries working in the Bay of Fundy sustainable, or establishing nature parks and forests near local communities. Much like the federal Greens, Coon focused on prioritizing the Green’s resources on getting him elected in his riding for this election.
The Green platform reflects left-of-centre Green politics, which in addition to being environmentally focused includes a lot of community-based policies, anti-corporate measures, and citizen activist stands. This particular platform makes promises that you don’t see anywhere else, such as capping corporate ownership of print media to 40%, an overhaul of the Right to Information Act, and taxing junk food. It is by far the most left-wing platform of the parties on record, and of course includes admonishments against fracking and what it sees as unsustainable primary industries practices.
People’s Alliance of New Brunswick
The People’s Alliance (or PANB) is a small populist party founded in 2010 by Kris Austin, an interdenominational minister and Deputy Mayor from Minto, a town in central New Brunswick. Austin unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination in the riding of Grand Lake-Gagetown in 2009, but lost to eventual winner Ross Wetmore. He formed the PANB in response to the NB Power debacle of the Graham government, citing the PC’s uninspiring opposition to the sale and calling for open votes and more MLA independence in the Legislature.
The PANB is a strange creature. Though characterized sometimes as “Tea Party populist,” it seems a tad unfair. The party is certainly right-wing in nature, but it is not a social conservative outfit nor is it really libertarian in economics, though it can be when it comes to certain government decisions. Most of the Alliance’s rhetoric focuses on the perceived entitlement of the two major parties, MLAs, and bureaucrats. It is, in many ways, kind of a right-wing mirror of the Green Party.
One way it is not is in its anti-bilingualism policies. Since 2010, some – particularly in the Acadian media – have said Austin is attempting to emulate the CoR Party of the 90’s. Two party members, including a prospective candidate, made a public split with the party in 2012 over perceived anti-Francophone sentiments from Austin, including his opposition to duality in the education and health care systems, and that the province should loosen restrictions on language requirements for those in the civil service (saying Anglophones are discriminated against). However, that is countered with the PANB’s platform which, while somewhat criticizing bilingualism requirements, proposes to increase education and training to meet the demands of requirements, while also freeing up private businesses to do as they please.
Speaking of, the PANB platform this year focuses on the economy, with upfront calls to reduce the corporate tax rate, eliminate the small business income tax, and bring in a Saskatchewan-style royalties system for resource extraction in the province. Many of their platform statements also end with “Cost Estimate: Zero cost the government,” and promotion of fiscally sound policies. The party also proposes to repeal the “mandatory” aspect of the PC government’s recently introduced prescription drug program, instead making it available on a voluntary basis (which kind of misses the point). This is all in addition to the previous calls for more legislative freedom, community solutions, and so on – including a referendum, not just a free vote, on shale gas fracking.
Unlike in the larger provinces or federal politics, polling in New Brunswick (and the other Atlantic provinces) is scarce with just one company, Corporate Research Associates of Halifax, NS (CRA), doing a poll of voting intentions every three months. We got a little but more in the campaign as CRA put out a couple of polls mid-campaign alongside ones from Forum Research, a Toronto-based company that is probably the most regular pollster in Canada, and as such tends to receive a lot of flak for when pollsters get elections wrong.
That situation didn’t change, with Forum’s final poll for September 21st showing a tied vote, at 40% a piece for the Liberals and PCs. However, the overall trend was pretty clear – as the campaign went on, the PCs started gaining steam while the Liberals and NDP fell back.
Turnout was 65.38%, down just over 4% from 2010, a continuing trend across the country, though New Brunswick remains slightly above-average in terms for voter participation.
Liberal – 42.73% (+8.31%) – 27 seats (+14)
PC – 34.65% (-14.19%) – 21 seats (-21)
Green – 6.61% (+2.07%) – 1 seat (+1)
NDP – 12.98% (+2.57%) 0 seats (nc)
PANB – 2.14% (+0.97%) 0 seats (nc)
Others – 0.89% (+0.28%) 0 seats (nc)
And so New Brunswickers woke up on September 23rd with a new Liberal government, and yet another one-term Premier being shown the door. However, no one knew what was happening on election night itself.
New Brunswick was piloting electronic voting tabulators for this provincial election, a new idea in Canada that has been slow to gain traction outside of municipal elections. Most elections, including federal, are counted by hand at polling divisions within ridings, verified and sent back to a riding elections officer, and then on to Elections Canada through various routes. It is a laborious process that takes time and a lot of volunteers, but issues with the tabulators on September 22nd did not help convince many that changing to these newfangled technology machines was a good idea.
Roughly an hour and a half into the election night broadcasts, voting tabulation stopped dead for two hours, right at the point when there were just a handful of votes in about four ridings separating either the Liberals or PCs from a majority government – literally it was at a tie in seats. Elections New Brunswick defended the tabulator machines (which are used in places like Toronto), saying instead the problem related to the computer program used to enter in the results coming in from the tabulators. Concerns led to calls for manual recounts, but in the end, the results were certified by Elections NB and the PCs had to concede defeat.
Despite holding an impressive margin of 8% over the PCs, the Liberals came away with a bare majority, holding an effective 26 (minus the Speaker, usually a member selected from the government caucus) seats versus 22 for the opposition. Had a handful of votes gone another away, flipping just three seats over to the PCs, the Liberals would be in a minority territory – one more, and they’d be facing a majority PC government instead.
Gallant had a very rough campaign, with his judgement and effectiveness questioned at every turn by a well-run PC campaign that had the unfortunate job of rolling a huge liability up a very steep hill indeed, plus the addition of a stronger NDP and Green presence which didn’t help matters.
In the end though, the Liberals did win, mostly by taking back their old Acadian strongholds from the PCs. Huge swings in ridings such as Tracadie-Sheila (43% PC to Lib), a heavily Francophone riding that was contested by former NDP Leader Roger Duguay in 2010 but went PC, flipped over early on in the night, as did Kent South (23.3%), Restigouche West (35.4%), Madawaska-Les Lacs (34.4%) – all four of which had incumbent PC members – as well as many others.
The Liberals did have some successes in Anglophone ridings, in particular Carleton-Victoria (23.7%) and Charlotte-Campobello (20.6%), but these were the exception rather than the rule. Among the Francophone ridings, the swing to the Liberals from 2010 was just under 25%; among Anglophone ridings, it was only 15.1%. If we were to break down the Anglophone swing even more, we’d likely see that most of it comes from Moncton and Miramichi, while in Fredericton and Saint John saw the Liberals lose votes, raising serious questions about their future, under Gallant, in those two cities. The three saints won in those cities – Fredericton North, Saint John Harbour, and Saint John East – were all won with super-slim margins, including just 8 votes (!) in Saint John East. Some of this can be attributed to the rise in NDP support in those cities, however a lot of the blame for this fumble rests on the Liberal campaign (and its leader).
On the bright side, they took back control of most of the Moncton ridings, which had been in Tory hands since Bernard Lord was Premier. Moncton is a city split by the bilingualism, and though the Liberals did well in the two Francophone ridings in 2010 – Dieppe and Moncton Centre – and the rurban conglomeration of Shediac Bay-Dieppe (where Gallant ran this election), they lagged behind the Tories in the city’s other four ridings (five if you include Riverview, a town across the Petitcodiac River). This year they increased their majorities in their held ridings, while knocking off two notional Tory holds from 2010 and threatening the others with close calls. You can either contribute this rise to Gallant’s connections to Moncton or a general settling back of a pattern of Liberal support in the area.
The Tories certainly had to enjoy election night, despite losing. They maintained a very strong presence in the Legislature, and were really only a handful of votes away from being re-elected. At the same time they took a lot of beatings across the province, especially in their Acadian ridings, losing long-time and presumably safe incumbents to massive swings – they even nearly lost Madeleine Dubé, the safest Francophone incumbent, who won re-election by just 243 votes – in 2010 she won by over 3,000 votes.
However the Tories did end up with some very close calls in Anglophone ridings. In Oromocto-Lincoln, where redistribution dropped incumbent MLA (and probably leadership candidate) Jody Carr’s majority from 81% to 56.5%, the Liberals put a strong challenge, probably mostly inside the friendly Fredericton suburban community of Lincoln. The PCs also faced strong challenges in their two remaining Moncton seats (Southwest and Northwest) from the Liberals. Yet the biggest challenge for many PCs in their ridings occurred not just because of the Liberals gaining ground, but because the NDP saw their support rise intensely in these otherwise strong Tory ridings, showing how well Cardy’s right-populist message appealed. Ridings like Kings Centre, Hampton, Fredericton-York, and Fredericton West-Hanwell (where Cardy ran) saw huge increases in New Democrat support, threatening to topple long-time Tory incumbents in ultra-safe ridings had the Liberals managed just a few hundred more votes in each. With a traditional campaign and traditional rhetoric, the NDP would not have seen those increases in popular support. Alward, after the business with the tabulators was done, announced his resignation from the PC leadership.
Despite their impressive success in many ridings across the province, the NDP, and Dominic Cardy, ended up with nothing to show for it. No New Democrat came within 5% of winning a riding – the closest margins being Cardy in Fredericton West-Hanwell, who lost by a margin of 5.6% or 469 votes, followed by Gary Stackhouse in Saint John Harbour (10.8% margin, or 566 votes) and Kelly Lamrock in Fredericton South (10.9%, or 807 votes). They lost support in most Acadian ridings from Duguay’s previous highs in the region, while falling prey to vote splitting with the Liberals and Greens everywhere else, especially in ridings like Saint John Harbour where an ex-NDP candidate ran and garnered 13% for the Greens. Cardy immediately announced his resignation on election night, probably for the best – despite leading the NDP to their best-ever result in popular support (13%), they remain irrelevant without an actual member in the Legislature, a fact now even more compounded by the success of the smaller Greens.
Outside of the Liberals winning a majority, the two smaller parties had their best nights ever. There is the obvious surprise win for Green Leader David Coon in Fredericton South, the party’s first win outside of British Columbia, an amazing event that knocked off a Tory minister and cemented yet another milestone in the Green Party’s continued momentum across the country, which is patchy but clearly on the upswing. Though it’s just one seat, it’s one more than the NDP, who garnered almost twice as much support across the province, have in the next Legislature. As a CBC commentator pointed out on election night, the Greens will now be treated as the third party in the province, with the media going to Coon for his opinion on the government’s actions rather than the next NDP leader.
The Greens also posted strong numbers in other ridings, including the aforementioned Saint John Harbour; Kent North (second place with 18.2%) and Kent South (third place with 10%), the two ridings at the epicenter of the fracking protests; Memramcook-Tantramar (third place with 15.3%); and Fredericton North (fourth place with 10.3%). Whether Coon’s presence in the Legislature can turn into more victories remains to be seen, but still it must definitely an exciting time to be a Green.
Coon’s success overshadows the near-miss for the other small party leader, Kris Austin. The PANB managed to run a few more candidates in this election (14 in 2010 to 18 in 2014), but there seemed to be a definite upswing for the populist party across the province. Austin managed to make his run in Fredericton-Grand Lake (his base is in Minto, a town located in the riding on the shores of Grand Lake) supremely close, with the PC incumbent, Pam Lynch, winning with a bare 0.3% or a mere 26 vote difference, in a tight three-way race with the Liberal candidate less than a 80 votes behind. Across the province the party earned an extra 3,500 votes (around 1,200 of which came from Austin alone), which is impressive for a party without any federal ties and little name recognition. However, without Austin in the Legislature, and this election likely being his best chance to win a seat, it’s hard to see that success continuing in the future, especially if Austin decides to not run again.
This election has takeaway lessons for every party. The Liberals were ultimately successful, but Gallant’s gaffes and inability to counter the Tory attacks nearly cost them; the PCs lost but were able to use wedge issues like fracking and leadership to retain significant support; the NDP increased their share of the vote among conservatives and became more credible on certain issues, yet failed to motivate their traditional base and impress enough voters to actually gain a seat; and the Greens won yet another seat with a popular activist, but poor results everywhere else show that their movement may not have the broad support needed to affect the change they want. All of these lessons can be, and very likely will be, taken into account for the federal parties’ strategies in the upcoming federal election.
For now, Gallant has the challenge of governing a province that is, more or less, on the decline, all without the ability to outright switch his position on the crucial issue of fracking. The new government was sworn in on October 7th with a smaller cabinet but much larger responsibilities – if Gallant wants to remain in charge in four years, he and his ministers need to forge a different path than the previous two one-term governments before him did. Whether it is in them remains to be seen.
A more immediate concern for the Liberals is a by-election – yes, a by-election. Barely successful Liberal candidate Gary Keating in Saint John East, who won by eight votes, decided to resign his seat two weeks after being elected due to family and health problems, and being unable to do the work he was elected to do. Thanks to this poor foresight on his part, Liberals must be shaking their heads – there is a fairly good chance they’ll lose this by-election, reducing their majority from 27 to 26 seats, effectively 25 with the Speaker as a neutral member, versus 23 members of the Opposition. Yikes.
Finally, the results in New Brunswick represent the fifth straight major election that a party with the name “Liberal” has won in Canada, reversing a previous trend that saw every provincial Liberal party suffering some sort of defeat (culminating in the historical third-place loss for the federal Liberals in May 2011). It is also the third straight vote in which an incumbent government lost re-election. Both these trends look set to continue with the upcoming Newfoundland & Labrador provincial election and polls indicate the same for the 2015 federal election as well.
Voters across the country seem relatively displeased with their governments in the last few years, though when offered a different choice at election time, the incumbents or traditional parties seem to retain a lot more support than expected by pollsters and pundits. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.
Due to time constraints on my part, I can unfortunately fully cover only a few of past and upcoming elections. Next up will be Brazil. I gladly accept guest posts, as always.
Parliamentary, regional and local elections were held in Sweden on September 14, 2014. The main draw of the election was, naturally, the election of the 349 members of Sweden’s unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag. In addition, voters also elected the members of the county councils (landsting) in 20 counties and municipal councils (kommunfullmäktige) in all 290 kommuner.
The member of the Riksdag are elected by party-list proportional representation for fixed four-year terms. For electoral purposes, the country is divided into 29 districts – these correspond to Sweden’s 21 counties (län) except in the case of the three most populous counties which are further subdivided: Stockholm County has two districts (the city of Stockholm itself and the county), Scania/Skåne has four districts (Malmö kommun, Skåne west, Skåne south, Skåne north and east) and Västra Götalands has five districts (Gothenburg kommun, Västra Götalands west, Västra Götalands north, Västra Götalands south, Västra Götalands east). Together, the constituencies have 310 ‘fixed constituency seats’ – with district magnitude calculated before every election on the basis of population, with each district now returning between 38 and 2 members. In the first stage, the fixed seats are distributed nationally between parties which have obtained 4% of the vote nationally or 12% in one district, using a modified Saint-Laguë method. In the second stage, a new distribution is made with the same method but taking all 349 seats (only parties which won 4% are taken into account, any fixed seats won by parties which passed the 12% threshold in one district are disregarded), which in turn determines the difference between the fixed seats won and the theoretical national distribution. The remaining 39 seats, called adjustment seats, are distributed between parties to even out the results – parties which won more fixed seats than its theoretical share of the 349 seats, it is disregarded. The adjustment seats are then distributed between the districts.
In all elections, voters may cast one preferential vote for a candidate, who may then be moved up the list and elected on preference vote if he/she has obtained 5% of the party’s vote in the constituency.
Members of county councils and municipal councils are elected using a similar system. Counties are also divided into electoral districts, which return 9/10 of the council’s members with the remaining tenth being adjustment seats. The threshold for representation, however, is 3%. In municipal councils, all seats are ‘fixed seats’ and there is no threshold.
Sweden has 21 counties, but only 20 county councils, because the small island-county of Gotland is made up of only one kommun, which has the responsibilities of a county. County councils’ main responsibility is the provision, financing and management of public healthcare although they also have some other powers related to public transport and regional economic development. The kommun is generally in charge of maintaining local services, some decentralized responsibilities over healthcare management and maintaining local utilities.
Sweden is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Like Denmark, Sweden uses a system of ‘negative parliamentarianism’ – which means that an absolute majority of members must vote against the government or the Speaker’s choice for Prime Minister for it to fall, with any abstentions effectively counting as votes in favour. However, a constitutional amendment passed in November 2010 will now require Prime Ministers to face a vote of confidence in the Riksdag within two weeks of the election, with over half of the members required to vote against for the Prime Ministerial candidate to be rejected. Until now, a government could continue to govern in an unclear parliamentary situation until they could be toppled by a confidence vote.
The Riksdag may be dissolved early under strict conditions. According to Sweden’s Instrument of Government, an ‘extraordinary election’ may be called by the government three months after a newly-elected Riksdag has first convened (and may not be called within three months of a regularly scheduled election) if the Riksdag has rejected the Speaker’s choice for Prime Minister or if a government has lost a motion of no confidence (a caretaker government – ie one which has resigned but remains in office – cannot call an early election). Furthermore, an ‘extraordinary election’ is unlike an early election in other countries – it is basically a giant by-election to fill out of the rest of the regularly-elected Riksdag’s full four-year term, meaning that there is still a regular election four years after the last regularly-scheduled election was held. In this case, this means that there may be an early election between now and 2018, but there is still guaranteed to be an election in September 2018 regardless. An early election has only been held once, in 1958, two years after the regular 1956 election. A regularly-scheduled election was held in 1960.
Parties and Issues
Sweden has a multi-party system, which is traditionally divided into a left-wing bloc and a right-wing, or bourgeois, bloc. The Social Democrats (S), Sweden’s natural governing party, leads the left-wing bloc – but it has lost its dominance on the left, with competition from the Greens (Mp) and the Left Party (V). The Social Democrats have very little history of formal electoral or even government cooperation with other parties. The bourgeois bloc has historically been divided between conservatives, liberals and centrist Nordic agrarians – today’s Moderate Party (M), Liberal People’s Party (Fp) and Centre Party (C), and now the Christian Democrats (KD). Since 2006, these four right-wing parties have formed a coalition government and electoral alliance, known as the Alliance for Sweden. Parties outside these general blocs have emerged from time to time, most recently the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) and Feminist Initiative (F!).
Sweden is often known for its generous welfare state, being taken as the ‘model’ for the so-called universal or social democratic welfare regimes. The generous but costly welfare state, which is very popular in Sweden, has been financed by high taxes – Sweden has one of the highest tax burdens in the world and tax revenues make up for 45% of GDP (the fifth highest level in the EU, after Denmark, Belgium, Austria and France). As a result, Sweden and its neighbors rank highly on various indices or indicators of well-being: high life expectancy, good education systems, high rankings on the HDI, the lowest levels of income inequality in the world and high levels of gender equality. Politically, the Nordic countries are the least corrupt in the world and, in Sweden, trust in political leaders remains high (looking at it from the US or other European countries, it seems as if it’s a whole different planet).
Although taxation and public spending are very high by international standards, Sweden and its Nordic neighbors shouldn’t be seen as ‘tax-and-spend planned economies’ – it ranks highly on indices of ‘economic freedom’, there are few barriers to free trade, the free market economy and private sector is quite vibrant and there is a strong tradition of social partnership which has usually resulted in peaceful labour relations. Sweden is also a very globalized country, with a very strong export economy (look only to internationally-known Swedish firms such as Ikea, Volvo and Ericsson) and a cosmopolitan population (the Nordic countries have the highest numbers of non-native English speakers in Europe). Free-market reformists, such as The Economist, may often look to Sweden as an example.
Reforms in Sweden in the 1990s also resulted in several changes to taxation, pensions, education and the provision of welfare services. A 1990 tax reform significantly reduced income taxes (on labour income) and corporate taxes (which currently stand at 22%) from the high levels of the 1970s-1980s (where the top marginal tax rate was usually 80-85%). The size of Sweden’s public sector has been significantly reduced – Social Democratic governments in the post-war eras famously created a large public sector and in the mid-1990s, government spending accounted for over 65% of GDP. Today, it accounts for 50% or so of GDP. An education reform in 1992 introduced school vouchers, and Swedish parents now have the choice to send their children to public schools or publicly-funded but privately-run free schools which may operate as non-profit or for profit. Sweden’s education reforms have been cited as inspiration for similar reforms (notably ‘free schools’) under David Cameron’s government in the United Kingdom. Welfare services such as education, healthcare and senior care have been ‘marketized’ and may be offered by privately-run (but with taxpayer funding) companies. However, scandals about aged care facilities or daycares which cut back on staff and services to increase their profit margins have opened a huge political debate about ‘profit in welfare’.
The Moderates (Moderaterna, M), formally the Moderate Coalition Party (Moderata samlingspartiet), are the main centre-right party in Sweden, the senior partner in the Alliance for Sweden bourgeois bloc which has governed Sweden since 2006. The Moderates have been the strongest party on the right since 1979, and prior to that between 1920 and 1948 (and in 1958); M’s support, however, has varied considerably, reaching a high of 30% in 2010 but polling below 15% between 1964 and 1976. The Moderates have historically been the conservative right-wing party in the bourgeois bloc, often considered as being the most right-wing of the bourgeois parties (it was known as the Right Party from 1952 to 1969) and promoting traditional conservative values such as defense, law-and-order, the monarchy and the greatest reluctance towards the welfare state. Under Fredrik Reinfeldt, however, M has seriously revamped and moderated its image – among other things, it likes to call itself Nya Moderaterna or ‘New Moderates’.
