Moderates ahead of Social Democrats in poll

Sweden's Social Democrats, which have governed Sweden for the better part of the past 70 years, are no longer the country's biggest party, overtaken by the Moderate Party, a poll showed on Thursday.

This is the first time in almost eight years that a major polling institute has put the Moderates, the leading opposition party, ahead of Prime Minister Göran Persson’s Social Democrats.

The Temo poll, which surveyed 2,571 people June 7-21, shows that 31.7 percent of those questioned would vote for the Moderates if an election were held today, compared to 30.8 percent for the Social Democrats.

Sweden’s next legislative elections are scheduled for September next year.

A number of polls have in recent months shown that support is greater for the centre-right coalition, comprising the Moderates, Center, Liberal and Christian Democrat parties, than for the left-wing bloc.

Persson heads a minority government that relies on informal support in parliament from the former communist Left and the Greens.

Temo’s poll credits the opposition bloc with 54.5 percent of voter sympathies and the left-wing with 42.9 percent – the biggest lead since 1991, when the centre-right won the election, bringing prime minister Carl Bildt to power.

Another Temo poll earlier this month showed that support for Persson had hit rock-bottom, with 43 percent of Swedes saying the government was doing a bad job and only 15 percent saying it was working well.

While known for being notoriously divided, the four centre-right parties have in the past year presented an unusually united front and been boosted by the arrival of a new and popular leader for the Moderates, Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Persson, who usually dominates Sweden’s political scene, has been criticized for his failure to keep unemployment at his four-percent target and for his government’s slow response to the tsunami crisis in which 543 Swedes were killed.