Moderates surge ahead in poll

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson’s Social Democrats would have been thrown out of office if an election had been held last week, a new opinion poll has indicated.

The survey, conducted by Ruab for Dagens Industri, shows that 31.5 percent of those questioned would vote for Fredrik Reinfeldt’s centre-right Moderate Party. This is three percent more than the party scored in Ruab’s poll in mid-January, and puts the party a whisker ahead of the Social Democrats, who scored 31.3 percent. It is the first time since Ruab started its regular polls in 2001 that the Moderates have come out ahead of Göran Persson’s party.

While the Moderates’ lead may be within the margin of error, the centre-right coalition as a whole has a total of 52.4 percent, eight percent ahead of the Social Democrats and their partners in the Green Party. If these figures were repeated in the next general election in 2006, it would mean a doubling of support for the Moderates from their showing in 2002.

Ruab interviewed 2,079 people last week, following a torrid couple of months for the government, which has faced heavy criticism for its handling of the aftermath of the Asian tsunami disaster, in which over 500 Swedes died or are missing, presumed dead. Göran Persson and Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds’ slow reaction to the disaster provoked accusations of incompetence.

There was also criticism when finance minister Pär Nuder suggested that future Social Democratic governments would raise Swedish taxes, which are already among Europe’s highest.

The Social Democrats’ party secretary, Marita Ulvskog, tried to play down the significance of the poll, saying that the political agenda had recently been dominated by scandals. She told TT that it was now her party’s responsibility to restart a debate about “political issues”.

“I believe that it will be about the classic questions: the fight against unemployment, the quality and scope of the public sector, and conditions for women and the elderly,” said Ulvskog.

Sven Otto Littorin, Moderate party secretary, tried to inject a note of caution, but had difficulty in hiding his delight.

“Gosh, I should be modest and point out that it’s 18 months until the election, but all the same – what wonderful figures.”

The poll showed particular support for the Moderates among women and the over-50s.

“We think that it should be in people’s interest to work, with lower tax and tighter control over benefits,” said Littorin. “Many older people like our message about the work ethic.”

Sources: Dagens Industri, Expressen, Dagens Nyheter