The result of the recent national election was a big disappointment for the Green Party of Sweden. With EU election results of over 15% and polls that peaked at 10% just before this election, it was a sad surprise when the result came in at 6.8% – half a percentage point less than in the elections in 2010. In the last year the polls have shown a clear advantage for the Social Democrats (S), the Left Party (V) and the Greens (MP). But this lead kept decreasing as election day crept closer. In the end, S, V and MP got more votes than the four conservative/liberal parties in government, but not a majority of the votes due to the Sweden Democrats (SD). The Social Democrats became the largest party with support from roughly a third of the voters.
However, the Sweden Democrats are the clear winners of this election; a populist xenophobic party that more than doubled its support and gained 12.9% of the vote. S and V increased somewhat, while support for all four governing parties in the liberal-conservative alliance declined, especially the largest party Moderaterna (M). The Feminist Party (F) which experienced great success in the European elections did not reach the threshold of 4.0% that is needed to enter the parliament but grew considerably and reached 3.1%.
There is much to say and analyse in this election. The Greens did not succeed in mobilizing their voters, who instead voted mainly for the Feminist Party, but also substantially for V and S. Unlike in the European elections in May, this time the climate and other environmental issues were never really on the agenda. Questions about jobs, school and personal finances were more important to voters.
There are many possible reasons for this. There didn’t seem to be any conflict line – all the parties said they wanted a clean environment, a solution on climate change, etc. Even though the former conservative-liberal government has a lousy track record when it comes to environmental issues it became unclear to the public what the differences were between the parties. The media’s handling of the election certainly also affected the outcome, since they didn’t focus on long-term issues, despite the summer’s extreme weather, with the largest fire in modern times, and many floods. The governing parties managed to reduce the climate issue to a question of nuclear power and the question of gender issues to be about tax-subsidized house cleaners, exactly where they wanted the debate to be.
MP failed to keep up on the system-critical movement and left wave in Sweden, and lost the most voters of any of the parties to the feminists, who pushed an agenda of anti-racism and feminism but also questions of reduced working hours and a critique of growth. MP also lost to the Left Party which has focused a lot on environment and climate change in the election and anti-privatisation and gains in welfare.
In post-election polls, MP was deemed to be the most unclear of all parties when it came to issues of profit-making companies in the welfare sector. Although the members of the party recently voted for a more strict policy against the privatisation of the welfare sector at a party congress, the party leadership opted for a more middle-of-the-road policy. This was not successful.
SD are, as mentioned earlier, without a doubt the biggest winners of the elections. The Greens based part of their campaign on making SD out to be the antithesis of MP, but that move obviously didn’t work. It probably even helped to inflate the numbers for SD due to increased publicity.
Explaining the result
There are several factors which help explain the election results. First, the conservative-liberal government’s policies has led to rapidly increasing economic inequality, and division between rich and poor, healthy and sick, city and country. The government’s dismantling of social insurance, privatisation and welfare during their eight years in power has probably formed a base for dissent and frustration.
Secondly, all parties tried their hardest to denounce the Sweden Democrats, which in the end definitely didn’t decrease their support, but rather increased it by giving them lots of publicity. They also got a lot of free publicity from protesters who gathered at their campaign visits, visits that probably wouldn’t have garnered much public attention otherwise.
Third, as a strategic move, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the Moderates, in a speech at the end of the campaign addressed the “costs of immigration” and asked Swedes to “open their hearts” to immigrants, implying that this meant less resources for welfare. Critics would say that the government’s tax cuts rather than the cost of immigration is the reason for decline of welfare. However, this speech was seen by SD and a lot of voters as a confirmation of their world view – that immigration is a threat to our welfare.
Immigration in itself is probably not the main reason for the success of SD, since the SD’s role-model countries, Finland or Denmark, which have considerably less immigration, also have large xenophobic parties.
Finding a way forward
It is now time to look at how we can create social cohesion, confidence in the future to reduce the xenophobic party’s advance. The Social Democrats’ leader Stefan Lövfen, a former welder and man of the working class, could be the right person for the job, if he can overcome unemployment, growing inequalities and housing shortages. However, he has a daunting task ahead of him to create a collaboration across the block boundary between the left wing and the right wing to keep out the Sweden Democrats, and thus break the last eight years of bloc politics. To what extent you can implement Green policies in such a coalition remains to be seen. There is a significant risk as we have seen from the Finnish Greens who now threaten to jump out of the coalition government if more nuclear power plants are built in Finland.
This year’s election was an election for the parties at the outer edges, with feminists and above all the Sweden Democrats as winners. This must be seen as a criticism of the entire political establishment. The left analysis holds true: that this result stems from Sweden witnessing the fastest growing inequality among OECD countries over the last eight years. And the Green Party’s move towards the center has not been successful. Maybe it’s time to return to the core issue of climate and environment.
Despite relative failure, the Green Party are in government negotiations – it will be difficult, the Greens will be forced to compromise, but it may go well. The Greens now have, for the first time since the beginning of the party 30 years ago, the possibility to be in government.
The Greens have also had several successes at the local level and it looks likely that there will be a red-green majority in power in a number of municipalities such as Stockholm, Uppsala and Lund. And they remain in power in Malmö , Gothenburg and many other cities and counties. It bodes well for a greener future in Sweden after all.