Sweden: Polls Suggest Post-Election Deadlock as End of Campaign Approaches

With voting in the Swedish elections taking place on 9 September the Social Democrats appear to be taking the lead, but with the populist anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats close behind them and polling strongly. The post-election negotiations on the formation of a new government look set to be difficult, and contentious with both the centre-left and centre-right parties being unable to form majority coalitions along established political lines.
The Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats: The opinion polls for the Swedish election are showing a high degree of variation as the campaign enters it closing stages. The broad polling trend, however, shows centre-left Social Democrats led by the current Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, to be pulling ahead. This follows a surge by the anti-immigration populist Sweden Democrats, led by Jimmie Akesson, earlier in the summer. The most recent opinion polls by the Skop, Inzio, and Sifo agencies all show the Social Democrats leading in the electoral race with between 23-26% of the vote It should be emphasised, however, that this trend is not universal with Sentio showing the Sweden Democrats in the lead on 24%. In previous elections polling agencies have found it hard to measure the Sweden Democrat vote accurately. There has been an evident reluctance amongst some of those interviewed to declare their intention to vote for the Sweden Democrats. It is not clear whether the current polls are similarly underestimating the Sweden Democrat vote, or whether changes to polling methodology and the greater public acceptability of voting Sweden Democrat will make them a more genuine reflection of voting intention. It should be borne in mind, however, that even this modest recovery in the Social Democrat vote, at a late stage in the campaign, still puts them a considerable distance behind their level of support in September 2014 elections, which at 31% was, at the time, considered to be a relatively weak result. In parallel to this the results for the Sweden Democrats, even in polls where they have fallen behind, show them on 17-20%, making significant advances on the result of 12.9% in the last parliamentary elections

The Sweden Democrats and the Moderates: The apparent, relative, loss of impetus by he Sweden Democrats has produced some recent polls where they are locked in a battle with the centre-right Moderate party, led by Ulf Kristersson, for second place. The Inzio poll conducted in late August put the Moderates on 20% to 18% for the Sweden Democrats. The Sifo poll conducted over the same period put the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats equal on 17%. This contest for second place does not, however, appear to be due to advances in public support for the Moderates. In polls conducted in May/June were being rated between 17-22%. Ulf Kristersson has rebuilt the Moderate Party’s electoral fortunes following its mid-term slump, when support fell to around 15%, but it still does not appear to have recovered to the level it achieved in the September 2014 elections when it gained 23.3% of the vote. –

The Christian Democrats Move Above the Electoral Threshold: The coalition building capacity of the Moderate may, however, have been strengthened by shifts in support amongst the smaller political parties. Centre-right governments in Sweden are normally formed by coalitions consisting of the Moderates, the largest Party, and three other smaller parties, the Centre Party, Liberals, and Christian Democrats. In the September 2014 general elections the Christian Democrats secured 4.6% of the vote, just clearing the 4% electoral threshold. Opinion polling in May/June 2018 showed the Christian Democrats, led by Ebba Busch Thor, either on the 4% threshold or just below it on 2-3%. On this basis it looked likely that the Christian Democrats would not enter parliament. The latest opinion polls, however, show the Christian Democrats making small but significant advances and crossing the electoral threshold with 5-7% of the vote.

What Happens After the Elections? The current Swedish government is led by the Stefan Lovfen’s Social Democrats who are in coalition with the Green Party, and supported from outside of the government by the Left Party. On current polling this centre-left coalition would not, after the forthcoming election, have the seats to form a majority government. The centre-right, even with the Christian Democrats entering parliament, would similarly not be able to must enough representatives to establish a government. The advances made by the Sweden Democrats have fatally undermined the capacity of both centre-left and centre-right to form governments along established ideological lines. In Germany following the September 2017 elections, and in the face of a strong vote by the populist anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats formed a coalition government. The established Swedish party leaders have, however, ruled out the formation of such a post-election left/right grand coalition. The possibility exists that the centre-right parties, led by Ulf Kristersson and the Moderates, could, theoretically form a post-election coalition with the Sweden Democrats. This would in practice, however, be a complicated and difficult process. The Moderate Party has since 2010 followed a policy of refusing to work with the Sweden Democrats. Anna Kinberg Batra, who preceded Ulf Kristensen as Moderate Party leader, was ousted in August 2017 in the face of an internal party revolt when she suggested that the Moderate Party should consider working with the Sweden Democrats. Ulf Kristersson might face similar dissent from within the Moderate Party were he to suggest forming a post-election with the SD. It is highly likely that the smaller potential centre-right coalition partners, and in particular the Liberals and the Centre Party, would also oppose such a coalition. Either the centre-left and centre-right coalitions might seek to form a minority government, but both of these options would be inherently unstable. It may ultimately, prove to be impossible for the established parties to maintain the cordon sanitaire which was first put in place around Sweden Democrats after they entered parliament in 2010. With over 20% of the vote the Sweden Democrats may simply be too big to ignore.

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