The conservatives were one of the two main groups in Swedish politics in the 19th century – representing the aristocracy, the wealthy and the military, they protectionism, wanted a strong military and were skeptical of expanding suffrage. To this day, M remains associated with the wealthiest elites, their values and their attitudes.
Arvid Lindman, two-times Prime Minister (1906-1911 and 1928-1930), was the key figure of the conservative right until 1935; he expanded male suffrage to near-universal franchise in 1907-1909, supported strong defense, supported protectionism but strongly opposed fascism and Nazism (although the youth wing embraced Nazism in 1934). After electoral success in 1928, right-wing support declined consistently in the 1930s and 1940s, falling from 29% in 1928 to 12% in 1948 – and thereafter, until the mid-1970s, the conservatives lost their dominance of the right first to the Liberals (Fp) and later to the Agrarians/Centre (C), who became the chief rivals to the Social Democrats. The party was seen as archaic/outdated and too right-wing by many (hence the adoption of the name Moderates in 1969). It was under the leadership of Gösta Bohman, M’s leader from 1970 to 1981, that the Moderates slowly clawed their way back into (distant) second and dominance of the bourgeois bloc. He was a very vocal opponent of Social Democratic Prime Minister Olof Palme’s left-wing policies. M participated in Thorbjörn Fälldin’s bourgeois coalition cabinets from 1976 to 1978 and from 1979 to 1981. In 1979, M became the largest bourgeois party, ahead of the liberals and centrists; during this same period, M also moved away from traditionalist conservatism and towards modern liberal conservatism.
Led by Carl Bildt, M increased its support in the 1991 election and the bourgeois bloc formed a government (dependent, however, on the abstention of the right-wing populist and anti-immigration New Democracy, a flash in the pan). Bildt, however, took office during the toughest economic crisis in Sweden. The Swedish economy fell into a severe three-year recession (1991, 1992 and 1993) after a housing bubble, similar to the American subprime mortgage bubble in 2007-8, burst and placed major strains on the government’s debt and deficit and resulted in a massive surge in unemployment from 3% in 1991 to 9% in 1994. Credit liberalization in 1985 greatly facilitated access to loans, but banks and financial companies became contaminated by the real estate bubble. The government responded by guaranteeing all bank deposits and creditors, assuming bad bank debts (but banks had to write down losses and issue an ownership interest to the state), abandoning the fixed exchange rate and two major banks were nationalized and their bad debts were transferred to the asset-management. To deal with the crisis, the government also adopted austerity policies including cuts in subsidies, spending cuts, cut payroll taxes, reduced some welfare benefits and privatized some state assets. The right-wing government also introduced several major reforms which remain in place today: the introduction of a voucher system allowing parents to send their children to private schools, a major pension reform which moved from a defined benefit to defined contribution system and introduced a private financial defined contribution element to promote savings. The pension reform was the product of a wide parliamentary consensus with the Social Democrats, who passed implementing legislation and adopted an automatic adjustment mechanism when they returned to power after 1994. In 1994, M remained stable (at 22.4%), but its three coalition allies lost substantially while the left-wing parties led by the Social Democrats gained votes and returned to power.
The 2002 election was a disaster for M, which collapsed to only 15.3% of the vote. Bo Lundgren’s trainwreck of a campaign, which promised wild tax cuts without anything to substantiate them, was widely blamed for the party’s poor result and led many in the party to have a real reflection on their direction as a party. A hidden camera investigation by the investigative journalism program Uppdrag granskning on the public broadcaster SVT, in which M members and local councillors expressed racist opinions, is also widely blamed for M’s terrible result that year.
In 2003, M turned to Fredrik Reinfeldt – an unlikely candidate to lead the successful reinvention of the party. Indeed, Reinfeldt was a former maverick youth leader from the party’s (Thatcherite) right who had, in the 1990s, gained some notoriety for authoring a book, The Sleeping People, which was extremely critical of the Swedish welfare state and argued for neoliberal reforms to substantially roll back the state’s role in society. He was also openly critical of Carl Bildt and other M leaders; he argued that Bildt was the perfect leader for the left to satirize because he was a walking stereotype of the Swedish conservative (a nobleman living in an affluent district of Stockholm).
Under Reinfeldt, M has moved to the centre and revamped its image to be seen as a centrist, modern, competent, responsible and compassionate party. Ideologically, M adapted its traditional focus on tax cuts by targeting them towards low and middle-income earners rather than the wealthy; it has focused on fine-tuning and reforming, rather than dismantling, the welfare state and finally has given great emphasis to the idea of ‘making work pay’ – reducing unemployment through tax reforms, stricter conditions for unemployment benefits. The Moderates have also widely adopted the name ‘New Moderates’, similar to Tony Blair’s New Labour, as an unofficial name. It remains a hot issue of political debate whether M has merely honing the way it describes its ideology or if it represents a real shift towards the centre. At any rate, M’s new image blurred differences with other centre-right parties and greatly improved the popular image of the bourgeois bloc.
The other major change under Reinfeldt was the construction of a successful electoral alliance with the other bourgeois parties. A key factor in Social Democratic strength and bourgeois weakness, historically, in Sweden has been the division of the bourgeois parties and intense competition for right-wing voters between the main right-wing parties. In 2004, the four bourgeois parties – M, the Liberals, the Centre and the Christian Democrats – joined forces in a common electoral alliance, the Alliance for Sweden (Allians för Sverige). Thanks to a very strong result from M (26.2%), the Alliance narrowly won the 2006 elections and Reinfeldt became Prime Minister at the helm of a four-party coalition government.
In power, the centre-right has largely been pragmatic and moderate, aiming to present an image of ideological moderation and responsibility. The government’s landmark policy achievement, which has been quite popular, is the earned income tax credit, a tax credit targeting low and middle-income workers which reduces the tax to be paid on income from employment. To boost job creation, the government also brought in some labour market reforms, the most contentious of which has been the Jobs and Development Guarantee (JOB).
The government’s goal was to increase the after-tax income of those who work compared to those reliant on transfer payments and social benefits – in short, to increase the incentives for those outside the labour market (the unemployed) to proactively look for a job and ultimately increase employment. In return, however, the government changed the rules on unemployment benefits. To access unemployment benefits, the beneficiary must have worked 80 hours a month in 6 of the last 12 months or 480 hours during 6 consecutive months of the last 12 months, with the benefits based on the average income in the last 12 instead of 6 months. To access income-related benefits, a person must have been a member of a union-managed unemployment insurance funds (A-kassa) for 12 months; there is a basic amount of SEK320 per day for those who are not members or have not been members long enough. The generosity of benefits also decline gradually based on the length of unemployment, and are no longer paid out after 300 days unless a work requirement is fulfilled as part of Sweden’s active labour market policies. These policies hurt those working on fixed-term contracts, about 500,000 people. The government also significantly increased employee contributions to Sweden’s income-related and union-managed unemployment insurance funds (A-kassa), with the result being a substantial decline in union and A-kassa membership in 2007-2008. Only in 2014 did the government abolish the additional contributions to the unemployment insurance funds. The government also cut advantages for paid sick leave, with most receiving 80% of their salary for a year capped at SEK 708 per day (it was unlimited in time before). Reinfeldt said that his policies sought to root out a certain culture of passiveness, and prodding people to accept any kind of paid work.
The government also abolished the wealth tax, replaced a state property tax with a tax at the municipal level, eliminated tax credits for union or A-kassa membership, privatized some state assets (notably V&S Group, the former state-owned alcohol producer and distributor until 1994 and manufacturer of Absolut Vodka) and cut some government agencies. Somewhat controversially, the bourgeois government also introduced tax credits for household services (such as domestic work) and allowed for municipal child-raising tax credits (which allows parents to stay at home longer to take care of their young children), two policies which the left is against. However, privatization and smaller government have not been distinctive features of the government – some reports have said that, despite the elimination of several government boards and agencies, but there had been no real change in the number of employees.
When the global economic crisis hit, the country’s economic growth fell by 0.6% in 2008 and 5% in 2009. The economy recovered with handsome 6.6% growth in 2010, the highest growth rate in the EU that year. Unemployment increased from about 5.5-6% prior to the crisis to a peak of 9% in April 2010. The government responded with expansionary stimulus measures, passing the first such stimulus package in the fall of 2008. Anti-crisis policies included a mix of tax cuts (corporate tax and taxes on pensioners), an annual allocation to municipalities and county councils for social services, the allocation of SEK 1 billion a year to county councils for hospitals, a guarantee to banks, labour market policies to help recently and long-term unemployed workers (including apprenticeships, reduced payroll taxes for employers taking on a long-term unemployed person), increased resources in key social services (childcare, elderly care, education) and an increase in some welfare benefits (housing benefits, child benefits). For electoral reasons, the government – with Social Democratic support – chose to dilute the effects of the automatic adjustment mechanism on pensions by spreading the cuts over several years. Nevertheless, pensioners’ loss of income was at the heart of the 2010 election, in which the Alliance promised a SEK 2.5 billion tax cut for the retired in 2011. Government finances remained healthy, with a small 0.7% deficit in 2009 and a return to a balanced budget for 2010 and 2011.
The Alliance was reelected in 2010, but was reduced to a minority government (3 seats short of a majority). M was the most successful party, winning 30.1%, a record-high result and coming within less than one point of overtaking the Social Democrats for first (S has been the single largest party since 1914); M’s three Alliance partners, however, lost votes.
One of the centre-right government’s strongest points in the past had been its responsible stewardship of the economy – often emphasizing that Sweden was, compared to other EU member-states, performing very well economically. Both Reinfeldt and his popular finance minister, Anders Borg, have received high marks from voters when it comes to economic management. Since 2010, however, while Sweden has been performing well, there has been a clear economic slowdown because of lower demand and a strong krona hurting Swedish exports. The economy grew by only 0.9% in 2012 and 1.6% in 2013. Unemployment has remained higher than at pre-recession levels – frustratingly stable at about 8% (about 2% higher than in 2006, when the right won) and youth unemployment is very high (23.5% for those under 25, above the EU-28 average of 22%). The government nevertheless repeatedly emphasized that Sweden was doing well – a budget deficit way below the EU’s 3% limit, a budget balance projected in 2016 and more optimistic growth numbers for 2014-5.
Other scandals have taken their toll on the government’s popularity recently. Upon taking office in 2006, two cabinet ministers promptly resigned after they admitted that they had not paid their TV licenses and employed nannies without paying the necessary taxes; the Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy, Tobias Billström, did not resign and remained in office throughout the two terms despite not having paid his TV license either.
The purchase of Dutch energy company Nuon by state-owned energy company Vattenfall for SEK 89 billion in 2013 sparked controversy earlier this year, when it transpired that Vattenfall had likely paid more for Nuon than what it was worth (and that the government had actually been advised that the deal would be unprofitable, and Borg/Reinfeldt’s hardly believable claims that the deal was made by a former cabinet minister, former Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson, without their knowledge); in 2012, the defense minister was forced because of a secret deal where the Swedish government helped Saudi Arabia build a weapons factor.
As in 2006 and 2010, the Alliance put forward a common manifesto in 2014. The full document is available in English here. The largely uninspiring focused on maintaining existing policies and promoting the government’s most popular policies, notably the earned income tax credit, and a goal to have 5 million employed people by 2020 (which would be about 350,000 new people in the labour market). Employment ranked first in the Alliance manifesto, with promises including investments in transportation infrastructure; speeding up construction by relaxing costs and regulations; building a world-class business climate by simplifying rules; creating more paths to jobs with labour market policies targeting vocational training and traineeships; a focus on youth employment (lowering social security contributions for people under 23, on-the-job training, raise apprentice pay, foster entrepreneurship in high school); motivating the elderly to lead a longer working life; ensuring gender equality in the workplace (but it committed to retaining the domestic employee tax deduction); investments in R&D and a secure energy supply.
Education was another major topic for the Alliance. It promised more teachers; smaller classes in lower grades; focus on the three Rs; more assessments; ensuring students have upper secondary (high school grades 10 to 12, which is non-compulsory) eligibility when graduating compulsory education; stricter quality controls in all schools and preschools and giving teachers more time to teach (cutting administrative tasks and introducing externally-marked national exams). The Alliance also promised better accessibility and quality in healthcare, strengthening elder care and increase the number of training places for midwives and nurses.
Criminality and security are always important issues for the centre-right. This year, the right promised tougher penalties for violent and serious crimes, to intensify the fight against fraud, crack down further on domestic violence and rape but also take some measures to favour rehabilitation while being even tougher on repeat offenders.
The Alliance is strongly pro-immigration. The government has taken an open-door policy towards asylum seekers, welcoming a huge influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War. About 40,000 Syrians have immigrated to Sweden since the start of the conflict, and the government expects 80,000 asylum seekers in 2014 after it decided to offer permanent residency to all Syrians – meaning that Sweden has accepted more Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, per capita, than any other EU member-state. Overall, according to the Swedish Migration Board, about 24.5k individuals were granted asylum in 2013 compared to 12.5k in 2012. Already in the first eight months of 2014, over 50,000 applications for asylum were received and 20,317 people have already been grated asylum. Reinfeldt, a few weeks before the vote, urged Swedes “open their hearts” to Syrian refugees. The Swedish government has urged other EU members to accept more Syrian refugees. The Alliance’s manifesto focused on improving integration, helping municipalities shoulder the costs of newcomers, facilitate immigrants’ entrance into the labour market and Swedish society.
Environment-wise, the Alliance’s manifesto called for a bonus-malus system for cars, raising the vehicle tax by raising the CO² charge, ensuring renewable fuels enjoy good conditions, building a toxin-free environment and promoting green industries as ‘growth engines’.
The Alliance’s manifesto did not mention foreign policy or European affairs, likely due to the diversity of views on those issues between members. M, however, is one of the most pro-European/EU parties in Sweden and its voters supported the introduction of the Euro in the unsuccessful 2003 referendum on the issue. Since then, however, M has not made the adoption of the Euro an issue and only a small minority of voters are still favourable to that idea, post-Eurozone crisis. M is also strongly supportive of free trade.
A distinctive feature of the 2014 Alliance manifesto was that it contained no clear promises for further, new tax cuts if it was reelected. This may be because of the left’s criticisms that the Alliance government gave too much in tax cuts and ignored social exclusion and jobs; polls showed that most voters in 2014 were concerned by social issues such as education, healthcare and jobs.
The contemporary New Moderates can be seen as a centre-right liberal conservative party, which believes in modern conservative values such as free trade, a smaller government, the reduction of state ownership, a high value for employment and work and support to small businesses.
The Social Democrats or Swedish Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Socialdemokraterna or Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti, S or SAP) are Sweden’s natural governing party, having governed the country without interruption between 1936 and 1976, and again between 1982 and 1991 and most recently from 1994 to 2006. This record makes it one of the most electorally successful left-wing parties in the Western world, having won the most seats in every single election in the last 100 years and receiving over 40% of the vote in every election between 1932 and 1991, although in Sweden’s multi-party system, S broke 50% only twice in its history. In the last decades, however, the Social Democrats have seen their base and dominance eroded and challenged from both the left and right. The party hasn’t won over 40% of the vote since 1994 (although it came close in 2002) and, barring a sea-change in political opinion, it appears unlikely that the party will come close to winning over 40% again.
The Swedish Social Democrats quickly became a moderate social democratic party which embraced parliamentarianism and rejected revolutionary Marxism – it entered a coalition with the Liberals following the 1917 election, and the first SAP Prime Minister of Sweden Hjalmar Branting (1920, 1921-1923, 1924-1925) was a moderate who opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and forcefully argued the merits of democracy. After the Great Depression, the Social Democrats imposed themselves and quickly came to dominate Swedish politics for the next few decades, through several emblematic leaders – Per Albin Hansson (1932-1946), Tage Erlander (1946-1969) and Olof Palme (1969-1976 and 1982-1986). Per Albin Hansson coined and developed the concept of the folkhemmet (the people’s home), a promise for a compassionate society which would level the economic playing field and break down all social and economic barriers between classes; in practice, it meant abandoning the traditional idea of the class struggle and nationalizations in favour of social corporatism, a planned economy and the construction of the welfare state.
Social Democratic governments under the aforementioned Prime Ministers would develop Sweden’s famous welfare state – often held up (by some, largely on the left) as a ‘model’ of an ideal, universal welfare state – on the basis of the folkhemmet ideas. Significant policies of the welfare state adopted by Social Democratic governments under this ‘golden age’ of Swedish social democracy included a basic pension, universal child benefits (1948), parental leave, supplemental pensions (an issue of hot political debate between the left and the right in 1957), centralized supervision of union-controlled and state-subsidized unemployment funds, housing allowances and universal healthcare (implemented by 1955). One of the more famous policies of the SAP governments was the Million Programme, an ambitious housing policy in the 1960s and 1970s to remedy the housing shortage and provide affordable housing by building a million housing units over a ten-year period. Many of the neighborhoods developed under the Million Programme have, however, become synonymous with urban decay, marginalization and social exclusion. Large housing projects such as Rosengård (Malmö), Rinkeby (Stockholm), Tensta (Stockholm) and Hammarkullen (Gothenburg) concentrate large population of low-income immigrants, often non-white. The government funded its policies through high levels of taxation, including a wealth tax first introduced in 1947 but also indirect taxes (VAT). Trade unions gained a great amount of power in the Swedish labour market, and Sweden has one of the highest unionization rates in the world – despite a steep decline, it still stood at 67.7% in 2013 (second behind Finland in the OECD) and it was at 80% in 1999. The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, LO), the large blue-collar union which is closely tied to the SAP, remains a key player in social and workplace relations in Sweden and its 1938 agreement with the employers’ federation (SAF) allowed for decades of social calm, economic growth and good conditions for workers. LO followed a ‘solidarity wage policy’ – based on the idea that pay should be based on the work performed rather than a company’s profitability. The successful implementation of this idea up until the 1970s was based on a degree of wage restraint by better-paid employees and the recognition that weak firms might fold (to mitigate this, LO supported an active labour market policy to allow relocation of workers made redundant in low-profit firms). The ‘solidarity wage policy’ was successful for a time, but significant wage drift occurred and by the late 1970s, it was no longer successful.
Olof Palme, who has become a left-wing icon around the world as a result of his 1986 assassination but also his strong involvement in foreign affairs, was a love-hate figure – his arrogance, autocratic tendencies and his more radical leftist policies polarized Swedish society. Elections in the 1970s and early 1980s under Palme’s leadership were closely fought between the right-wing bloc and SAP, even resulting in a perfect tie between the left and right in 1973 and the narrow victory of the right in 1976 and 1979 (the first time SAP fell from power since 1936). Policies from Palme’s time in office include workplace co-determination (which increased labour unions and employees’ power in the workplace and enterprise management), an expansion of the generosity and scope of the welfare state (heavily financed through tax increases, especially on higher incomes), the elimination of the upper house of the Riksdag (1971) and its transformation into a unicameral legislature and a major constitutional reform which made Sweden a ‘crowned republic’ (the King lost even his nominal powers, such as appointment of the Prime Minister and cabinet). A particularly controversial policy introduced after the Social Democrats returned to power in 1982 were the wage-earner funds (an issue of hot debate since the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, LO, introduced a policy proposal for the scheme in the 1970s) – an alternative to nationalization and to ‘democratize the economy’, the government created several funds financed through a 20% profits tax on firms and a payroll tax, which would buy shares in Swedish companies with the aim of increasing employee/trade union control of the firms. The policy was highly controversial, with the right and employers attacking the plan – originally warning against a dangerous road to Eastern Bloc-style socialism; even many Social Democrats – perhaps including Palme – were not overly keen on the idea, which was finally abolished after the right won power in 1991.
Palme became widely recognized abroad for his ‘anti-imperialist’ views – he criticized US for its role in the Vietnam War; he was a staunch foe of the Franco regime in Spain, apartheid South Africa but also the Soviet Union (during the 1968 Prague Spring); he sided with controversial left-wing leaders including Chile’s Salvador Allende and Cuba’s Fidel Castro but also the FMLN and FSLN rebels in El Salvador and Nicaragua. However, a lot of his views were merely rhetorical flourish because Sweden remained a close NATO and US ally, notably for military purposes, during Palme’s tenure.
After returning to power in 1982 after two terms in opposition, Palme was reelected in 1985 but he was assassinated in circumstances which remain unclear to this day in 1986. He was replaced by Ingvar Carlsson, who began slowly liberalizing Sweden’s economy – in 1985, the credit market was deregulated (allowing banks to loan unlimited amounts to consumers) and in 1990 the government passed a landmark tax reform which lowered marginal income tax rates (people earning less than SEK185,000 would only pay municipal income tax) and broadened the tax base (by separating capital income from labour income, taxing fringe benefits and broadening indirect taxes such as the VAT). In the 1970s, the top marginal tax rates stood at about 80-85%; since 1991, it is around 55%. After Palme’s death, the party became increasingly split on the question of economic policy – with Carlsson’s finance minister Kjell-Olof Feldt and the party’s right favouring market economics (deregulation) and ‘Third Way’ politics while the left and LO supported traditional left-wing economics.
