Party leader Jimmie Åkesson at the Sweden Democrats' conference in Norrköping. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT
When the Sweden Democrats gathered for a party conference in Norrköping in central Sweden this weekend, a recurring theme on the programme was the party's image among the public, and what party activists should do in order to attract more voters.
“Voters like our politics much more than they like us,” said Joakim Wallerstein, the Sweden Democrats' head of communications.
“A winning move for us is to be out and about, to be positive and happy,” said party secretary Richard Jomshof.
Although the party, which has roots in the neo-Nazi movements of the 1990s, has an official zero-tolerance approach to racism, anti-Semitism and racism frequently give rise to problems within the party.
Several elected Sweden Democrat politicians have been forced to vacate their seats over anti-Semitic or racist statements over the years.
In 2012, three Sweden Democrat MPs were infamously filmed hurling racist and sexist abuse at comedian Soran Ismail and a young woman in central Stockholm.
At the meeting in Norrköping, the president of the Sweden Democrats' womens' association, Carina Herrstedt, showed a video clip of women saying they associate the party with words like 'racism', 'backwards' and other negative terms.
Herrstedt stressed the importance of the party members' behaviour when meeting members of the public and interacting on social media.
“We shall not become a soft party, but we shall present ourselves and package our message so that it will attract women, too,” Herrstedt said.
She further said it is a big problem that the party, which has overtaken the Moderates as Sweden's second-largest party according to a recent poll, attracts a much bigger proportion of men than women voters.
Sweden Democrat MPs Paula Bieler and Linus Bylund both said the golden rule on social media, or when meeting journalists, voters or opponents, is to treat others the way you want to be treated.
“That way we will have a better Sweden, a better image of the Sweden Democrats, and that way we will reach out,” Bieler said.