“Xenophobia and democracy issues have come into focus with the Sweden Democrats’ (SD) entry into Sweden’s Riksdag,” wrote Camilla Modéer, secretary-general of Public & Science (Vetenskap & Allmänhet – VA), with Arne Modig from Novus Opinion, in an opinion article in the Dagens Nyheter daily on Tuesday.
“Some commentators argue that SD’s success is a result of journalists and politicians concealing facts and problems with immigration. Others argue that a perceived ‘taboo’ in the immigration debate is little but a cherished myth.”
According to the study highlighted in the article, 73 percent of Swedes see integration and immigration as a problem in the country
Camilla Modéer told The Local on Tuesday that the survey is part of a wider study, with Gothenburg’s SOM institute and Novus, looking into the connection between scientific knowledge and views held by the general public.
“We know from the previous studies that many Swedes are in a form of ‘knowledge-exclusion’, making it harder to make important choices and less able to participate in the public discourse,” Modéer said, explaining that VA decided to apply what had been learned on a current topic.
The survey shows that 74 percent of the 1,000 Swedes interviewed believe that experts and scholars hold the necessary knowledge to handle the issues of immigration and integration “in a positive way”.
However, four in ten respondents remained skeptical of how accurately the picture presented by experts meshes with reality.
While Modéer argued that a healthy scepticism to what is written in the media and elsewhere is positive, she expressed concern over this result, arguing that knowledge was key to making informed decisions about issues affecting society.
“If you don’t know, you become frightened and suspicious. It is important that people are given access to knowledge; they can then think what they like of course, but it is important to have the information.”
The subset of respondents who believe that integration and immigration is a large problem were more likely to be suspicious of experts, with 65 percent questioning the accuracy of findings presented by experts.
Among respondents who identified themselves as supporters of the Sweden Democrats, mistrust of experts rose to 90 percent, according to the survey.
The survey confirmed that only 35 percent of respondents felt that they personally possessed sufficient knowledge to address the issues in question, and Modéer is clear where the responsibility lies to address this situation.
“Researchers have to reach out and conduct a dialogue with the general public,” she told The Local.
In the article in DN, Modéer and co-author Modig argue that being excluded leaves people less well-equipped to make important choices when participating in society.
And those who are excluded, characterized by low-levels of education and low incomes, have less confidence in researchers and experts and less belief in a knowledge-based society than others.
“They are less satisfied with their lives and with democracy, and have less faith in other people. Many of them can be found among Sweden Democrat voters,” they write.
They authors point out that while education is an important tool against fighting racism and xenophobia, it shouldn’t be viewed as a “vaccine”.
In response to a question on whether Sweden is existing in something of an “age of ideological austerity” when it comes to the respect for learning, Modéer told The Local:
“Our fundamental idea is that knowledge is becoming increasingly important to our society – we are becoming more dependent on knowledge and it is crucial that the general public has an influence and can gain access to learning.”
The Novus Opinion survey was conducted within the framework of their web panel and is based on interviews with 1,000 Swedes from September 30th-October 5th.