The SAP was defeated in 1991, but thanks to the right-wing government’s unpopularity, roared back with an impressive result in 1994. The party retained power until 2006, with Ingvar Carlsson (1994-1996) and Göran Persson. The Social Democrats returned to government as Sweden was just coming out of a major economic crisis in the early 1990s, which meant that Carlsson and Persson’s cabinets were far less activist and expansionary than previous governments (Persson is famous for his phrase ‘one who is in debt is not free’). In 1997, Sweden adopted a top-down budgetary process which has the Riksdag approve an expenditure ceiling before it decides where the money is to be spent. They implemented a number of cutbacks to welfare policies, which caused some strains in the party’s relations with the LO. However, the country’s economic situation improved steadily after the early 1990s crisis, with the government managing to reduce the debt and posting seven budget surpluses between 1998 and 2006. Economic growth stood above the EU average, and unemployment fell back from the crisis peaks although it was picking up again when the Social Democrats fell from power in 2006. Thanks to economic reforms and the general liberalization of the Swedish economy in the 1990s (with tax and pension reforms, which notably reduced corporate taxation), the ‘Swedish model’ and its famous welfare state adapted well to the new economic conditions of the late 20th century and early 21st century.
Persson was defeated in 2006, hit by voter fatigue after over 10 years in power. The lack of renewal in the top echelons of the party also hurt the party – after the 2003 assassination of popular and talented foreign minister Anna Lindh, who was considered as a top leadership contender – and would continue to hurt them in opposition. Persson was replaced by Mona Sahlin, a mediocre career politician who had seen her accession to the Prime Minister’s office (she was the early favourite to replace Carlsson) blocked in 1995 by an expense scandal (she used her government credit card for private expenses). She had been the last standing candidate after a number of A-list candidates declined, most notably Sweden’s well-liked then-European Commissioner Margot Wallström.
The Social Democrats, although they have only twice won an absolute majority, they have only rarely governed in coalition – excepting a wartime coalition with the bourgeois parties, the Social Democrats have only governed once in coalition, with the Agrarians from 1936 to 1945 and 1951 to 1957. At all other times, Social Democratic governments have been minority governments which could count on parliamentary support from the Communists/Left Party and, since the 1990s, the Greens. The Greens and Social Democrats grew closer under Persson’s government, but they remained outside his cabinets. In December 2008, however, Mona Sahlin announced a formal alliance – the Red-Greens (De rödgröna) with the Greens and the Left; it sought to copy the centre-right government’s successful Alliance and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Red-Green coalition government (led by the Labour Party with the agrarian Centre Party and the Socialist Left).
Initially popular in the polls, Sahlin and the Red-Greens crumbled under closer scrutiny in early 2010. The campaign – in which SAP promoted themes such as the defense of the welfare state and more investments in education and health – went poorly, with the SAP’s cooperation the ex-communist Left Party scaring off centrist voters and Sahlin’s poor leadership turning off other voters. In September 2010, the left lost and S won 30.7%, its worst result since 1914.
Mona Sahlin’s successor proved to be no better for the party. Håkan Juholt, who was chosen as the new SAP leader in one of their famously cryptic leadership selections, was once again the last standing candidate after a number of other candidates had declined and few inspiring names came to the fore. Juholt was considered a ‘defense expert’ in the party and was somewhat charismatic and folksy, but he was definitely out of his depth on many issues (including foreign policy and defense questions, his supposed area of expertise). He was brought down in January 2012 following a scandal concerning an allowance he received from the Riksdag to pay for his apartment (he received too much money and was forced to pay back some of it). Desperate for a moderate and sensible leader who would boost the party, the party’s bosses turned to Stefan Löfven, the former head of the metalworkers union (IF Metall) in the LO, who himself comes from a working-class background in northern Sweden. He was not a member of the Riksdag prior to the 2014 election, and has no previous political/ministerial experience. Löfven has successfully kept a low-profile, not attracting controversy and appearing as reassuring, competent and pragmatic.
Ideologically, the modern Social Democrats have often struggled to capture voters’ imaginations with innovative projects or policies, and has instead often focused on its traditional profile as the ‘defender of the welfare state’. In this election, the party promised a ‘better Sweden for all’ and focused on employment, education and the welfare state – the top issues in voters’ minds this year. The Social Democrats have attacked the centre-right government for prioritizing tax cuts over welfare and jobs, and argued that many people risk getting stuck in a ‘poverty trap’ with unskilled, low-wage jobs or unable to find a job altogether (therefore risking social exclusion).
Sweden’s unemployment rate of 8% is below the EU-28 average (but is considered to be high in Sweden), but it has a high youth unemployment rate – 23% of Swedes under the age of 25 are unemployed, compared to 22% in the EU-28. Unsurprisingly, the Social Democrats targeted their election manifesto to youth employment issues and promised that Sweden would have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU by 2020. One of its key promises was the ’90-day guarantee’ – within 90 days, young jobseekers would be matched with a job, training leading to a job or an internship. As part of this policy, the party said that it would invest SEK6 billion in 50,000 new jobs and internships and provide training opportunities for young jobseekers without qualifications. The Alliance claimed that the SAP’s 90-day guarantee is actually a continuation of its own ‘Phase 3’ in its labour market policy introduced in 2007 (the Jobs and Development Guarantee, JOB), which offers an unpaid activity to the long-term unemployed (companies are paid by the government in exchange for taking on these non-conventional workers); the policy has been criticized by the left because participants were given tasks that were not otherwise performed and training/education is not generally permitted except under specific conditions. The Social Democrats want to scrap Phase 3, which they think is ineffective and degrading.
In addition, the Social Democrats proposed to focus the Public Employment Service’s task on active individual support for jobseekers; creating more places in post-secondary education; investing in vocational training and adult education; helping employers by cutting their costs and designing a new industrial policy; increase unemployment benefits so that people can earn 80% of their salary for the duration of their unemployment (under current legislation, the benefit is gradually cut the longer people are unemployed for); limit the use of fixed-term contracts (a maximum of two years within a 5-year period); make full-time jobs the norm; fight social dumping by imposing Swedish collective agreements to all employed in Sweden (this relates to the controversial Laval case in the ECJ); strengthen Swedish exports (it supports the EU-US FTA/TTIP); improving the business environment to boost international competitiveness and innovation. All in all, a fairly centrist and moderate platform on economic issue, focused heavily on jobs.
On tax policy, the Social Democrats said they prioritized the welfare state and investments in jobs over tax cuts and attacked the Alliance for its tax cuts at the expense of jobs. It said that it would not raise income taxes for most people, eliminate the tax gap between pensioners and workers and keep the Alliance’s earned income tax credit for those earning less than SEK60,000, but it would also eliminate ineffective tax cuts and raise taxes on banks to raise 4 billion kronor to fund early childhood education.
Education was the second major priority for the SAP. Sweden has a good education system, but it has really fallen off in recent international rankings, particularly the latest PISA ranking (2012) in which Sweden’s score dropped sharply in all three subjects (math, science and reading) – ranked 38th in math and science and 36th in reading, the worst result for the Scandinavian countries and below the OECD average. Löfven called the PISA results a ‘national crisis’. The party promised to reduce class sizes (by 5 in large primary school classes); train and hire more special ed teachers and learning specialists; improve teachers’ conditions; raise standards in teachers’ education; compulsory education until age 18 (currently 16); focus more on research and innovation; expand access to pre-schools (with small class sizes); offer free homework help to all primary school students; invest in 28,500 new post-secondary places; mandatory summer school for students who fail and increase the number of female professors. Overall, it would invest 15 billion kronor a year in education, which would be invested in cutting class sizes and improving teachers’ conditions. The Social Democrats are not against private schools, but they want tighter monitoring of quality and stop the ‘chase for profits’ in these schools and to allow municipalities to decide whether or not they want private schools. SAP rhetoric tied its education priorities – smaller classes, better teaching conditions, expanding vocational/adult education, focus on results – to its economic goal of reducing unemployment to the lowest level in the EU by 2020.
The welfare state, a traditional concern for the SAP, was the third major party priority in the campaign. The Social Democrats promised to raise child benefits and student support grants; ensure the construction of 250,000 new homes by 2020 by providing financial support to municipalities and other tax incentives; increasing the mandatory parental leave for both spouses to three months (currently, both spouses must take 60 days out of the maximum 480 days of paid parental leave – Scandinavian countries require that the other spouse/father take a minimum period of parental leave to increase gender equality, a highly controversial and politically contentious issue); invest in childcare so that municipalities must offer it on evenings and weekends; remove the tax gap between pensioners and wage earners; investing in healthcare to hire more staff and reduce paperwork; enhance the welfare state in general with a focus on efficiency and quality assurance and create youth jobs in elderly and disabled care. ‘Profit in welfare’ has become a major issue in Sweden recently, one on which most Swedes side with the left; SAP fell short of calling for a ban on profit-seeking in welfare provision, but called for national quality laws to set the rules for private providers in welfare with increased regulations (such as staffing requirements, so that private providers don’t try to make a quick buck by cutting down on staff) and transparency.
The Social Democrats are traditionally fairly pro-immigration and asylum; its platform demanded shared responsibility between EU countries for the reception of refugees, but also tighter rules for labour migration. In 2011, however, the controversial former SAP mayor of Malmö Ilmar Reepalu (1994-2013) proposed ‘conditional’ citizenship for new immigrants, setting up a probationary period where these newly-naturalized ‘citizens’ could still be stripped of their citizenship and deported; this proposal received the support of the SAP chairman of the Riksdag justice committee, but both men were later disavowed by then-SAP leader Håkan Juholt. On foreign policy, the Social Democrats support Swedish nonalignment, its long-standing commitment to international development assistance, its focus on human rights and disarmament and are generally pro-EU (the majority of the party leadership, including then-Prime Minister Persson and then-foreign minister Anna Lindh supported the Euro in the Euro referendum in 2003). The party’s platform called for reintroducing compulsory conscription for all men and women over 18, abolished in 2010.
Environmental issues are important for the party, but not a top priority; its platform talked about reducing GHG emissions by 40% by 2020 (vs. 1990 levels) to free Sweden of fossil fuels by 2050, SEK1 billion investments in environmental initiatives, ban or tax dangerous chemicals, gradually phasing out nuclear power (but saying it will continue to be a mainstay for long years to come still) and a bonus for cars with a low carbon footprint.
The Green Party (Miljöpartiet de Gröna – literally ‘Environment Party The Greens’, Mp) is Sweden’s green party, located on the left of the political spectrum. The Greens were founded in 1981, right in the aftermath of the power on nuclear debate and a March 1980 referendum on the future of nuclear power (the pro-nuclear option narrowly won). The Greens won 1.7% and 1.5% in the 1982 and 1985 elections, but they entered the Riksdag for the first time in 1988, with 5.5% of the vote. The Greens lost support in 1991 and, with only 3.4%, were not reelected to the Riksdag – but they returned to the Riksdag in 1994, and have stayed there ever since. Between 1994 and 2010, the Greens polled about 4-5% in general elections; in 2010, they won their best result with 7.3%. The Greens, however, have been quite successful in EP elections – in the first EP election in the country in 1995, the Greens won 17.2% and, in June 2014, the Greens placed second in the EP election with 15.4% of the vote.
The Greens have usually been aligned with the centre-left. Between 1998 and 2006, the Greens supported – without participating in – the Social Democratic governments of Göran Persson. In 2010, the Greens entered into a pre-electoral alliance with the Social Democrats; the original goal of that alliance had been for the Greens to bring to the broader centre-left fold some white-collar, well-educated ‘bourgeois’ voters who might feel queasy about S but who were willing to vote Mp. Instead, the result was that the Greens gained at the Social Democrats’ expense – the Greens’ female co-spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand was very popular, far more than S’ Mona Sahlin. While the Greens are a fairly loyal member of the centre-left bloc, there is often speculation at election time if the Greens would be ready to cross the aisle and back up a centre-right government. Swedish county and local politics operate on somewhat different bloc configurations, which means that the Greens – after 2010 – governed alongside the Alliance parties in Halland, Jönköping, Scania, Värmland and Västernorrland county councils. Ahead of the 2014 elections, the Greens recognized SAP as their ‘natural partner’, but was critical of the ‘bloc politics’ – including the failed 2010 Red-Greens experiment and preached cooperation based on policies instead. At the same time as it said that, however, it also vowed to never become “a fifth Alliance party”. It also ruled out cooperation with the far-right.
The Greens’ 2014 manifesto is available online in English. The general tone of the party’s manifesto was rather anti-government, criticizing the Alliance’s record on the environment, social exclusion, education and the welfare state. Climate change and the environment were, unsurprisingly, the top issues for the Greens – whose long-term goal is to build an energy system which would be 100% from renewable sources. Promises included beginning the energy transition to 100% renewable (by 2030) by reducing the use of fossil fuels and closing down old nuclear reactors; doubling the share of public transportation in the transportation sector; improve and expand the rail system including high-speed rail lines; supporting investments in the production of biofuels and electric vehicles; a fee on polluting cars; introduce a new tax on trucks to move freight to trains/ships; ensuring that good organic food is provided in schools and retirement homes (a goal of 50% of organic food in public kitchens by 2020, and supporting vegetarian meals and locally-produced meats); banning dangerous chemicals; increasing the protection of biological diversity (more marine reserves, conservation of forests and woods); strengthening animal protection and increasing recycling. For the Greens, the issue of jobs could be closely tie to the environment – their policies there focused on creating new jobs through their environmental policies/investments, for example in railroads and eco-friendly neighbourhoods. Other job promises included helping youth job creation through municipal support centres and an expansion of vocational training/apprenticeships; reducing the burden of regulations on small businesses and lowering hiring costs for them by cutting payroll taxes and abolishing small businesses’ responsibility for sick leave; employing more people in welfare (education, healthcare, elderly care); expanding adult education; introducing a possibility to take a paid sabbatical; expanding the Alliance’s tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation to be used to renovate suburbs, apartments and buildings more eco-friendly and abolishing Phase 3.
Economically, therefore, the Greens want to raise taxes on polluters and to cut taxes for small businesses. Its 2014 manifesto proposed a ‘social economy’ with well-ordered public finances, a safer labour market (a more expansive and universal combined health and unemployment insurance), the possibility for 35-hour workweeks, possibilities for more leisure time, assurance that all ‘profits in welfare’ are reinvested and long-term investments which are more ethical and sustainable.
On education policies, the Greens resembled the Social Democrats. They promised a reduced bureaucratic burden on teachers to allow them more time for students; ensuring that student support is available in time; higher salaries for teachers; breaking school segregation (a vague call for all schools to be ‘equally good’, with more concrete proposals for needs-based student resources, education in students’ native language and bilingual education in other subjects); regulating private schools so that any profits are reinvested; investments in preschool sand after-school recreation centres; increasing the quality of post-secondary education; investments in modern teaching methods; renovating schools and setting up a commission to study and review the Swedish education system and its problems. The Greens also emphasize more rights for students, including more control over their education, and promote subjects such as anti-racism, gender pedagogy and norm criticism.
Equality is one of the cornerstones of the Greens’ ideology. They promised equal pay for equal work, breaking gender segregation in employment, splitting parental leave into three parts (one for each parents and one freely transferable including to a third person close to the child), fighting violence against women, quotas for women on the boards of stock market-listed companies, investments in school health (to fight mental health problems), laws against sexist advertising which perpetuate gender norms, improving sex ed, improving support to people who have faced abuse and a law on gender mainstreaming. In line with this, the Greens are the most pro-immigration party, enthusiastically supporting open borders (or a world without borders). Its manifesto endorsed a liberalization of asylum laws (an automatic right to a permanent residence permit if an asylum seeker hasn’t been deported within 2 years, facilitating family reunification, people born and permanently residing in Sweden should automatically obtain citizenship); better integration (easier access to housing and jobs for new arrivals) and fighting discrimination.
On healthcare, the Greens promised investments in more personalized and quality interaction between patients and care workers, more staff in elderly care and a focus on the issues of substance abuse and homelessness. Other miscellaneous promises included ‘greening’ the Million Programme suburbs, a massive increase in the construction of rental apartments, greater access to culture, legal protections for whistleblowers, devolution to regional-level governments, protection for crime victim and tackling crimes by addressing its social roots.
Traditionally, the Greens were anti-EU and strongly Eurosceptic. Only in 2008 did Green Party members vote against a party clause requiring a referendum on Sweden’s continued membership in the EU, and slowly shift in a more pro-EU but still quite EU-critical direction. It is critical of EU centralization, militarization, the Euro and the EU’s democratic deficit; it wants, in turn, a EU committed to equality, the environment and a more open migration policy (making it possible, for example, for asylum requests to be tested in more than one EU member). The Greens strongly support global justice, with a foreign policy promoting human rights (including LGBT equality), protection for the Arctic, phasing out Swedish weapons exports to dictatorships and more funding for international development.
The Liberal People’s Party (Folkpartiet liberalerna, Fp) is Sweden’s centre-right liberal party, the second largest party in the Alliance after the 2010 election. Although the party is widely referred to as the ‘Liberal Party’ in English, in Swedish it is usually referred to as the People’s Party (Folkpartiet), with the word liberalerna being a late and recent add-on to the party’s old name. The current party was founded in 1934, but the liberal partisan tradition dates back to the turn of the last century – an organized Liberal parliamentary party was founded in 1900, with a national partisan organization (the Frisinnade landsföreningen, or Free-minded national association) coming in 1902. The liberals in the 19th century were the main opponents of the conservatives; they supported free trade, universal suffrage and cuts in military spending.
The early liberal movement was very closely tied to the free churches – Protestant churches not linked to the state church (the Church of Sweden) – which grew in importance in the late nineteenth century, playing a large role in the temperance movement and the movements for democratic reforms. The liberals found common ground with the Social Democrats in the early twentieth century on basic political and social rights, chief among them universal suffrage, enacted by Nils Edén’s Liberal-SAP coalition (1917-1920); but the party thereafter steadily lost support (falling from 40% in 1911 and 28% in 1917 to about 10-13% between 1924 and 1944) and moved towards the right. The liberals split in 1923 over the issue of alcohol prohibition (rejected in a referendum in 1922) – the pro-prohibition majority founded the Frisinnade folkpartiet (Free-minded People’s Party) while the anti-prohibition minority founded the splinter Sveriges liberala parti. The two parties reunified in 1934, to create the modern-day Fp.
In the 1920s, although they were only the third largest party in the Riksdag behind the Social Democrats and the Conservatives, the Liberals remained very powerful by holding the balance of power. Liberal leader Carl Gustaf Ekman originally tolerated the Social Democrats’ minority cabinets (under Hjalmar Branting from 1921 to 1923, 1924 to 1925 and Rickard Sandler from 1925 to 1926) and a conservative cabinet led by Arvid Lindman (1928-1930), but he pulled the plug on Branting and Sandler with the right’s support and on Lindman with the SAP’s support. Twice, between 1926 and 1928 and 1930 to 1932, Carl Gustaf Ekman served as Prime Minister himself – despite a weak base of support in the Riksdag, he retained power by skillfully playing the left and right against each other. Their influence, however, faded after 1932 as the Social Democrats established their hegemony.
Nevertheless, the Liberals replaced the conservatives as the main bourgeois alternative to the SAP between 1948 and 1968 (with the exception of 1958) and the Liberals polled 23-24% in the 1948, 1952 and 1956 elections. In this period (1944 to 1967), the Liberals were led by economics professors and future Nobel laureate Bertil Ohlin, perhaps better known to some for his 1930s academic work on comparative advantage and international trade (the Heckscher–Ohlin model and theorem); Ohlin, a social liberal, advocated for a free market economy with little government intervention and opposed the Social Democrats’ economic policies, but he was not totally hostile to some form of welfare state. Liberal support declined progressively in the 1960s and 1970s, falling to only 9% in 1973, 11% in 1976-1979 and 6% in 1982. Ohlin’s profile as a liberal economist fits with the Fp – to this day, the Fp remains seen as a liberal, intellectual elitist party.
The Liberals, led by Per Ahlmark, joined Thorbjorn Fälldin’s bourgeois government in 1976, but after the coalition fell in October 1978 due to differences between coalition partners on the issue of nuclear power, the Liberals formed a minority government led by Ola Ullsten. Although the Fp had won only 11% in the 1976 election, they were able to form a single-party minority coalition (which represented only 11% or so of the Riksdag) by briefly enjoying the benefits of the old balance of power strategy. The Social Democrats and the Centre Party tolerated the Ullsten Fp cabinet by abstaining. The government lasted until the 1979 elections, which returned another bourgeois party. Thorbjorn Fälldin regained office with a three-party bourgeois coalition, in which the Fp stayed until the end – the SAP’s victory in 1982.
