According to centre-right think-tank NMI, a number of statistics used by Persson in debates were untrue. But Persson’s spokesman told The Local that groups supportive of the opposition were “mud-slinging”.
Last week, Persson claimed in the party leader debate that “Sweden is – perhaps with some competition – the economy in the OECD which is creating most jobs at the moment.”
According to the OECD, Sweden was only the sixteenth most successful country when it came to job creation in 2005, and is predicted to land in eleventh place this year.
“Unemployment is one of the key issues in this election. I think people are entitled to demand that journalists look carefully at these figures,” said Mikael Nussdorf, media analyst at NMI.
Another allegedly untrue statement from the prime minister came in an interview with Dagens Industri on 23rd August, in which he said that Denmark’s employment rate was “no higher” than Sweden’s, or that if it was it was only higher by “a few tenths of one percent”.
NMI cites Eurostat, which records the real employment rate in Denmark at 75.9 percent, while it is 72.5 percent in Sweden.
Nussdorf said that his organization had looked at the performance of all party leaders, but insisted it was Persson who was not telling the truth.
“We are following every debate. Were we to find these kinds of erroneous statements regarding the economic situation from other party leaders we would sound the alarm – but we haven’t,” he told The Local.
In a debate on TV4 in May, Persson said that “unemployment is falling, not least among the young”. But Eurostat figures highlighted by NMI show Swedish youth unemployment increasing from 22 percent to 27.5 percent between January and April this year.
Other examples of alleged untruths from Persson came in September last year, when he claimed in the SVT party leader debate that “we have the lowest employment rate in Europe.” NMI says that at the time unemployment was lower in seven other EU countries, and that when people in labour market programmes were counted Sweden was in the bottom half of EU rankings.
The prime minister’s press secretary Sebastian Navab dismissed NMI’s claims, claiming it showed the Right was “desperate”. He said that NMI’s parent organization Timbro has “half a billion kronor a year to sling mud at the Social Democrats.”
“The remarkable thing about this right-wing think tank is that they bring forward figures that suit their purpose.”
The most recent contested statement from Persson came in Saturday’s election debate, in which he said that “Sweden is the only country in Europe where class differences are now diminishing.”
Navab told The Local that the party stood by the figures:
“Our figures are taken from Eurostat’s figures since the year 2000, and show that class differences in Sweden are getting smaller,” he said.
Indeed, Eurostat’s figures show that income differences between the most well off and the least well off fell slightly between 2001 and 2002, but that since then the differences have been stable. In addition, the differences increased markedly between 1997 and 2001 before falling slightly the following year.
Persson has also defended his claim using the so-called Gini coefficient. This figure is used by economists to measure inequalities for the whole population, with a higher figure indicating greater inequalities.
The figure for Sweden fell from 26.6 in 2000 to 23 in 2005, showing that inequalities in Sweden were falling. But this figure was still higher in 2005 than in 1995, the year after the Social Democrats came to power. Then, the Gini coefficient stood at 20.3.
But Nussdorf reserved his sharpest criticism for the media, which he said was failing to report the inconsistencies:
“Journalists too often report these statistics as fact. It is always possible for the journalist to turn to an impartial source.”
And while Nussdorf said that there was some bias in the Swedish media, the main problem was with poor working practices.
“There is a problem when the media has a tendency to use non-political journalists to do political coverage. It’s sloppy journalism.”