Employment and economy key to growth of Sweden Democrats: research

Employment and economy key to growth of Sweden Democrats: research
Sweden Democrat supporters at an election campaign event in Motala, Östergötland. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
Both politicians and supporters of the populist Sweden Democrats fall into groups whose economic situations have worsened since 2006, researchers have found.

A higher proportion of supporters of the Sweden Democrats (SD) than of any other party have seen their employment and economic status worsen since 2006, a Stockholm University study has found.

The study, entitled “Economic Losers and Political Winners: Sweden's Political Right”, found that the labour market and income distribution were better indicators than immigration for the growth of the nationalist party, which was founded in 1998 and had negligible following in 2002.

“You often hear that the success of the Sweden Democrats comes from Sweden’s immigration policy. Our analysis finds no empirical relationship between the SD’s vote share – either in municipalities or electoral districts – and a number of measurements for local-level immigration,” co-author Johanna Rickne, a professor of economics at Stockholm University and current visiting professor at Yale University, told The Local via written message.

Immigration measurements considered in the study include the share or growth of people born outside of Europe and the presence of foreign-born people in the local industries or occupations, Rickne added.

“Our results also do not reflect a lower propensity to vote for the SD among foreign-born people, or a situation where foreign-born people are over-represented in some labour market categories,” she said.

SD politicians were found to be no more likely to have grown up, or currently reside in, neighbourhoods with more immigrant residents.

Researchers in the study used voting register data for all of the party's current and former political candidates to identify the municipalities and voting districts to which they are affiliated, while also aggregating individual social and economic conditions in these areas and comparing the to the Sweden Democrat vote share.

Two economic developments are key to understanding the trend of increasing affiliation with and support for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, the researchers found.

The first of these was a series of policy reforms implemented by Fredrik Reinfeldt's Moderate party-led government between 2006 and 2011 known as arbetslinjen, which reduced income tax for working people while tightening conditions on social support and the a-kassa unemployment insurance system. This had the effect of broadening the disposable income gap between those inside and outside of the labour market, and worsening the economic situation of a large group, the researchers argue.

The second economic event to contribute to the circumstances of the “economic losers” of the Stockholm University study was the global financial crisis of 2008.

The Sweden Democrats are over-represented in losing groups in both categories relative to the population at large, the study found. All other parties are under-represented.

Conclusions of the report support the notion that people who suffer economic loss display reduced trust in established parties and institutions, the authors write.

As a result, some people affected by economic downturn or inequality became Sweden Democrat candidates, while many more chose to support the party, according to the research.

“We can see that, yes, it appears that the party [SD, ed.] does indeed seem to have given voice to low-resource segments on the labour market that were severely under-represented in the existing party structure,” Rickne said.

The trend makes Swedish politics more inclusive – but Sweden Democrat candidates score lower on expertise, moral values and social trust, the research paper co-authored by Rickne notes in its summary.

The economics professor also noted that, in multiparty systems such as Sweden's, new parties can potentially revitalize the political system and give voice to under-represented groups, underlining the importance of studying the Sweden Democrats’ political candidates and elected politicians and comparing them to their voters. 

“At a more general level, the rise of the radical right is one of the most salient political phenomena in past decades. Understanding why this is happening means understanding what factors create demand for populist, anti-immigration and anti-establishment parties. In turn, we can understand why countries change in this political direction,” she said.

READ ALSO: 'Sweden has let the immigration issue hijack the political agenda'

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