Under Bengt Westerberg, the Liberals enjoyed a surge in support in the 1985 election (winning 14%), thanks to Westerberg’s appeal in that election. Under his leadership, the Liberals shifted more towards economic liberalism, fighting for lower taxes and private options in healthcare. However, after the brief success in 1985, Fp support fell back further – falling to 9% in 1991 (when the Fp joined Carl Bildt’s bourgeois coalition government), 7% in 1994 and a low of 4.7% in 1998.
Lars Leijonborg, the Fp leader between 1997 and 2007, led his party to a very strong result in the 2002 election (13%) thanks to M’s collapse and a controversial proposal to introduce mandatory Swedish language tests for foreigners seeking naturalization. In 2006, after the Social Democrats accused Fp operatives of breaking into their computer systems, the Liberals suffered significant loses – winning 7.5% of the vote.
Since 2006, the Liberals have been junior partners in Reinfeldt’s Alliance government. The party’s leader since 2007 is Jan Björklund, the Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister under Reinfeldt. Fp held the ministerial positions in the education portfolio (which, after 2010, grew to include gender equality) as well as the EU Affairs portfolio.
Ideologically, the Fp have – like other liberal parties in the EU – been divided between social liberalism and neoliberalism/conservative liberalism, or between emphasis on civil liberties/individual freedom and economic liberalism. The ideological influence of the free churches and frisinnet (free-thinking) factions have declined since the 1970s. Currently, under Björklund, the Liberals seem to stand somewhere in between left-liberalism and right-liberalism, with the Fp platform designed to please both sides. The Fp’s main niche issues include education, feminism and enthusiastic Eurofederalism.
Education has been one of the Liberals’ main areas of expertise and focus. As Minister of Education since 2007, Jan Björklund led the introduction of new curricula (Lgr 11 for the lower grades, and Gy 2011 for upper secondary schools) – these reforms included a new A-F grading scale beginning in Grade 6 (the left in Sweden typically supports bringing in academic grading only in later grades and is generally not too keen on the US-style A-F grading scale), introduction of teacher certification (for schools and primary/nursery school teachers on permanent contracts), tougher eligibility requirements for upper secondary school, history as a compulsory subject in upper secondary schools and reduced student choice (electives). The Liberals claim that these reforms are necessary to improve Sweden’s education system, do away with the Social Democrats’ old education policies and improve student achievement in school. The Fp’s additional demands for education in their 2014 manifesto included the nationalization of schools (that means that the state, not the municipalities, should run public education), more order and discipline in schools (to fight bullying), earlier assessments (grading from Grade 4), ensuring that all students leave primary school with basic skills (knowing how to read, write and count), support to students (summer school and homework help) and better pay for teachers. The Liberals support private schools, and opposed a ‘municipal veto’ on the establishment of new private schools.
Gender equality and feminism have also become important niche issues for the Liberals – one of their 2014 slogans was ‘feminism without socialism’. It promised a more equitable division of parental leave by earmarking a third reserved month for each parent (an issue shared with the left; the Fp claims credit for first introducing the idea of a reserved ‘daddy month’), abolishing child-raising tax credits (here it disagrees with its Alliance partners), investments in female-dominated occupations (nurses, midwives, preschool teachers), eliminate wage gaps between men and women, stop violence against women (long-term financing for women’s shelters and tougher penalties for men who committed crimes against women), more women on publicly-owned companies’ boards and promoting gender equality in schools.
The Fp has liberal positions on economic and social (welfare state) issues, supporting limited government and low taxes. It argues for a tax reform which would broaden the tax base and cut taxes on labour (and abolishing the 5% tax surcharge on high incomes). The party manifesto proposed workplace paid apprenticeships for high school students; modernizing labour law (employee dismissal priority rules should be based on competence rather than seniority, a longer probationary period for young workers) with the aim of moving towards the Danish model of flexicurity; higher unemployment benefits (based on sick pay levels for the first 100 days, replacing the work conditions to get fund benefits with income-based conditions) and moving towards a universal state-controlled unemployment insurance; defending the Alliance’s reforms (citing the tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation, the VAT reduced rate for restaurants and payroll tax reductions for those who hire young employees); opportunity for elderly people to continue their professional careers and less regulations and hassles in the construction sector. The Liberals strongly support ‘profit in welfare’ – defending it as an essential part of freedom of choice, which they say also helps gender equality (makes it easier to change employers) – with the quality standards to apply equally to both public and private providers.
The Liberals have returned to being strongly pro-immigration now, defending the right to asylum and an ‘open and tolerant’ society fighting racism and xenophobia. It proposed better integration by expanding Swedish language education for migrants; making basic knowledge of Swedish and civic education mandatory for Swedish citizenship; quicker integration into the labour market; an open refugee policy; an open labour migration policy and overcoming exclusion in poor immigrant neighborhoods.
The Fp sees itself as a green liberal party, defending inter-governmental cooperation and market solutions to climate change. The Fp’s manifesto called for a carbon tax and ETS, energy efficiency (including continued use and expansion of nuclear power), renewable energy sources (windpower and hydropower), climate-smart transport and a leading role in global climate change initiatives
The Liberals sell themselves as Sweden’s most pro-European party – it is an enthusiastic supporter of the EU, which it argues helps solve cross-border problems, promotes freedom and democracy and facilitates economic development. It called for deeper integration including oversight of human rights in member states, a more ambitious climate policy, supporting the EU internal market, supporting the EU-USA FTA, safeguarding the freedom of movement and deeper foreign policy integration. Although it is not an issue, the Fp supports holding another referendum on Euro membership (where they would support, obviously, the Euro). On foreign policy, the Fp is also known for supporting NATO membership, its strong pro-Israeli positions (the SAP is usually fairly pro-Palestinian), its pro-defense positions (it supports raising military spending), generous development aid and its very enthusiastic support for free trade and knocking down trade barriers. In 2003, the Fp supported the US invasion of Iraq.
Other promises included more housing for the elderly; improving care facilities for the elderly; European cooperation against crime; locally-based policing; special attention to vulnerable children and free cultural expression. Despite its liberal orientation, the Fp has a strict prohibitionist policy on drugs, opposes euthanasia and has a tough policy on alcohol abuse/prevention.
The Centre Party (Centerpartiet, C) is a centre-right liberal party in the Nordic agrarian tradition. The party has moved away from its agrarian roots over time, especially in the last few years, and has reinvented itself – with mixed success – as a liberal party, with a particular focus on issues such as environmentalism and decentralization.
Founded in 1913 as the Bondeförbundet (Agrarian Association or Agrarians), the party’s ideological roots are similar to those of fellow agrarian rural parties in Finland and Norway, and are part of a fairly unique Northern European/Scandinavian pattern of early powerful farmers’ political mobilization due to their higher social status (than farmers in other continental European nations, especially in southern Europe) and more developed political participation. With these parties, it shares common values – support for private businesses, its rural concerns, decentralization, environmentalism and some degree of Euroscepticism. In its early years, the Agrarians polled about 10-14% (they remained in this range until 1968) of the vote, but they are not remembered for having played an important role in interwar Swedish politics in the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1933, one year after a large SAP victory in the elections, the Agrarians – with their base facing major economic challenges and unemployment with the Depression – agreed to support the SAP’s unemployment in exchange for higher tariffs on farm products (beef, pork, eggs etc) and higher prices on butter. During this era, the Agrarians were the most pro-Nazi of the major parties and had racist pro-eugenics positions.
The Agrarians supported the SAP, although they voted with the bourgeois bloc against a government pension policy in 1936, leading to the left-wing government’s resignation and a brief three-month Agrarian minority cabinet led by Agrarian leader Axel Pehrsson-Bramstorp. After the SAP won the 1936 elections, however, the Agrarians entered Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson’s government, where they would remain until 1945. In 1951, the Agrarians rejoined the government, where they would stay until 1957. While in government, the Agrarians were accused by the right-wing parties of unabashedly promoting their bases’ interests through niche policies to enrich farmers. In 1957, because of disagreements on the pension debate, the party left government but it would not for that matter agree to support a bourgeois cabinet (which had a theoretical majority if it had Agrarian support).
Taking early heed of demographic and social changes, the Agrarians changed their name to the Centre Party in 1957 to broaden their base. Gunnar Hedlund, C’s leader from 1949 to 1971, moved the party towards centrism (with an emphasis on decentralization and environmentalism) and aligned himself with the Liberals beginning in the 1960 election. His increasingly strong opposition to the SAP paid off with good results at the polls – in 1968, it won 15.7% and became the largest centre-right party and further increased its support to nearly 20% in 1970. Thorbjörn Fälldin became C’s leader in 1971, and became known for his vocal opposition to nuclear power – which was one of the main issues of political debate from the early 1970s to 1980 in Sweden. In 1973, the Centrists won 25% of the vote, their highest result. In 1976, although C support fell to 24%, the three bourgeois parties (C-M-Fp) had a majority in the Riksdag and Thorbjörn Fälldin was appointed to form a three-party coalition government.
Fälldin quickly realized that the bourgeois parties were deeply divided on the key issue at stake – nuclear power – because while C wanted to halt nuclear expansion until the issue of waste was resolved, both M and Fp were very much in favour of nuclear power expansion. His government also dealt with a tough economic situation, implemented austerity policies, devalued the krona, cut marginal tax rates somewhat and led an active labour market policy which prevented mass unemployment. On nuclear power, C had compromised with its allies and agreed to a law which conditioned the commissioning of new power plants to plans on waste reprocessing and fuel storage, but the issue continued to divide coalition partners and the government finally fell in October 1978 due to disagreements on nuclear power. In 1979, with Fälldin having been criticized by C members and leadership for his compromises with M/Fp on nuclear power (pro-nuclear SAP leader Olof Palme added to the question by accusing Fälldin of betraying his 1976 election pledge to not be in a government which commissioned a nuclear power plant), C’s support fell to 18% and M overtook C as the largest bourgeois party. Fälldin nevertheless returned to power, with a C-M-Fp cabinet. The nuclear issue was defused by a referendum in 1980, in which C’s anti-nuclear (cease expansion and close existing plants within 10 years) option narrowly lost with 38.7% against 39.1% for the SAP/Fp’s pro-nuclear option (phase out of nuclear power by 2010, reduction of energy consumption, no expansion, state control of nuclear power plants and 100% taxation of any profits); M’s pro-nuclear option (which differed from the main one on the matter of state ownership and taxation) won 18.9%. Government austerity policies against the economic crisis were unpopular, especially as their effects were limited. In 1981, C and Fp worked with the SAP on a marginal tax rate reduction without M’s participation, leading M to leave the government. The poor economy, partisan disputes, rising unemployment and unpopular policies took their toll on the government’s popularity, which lost reelection in 1982 and saw C’s support fall to 15.5%. In 1985, C support fell to 12% and Fälldin was forced to resign as C leader.
Centre Party support continued to decline in the 1980s and 1990s, falling below 10% in 1991 (8.5%) and hitting a low of barely 5% in 1998. Although C was a member of Bildt’s bourgeois coalition from 1991 to 1994 (although C’s leader resigned from cabinet to protest the green light given the construction of the Öresund Bridge to Denmark), from 1994 to 1998, C provided external support to Göran Persson’s SAP government. Under Maud Olofsson, C realigned with the bourgeois bloc and, in 2002, saw its first uptick in support since the 1973 election (6%) and further increased its vote to 7.9% in 2006 as part of the Alliance. In 2010, however, C’s support fell to 6.6%.
Under Maud Olofsson, the party clearly moved back towards the right of the spectrum, and it has also moderated on nuclear energy – while in the 1990s and early 2000s it cooperated with the SAP to close two nuclear power plants, C now sees nuclear power as a stable source of energy (until a preferable alternative is found). In 2010, C – along with the other Alliance parties – voted in favour of lifting the moratorium/phase-out on nuclear energy (from the 1980 referendum) by allowing new reactors to be built to replace old ones. In addition, influenced by an idea that C can only survive if it builds a base with young urban voters, C has moved towards libertarian/liberal positions. In 2011, Olofsson was replaced as C leader by the 31-year old Annie Lööf. Like Olofsson before her, she served as Minister for Enterprise under the Reinfeldt cabinet while C held the agriculture, environment and enterprise/energy/communications portfolios. In 2012-2013, C went through very tough times as an attempt to push the party in a full-blown libertarian position backfired and led to internal divisions over the party’s direction. Its support fell below the 4% threshold in many polls. Olofsson faced controversy for the Vattenfall/Nuon scandal and Lööf was caught in a small expenses scandal.
C defines itself as liberal, environmentalist, decentralist and supports individual freedoms and a limited government. Its jobs policy is heavily focused on small businesses and ‘entrepreneurs’. It proposed a flexible labour market (with dismissal based on competence, not seniority); more mobility in the labour market; lowering payroll taxes to make it cheaper to take on young workers; lowering taxes for small businesses with higher taxes on polluters; workplace apprenticeships; less state intervention in labour relations (instead it favours negotiations between social partners); simplifying red tape for small businesses; facilitating start-ups and a ‘vibrant countryside’ with green industries. C favours low taxes (with green taxes to compensate for lower taxes on labour and businesses) but it further emphasizes ‘decentralized taxation’ in which regions and municipalities have more powers over taxes and to keep the revenues from property taxes (with a new municipal equalization system). It did not make any concrete promises in 2014, but C wants to further cut income tax for lower and middle-income households. The Centre Party remains supportive of the welfare state – like other Alliance parties, it favours more autonomy for teachers, better conditions for teachers, better teacher training, expanding adult education, discipline in schools, support for students in difficulty and supports private schools. In line with its liberal values, C strongly supports freedom of choice in welfare and emphasizes more individual freedom in choosing healthcare (but also elder care), by increasing competition further or by allowing nurses to start their own practices.
C is an environmentalist party, which wants Sweden to be carbon-neutral by 2050. The party proposed to compel the EU to adopt tougher binding emissions target for 2030; strengthening the European emissions trading scheme; work with other countries in the region to clean up the Baltic Sea; protect 10% of coastal and marine areas; continue to expand renewable energy production; strengthening environmental legislation with higher fines for those committing environmental crimes; expanding public transportation; facilitating ownership of environmentally-friendly cars powered by renewable sources (clean vehicle premiums, bonus-malus); ensuring a non-toxic environment and eliminating hazardous chemicals; encouraging local and sustainable food production (with clear and consistent labeling); ensuring that governments are eco-friendly; allowing landowners to have more of a say in protecting biodiversity and giving municipalities more power on climate policies (a reminder of C’s pro-decentralization views). On nuclear power, C merely envisions ‘within a generation’ to have a society free of nuclear power and driven entirely by renewable energy, and not building any new reactors.
The Centre Party is strongly pro-immigration, dreaming of a world with open borders and global freedom of movement. It called on Sweden to accept more refugees and foreign workers (labour migration), more cooperation in the EU for a humane refugee policy, shortening the residency requirements for naturalization, a more flexible labour market to allow immigrants to find jobs quicker, liberalizing conditions to obtain a work permit and liberalizing rules on family immigration.
C is traditionally Eurosceptic, although nowadays it supports EU membership as a fait accompli. It is fond of the catchphrase ‘a leaner yet sharper Europe’ – meaning a EU which focuses on a few key pan-national issues, without ‘micromanagement’ and supranationalism. It is strongly against the Euro.
The Centre Party’s positions on other issues included more police officers to increase security, tougher sentences for serious crimes, protecting privacy rights, encouraging people to move from welfare to work, making it easier for disabled people to join the labour market, reducing the pay gap between men and women (C also identifies as a liberal feminist party) and raising parental benefits.
The Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna, KD) are the smallest Alliance party – and also the youngest one. The party was founded in 1964. Ideologically, it claims to be from the continental Christian democratic tradition – although the Scandinavian Christian democrats emerged from a very different context and very different religious movements than the more famous Christian democratic parties on the continent.
The Swedish Christian Democrats were formed in the 1960s in reaction to a government decision to remove religious education from the elementary school curriculum, a controversial decision which mobilized religious Christian public opinion (although ultimately unsuccessfully). More generally, the party’s founders were worried about the direction of Swedish society in the tumultuous 1960s – they saw a decaying society heading towards ‘atheist materialism’. This Christian conservative movement was largely tied to the free churches (Lewi Pethrus, the KD’s founding father, was a Pentecostal minister), and the KD have remained closely identified with the free churches. The party was founded in 1964 as the Christian Democratic Coalition (Kristen Demokratisk Samling, KDS). The Christian Democrats remained a very minor party for about twenty years – between 1964 and 1985, the KDS’ support remained between 1.4% and 1.9% in every election. In 1973, Alf Svensson was elected KDS leader, a position he would retain for over 30 years until his retirement in 2004. In the 1970s, the Christian Democrats refused to be placed in the left-right divide – a cleavage which it dismissed as archaic. Beginning in 1982, however, the Christian Democrats have been aligned with the bourgeois bloc.
In the 1980s, the KDS moderated its positions on moral issues (abortion) and shifted emphasis towards family policies. In 1985, the KDS formed an electoral alliance (a common list) with C, with the goal of bringing KDS into the Riksdag and ensuring that no bourgeois votes were ‘wasted’ by going to a party which fell below the threshold. The C-KDS cartel won 12.4% of the vote, and Svensson was elected to the Riksdag (he was the only KDS candidate on the list to win) – as far as KDS was concerned, the result was something of a success if only because they got their leader elected, but the result was widely considered as a disaster for C (which had won, without KDS, 15.5% in 1982) and forced C leader Thorbjörn Fälldin’s resignation. In 1988, without an electoral alliance, the KDS won only 2.9% and fell out of the Riksdag. However, his short stint in the Riksdag had boosted Svensson’s name recognition and popularity.
The KDS’ breakthrough came in 1991, when the party – on its own this time – won 7.1% and 26 seats. In the Bildt coalition government, their main achievement was the late passage of the controversial child-raising tax credits (the right argues that these tax credits give parents the freedom to choose how to raise their young children – including by allowing mothers to stay at home to take care of them; it is criticized by feminists as as ‘women’s trap’ which reinforces gender roles such as women’s ‘housewife role’), which was quickly repealed by the left in 1994. In 1994, KDS narrowly saved their seats, falling to 4.1%; in 1998, however, thanks to Svensson’s popularity, KD (as the party was renamed in 1996) won 11.8%, its best result to date. In 2002, the KDs won 9.1%. Svensson stepped down as KD leader in 2004, although he was elected to the EP in 2009. His successor, and the current KD leader, is Göran Hägglund, who was Minister of Health and Social Affairs under Reinfeldt. KD also held the elderly/children welfare and public administration/housing portfolios. Their main achievements in cabinet include pushing for the abolition of the property tax and the introduction of municipal child-raising tax credits. The party has really struggled under Hägglund, facing internal divisions and lacking any clear niche issues appealing to voters. In 2006, KD won 6.6% and in 2010 it fell back further to 5.6%.
Ideologically, the Christian Democrats – unlike the more socially conservative Christian democrats in Norway or Finland – do not care much about hot-button moral issues (abortion, same-sex marriage), although KD was the only party to vote against same-sex marriage in 2009 (instead, though, they proposed to completely separate civil and religious marriage and get the state out of marriage) and instead their focus is on family issues – children, care for the elderly. They may be seen as ‘compassionate conservatives’ and Christian principles such as subsidiarity, stewardship and families as the basis of society remain important for them. However, they have fairly generic right-of-centre economic positions; in fact, the KD youth wing seems to be pushing for the party to move even further to the right on economic issues. The party’s moderation on moral issues has also come under fire from a minority of religious conservatives in KD ranks, who would like for the party to be controversial and take on pro-life stances.
The current KD position on abortion is to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortion by offering more counselling and support to women seeking abortions. It also supports separating religious marriage ceremonies from legal state marriage, with a gender-neutral civil registration instead. KD opposes euthanasia, supports prohibitionist drug laws and restrictive alcohol policies; it also endorses strict anti-discrimination laws which cover sexual orientation (KD recently expanded the law to cover accessibility/disability) and has a general humanist ideology which affirms each human’s worth as unique and irreplaceable. Families, in Christian democratic tradition, remain important for the party – it supports raising the benefit level during parental leave, introducing a pregnancy allowance of 20ish days, improving the child-raising tax credits, expanding childcare vouchers (so that parents who raise their children at home can benefit from it too), more affordable family counselling, preschools focused on children and smaller class sizes in preschools. Seniors and elder care are also an important issue for KD, who want to allow seniors to live at home longer if they want to, dignified treatment and safe housing. In general, freedom of choice in welfare is highly important for KD, who strongly support private schools and private healthcare options.
The Christian Democrats have, as noted above, fairly generic centre-right economic positions: low taxes on low and middle-income earners and pensioners, low corporate taxation, more flexible labour legislation, free trade, entrepreneurship, support for NGOs and non-profits, simplifying bureaucracy, more private ownership and lower employer contributions for small businesses. It still endorses, however, a social market economy and it is very supportive of a generous welfare state and benefits. On crime, climate change, education, healthcare or immigration, KD’s stances are more or less those of the Alliance as a whole. They too, for example, are strongly pro-immigration and want to reduce the difficulty of labour migration, family reunification and asylum. On the EU, KD seems quite happy with Sweden’s current role on the periphery of the EU, outside of the Eurozone and not overly affected by the Eurozone debt crisis.
The Left Party (Vänsterpartiet, V) is a socialist and feminist party (it is also republican, but that’s irrelevant), the most left-wing party in Sweden. V adopted its current name in 1990, but the party is the direct successor of the Communist Party founded in 1917. The party’s communist roots and, for some, persistent sympathy for communism and/or communist dictatorships remain a highly contentious issue which has consistently excluded V from formal government participation nationally.
The SAP split in 1917 between a reformist majority and a revolutionary minority, which was expelled from the party by reformist leader Hjalmar Branting. The revolutionary dissidents founded the Swedish Social Democratic Left Party (SSV) in May 1917, which became one of the founding members of the Comintern in 1919. In 1921, the party was renamed the Swedish Communist Party (SKP) and embraced the 21 Conditions of the Comintern. In its early years, the SKP was debilitated by many of the same issues which hit other new communist parties in Europe – purges of dissidents (members who opposed Comintern membership, those who opposed the 21 Conditions, those who refused to blindly adhere to the Kremlin’s whims) and founding members leaving in protest with the SKP’s direction (in 1924, Zeth Höglund, a founding member and anti-militarist leftist, left the party and later rejoined the SAP). In 1929, prominent members Karl Kilbom and Nils Flyg were expelled on Moscow’s orders, and they later created the Socialist Party (SP), the remnants of which would become a pro-Nazi party during World War II. In the interwar years, the SKP saw its support gradually decline from 8% in 1917 to only 3.5% in 1940.
The SKP was isolated during World War II – it was the only Swedish party to back the Soviet Union in the Winter War against Finland, it endorsed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, they were the only parliamentary party which did not participate in Per Albin Hansson’s wartime national unity coalition, many communists were interned in labour camps, the party’s publications were effectively banned and the SKP faced constant police harassment. However, the Communists gained support as the war reached its end, benefiting from Soviet military successes. In 1944, the SKP won 10.3% of the vote and the party gained influence within many unions.
In the post-war era, the SKP initially remained loyal to Moscow but was far more conciliatory towards the SAP. However, the Social Democrats had little sympathy for them – Tage Erlander proclaimed that every trade union should be a battlefield against communists and during the Cold War the SAP placed many communists under surveillance. The beauty of the situation, however, was that the SAP could still depend on the SKP’s support in the Riksdag whenever they lacked allies to their right – the SKP provided parliamentary support to SAP governments from 1946 to 1951, 1960 to 1968, 1970 to 1976 and 1982 to 1991. The SKP could hardly afford to vote against a ‘labour government’.
The Communists changed with the leadership of CH Hermansson (1964-1975): although originally a pro-Kremlin apparatchik, he moved the party away from the Soviet line towards Eurocommunism and Nordic popular socialism. In 1967, after internal disputes, the SKP changed its name to Left Party Communists (Vänsterpartiet Kommunisterna, VPK). The VPK was the first party to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, although several old-timer communists within the VPK remained supportive of Moscow’s actions. The VPK’s shift caused a number of splits by hardliners: a Stalinist breakaway in 1956, a Maoist splinter in 1967 (KFML), a youth league Maoist splinter in 1970 (with the awesome name of ‘Marxist-Leninist Struggle League for the Communist Party of Sweden (m-l)’) and a pro-Soviet split in 1977 (APK, now SKP). Under Lars Werner (1975-1993), the VPK maintained friendly relations with ‘communist sister parties’ and the CPSU, all the while continuing the shift away from doctrinaire Kremlin communism. The SKP/VPK had low but loyal levels of support throughout the Cold War years – between 1952 and 1991, the communists won between 3% and 6% of the vote, always retaining a small foothold in the Riksdag and helping prop up SAP minorities when necessary (although it broke from the SAP on issues such as nuclear power in 1980 or the tax reforms, which the SAP passed with the centre-right).
With the fall of communism, the VPK was renamed Left Party (V) and dropped references to communism. Under the leadership of Gudrun Schyman (1993-2003), V moved away from its communist roots and embraced feminism, while also being quite successful at the polls as it attracted SAP voters who were unhappy with the Social Democrats’ moderation and shift towards more liberal economic policies. In 1994, V increased its support to 6.2%, a level of support unseen since 1948 and in 1998, after four years of moderate SAP rule, V won 12% of the vote, still its record high. Its support declined to 8.4% in 2002 as the SAP regained lost ground. V continued to provide external support to the SAP government between 1994 and 2006. In 2003, however, the so-called ‘innovators’ in V lost control to the ‘traditionalists’, and Lars Ohly – who called himself a communist until 2005 – became V leader. Ohly’s leadership was marred by controversies surrounding V’s past and present attitudes towards communism and socialist dictatorships (with a 2004 investigation by the SVT’s investigative journalism show Uppdrag granskning) and internal turmoil. In 2006, V support fell to 5.9%. In 2010, Ohly and V managed to work themselves into Sahlin’s Red-Green coalition, but V’s participation in the alliance sparked fears that Ohly ‘the communist’ would be a minister in a potential left-wing Sahlin cabinet. The party’s support fell to 5.6%.
The issue of V cabinet participation in a future SAP/SAP-Mp coalition remains a hot topic of debate. As it stands, V is the only radical left party in Scandinavia to never have participated in a coalition: Norway’s SV, Finland’s Left Alliance, Denmark’s SF and Iceland’s Red-Greens have all being in a coalition now. Jonas Sjöstedt replaced Ohly as V’s leader in 2012.
Like other radical left parties, V is a socialist, feminist and pacifist party which opposes the capitalist system in favour of an egalitarian socialist society free from class, gender and ethnic oppression. In 2014, one of V’s top issues – and its most popular policy plank – was ‘gains in welfare’. The party is the only Swedish party to favour a total ban on profit in the welfare sector. V argued that billions in taxpayer money were lost to profits for venture capital companies and other profit-seeking welfare providers, it reminded voters of the ‘horror stories’ of cases of profit-seeking welfare providers cutting on staff and services to elderly patients or preschool kids to make a quick buck and proposed to pass a law which would ban taxpayer money to go to for-profit companies (choice would be retained, but only with non-profit companies).
V also promised higher unemployment benefits (raising the minimum daily allowance to SEK410 and the 80% replacement rate would hold for the entire period of unemployment); making permanent jobs the norm by tightening conditions on the use of temp contracts and capping the length of temporary employment to 24 months; abolishing Phase 3; expanding the number of places in training programs; investing in more employees inhealthcare, education and elder care; investing in public utilities and infrastructure; investing in R&D in SMEs; increasing the compensation rate of sickness insurance (removing the time limit on benefits, increasing the replacement rate and the ceiling amount; abolishing the tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation; abolishing the private financial defined contribution pensions; state investment for the construction of eco-friendly rental apartments and supplementing the inflation target with an employment targets. V endorsed the SAP’s 90-day guarantee for youth unemployment and it called on the gradual abolition of the Alliance’s earned income tax credit, which it faults for reducing state revenues and only benefiting to those who work. Instead, V proposed slightly higher taxes on the rich. V is also quite environmentalist – anti-nuclear and pro-organic food.
On educational issues, V is usually very reticent of private schools and the voucher system, and favours investments in public schools. V proposed more university places, state responsibility for education, higher student aid, delaying the introduction of grades to Grade 9, investments to reduce the number of children in preschool classes and a universal child allowance without any means-testing.
V is a feminist party. It wants a state foundation supporting women’s shelters (providing SEK200 million/year), tougher rape laws by defining sex as voluntary and consensual, to reduce the income gap, equal pay for equal work with government leading the way, more full-time employment, shorter working-hours, access to childcare at inconvenient hours (evenings, weekends, nights), increased social assistance and it wants to mandate that all parental leave must be shared equally between both parents. V attaches a good deal of importance to anti-racism and is pro-immigration. It proposed to repeal the Dublin Regulation, provide basic rights to undocumented migrants (their children may attend school and they should have employment rights), shorter processing times, better integration but it called on tougher rules on employers for labour immigration to prevent ‘social dumping’.
The Left is strongly anti-Euro and generally Eurosceptic. On foreign and defense policy, V supports the reintroduction of conscription, the recognition of Palestine, high spending on international assistance and it is generally reticent towards free trade agreements because of unfair terms of trade and global inequalities.
The Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) are a far-right immigration party which won its first seats in the Riksdag in 2010.
The SDs were founded in 1988, as the successor to the Sweden Party, a far-right party founded two years earlier by the merger of two parties – parts of the xenophobic Progress Party and the racist movement Bevara Sverige Svenskt. In its early years, SD was a small movement largely made up of thuggish neo-Nazis, skinheads, Holocaust deniers and white supremacists – the party itself was never officially Nazi, but many of its early members and leaders had links to neo-Nazi or racist movements. Beginning in the mid-1990s, under new leadership, the SDs began their first attempt to clean up their act (notably by banning uniforms) and moderate ideologically (by rejecting Nazism). It moved closer to the European far-right, building links with France’s FN or the Austrian FPÖ, and radical members left the party in 2001 to found the racist and even more distasteful National Democrats.
In 2005, Jimmie Åkesson became SD leader and continued to modernize and sanitize the party – symbolically, for example, the SDs changed their logo in 2006 from a British NF torch to a flower, the anemone hepatica. In the 2006 election, with 2.9% the Sweden Democrats won their best result yet, but remained outside of the Riksdag. In 2010, the SDs won 5.7% of the vote and elected 20 members.
In 1991, a right-wing populist party with anti-immigration stances, New Democracy (ND), had entered the Riksdag with 6.7% and 25 seats. ND had been founded by an entrepreneur/TV host and a nobleman/industrialist, and it had a right-wing anti-government and anti-immigration populist platform which had some ephemeral appeal to protest voters. Although the Fp, C and KD had all publicly opposed ND by walking out of a TV debate to protest ND’s anti-immigration views, ND came to provide tacit support (by abstaining) to Carl Bildt’s bourgeois government between 1991 and 1994. In the Riksdag, ND quickly became a pathetic clown show, with infighting and incompetence. In 1994, ND collapsed and fell out of the public eye immediately thereafter. ND was the only far-right/anti-immigration populist party to win representation in the Riksdag until 2010.
Sweden has a large foreign-born population – in 2013, according to government statistics, 15.9% of Swedes (1.53 million) were born outside the country – and altogether, 28% of Swedes are either foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. The largest foreign-born population comes from Finland – they are one of the oldest migrant groups in Sweden, given that Sweden has always attracted Finnish and Swedish-speaking Finnish immigrants. The past decades have seen an increase in immigration from the former Yugoslavia (particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the Middle East (notably Iraq, the second-largest immigrant population behind Finns). The integration of non-European immigrants has been problematic in Sweden – many (non-European) immigrants live concentrated in high-rise apartments or social housing projects (many from the days of the Million Programme) in low-income and neglected neighborhoods of the major cities and their suburbs (Rosengård in Malmö, Spånga-Testa in Stockholm, Botkyrka outside Stockholm), areas which concentrate many social and economic problems (poverty, unemployment, low education, criminality) and which have sometimes been called ghettos. Non-European immigrants in Sweden make up about half of the unemployed, and about 4 out 10 are poor. The difficult social conditions in these immigrant-heavy suburbs have led to riots in the last few years – most recently in May 2013, when riots broke out in the Stockholm suburb of Husby and during which several cars were burned and properties vandalized (allegedly by outside vandals). The far-right claimed that the riots proved the failure of Swedish multiculturalism, while others instead blamed the riots on the growing income inequality in Sweden.
The Sweden Democrats have tried hard to improve their public image, notably by repeatedly denying that they are racist and the SD leadership has cracked down on displays of racism and extremism from SD rank-and-file after several embarrasing incidents. In 2012, for example, the Expressen newspaper disclosed videos from 2010 which showed several high-ranking SD members holding racist and sexist remarks during a verbal brawl with a Kurdish-born comedian (they told him that Sweden was their country, not his; and insulted others by calling a woman a ‘little whore’ and a man a ‘nigger lover’) and later arming themselves with iron pipes after being threatened by witnesses. Erik Almqvist and Kent Ekeroth, two SD parliamentarians involved in the scandal, resigned their duties as party spokespersons and Almqvist later resigned from the Riksdag and the party.
The SD remained a higher controversial party. The Swedish media, civil society groups and the Church of Sweden are all overwhelmingly anti-SD, and a majority of Swedes remain hostile towards the party – which remains associated with racism, xenophobia and extremism in the eyes of many. Thus far, the party’s success has not prompted other parties to toughen their positions on immigration or seek cooperation with the SDs. Despite being in a potential kingmaker situation after the 2010 election, the SDs were been unable to push the Alliance government to more hardline immigration policies – in fact, Reinfeldt preferred to deal with the Greens on immigration and asylum issues, much to Åkesson’s displeasure. Danish and Norwegian critics of Swedish politics often complain that there is a tightly patrolled pro-immigration/multiculturalism ‘consensus’ which has placed a virtual taboo on questions about the social and economic costs and a great reluctance if not refusal to engage in debate on the issue. This is obviously in stark contrast to both Norway and Denmark, where right-wing populist parties (DF and FrP) have raised a lively debate on immigration issues, influenced other parties’ immigration stances and have successfully (particularly in DF’s case in Denmark) pushed right-wing governments to adopt strict immigration laws. In Sweden, all other major parties have shunned the SDs – this is particularly true for the Greens, V and C who have the strongest ‘anti-SD’ profiles.
The SDs define themselves as a nationalist (while affirming that they are non-racist and their nation is culturally rather than ethnically-based) and (since 2011) social conservative party. Immigration and multiculturalism are the party’s major issues.
SD is, obviously, anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism. The SDs want to end ‘mass immigration’ and limit all types of immigration to a level where it does not pose a ‘threat’ to Swedish national identity – it wishes to restrict labour migration to highly-skilled, means-tested immigration in sectors with a labour shortage; it would severely limit family reunification by setting more stringent conditions; it supports limiting the number of asylum seekers granted residence permits to a bare minimum and it would accept only refugees who are in life-threatening circumstances and only for a temporary period (it basically thinks that Sweden’s refugee policies should help refugees in their home countries/regions rather than allowing them to move to Sweden). The SDs oppose multiculturalism (which it says leads to segregation and cultural clashes, and threatens Swedish identity) and the idea of integration (viewed as ‘meeting in the middle’), instead preaching assimilation – immigrants should receive education only in Swedish, certain non-Christian religious symbols and customs would be banned in public (veils, halal and kosher meat, non-Christian religious holidays), subsidies to immigrant associations would be cut off. Like other far-right parties, it is most hostile towards non-European immigration and Islam – in 2009, Åkesson said that Islam posed a threat to Swedish society. The SDs also wish to protect Sweden’s cultural heritage, opposes ‘cultural imperialism’ and cultural relativism (it believes that cultures which respect democracy and human rights are better than those which don’t); it would fund projects for the conservation of Swedish heritage, establish a cultural canon and increase the teaching of history in schools. The SDs would impose significantly stricter rules on naturalization – demanding 10-year residency with a clean record and demonstrating sufficient knowledge of Swedish language and society.
The SDs have eclectic views on economic issues, leaning right or left depending on the issues, with a strong influence of welfare chauvinism. The SDs support lower taxes for employers, individuals and pensioners (but not at the expense of welfare); higher unemployment benefits (with laxer requirements on job seekers and those who take on part-time work) but sees work as the only sure means to long-term individual prosperity (so it supports gradual decreases in unemployment benefits over time); abolishing Phase 3 in favour of education initiatives; an enhanced focus on apprenticeships with lower starting salaries; an expansion of adult education and vocational training programs; less regulations and taxes on SMEs (by increasing the number of exceptions to employee dismissal priority rules etc.) and moving to energy self-sufficiency with nuclear and hydro power. It strongly opposes affirmative action and ‘ethnic quotas’. The SDs also support more investments in healthcare (to improve availability, quality and staff conditions), increasing benefits for vulnerable groups, nationalization of schools, limiting the number of private schools, improving assistance for students, tougher discipline in classrooms and abolishing free healthcare for illegal immigrants. The party supports tough-on-crime policies with more support for victims, tougher sentences for serious crimes and repeat offenders and the possibility of life without parole.
The SDs are the most Eurosceptic party – they strongly oppose the Euro/EMU, want a referendum on EU membership, wants border controls by renegotiating Schengen and strongly opposes transfer of powers to Brussels. It seeks an independent and Nordic foreign policy which affirms Sweden’s place as a Western Christian nation – opposing Islamism, stronger defense of Swedish borders, reducing the aid budget but increasing support to the UNHCR and reintroducing conscription.
The SDs are a socially conservative party. While the party supports gender equality and opposes discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation, it believes that the nuclear family is the basis of society, that there are biologically-based differences between the sexes and that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic rather than a social construct. The party is not pro-life, but it wishes to restrict the period during which a women can have an abortion on demand from 18 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. It does not challenge same-sex marriage, but opposes state-sanctioned adoption by single people, same-sex couples and polyamorous groups. The SDs support gender equality, but argues that individuals should be free to choose their own paths in life and that men and women should not be treated differently because of gender. It thus opposes state intervention to promote gender equality, notably on the issue of sharing parental leave between both parents.
The Feminist Initiative (Feministiskt initiativ, Fi or F!) is a left-wing feminist party founded in 2005. Sweden – and its Scandinavian neighbors – typically score highest of all countries in the world on measures of gender equality, it has one of the highest rates of women participation in the labour force and the welfare state has adopted strong policies and programs in favour of gender inequality. However, Sweden, like every other country, still faces problems such as the gender pay gap and women’s concentration in certain sectors of the labour force.
F! was founded in 2005 by a number of Swedish feminists, led by Gudrun Schyman, the leader of the Left Party (V) between 1993 and 2003. As V’s leader, Schyman – seen as a ‘reformist’ breaking with V’s problematic communist past – had spearheaded the official adoption of feminism as one of V’s ideologies and she had brought gender and feminist issues to the fore of political debate in Sweden. In 2003, Schyman was forced to resign after it was found that she received tax deductions for expenses which she did not pay (she later pleaded guilty). For a while, she continued her parliamentary work in V – most notably, in the fall of 2004, she raised attention to the issue of the cost of men’s violence against women, a motion which was seen by the media as a ‘men tax’ to support women’s shelters. In December 2004, Schyman left V but refused to resign from the Riksdag, a decision criticized by V. Schyman has remained F!’s best-known figure – a lot of the other feminist personalities who participated in F!’s foundation in 2005 have since left the party. At the outset, Finnish gender studies professor and queer feminist Tiina Rosenberg was the subject of controversy after her rivals claimed that she had said that women who sleep with men are traitors to their gender. In 2005, F! received attention with a proposal to abolish marriage in favour of a new form of cohabitation which would possibly open itself to polygamy. For a small party, F! received a lot of media attention, and American actress Jane Fonda even came to Sweden to support F!’s 2006 electoral campaign (in 2009, F! received a donation from ABBA’s Benny Andersson). In the end, F! won only 0.7%. In the 2009 EP elections, with Schyman’s candidacy, F! won 2.2%. In 2010, however, F!’s support fell to 0.4% (but Schyman won a seat on the local council of her hometown Simrishamn). Prior to the 2010 election, Schyman burned SEK100,000 to bring attention to the gender pay gap.
In 2014, F! experienced its first electoral breakthrough, winning 5.5% of the vote in the EP elections and winning one MEP (Soraya Post, who is of mixed Jewish and Roma ancestry, and sits in the Socialist group). After the EP success, F! enjoyed a surge in support and membership.
F!’s 2014 manifesto is available in English here. F! is a left-wing party – its manifesto talked of the ‘right to welfare and culture’, rejected the idea of work as end in itself (and that people need to be disciplined into working), saw welfare as a tool to build an egalitarian democratic society rather than a mere safety net, argued that human rights should come before economic growth, challenged the narrow conception of growth (based solely on economic terms) and identified discrimination, sexism and racism as the main ills to be fought. However, as a feminist party, it rejects Marxist class analysis as too limited and incapable of analyzing the patriarchal, hetero-normative and racist power structures. It brings attention to the gendered dimensions of modern political issues.
F!’s manifesto promised a labour market free from discrimination, political action for wage equality (with a ‘gender equality fund’ to finance wage increases in women-dominated sectors); a reduction of working hours to 6-hour work days; gender quotas; combining unemployment benefits, medical benefits and social security benefits into a combined social insurance scheme with guaranteed minimum levels of remuneration; an equal split of parental leave between both parents and the introduction of critical (norm-critical) pedagogy in schools (F! also called for increased human resources for school health, salary increases and professional development for teachers and smaller group sizes). On the issue of gender and sexual politics, F! supports criminalizing sex without consent; obligatory training within the justice system on issues such as violence, sexism, racism and human rights; improved sex-ed in schools; more accessible youth centers and clinics; facilitating the right to alter one’s gender; fighting all kinds of gender discrimination or practices which reinforce negative gender norms (including sexist advertising, strip clubs, porn); government core funding for women’s shelters; replacing marriage laws with a new co-habitation code that includes all types of families and tackling gender issues in education and healthcare (notably through norm critical education). F! defines itself as an anti-racist party, which seeks to fight racial/ethnic discrimination – its manifesto proposed the regularization (residence permits) of undocumented persons; refocusing the Migration Board’s duty from assessing people’s right to immigrate to Sweden to supporting new immigrants and working towards open borders.
The Feminists’ manifesto also promised state subsidies for eco-friendly housing; renovating the housing from the Million Programme (by phasing out the Alliance’s tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation and household services); taxing GHG emissions (striving for a UN-managed global tax on GHG emissions) including those from food production, to reduce meat consumption; a fully renewable energy system by 2040; investments in accessible public transport and free public transport. On diplomatic issues, F! seeks to challenge the patriarchal and paternalist systems of foreign and security policies, focusing instead on poverty reduction and feminist advocacy for women in the global south and against sexual exploitation. F! is pragmatic on the EU, but is critical of the lack of EU action on promoting gender equality, the militarization of the EU, the EU’s democratic deficit and EU asylum policy; it wants to push for more attention to women’s issues in the EU and women’s participation in decision-making.
Results and analysis
S – Social Democrats 31.01% (+0.35%) winning 113 seats (+1)
M – Moderates 23.33% (-6.74%) winning 84 seats (-23)
SD – Sweden Democrats 12.86% (+7.16%) winning 49 seats (+29)
Mp – Greens 6.89% (-0.45%) winning 25 seats (nc)
C – Centre 6.11% (-0.44%) winning 22 seats (-1)
V – Left 5.72% (+0.11%) winning 21 seats (+2)
Fp – Liberals 5.42% (-1.63%) winning 19 seats (-5)
KD – Christian Democrats 4.57% (-1.03%) winning 16 seats (-3)
F! – Feminists 3.12% (+2.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ÖVR – Others 0.97% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Red-Greens (S+Mp+V) 43.62% (+0.01%) winning 159 seats (+3)
Alliance 39.43% (-9.85%) winning 141 seats (-32)
NB: I refer to SVT’s exit poll below, which had a minor 0.7% average deviation from the final result, but had a 2.4% deviation with the SD result – predicted at 10.5% in the exit poll, but at 12.9% in reality. When SD numbers are referred to below, keep this in mind and perhaps add 2-3% on top of it to simulate reality.
The Swedish left won – by a very unimpressive margin and with numbers which disappoint many on the left – and the governing centre-right Alliance lost, more decisively; but, on the whole, the real winner of the election were the far-right SDs. The left’s victory had been looking very much like a fait accompli before the real campaign even began – the three left-wing parties had led the Alliance government in the polls for over two years, since March/April 2012, and most had predicted that the left would emerge victorious. The left’s lead over the government only grew beginning in the fall of 2013, taking a comfortable 10-point lead over the Alliance parties in all polls for about a year until August 2014.
After two terms in power, the centre-right was looking tired and without any enticing ideas with which to capture voters’ imagination. Swedish voters still trusted Fredrik Reinfeldt on issues such as the economy, taxes or personal finances – and Reinfeldt remained, on the whole, a net positive for his party. However, on other issues, the Social Democrats, under a more competent and unoffensive leader (Stefan Löfven) managed to regain voters’ trusts on other issues high on their minds, such as the welfare state, jobs or education. Many voters in 2014 turned against tax cuts, in favour of protecting the welfare state. According to the SVT exit poll, the top issues on voters’ minds were schools and education (60%, +6 on 2010), healthcare (54%, +5), the economy (53%, -1), social welfare (51%, +5) and employment (50%, -3). 35% also noted profits in welfare as one of their main preoccupations.
Scandals involving the government, high unemployment, voter fatigue and some unpopular or controversial policy issues (notably profit in welfare, where Swedes sided with the left) also hurt the government. Nevertheless, the Alliance managed to hold its own during the last stretch of the campaign – despite the smacking received by M in the May EP elections (a catastrophic third place finish behind the Greens) – and, with the Social Democrats proving to be quite uninspiring themselves, did close the gap somewhat – the last polls all showed that the left had lost its 10+ lead over the Alliance and that the gap between both blocs was in the single-digits, with some pollsters showing the Alliance within four points in their last polls. On election night, the three left-wing parties finished only 4.19% ahead of the Alliance. The 43.6% received by the left-wing parties is basically identical to their 2010 result, which had been a poor showing for the left. The Social Democrats only barely increased their result, to 31%, from their historic low in 2010.
The main question of the election had been whether the unofficial Red-Green bloc (S+Mp+V) could win an absolute majority, a prospect which became increasingly distant in the final days as the Alliance closed the gap and SD kept polling well. There was a big hubbub about what it would mean if S+Mp+V only won a plurality, or if S+Mp was smaller than the Alliance (and speculation about a potential S+Mp government falling if V didn’t play along with them outside of government and if SD backed the Alliance parties on the budget votes). In the end, the Red-Greens fell 16 seats short of an absolute majority (175), and S+Mp alone are indeed 3 seats smaller than all the Alliance parties combined.
The real winners, clearly, were the Sweden Democrats. The far-right party ended up with 12.9%, up over 7% on its 2010 breakthrough result, and finishing third. Sweden had famously ‘lagged behind’ Denmark and Norway in terms of the electoral strength of the populist right/far-right, but it caught up quite fast – the SDs result is even higher than what DF won in the last Danish election, although that’s meaningless given that DF will (in all likelihood) perform extremely well in next year’s Danish election. Although Swedish voters remain generally supportive of immigration, it’s clear that there’s a significant number of voters who are increasingly hostile or at least cool towards Sweden’s liberal immigration and multiculturalism policies – and those voters, who make up a significant share of the electorate, are currently fairly unrepresented by the existing parties. All the Alliance parties are pro-immigration and the left-wing parties, especially Mp and V, are also strongly in favour of immigration (S is the only party which has some vocal critics of open immigration, but the party does remain pro-immigration on the whole); in this context, the SDs are the only party who appeal to anti-immigration voters. The SDs may have been helped by the attention given to the issue of Syrian refugees in the last stretch of the campaign, including with Reinfeldt’s appeal for Swedes to ‘open their hearts’. According to the SVT exit poll, 17% of voters said that the SDs had the best policy on immigration and refugees – against 20% for S, 12% for M and 8% for Fp. On all other issues, only 3-5% of voters said that the SDs had the best policy.
With SD firmly established in Swedish politics and, for now, as the third largest party (and, of course, the potential kingmaker) there can be lots of speculation on the role which the SDs will manage to play in the coming years. It still appears unlikely that the other parties will break the official cordon sanitaire around SD and formally seek to work with them. The Alliance parties remain unlikely to move towards more restrictive immigration policies – C in particular has played itself up as a strong anti-SD party, and potential new leaders for the Alliance parties all look quite unlikely to lead right-wing transformations of their parties. In short, it is quite tough to see any of the Alliance parties moving right-wards, à la Danish Venstre, on immigration issues.
The Social Democrats had hoped to recover from their 2010 rout, and for a while it looked as if S stood a chance at reaching their 35% objective, but S lost support following the EP elections and during the campaign. The party’s inoffensive and uninspiring campaign resulted in loses to other parties on the left, although some voters likely switched to the Alliance over the course of the last few days when the right managed to significantly close the gap. Löfven may have been hurt from a small debate gaffe in the final debate; C leader Annie Lööf came up to his pulpit to hand him a paper, but a flustered Löfven raised his hand and brushed her arm away, an incident which created some buzz and which the right tried to exploit to paint him as a “Social Democratic strongman” (in the words of Reinfeldt). Löfven, who had no formal political/electoral experience before becoming leader, also faced questions about his experience – although his background as a calm and soft-spoken trade unionist is popular.
31% is a very weak result for S and an especially weak mandate for Löfven. In short, by playing it too cautious, S likely lost itself a number of swing voters. Like other Social Democrats in Europe, the Swedish Social Democrats have struggled in recent years as a result of their inability/weakness at reinventing themselves and responding to many new issues. According to SVT’s exit poll, 78% of S’s 2010 supporters voted for them again. S lost 6% to V, 4% to the Greens, 3% to the Feminists – so a total of 13% of its 2010 voters chose to vote for another left-wing party. It lost only 4% of its 2010 vote to the Alliance parties, but lost 5% to the SDs. The SDs, since 2010, have successfully made inroads in a number of traditionally solidly S demographics: LO members (6% in 2010 and 11% in 2014) and workers (9% in 2010 and 12% in 2014).
The Moderates, who had been responsible for the Alliance’s gains in 2010, now bore the brunt of the loses – losing a significant amount of support and falling to 23%, which was roughly M’s pre-Reinfeldt level of support in the 1990s, 2002 notwithstanding. M lost a significant amount of support across bloc boundaries to the far-right and S, while also suffering more minor loses to other Alliance parties. According to the exit poll, M only retained 63% of its 2010 vote, losing 8% to S and another 8% to the SDs. The far-right has made sizable gains with conservative M voters, who may not have been totally enamoured by the ‘New Moderates’ shift towards the centre; in both 2010 and 2014, SD also did fairly well with right-leaning demographics including entrepreneurs (4% in 2010, 8% in 2014) and farmers (8% in 2014, 4% in 2010), while in 2014 it improved its showing with white-collar employees to 6% from about 3-4% in 2010. M also lost a total of 17% of its 2010 vote to its Alliance partners – 6% to Fp, 4% to C and 3% to KD. Some of these may have been traditional supporters of those parties ‘returning home’ after supporting Reinfeldt (and M) in 2014, or perhaps ‘loan votes’ from right-wing voters who wanted to ensure that these parties, especially C and KD, made it past the 4% threshold. M lost 3% to Mp, which is probably far less than what M lost to the Greens back in the EP election in May, and only 1% apiece to V and F!.
Fredrik Reinfeldt resigned as Prime Minister immediately after the defeat and will also step down as M leader in the spring. He stayed true to his word that he wouldn’t try to hang on to power if the red-green bloc was larger than the Alliance.
The Sweden Democrats broadened their electorate in 2014 – their vote retention, especially for a protest party vulnerable to protest voters’ whims, was very strong (79%), and they attracted supporters from both the left and right. Only 41% of SDs’ 2014 voters had supported them in 2010 – a full 29% of their 2014 voters had voted M in 2010 and 16% had voted S. The SDs drew much smaller amounts from parties with electorates far more hostile to SD – only 5% from Fp, 3% from the KD, and 2% apiece from V, Mp and C. In terms of support across age groups, SDs’ support was far more balanced than in 2010. In the last election, SD won 6% with young voters 18-21, but only 5% with those 22 to 30, 4% with those 31 to 64 and 3% with those older than 65. This year, SD won 8%, 7%, 8% and 8% respectively in those age groups. In 2010, the stereotypical SD voter was a young working-class male with low education (‘the angry youth white man’) – i.e. a fairly typical European far-right voter. This year, SD has a more balanced electorate – although they still have clear ‘weak groups’.
The Greens did surprisingly poorly, which is certainly extremely disappointing for them just a few months after their remarkable second place finish (15.4%) in the EP elections. The Greens, whose 7.3% result in 2010 marked their highest showing in a Riksdag election, had been polling 8-10% in the final days (and a bit higher, up to 12%, in the period before that). The Greens, granted, tend to lose support in the final days of an election – a similar fate befell them in 2010, falling from about 9-10%, and they generally underperform their polling numbers. The Greens tend to have a fairly unstable electorate – they retained only half of their 2010 vote. The main ‘culprit’ for their poor showing this year seems to be F! – 19% of Mp’s 2010 voters went over to the Feminists this year, in addition to 13% who vote S, 10% who voted V and a total of 7% who switched to the Alliance (3% M, 2% C, 1% Fp and 1% KD). The Greens did gain some votes from S and M – 15% and 10% of those parties’ 2010 voters switched to the Greens, as did 5% of V voters from 4 years ago and 4% of C and Fp voters. The Feminists, unsurprisingly, hurt the Greens most with younger voters – according to SVT, Green support fell 3% (16% to 13%) with younger adults 22 to 30 and by 1% (16% to 15%) with those 18 to 21; in those groups, F! won 11% and 9% respectively.
The Centre Party can be very pleased with its result – losing only minimally from 2010 (-0.4% and 1 seat). It is a result made even more remarkable when one takes into account the kind of trouble and tough times C went through in a not-so-distant past. Before the EP election (when C did quite well), C had been hovering around the 4% threshold with serious concern that C, like KD, could fall out of the Riksdag. The Centrists had been in these dire straits since around 2013, when C was in the midst of divisive internal policy debates and new leader Annie Lööf was stumbling. Then the Centre Party remembered how to run a winning campaign, which played up C as a tough anti-SD choice, and it worked wonders. C retained 55% of its 2010 vote, losing 12% to M, 7% to S, 7% to Mp, 7% to Fp and 6% to KD (only 3% to SD, 2% to F! and 1% to V); on the other hand, it also gained quite a bit from M (26% of C’s 2014 voters had voted M in 2010) and Fp (13% of its voters).
The Left may be slightly disappointed with its result – 5.7%, which is only a very minor 0.1% gain (+1 seat), which still places it below its mediocre 2006 result. In the polls, V was polling 6-7% in the last stretch of the campaign and even higher (7-9%) before then. With a new and less controversial leader in Jonas Sjöstedt, V was probably hoping for more. V also had a real winning issue in its hands, with which it could realistically hope to attract new left-wing voters – profit in welfare. In the SVT exit poll, 21% of voters said V was the best party on the issue, compared to 20% for S and 17% for M. The issue was the most important issue for V’s voters, and was also quite important (although less so) for left-wing voters (the Alliance and SDs’ voters didn’t care much). To a certain extent, V’s popularity (on the left) on this new issue helped them attract some votes from S and Mp (21% and 12% of V’s vote this year came from people who had voted S and Mp respectively in 2010). However, V was hurt by F!’s relative success – no less than one-fifth of V’s 2010 voters went for F! instead this year, with an additional 14% switching to the Social Democrats (another 5% went Green).
The Liberals and Christian Democrats also suffered more substantial loses on the right, with both parties suffering loses across blocs to S and within the bloc to other parties (M and C, mostly). Nevertheless, both parties remained above the 4% threshold – KD, as the smallest right-wing party, faces the same danger of falling below the threshold in every election, and KD was indeed polling below 4% in most polls before the EP elections, when KD performed relatively well and moved back up above the 4% threshold in subsequent polls. Fp, which underperformed its polling numbers, was probably hurt by C’s recovery (11% of its 2010 voters went over to C this year).
The Feminists, one of the major question marks of this election, ended up winning only 3.1%, compared to 5.9% in the EP election. F! saw a brief surge in support before and shortly after the EP election, but its momentum petered out slowly, although it regained some ground in the very last days. With the other major question of the election being whether S+Mp+V would get an absolute majority, there was some effort on the left to bring F! above the 4% threshold in a bid to get an absolute majority with F!. As part of this final push from F!, Gudrun Schyman appeared onstage at American singer Pharrell Williams’ concert in Stockholm on the eve of the election. F!’s results were frustrating for the other parties on the left, from a strategic standpoint – the 3% for F! more or less ended up as wasted votes, which would otherwise have gone to left-wing parties in the Riksdag (Mp and V). However, even if F! had made it in the Riksdag by winning over 4% or if it had won slightly less support (and the difference had instead gone to, say, Mp or V) the centre-left bloc would still have fallen short of an absolute majority. Overall, 77% of F!’s voters came from people who had voted for the three leftist parties in 2010 – 33% from the Greens, 30% from the Left and 14% from SAP (an additional 10% had already voted F! in 2010) – compared to only 10% which came from the Alliance parties (5% from M). In terms of issues, F!’s voters obviously placed gender equality as their top concern while 18% of voters saw F! as the most competent party on that issue (tied for first with S). According to the SVT exit poll, 8% of women voted for the Feminists compared to 4% of men. F!’s support, as alluded to above, was predominantly young.
The Pirate Party – Sweden’s Pirates were among the first in the world (first running in 2006) and the first to achieve notable electoral success (in the 2009 EP elections), but they have since been losing steam and has dwindled into irrelevance – won only 0.4%, down 0.22% from 2010. In the fun world of write-in votes, the most popular option was Partiet De Fria (607 votes), which seems to be an informally organized aspiring party operating in the conspiratorial right-libertarian sphere of politics with rants against banks, the EU and other alleged conspiracies (Bilderberg Group); amusingly, it won more votes than the registered Swedish Communist Party (SKP, which is the continuation of a pro-Soviet split from V in the 1970s). The old satirical Donald Duck party won 115 votes, the Satanistiskt initiativ (a parody of F!) won 67 votes and the ‘Communist Party’ won 50 votes.
On the bases of these numbers, Stefan Löfven was able to become Prime Minister at the helm of a minority government. Löfven was quick to rule out a coalition including V, which visibly irritated V and Jonas Sjöstedt – who had wanted to be part of a coalition with the left-wing parties, although with strict conditions – but which came as little surprise as it had been clear, in the weeks before the vote, that there was little appetite in S or Mp ranks for a coalition government V. Jonas Sjöstedt had previously more or less conditioned government participation to a full ban on profit in welfare, which was not something S and Mp are amenable towards. Löfven had repeatedly, during the campaign, indicated his desire to work across the aisle with Fp and C; V doesn’t want anything to do with those two centre-right parties, while those two centre-right parties likewise don’t want to be with V. However, Fp and later C quickly rejected Löfven’s advances. Liberal leader Jan Björklund said that the ball was now in Löfven’s court, meaning that he had the responsibility of forming a government. Annie Lööf, who comes out of the vote in a surprisingly strong position (as the leader of the second-largest party, especially as M will be looking for a new leader now), unsurprisingly rejected Löfven’s proposal, reminding him that S had worked with SD in the past legislature to block some Alliance budget planks. The small Alliance parties may cooperate with S+Mp on consensual policy issues.
The Speaker nominated Löfven to form a government with S and Mp. On October 2, the Riksdag confirmed Löfven’s nomination as Prime Minister, with 132 votes in favour (S and Mp) and 49 against (SD) with 154 abstentions (the Alliance and V). V, which had voted ‘yes’ to previous S governments in the past – notably in 1982 and 1994 – abstained, which was a pretty clear warning shot aimed at the government. V’s speech in the Riksdag in the debate preceding the vote was quite critical of the new government, criticizing Löfven for not choosing to govern to his left and warning the government that while it would support it on certain issues it wouldn’t become its ‘passive support’ and instead be the left-wing alternative. Löfven announced his new cabinet, which includes Mp ministers – notably Åsa Romson, the Greens’ co-spokesperson as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment. The Greens will also hold the portfolios of International Development and Cooperation, Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs (a ‘Deputy Minister of Finance’ post), Education (for Gustav Fridolin, the Greens’ young male co-spokesperson), Housing and Urban Development, and Culture and Democracy. Notable names in the cabinet include Sweden’s acclaimed former European Commissioner and UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict zones Margot Wallström, who will be Minister of Foreign Affairs, while economist and former Director-General of the Swedish Tax Agency Magdalena Andersson will be Minister of Finance.
It will be a very moderate government by the looks of it all – the Greens compromised and agreed to drop their opposition to defense spending, shutting down nuclear power plants and the 1994 S-bourgeois pension agreement, while S dropped their tough stance on labour migration. The new government has promised to scrap the current time limit on the duration of sick leave/sickness insurance (introduced by the right), abolish Phase 3, raise the school leaving age by 2 years to 18 years old (the left argues this will improve their employment prospects because the unemployment rate of HS dropouts is very high), raise the ceiling on unemployment insurance (recipients will get up to 80% of their wage and it should no longer drop off gradually based on duration of unemployment) and push large companies to have 40% of women on their boards by 2016 (or face legislative action). What retained the most attention around the world, however, was the government’s announcement that it intends to recognize Palestine. Löfven has already taken flack for a flip-flop on VAT in restaurants/cafés (the Alliance cut it by half, but S was very critical of it as an inefficient use of money but it won’t be raising it now) and the RUT (the tax deduction for domestic services); in both cases, they result from compromises with the Greens, who supported both policies.
The next step, in November, will be for the government to present its budget bill. In the Swedish budgetary process, opposition parties may also submit their own budgets, and it seems as if the Alliance will present a common one as will SD. The budget issue could be tricky and potentially very dangerous for the government – after the election, SD leader Jimmie Åkesson said that he was open to voting in favour of the Alliance’s budget proposal, on the unlikely off chance that SD likes it (which is very unlikely as the Alliance will probably propose increasing resources for the migration office), which would then mean that the government would have a majority against its budget and would lead to early elections; but this was mostly trolling to send journalists in their usual hysteric frenzy. It remains very likely that the government will still manage to pass their budget. On other issues, the government will need to work with V and the Alliance parties (or SD) or rely on the passive abstention of one of those parties. Which means that it is a government with a very weak mandate, which is unlikely to effect substantial policy changes.
The SVT exit poll had some other interesting points. The questions on the top issues brought out interesting dimensions in terms of how different parties’ voters ranked the major issues, and the perceived competence of the parties on those issues. While education, healthcare and seniors were major issues across the board (although education was less important for SD voters and healthcare less important for M, C and F! voters), the right was more deeply concerned about the Swedish economy (it was the top issue for M, C and KD voters) and their personal economy; the left, in turn, was more concerned about issues including social welfare, profits in welfare (there was a very big left-right split here in terms of importance given) and housing. The environment was the top issue for Green voters but also ranked highly for F! (#3), C (#4) and V (#7) while S supporters did not show as much concern (#14) and Fp, M and SD voters ranked the environment at the bottom. Gender equality, obviously the top issue for F! voters, was also one of the top 10 issue for V, Green, Fp and C voters (reflecting the most actively feminist parties) but the second least-important concern for SD supporters. Immigration was the top issue for SD voters, and it also ranked highly – certainly for the opposite reasons – for F! (#6) and Mp (#9) voters, while Alliance voters didn’t think much of it. Law and order was the second most important issue for SD voters, and the eight most important for M voters; but it was less important for supporters of the three other Alliance parties and even less so for left-wing voters. Business conditions were some of the least important considerations for left-wing and SD voters, but voters from all four Alliance parties ranked it in the top 10. Taxes were a top 10 issue for KD and M voters, but less important for C and Fp voters.
In terms of issue competence, M led S 39% to 27% on the ‘Swedish economy’, by 10 (34-24) on one’s ‘personal economy’ and also held a 6 point lead on S on taxation. On education, S was the most competent for 27% of voters while Fp was most competent for 22% of voters (a clear sign of Fp’s success as a ‘niche party’ for education issues on the right), with only 11% for M and 10% for V. On employment, S was statistically tied with M with a 1-point edge (31-30), with 7% giving top marks to V on this issue. On healthcare, S had a decisive 19-point lead over M (31% to 12%), with good marks for V (12%), KD (10%) and Fp (7%) as well. On social welfare, S also led M by 16, 31% to 15%, with 12% giving top marks to V and 7% to Fp; S also led M on pensions (29-14, V 9%). On the environment, the Greens were the most competent for 42% of voters, with C coming in second with 22% – again a clear sign of C’s success as a ‘niche party’ for environmental issues on the right – and only 10% for S and 6% for M. On profits in welfare, as noted above, V led S by 1 (21% to 20%), with M at 17%. On gender equality, F! and S were tied at 18% apiece, with good numbers for V (9%) and Fp (9%). On immigration, S led SD by 3, 20% to 17%, with 12% to M, 9% to V and 8% to Fp. It should be noted that SD remains very much of a one-issue party, or at least one defined by one issue – besides immigration, the best SD scored on any other issue was 5% (pensions), with only 2-4% giving it top marks on any of the other issues. F! was also a one-issue party to voters, with recognized ‘expertise’ on gender equality but little elsewhere (besides 4% on immigration). In terms of blocs, the left led clearly on the environment (55-30), immigration (35-28-17), healthcare (46-32), social welfare (47-32), pensions (40-28) and profits in welfare (44-30); the right only led clearly on the economy (45-35) and personal economy (43-33).
In demographic terms, there were few surprises. The gender gap is minimal, although SD remains considerably more masculine (10% to 6%) while the Greens and F! are more feminine (10-7 and 8-4 respectively). Younger voters, naturally, tend to be more supportive of new parties – the Greens, F! and (historically) SD – while S and M are considerably weaker with younger groups (S won 20% and 23% and M won 19% in the 18-21 and 20-23 groups respectively); older voters are more supportive of S and M, with S winning 37% with those over 65 (23% for M) and 28% with those 31 to 64. Green support drops to only 3% with voters over 65. V, C, Fp and now SD have balanced support across all age groups (although V is a bit weaker with the oldest folks) while KD does better with seniors (7% with those 65+). According to a more detailed historical breakdown of voting patterns (1956-2010) published in 2011 by Göteborgs Universitet, S has usually had balanced support among both genders but M is generally a bit more male-heavy; in terms of age, the Greens (and V) seem to be strongest with young adults 23-40 (instead of the youngest voters), S’ support has historically held up better with older voters while it lost more to other parties over time with younger voters.
Class remains a salient cleavage in vote choice in Sweden. The Social Democrats won blue-collar workers with 40% against only 13% for M, with a strong 12% for the far-right. V polled 9% and Mp 8% with workers. Historically, however, S won upwards of 70% of industrial workers’ votes, having been hurt by V (in 1998 and 2002) and by M (in 2006 and 2010). S also won LO unionized workers 50% to 11% (SD), with 10% apiece for V and M; likewise, this is also significantly lower than S results with LO members in the heydays of social democracy. The Moderates narrowly retained officials/white-collar workers, 26% to 23% (it had won them 34% to 20% in 2010), with solid numbers for Fp (8%), Greens (9%), C (7%) and V (8%) but weaker results for SD. According to the more detailed aforecited study, right-wing support increases with the rank of the employee – S wins lower-level employees by a wide margin, while M wins higher-level employees (managerial) by resounding margins, with those in between splitting more equally (the Greens do best with mid-level employees, and Fp with higher-level employees). Unsurprisingly, entrepreneurs remained resoundingly right-wing, voting 36% for M and only 15% for S, with a solid 10% for C (which often defends small businesses) and above-average for Mp (8%), Fp and KD as well. Farmers voted C 45% to 14% each for M and S; although small sample sizes in recent years make it tough to see whether M or KD have made lasting inroads with previously C-voting farmers. As in other countries, public sector employees backed the left by a wide margin – 34% for S, 10% for V and 9% for Mp compared to 33% for the Alliance (with 16% for M) and 7% each for SD and F!; in Sweden, those employed by municipal governments are more left-wing (56% red-green) than those who worked for the State (47% red-green). Private sector employees narrowly preferred M over S, 27% to 25%, with a solid showing for SD (9%) and average support for the other parties.
Unemployed voters split 37% S, 17% M and 13% SD, while those currently on sick leave voted heavily for the left (43% S, 15% V) and SD (14%). Students went in large numbers to the smaller left-wing parties – only 21% for S, but 15% for the Greens, 14% for the Feminists and 10% for the Left; M managed 16%, with 7% apiece for C and Fp while the far-right recorded only 5% of students’ votes. The exit polls had no data on education levels, unfortunately; however, the study linked to above has some old data on education levels, which showed that voters with high education (tied to wealth, which is another major vote determinant in Sweden) have tended to lean heavily towards the right, M and Fp in particular (even more so in the past; 57% in 2010), with strong support for the Greens (16% in 2010) but very weak numbers for S (18% in 2010) and the far-right (1%). Voters with low educational achievement have, on the other hand, tended to solidly support S (about 50% in 2010) with weak numbers for the right (34% in 2010) and the Greens (2% in 2010) but also the highest support for SD (7% in 2010). Interestingly, the data also broke down voting patterns based on the field of education – teaching, the humanities, arts seem to be particularly pro-Green (no surprises); health and social care seem to be pro-S while administration, technical education and engineering seem to be right-leaning.
A more recent solid reservoir of support for S has been immigrants and foreign-born Swedes, particularly non-Europeans. With voters who themselves and their parents grew up outside of Europe, 43% voted S, 18% voted V and only 14% voted for the Moderates (some 3% voted SD) – a total of 71% of the vote for the three parliamentary left-wing parties. The Social Democrats also performed well with non-Nordic Europeans, receiving 41% of their votes against 20% for M and 8% for SD and V each (a more modest 53% for the red-greens); however, non-Swedish Nordics more or less voted in line with the country.
Religious practice is a secondary, but fairly important, factor in vote choice. The Social Democrats showed little variation with degrees of religiosity. However, KD’s support varies directly in relation to religiosity – among voters who claimed that they went to church at least once a month, 24% voted KD – making them the second-largest party behind S (26%) and far ahead of their Alliance partners, including M (14%). According to the document linked to above, KD polled even better with regular church-goers in its better years – up to 37-40% of the vote in 1998 and 2002. With voters at the other end – those who never go to church – the Christian Democrats won only 2% of the vote, compared to 27% for S, 22% for M, 11% for V and 10% for the Greens. Amusingly, the Fp have lost all traces of their past links to the free churches – whereas up until the 1970s, Fp’s support increased with higher church attendance, Fp now is weakest with regular church-goers (5%). Interestingly, while V and F! clearly poll better with less religious voters, religiosity does not seem to have an impact on the Greens, who polled 9% with regular church-goers and 10% with those who never go. The far-right is weakest with the most religious voters; the Church of Sweden has spoken out against SD’s immigration policies.
The SVT exit poll also included interesting data on ideological self-identification. In this election, a plurality of respondents identified as left-wing (43%) rather than right-wing (36%), with 20% identifying with neither. In 2006 and 2010, elections won by the right, a plurality of respondents identified with the right (42-38 in 2010 and 41-37 for the right in 2006); going back further, most identified on the left in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 elections – all won by the left – but most identified with the right in 1991. Unsurprisingly, almost all V voters identify as left-wing (96%). An increasing number, from the 1990s, of S voters also identify as left-wing (74%, compared to 67% in 1991), due to a decline in the percentage of S voters identifying with neither left nor right. Green voters have also shifted heavily towards left-wing self-identification (69%, and over 70% in 2006 and 2010; compared to 43% in 1991), due to a decline in the percentage of their voters identifying as neither but also those identifying as right-wing (14% in 1991). On the other hand, C voters have moved in the opposite direction, with far heavier self-identification with the right than in the 1990s (65% in 2014, 42% in 1991). An increasing number of Fp and KD voters also identify with the right (73% and 77% respectively in 2014, compared to 60% and 56% in 1991). Moderates voters have always identified very heavily with the right, although since Reinfeldt and 2006, there’s been a small decline in the intensity of their right-wing identification – 84% in 2014, compared to 91% in 1998 and 2002. Finally, in 2014, SD voters identified largely as right-wing (44%) or neither (39%), with only 17% identifying as left-wing.
Geographically, Swedish elections are marked by a rough (and certainly not universal/perfect) north-south and urban-rural divide. Class remains the top voting determinant, as the exit polls may tell you. Working-class regions remain solidly left-wing, with weak results for the right, although in many cases SD has become a very important force in blue-collar towns and neighborhoods (running a distant second to SAP or a very strong third behind M). Upper-class and upper middle-class areas – ‘villa suburbs’ (single-detached homes) – are, on the other hand, solidly right-wing: in urban areas, this is where M, Fp and C usually do best (the KD may also poll well, although their vote tends to be less correlated with high income). Gentrified inner-city areas with young, single, mobile and well-educated populations or student precincts near universities provide the best results for the ‘alternative left’ – Mp, V and F!. Rural areas’ voting, in reality, depends on what type of ‘rural area’ it is: industrialized, working-class towns in rural inland Sweden are Social Democratic strongholds (in some cases with some substantial support for V, and in most cases today with strong support for SD); rural areas more dominated by agriculture in the past still are the Centre Party’s best regions (for all the hubbub about C’s green-libertarian shift, rural areas remain C’s stomping ground and cities are its weakest spots).
Northern Sweden is solidly left-wing – the Social Democrats won 48.7% in Norrbotten County, 46.3% in Västernorrland County, 42% in Västerbotten County, 39.8% in Jämtland County and 38.2% in Gävleborg County (its best results in the country) – and two of V’s three best constituencies were also in Norrland – Västerbotten (11%) and Norrbotten (8.6%). On the other hand, the Greens placed below their national average in every Norrland county, while F! only polled above its national average in Västerbotten County. The Moderates’ five lowest results in the country came from the north, polling as low as 12.9% in Norrbotten County. This traditional pattern corresponds to the diffuse nature of Sweden’s resource-based industrialization – most major industrial centres were located outside the major cities, notably Stockholm. Resource-rich but sparsely populated northern Sweden is an old resource-based industrial region – forestry, the timber industry and iron ore mining have been very important to region’s economy. Kiruna and Gällivare municipalities in the Malmfälten (ore fields) region of Norrbotten County were very important iron ore mining centres, which have featured prominently in Sweden’s economic and labour history (with the LKAB strike in 1969-1970), while the port city of Luleå has been the base of a large metallurgical industry. Sundsvall in Västernorrland was the centre of a large sawmill/pulp and paper industry, while Skellefteå had an important gold mining industry. Working-class and poor, the region has long leaned to the left, although the Centrists had strong support in more rural locations (C won 11.3%, its second best result, in Jämtland County, which has less industry) and Västerbotten County had an important free church/non-conformist base (the county used to be one of Fp’s strongest counties, but has since died out). The Communists were strong in the iron ore fields. Since the 1960s, the region has experienced economic downturns and out-migration – the population peaked in the 1960s and has since declined, and the steel industry was hit by the 1970s steel crisis. Today, the public sector is a major employer. Some cities have successfully transitioned to a post-industrial economy, especially Umeå in Västerbotten County, which is home to the north’s most prominent university.
While the left did well in Norrland again, the far-right made some substantial gains. In Gävleborg County, SD won 16% – up from 7% in 2014 – making it one of its best counties in Sweden; but SD also managed some impressive results in Norrbotten County, with 11%, compared to only 4.2% in 2010. In Norrbotten County, both S and V lost support (-3.1% for S and – 0.7% v), meaning that a substantial part of SDs’ +7% gain came at the left’s expense. In the old mining town of Gällivare, SD won 15%, making it the second largest party behind S (50.5%) and ahead of V (11.6%). In Kiruna, SD won 13.2% against 47.4% for S and 11.6% for V. In Gävleborg County, SD won 15.8% in the industrial city of Gävle and even higher in smaller working-class sawmill or railway towns. However, SD remained below its national average in every county except Gävleborg, and Västerbotten County was its second-worst constituency with only 7.4% of the vote. In the university town of Umeå, SD won only 5.7% – the Left (12.3%), Greens (8.1%) and Feminists (6%) did quite well in the city. In the old industrial town of Skellefteå, which has regenerated with a IT industry, SD also did poorly (7.8%) while S won a landslide (50.2%).
On the other hand, the Stockholm region leans heavily towards the right. The Moderates defeated the Social Democrats in Stockholm county (which excludes the city itself) 32.7% to 24.1%, while in Stockholm city, M won 27.7% against 21.6% for S and 11.2% for the Greens.
As noted in the demographic analysis, class remains a salient cleavage and the Moderates are stereotypically painted by their opponents as an elitist, upper-class party. While that’s a gross oversimplification, the Moderates’ best results come from wealthy areas. Stockholm county includes some of Sweden’s most affluent suburban localities, which are also some of the most right-wing areas in the country. In Danderyd, the wealthiest town in Sweden, M won 49.98% – down slightly from 2010 – while S only came in fifth, behind the three other Alliance parties (Fp 11.9%, KD 10.5%, C 7.1%). The Moderates also won by similarly massive margins in other very affluent suburban municipalities such as Täby (45.3%), Lidingö (44.7%) and Vaxholm (41.1%). The Social Democrats were more successful in poorer suburban municipalities such as Botkyrka, where S won 36.2% to M’s 22.1% and SDs’ 10.3% – the northern half of the town includes a lot of poor immigrant areas (in the Botkyrka Norra election district, S won 50.1% against 12.3% for M and 9% for V); or in Södertälje, a manufacturing centre with a large immigrant population, where S won 32% against 23.1% for M and 12.4% for SD.
The city of Stockholm has traditionally leaned towards the bourgeois party – the city, which was never a working-class industrial capital, is wealthy and often known for its very high house prices. The Moderates won 27.7% in the city against 21.6% for S, 11.2% for the Greens, 7.9% for the Liberals and 7.2% for F! – which won its best national result in the capital city. There is a strong class divide in voting patterns in the city. The Moderates and their allies are strongest in Stockholm’s wealthy upscale districts, such as Östermalm, Norrmalm, Bromma, Västerled and so forth – in the Norrmalm-Östermalm-Gamla Stan electoral district, which includes many of Stockholm’s affluent neighborhoods, M won 42.3% against 11.5% for Fp and only 10.2% for S. The right also dominated in the predominantly affluent Bromma-Kungsholmen electoral district, with M winning 35.1% against 14.5% for S, 10.6% for the Liberals and 10.3% for the Greens. However, in the Yttre Västerort district – which includes the ‘rough’ low-income immigrant neighborhoods of Rinkeby, Tensta and Husby – S won 35.1% against 22.7% for the Moderates. In the most heavily immigrant precincts, S received between 60 and 70% of the vote, although it did suffer some loses to the Greens and/or the Left in some low-income immigrant precincts. The district also includes some lower-income blue-collar neighborhoods in Hässelby-Vällingby borough. The gentrified central district of Södermalm, as well as other young bobo-type areas (Aspudden, Gröndal, Midsommarkransen, Årsta) are the Greens’ main strongholds in the city – in the electoral district of Södermalm-Enskede, the Greens placed third with 14.2% and the Feminists won a solid fourth place with 11.1% of the vote (eating into the Green vote, which fell 2.7%). First and second place went to M (23.2%) and S (19.5%), while V won sixth with 9.8%. In other neighborhoods of the city, the general trends were similar – the Social Democrats dominant in Million Programme-era low-income suburban areas (such as high-rise immigrant neighborhood Skärholmen, the Alliance parties hegemonic in upscale villa suburbs while the smaller left-wing parties (Mp, V, F!) won some good results in more middle-class, post-war/Million Programme suburbs. Stockholm, which is predominantly a well-educated and high-income city, was the weakest region in the country for the far-right (as was already the case previously), with SD winning only 6.6% in the city, its best results coming from the southeastern electoral district of Östra Söderort (8%, with its best results there coming from precincts in low-income Farsta and Hagsätra).
The Centre Party won 4.9% in Stockholm, better than what it won in Sweden’s two other major cities, but still very much at the low end of C’s national results. That’s one of the major issues with C’s libertarian/green-shift of late – its base remains rural, and votes gained in urban areas have not compensated for loses in rural areas. In urban areas, C’s vote seems to be tightly correlated with high incomes or high levels of education (since C won over 5% in the university towns of Uppsala and Lund, it also has a small base with libertarian students).
Class voting is starkest in Stockholm – according to this electoral atlas from 2010, there was a remarkably solid positive correlation between median income and the Alliance, particularly M and C, and a very strong positive correlation between the foreign-born population and the SAP vote.
In Svealand – central Sweden – outside of the capital region – the Social Democrats won some strong results: 39.1% in Värmland County, 37.9% in Örebro County, 35.9% in Västmanland County, 35.5% in Dalarna County and 34.6% in Södermanland County. In Uppsala County, the Social Democrats won only 28.9%, however, due to the the university town of Uppsala.
The other counties of inland central Sweden are, somewhat like Norrland, historically working-class industrial areas – specifically the Bergslagen, an old iron ore mining district straddling parts of Västmanland, Örebro, Värmland and Dalarna counties. The region is dotted with small industrial centres (mostly based around the iron and steel industries) and traditional left-wing SAP strongholds such as Borlänge (Dalarna County, 37.3% S), Avesta (Dalarna County, 41.8% S), Hedemora/Långshyttan (Dalarna County, 35.1% S), Ludvika (Dalarna County, 40.6% S), Fagersta (Västmanland County, 45% S), Söderfors (Uppsala County, 55.3% S), Surahammar (Västmanland County, 45.4% S), Hallstahammar (Västmanland County, 45% S), Karlskroga (Örebro County, 44.7% S), Degerfors (Örebro County, 51.2% S), Ljusnarsberg (Örebro County, 42% S), Filipstad (Värmland County, 46.2% S), Hagfors (Värmland County, 54.1% S), Munkfors (Värmland County, 58.1% S), Kristinehamn (Värmland County, 41.2% S), Arvika (Värmland County, 39.4% S), Oxelösund (Södermanland County, 44.1% S), Eskilstuna (Södermanland County, 35.5% S) and Nyköping (Södermanland County, 34% S). Although the left remained far ahead and the right did very poorly in these towns, SAP’s performance was comparatively poor – in most of the aforecited localities, S (and V, which is strong in some of these areas as well) lost votes compared to the 2010 election, while the far-right SDs did very well. SD won 16.8% in Dalarna County (winning 20% in Ludvika, 19.4% in Avesta, 17.7% in Borlänge), 15.1% in Södermanland County (with peaks at 20.5% in Vingåker and 16.6% in Eskiltuna), 14.8% in Västmanland County (18.6% in Fagersta), 14.4% in Örebro County (23.7% in Ljusnarsberg, 18% in Hällefors) and 12.6% in Värmland County (21.3% in Filipstad, 17.5% in Storfors but only 11.4% in Munkfors and Kristinehamn). The major cities of Västerås, Örebro and Karlstad were also industrial cities in the past – but with a more diversified economy and wealthier population – the Alliance performs better (and SD is weak), although S still won 34.7% in Karlstad, 32.4% in Örebro and 32.5% in Västerås (which had narrowly backed the Alliance in 2010).
As noted above, the prestigious and well-educated university city of Uppsala is weaker ground for the Social Democrats – who placed first, albeit with only 25.9% against 22.3% for M. The Greens (10.6% and third), Left (7.7%) and Feminists (5.6%) all polled very well in the municipality (and even better, naturally, in the city core and the student areas); while the far-right was predictably quite weak (8.1%). In Uppsala Mellersta electoral district, which includes the city core, M won 23% against 21.1% for S and 12.9% for the Greens. F! and V each won 8.1%; these ‘alternative’ leftist parties are especially strong in the student precincts (where F! or the Greens topped the poll), while the Social Democrats are stronger in low-income housing projects in the city’s peripheral regions and the right is strongest in the affluent and pricey inner city core (a spatial pattern repeated in other major cities and towns in Sweden).
Southern Sweden – Götaland – is politically diverse. The Social Democrats won Östergotland County with 32.6% against 22.3% for M and 14.4% for SD, with the SAP’s best numbers coming from the industrial cities of Finspång (43.2%), Boxholm (44.1%), Motala (39.8%) and Mjölby (37.7%). The major cities- the Saab manufacturing town of Linköping (29.1% S, narrow Alliance plurality) and the old textile centre of Norrköping (30.9% S) are politically mixed. Norrköping also had a very strong showing from SD (16.3%) thanks to its strong performance in low-income suburban housing projects.
Jönköping County is Sweden’s ‘bible belt’ (or frikyrkolänet) – the free churches, and the associated grassroots movements, are strong in the county; in the Gnosjöregionen in the southwest of the couty, there is also a strong conservative entrepreneurial tradition (Gnosjöandan). The Christian Democrats always win their best results in this county – this year, they won 10.4%, down from 12.9% in 2010. The Social Democrats, with 31.8%, placed first, while M placed second with 20.3%. The far-right placed third with 14.6%; by the looks of the SD numbers in KD strongholds such as Sävsjö (18.7% SD), the far-right must also have taken votes from the Christian Democrats. The left has some strength in railway towns or small industrial centres such as Tranås (36.1% S), Gislaved (35.4% S), Nässjö (33.8% S) as well as parts of Jönköping municipality (30.5% S vs. 21.9% M). The ‘bible belt’ does not spill over into other parts of Småland – in Kronoberg County , KD won only 5% and in Kalmar County only 4.6%; these regions have historically been dominated by the Church of Sweden. The ‘bible belt’ does have some spillover in the Gothenburg archipelago, however – Donsö and Vrångö islands off of Gothenburg, where KD won first with 34.3%, seem to be evangelical fishing communities.
The Social Democrats won the most votes in Kalmar County – 35.5% to M’s 20.4% and SD’s 15.3%; in Kronoberg County – 32.4% to M’s 21.9% and SD’s 15.6% and in Blekinge County – 37.2% to M’s 19.4% and a remarkable 18.6% for SD. Kronoberg County is a largely conservative region, although the centre-left parties won more votes than the Alliance there this year, with a strong rural base for C (9.1%) and the left’s strength usually limited to parts of the county capital of Växjö and the sawmill town of Lessebo (41.5% S). In Kalmar County, the left is considerably stronger – with its strength centered in the small industrial centres of Emmabodda (40.1% S), Hultsfred (39.6% S), Nybro (36.8% S), Västervik (39.3% S) and the shipbuilding and heavy manufacturing city of Oskarshamn (37.8% S) – although the right is usually strong on the island of Öland, in rural non-industrial areas and in the affluent coastal neighborhoods of the city of Kalmar. Blekinge County is the most left-wing county in the south of the country, thanks to solid Social Democratic votes in the shipbuilding coastal cities of Karlskrona and Karlsham and the industrial towns of Olofström and Sölvesborg. All three of these counties have suffered from rural depopulation and, especially so in the case of Blekinge County, the effects of deindustrialization and job losses. The far-right is strong throughout these three counties, both in working-class left-leaning towns and more rural localities which are more right-wing. In Blekinge County, SD polled 25% in Sölvesborg, 21.6% in Ronneby and 19.6% in Olofström. As one might except, SD is weaker in larger cities – or at least those which are wealthier – such as Kalmar (13.1% SD).
The island of Gotland is the Centre Party’s strongest region – it won third place with 13.4%, down about one point from the last election. The Social Democrats, who are strong in Visby – the island’s only major city – and the cement manufacturing town of Slite – placed first on the island with 32.2%, followed by the Moderates with 21.3%. Likely because of the importance of the tourism industry in the region, the far-right won only 8.2% on Gotland. The Centre Party won only 6.2% in urban Visby but 20.7% in the southern half of the island and 16.3% in the northern half.
The Moderates did well in Halland County, winning 27.7% against 28.4% for S and 12.9% for SD. The coastal north of the county – Kungsbacka municipality, where M won 38% to SAP’s 17.1% – includes some very affluent suburbs of Gothenburg. The rest of the county is more on the left – the mill town of Hylte is your typical SAP-stronghold industrial town (38.7% S, with SD in second with 18.5%), while the port cities of Varberg, Falkenberg and Halmstad are more divided – with affluent coastal areas and villages voting for the right, and S strong in working-class and low-income urban neighborhoods.
The Moderates won the city of Gothenburg/Göteborg by a hair – 23.9% to the Social Democrats’ 23.7%, followed by the Greens (9.8%), a weak SD (9.6%), a strong V (9.4% – their second best constituency result), the Liberals (7.2%) and strong Feminists (6.5% – also their second best constituency in Sweden, after Stockholm). However, the red-green parties won a narrow plurality of the votes (42.9% to 39.5%). Like other major cities in Sweden, Gothenburg is obviously a socioeconomically (and thus politically) diverse city. The affluent coastal suburbs of Gothenburg (the city’s most well-off areas) – included in the constituency of Göteborg, Väster (27.4% M to 19.5% S) are solidly right-wing, as are some high-end areas in the Centrum district and other villa suburbs (Skår, Överås, Härlanda). The ‘alternative left’ – especially V – is very strong is the gentrified Majorna-Linné district, which has a young, highly-educated but not very rich population. The alternative left’s strength carries over into the post-war lower middle-class housing projects in Örgrye-Härlanda district, which is also quite young and well-educated. The Social Democrats are especially strong in eastern Gothenburg – in the electoral district covering the city’s east end, SAP won 32.1% against only 17.3% for M, with strong showings from the Left (10.5%) and the Greens (10.2%). The municipal districts of Eastern Gothenburg and Angered mostly include low-income Million Programme housing projects with large immigrant populations (Angered, Gårdsten, Hammarkullen, Hjällbo, Kortedala, Bergsjön), and they’re SAP strongholds with over 50% of the vote – although, as seems to have been the case elsewhere in Sweden, V and the Greens did eat into the SAP’s huge margin in those immigrant neighborhoods. S also won in the Hisingen electoral district, with 29% to the Moderates’ 22.8% and SD’s 12.2% (its best result) – the district is a mix of conservative affluent coastal suburbs, regenerated harbourfront districts, large low-income immigrant-heavy housing projects (Länsmansgården, Biskopsgården and Backa) and older working-class areas.
The Social Democrats won the four other constituencies in Västra Gotäland. They only narrowly won the coastal constituency of Västra Gotäland West, with 27.1% to the Moderates’ 25.6% and SDs’ 13.4%. The constituency is made up of middle-class suburbs of Gothenburg (Mölndal, Härryda, Partille), affluent coastal resort towns (notably in Sotenäs municipality), evangelical fishing communities (with 5.7%, the constituency was KD’s second-best constituency in Sweden, and KD placed first on a number of small islands in the archipelago) and more industrial towns (Lysekil, Uddevalla). SAP won the northern constituency with 32.6% to M’s 20.1% and SDs’ 15.1%; the constituency includes Lerum, a middle-class suburb of Gothenburg which voted M, but also industrial centres (Trollhättan, Lilla Edet), poor inland industrial-tradition towns (Bengtsfors, Åmal, Mellerud, Färgelanda – Socialist towns where SD did well), well-off small towns and rural communities (where C, and, today, SD do well). SAP won the southern constituency by a similar margin, 31.1% to 22.3% for M and 15% for SD. Southern Västra Gotäland includes the old textile country – the city of Borås was one of Sweden’s leading textile towns, while the smaller textile towns of Kinna and Tranemo remain solidly left-wing (while Borås, which S won 31.4% to 23.3%, remains more divided because it has some very affluent central neighborhoods). Finally, the left’s best result in the county came from the eastern constituency, which SAP won 34.6% to 21% for M and 14.8% for SD. The constituency includes right-wing agricultural rural areas and industrial centres (Mariestad, Lidköping, Tidaholm, Tibro).
Skåne/Scania and Malmö
Skåne/Scania is Sweden’s most culturally distinctive region – part of Denmark until 1658 and incorporated into Sweden only in 1719 – the region has retained a strong regional identity (sometimes expressed politically by a few regionalist movements – such as the Skånepartiet, a party which mixed anti-immigration/anti-Islamism with separatism, which held seats on Malmö’s city council from 1985 to 2006) and, with the proximity to Denmark (made even closer with the Öresund Bridge), a certain Danish influence is still perceptible. Scania, which has more arable land and vast fertile plains, also contrasts geographically with densely forested Sweden. Some Swedes from other parts of the country may poke fun at the region, particularly its rather distinctive politics – which has, in recent years, become closely associated with the great strength of the far-right in the region. This year, SD won its top two results in two Scanian constituencies – 22.2% in Scania North and East (narrow second ahead of M) and 19.3% in Scania West, plus 16.6% in Scania South and 13.5% in Malmö. The Moderates topped the poll in southern Scania – 28.2% to S’ 24.6% and also did well in western Scania (24.5%). In Scania, the SDs are strong fairly uniformly – with peaks in some depressed industrial towns like Bromölla, a left-wing stronghold where SD came a strong second with 28.4%; Örkelljunga, with 26.6%; Svalöv, with 26.4%; Östra Göinge, with 26%; the old mining town (and SAP stronghold) of Bjuv, with 25.7%; Skurup, with 25.1%; and the port city of Trelleborg, with 23.8%.
The Sweden Democrats won their best national result in Sjöbo – placing first with 30% of the vote against 23.7% for S and 23.2% for M (whose support fell by over 11%). A fairly unremarkable exurban town (with an aging population and low educational levels) not far from Malmö, Sjöbo has been a hotbed for right-wing populism for quite some time now: in 1988, Sjöbo’s local government organized a highly controversial referendum in which locals voted against admitting any foreign asylum seekers. The mastermind of that controversial vote (a former C member) founded his own local party, the Sjöbopartiet, in 1991 and went on to become the largest party on council in 1994 and the party has retained a presence on council since then, winning 7.2% and 4 seats this year (a loss of 2 seats) against 20.8% for SD. SD also became the largest party in the neighboring municipality of Hörby, taking 27.4% to S’ 24.9% and M’s 19.5% (down nearly 14% since 2010).
The far-right also did well in the major regional towns of Landskrona, a left-leaning port city (18.8%, SAP won with 37.3% to M’s 19.9%) and Helsingborg, a socioeconomically mixed city with solidly right-wing bourgeois coastal villa suburbs and low-income southern neighborhoods (17.4%, SAP narrowly won with 29.5% to M’s 27.3%). SD also made substantial gains in affluent coastal suburbs and resort towns, where it was weak in 2010: in Båstad, where M’s vote fell by nearly 10 points to 34.7%, SD increased its support from 5.6% to 14.8%. In Höganäs, SD won 14.8%, up 8.4%, while M lost 8.5% (it still placed first with 33.9%). In Vellinge, one of the wealthiest town in Sweden outside of the Stockholm region, SD’s support shot up 9.5% to 16.5%, placing a distant second behind the Moderates, who won 48.6%, down from 59.1% in 2010. While the far-right’s strongest numbers did not come from the most affluent precincts where M wins huge numbers, it nonetheless did gain significant numbers of votes from M defectors.
SD, however, did poorly in the prestigious university town of Lund – it won only 9.2%, a paltry fifth place showing behind M (22.7%), S (22.7%), the Greens (12.3%) and Fp (9.8%). The Feminists, with nearly 6%, also did well, as did V (6.4%).
The red-green won 45.5% to the Alliance’s 34% in Malmö, an old industrial (shipbuilding) city which sometimes gets something of a bad rap, being portrayed by some as a crime-ridden decaying post-industrial city (which is far from the truth, needless to say). In 2010, the Moderates had won more votes than the Social Democrats – 32.6% to 28.7% – a major blow to the SAP in a city which had historically been considered as a Social Democratic stronghold. This year, SAP won 29.3% to M’s 23.2%, with the far-right in third with 13.5%. The Greens won 8.6%, the Left won 7.6% and F! and Fp both took 5.6%. Much like any other major city, Malmö’s voting patterns vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.
The Social Democrats’ best results come from Rosengård, a very poor immigrant Million Programme neighborhood (about 80% of the population are foreign-born), with a peak at 78.7% of the vote for S in Herrgården (the most immigrant-heavy part of the Rosengård – mind you, SAP’s vote is actually down from 87.5% because V polled 11.6%) and about 65-70% in the rest of Rosengård, down some from 2010 because V and Mp seem to have gained some ground. While SD is obviously weak in the heart of Rosengård, it won one of its best results in the city in Almgården, a low-income (white) neighborhood adjacent to Rosengård, which gave 35.6% to SD against 41.9% for S. Other neighborhoods in the city with large immigrant populations – Augustenborg, Nydala, Hermodsdal, Söderkulla, Lindängen, Almvik, Segevång, Holma etc. – are also some of the Social Democrats’ best neighborhoods in the city, with results over 50-60% of the vote in most instances. In low-income neighborhoods or housing projects with lower immigrant populations, SD did best – although this year it also posted some impressive numbers in middle-class suburban areas. The ‘alternative left’ (Mp, V, F!) is very strong in gentrified inner-city areas: formerly working-class areas which are now home to a well-educated but not very rich young population – places such as Sofielund (where you get precincts like this), Sorgenfri, Rörsjöstaden and Möllevången – Malmö’s gentrified, multi-ethnic cultural mecca (where you have precincts with V and F! as the largest parties). The right – especially the Moderates – are strongest, of course, in Malmö’s upper middle-class neighborhoods – Bellevue, Nya Bellevue (over 55% for M and 13.5% for Fp), Hyllieby, Västervång, Fridhem and Västra hammen (the redeveloped harbourfront). The right is also generally the largest bloc in middle-class suburban areas, although in some areas M’s loses were fairly severe.
Local and regional elections
Local and regional elections were held on the same day. While there’s little need to go into detail here, a brief summary of results is presented.
In local (municipal) elections, SAP won 31.2% against 21.6% for M. Although SD expanded its presence on local councils to practically every single kommun in Sweden, it received only 9.3% of the national vote. C won 7.9%, the Greens won 7.8%, Fp won 6.6%, V won 6.4%, KD won 4%, F! won 1.2% and other (local) parties – which are strong in some municipalities – won 4.1%.
In Stockholm, which had a bourgeois majority since 2006, the red-greens and F! won a majority – 53 seats (24 S, 16 Mp, 10 V, 3 F!) against 42 for the right (28 M, 9 Fp, 3 C, 2 KD) and 6 for SD, which wins its first seats in the city council. In terms of vote shares, M remained the largest party in the capital with 27.2% (-7.2%), followed by S with 22% (-0.6%) and the Greens (14.3%, +0.5%). V also made gains, gaining 2 seats and 1.5% to reach 8.9%. C made minor gains in the vote share (+0.7% to 4.7%) and held its 3 seats (after having been absent from the capital’s city council from 1998 to 2006, it won 1 seat in 2006 and 3 in 2010). SD won 5.2%, up from 2.6% in 2010.
In Gothenburg, however, the red-green majority lost its narrow one-seat absolute majority but retained a plurality of seats. Together, S+Mp+V won 37 seats, down from 41, due to severe loses by the Social Democrats (down 7% and 5 seats to 22.4% and 20 seats) and gains by F!, which gained 3 seats on the back of 4% of the vote. V, with 9.4% and 8 seats, is up 1 seat from 2010. The Alliance won 30 seats (20 M, 3 KD, 7 Fp), SD doubled its presence from 3 to 6 members and a local anti-congestion charge party which emerged in 2010 held its 5 seats.
In Malmö, governed by the left since 1994, the left-wing parties expanded their majorities despite loses for SAP and sizable gains by SD. Together, the red-greens and Feminists won 35 seats, up from 31 in 2010, against only 17 for the Alliance, which lost 4 members. The far-right won 13.1% and 9 seats, up 2 seats. The main winners were SAP’s allies on the left – V won 8.5% (+3.3%) and 6 seats, its best result in local elections in the city; the Greens won 8.6% and 6 seats, up 1 seat from 2010. The Feminists, who won 3.2%, elected 2 councillors. A pensioners’ party represented since 1998 lost both of its seats.
The left also gained Uppsala, which the right had held since 2006. The red-greens and Feminists won 44 seats against 32 for the Alliance and 5 for SD, a loss of 9 seats for the Alliance and a gain of 6 for the left and 3 for SD. All four left-wing parties made gains, with strong results for the Greens (13.1% and 12 seats, +1) and V (8.7% and 8 seats, +2), although SAP also gained support (26.8% and 22 seats, +1). The Moderates, however, fell over 9 points and lost no less than 8 seats, from 23 to 15.
The minority red-green coalition in Västerås was returned with a one less seat (lost by SAP) while SD doubled its presence from 3 to 6 members. The right lost 2 seats. The left holds 29 seats to the right’s 26. The left retained Örebro with a reduced majority, in Linköping the Alliance lost its absolute majority and stands at 36 seats against 37 for the left and 6 for SD, in Jönköping, the governing Alliance-Green majority held on despite loses to SD and in Norrköping, the red-green government lost its majority. In the Scanian towns of Landskrona and Helsingborg, very strong results by SD (11 and 10 seats respectively) leaves both blocs with weak minorities, with the incumbent Fp+M+Green minority in Landskrona and the Alliance minority in Helsingborg in bad shape. In Lund, the right suffered major loses and the left (with F!) lack a majority but are now much larger than the right (the balance being held by SD’s 5 seats and 4 seats for a new local party). Umeå, finally, remains the most left-wing major city in Sweden with 42 seats against 21 for the right and 2 for SD. The local Marxist Arbetarpartiet, a splitoff from a Trot party which gained seats in 1998, won 2 seats – up 1 from 2010.
In the Landsting elections, S won 32.9% nationally against 21.5% for M and 9.1% for SD. The Greens won 7.2% and V won 7.1%. The incumbent red-green majorities held their majorities in Blekinge (where SD now has 7 out of 47 seats), Dalarnas (in coalition with a local healthcare party), Gotland, Jämtland, Kalmar, Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Västmanland and Örebro. In Västra Götaland, the red-green minority now holds 72 seats (-1, gains by V and Mp but loses by SAP) against 63 (-4) for the right and 14 for SD (+4). In Gävleborg County, the S+Mp+C coalition also lost its majority but would hang on with a decent-ish minority. In Södermanland, the S+Fp+Mp coalition lost its majority (30 seats vs. 4 V, 21 right, 8 SD and 8 local party). The Alliance lost its majority in Kronoberg County (25 seats vs. 30 for the left and 6 for SD), Uppsala County (where the left gained a clear majority) and Östergötland County (where the left is just 1 seat short of an absolute majority, as the right’s local ally lost all 8 seats and SD went from 4 to 10 seats). In Västernorrland, the broad Alliance-Green-local healthcare party coalition has lost its majority as the healthcare party disbanded, M lost 7 seats, SD gained 6 seats and SAP – with 48% of the vote – is just a seat short of an absolute majority on its own. In Värmland County, a similar incumbent coalition lost its absolute majority, but with 38 out of 81 seat, it may govern with a minority (although a red-green coalition would also work) with SD holding the balance of power with 7 seats. In Halland, the incumbent Alliance-Green majority retained its absolute majority despite major gains by SD (from 3 to 7 mandates), but in Jönköping an Alliance-Green coalition was reduced to a minority (2 seats short) due to major gains by SD (from 4 to 9 seats).
In Scania, governed by an Alliance-Green coalition since 2006, the right suffered substantial loses as SD made major gains. Overall, M, the largest party in 2010, lost 8.6% and 13 seats, falling from 48 to 35. The Liberals, who had 12 seats in 2010, are now left with only 9. Despite a one-seat gain by the Greens, who won 6.7% and 11 seats, and no seat loses by the small C and KD, the Alliance-Green coalition is left with 67 seats, down 15 seats. The SAP and Left hold 59 seats, a gain of 6 seats – SAP returned as the largest party with a solid 32.4% (+1.8% and 51 seats) while V also made gains, from 6 to 8 mandates. The major winners were, of course, the far-right in their stomping ground: SD won 14.5%, up 5.3%, and now stands as the kingmaker with a hefty 23 seats – up from 14 in 2010 and 10 in 2006.
In Stockholm County, governed by the Alliance since 2006, the right-wing parties lost their absolute majority but may govern as a minority. The Moderates lost 14 seats and 8.6%, although with 28.2% they remained the largest party. The Social Democrats won 26.4% and 41 seats, a gain of 2. The Left, with 12 seats and 7.7%, gained 2 members and 1.5%; the Green vote remained stable at 10% and they held their 15 seats. The Liberals, with 8.2%, lost 1.1% and 2 seats (down to 13); but C and KD gained 1 and 2 seats respectively. SD won 5.9%, a 3% gain which is enough to put them above the 3% threshold in regional elections and gives them their first 9 seats on the Landsting.
SD is now represented in every single Landsting.