It's the day after what was hyped up to be one of Sweden's most potentially destabilizing elections in a long time. Yet after most of the votes were counted, remarkably little changed.
While the Sweden Democrats increased their share of the vote, they remained only the third largest party in Sweden. It's back to a kind of status quo, which means that the outcome of the competition between the left and the right-wing blocs is still the focal point of Swedish politics.
That said, it is a dead heat with each bloc on track to win 143-144 seats – with another couple of hundreds of thousands of votes to be counted this week – short of the 175 needed for a majority.
That in itself is nothing unusual in Sweden, but these are unusual times. No bloc seems quite willing to give up power to the other, and the Sweden Democrats will not smoothen the way for a coalition government without getting something in return – the question is what that would be.
The coming weeks will see lengthy negotiations, which could lead to either a broad cross-party compromise as incumbent Prime Minister Stefan Löfven called for last night, or political deadlock. But if there's anything the Swedes are good at, it's finding a lagom middle way forward.
Editor, The Local Sweden
RESULTS AND WHAT'S NEXT
LIVE RESULTS: Aftonbladet has a useful live counter. Users may toggle between vote percentage (procent in Swedish) graphs and seats won (mandat).
Red-Green bloc (144): Social Democrats (101) | Left Party (28) | Greens (15)
Center alliance (143): Moderates (70) | Center Party (31) | Christian Democrats (23) | Liberals (19)
Sweden Democrats: 62
What we don't know: How approximately 250,000 overseas and later voters cast their ballots. Read more (in Swedish) here. That's around 4 percent of votes cast. h/t Henrik Oscarsson
A huge 41 percent of voters switched parties: Two in every five voters told an SVT exit poll that they changed allegiance between the 2018 and 2014 votes. The electorate is volatile as well as polarized.
Social Democrats came first, as in every election since 1917: While leading in every region except Stockholm (where they trail the Moderates by 8,000 votes), their 28 percent of the national vote was their lowest percentage since 1908. The result mirrors the struggle of nearly all center-left parties across Europe this decade. Overall, the left bloc parties are down 5 percent. The center alliance parties are roughly stable compared to 2014.
Greens scrape in: The Greens are a junior government party but barely passed the 4 percent threshold needed to stay in parliament (4.4 percent). Without them, the first-placed Social Democrats would almost certainly be forced out of office.
Who are Sweden Democrats voters? Only 13 percent of women voted for them, according to an exit poll, and nearly 25 percent of men did. Of their 2018 voters, 54 percent voted for them in 2014, while 19 percent switched from the Social Democrats and 18 percent from the Moderates. In other words: the far right picked up voters from across the political spectrum.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Danske Bank produced a useful timeline. The key dates are:
September 14: Final results published on Swedish election authority website.
September 24: Parliament reconvenes to elect a speaker who will then talk with party leaders and propose a prime minister. The speaker has three months and four shots at getting a parliament majority for a new government.
December 24: Earliest possible date for a snap election.
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FORMING A NEW GOVERNMENT
Minority governments are how Sweden rolls: Sweden's smallest minority government ever had just 11 percent of the parliament seats, writes The Local's James Savage. That was extreme, but many governments since have ruled as minorities. The country's system of negative parliamentarism means a potential prime minister doesn't need the support of a majority in parliament. Rather, the candidate has to show merely that there is no majority against their candidacy. Budgets are passed in much the same way.
Test the possible coalition governments here: This handy interactive graphic lets you build your own coalition, testing out the various options to show how many seats they can achieve together.
Why the Sweden Democrats will be excluded: No large party wants to work with them. While striking a deal with the Sweden Democrats – who have made migration and law and order the key planks of their election campaign – would give either bloc a majority, both of the biggest parties have ruled out working with a party that has its roots in the neo-Nazi movement. PM Löfven has called the Sweden Democrats “a neo-Fascist single-issue party which respects neither people's differences nor Sweden's democratic institutions.”
Would the centrist parties jump to the left and keep Löfven in power? Not likely, according to many observers. The leaders of the Center and Liberal parties have said they won't, and there are good reasons for that. Maria Ludvigsson, leader writer at conservative Svenska Dagbladet, told The Local that their economic policy is too far apart. “It would be unreasonable for them to present a joint budget – they are further apart from each other than even the Moderates and Social Democrats.”
What about a grand coalition? The math is tempting. Together the Social Democrats and Moderates will have about 170 seats, only five short of a majority.
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WHAT THE RESULTS MEAN FOR EUROPE
Exit for Swexit: The Sweden Democrats improved their vote but gained no traction for the idea of Sweden leaving the European Union.
Socialists could be depleted in European Council: If Stefan Löfven cannot form a government, there will be only four socialists in the European Council (plus Alexis Tsipras from Greece). A new government in Sweden would mean a prime minister from the European People's Party, taking it to nine leaders (plus Dalia Grybauskaitė from Lithuania). The new make-up among voting members of the European Council would be:
EPP (center-right) 9 | ALDE (liberal) 7 | Socialists 4 | ECR (conservatives) 2 | Others 6
Sweden polarizing over refugees rather than rejecting them: Per political scientist Cas Mudde, “gains of [Sweden Democrats] and [Left Party] are pretty similar, which means that #Sweden is polarizing over immigration (refugees), not rejecting it.”
European Parliament a role model for Sweden? Christofer Fjellner, a Moderate Swedish MEP, says his party will try to set the agenda on the strength of ideas, not numbers. He told James Savage: “What's been crazy is this idea that it's unacceptable to take support for a proposal from the Sweden Democrats. They can vote for what they like. In the European Parliament we don't have any permanent majorities and it will be a bit like that now – there won't be any permanent majorities.”
Trending – the rise of ‘junk news': These news stories may not be fake in the sense of being purely imaginary, but they're filled with untruths and distortions. According to a study by the Oxford Internet Institute, one in three internet links shared via social media by Swedes during this campaign could be classified as “junk news.” Read the full report here.
Counterpoint: Teresa Küchler from Svenska Dagbladet argued that the real breakthrough for the Sweden Democrats came in 2014, and that foreign media is just slow to catch up.
HOW SWEDEN AND EUROPE REACTED
For a roundup of today's front pages from around Europe, check out POLITICO's Euro Press Review blog.
Göteborgs Posten: “The decline of the major parties continues,” wrote Arne Larson.
SVT: “Now the battle begins about who won,” Mats Knutson.
Washington Post: “Swedish PM summons ‘good forces' after setback.”
France24: “Sweden faces deadlock as far right makes gains.”
Bild: “Election quake in Sweden.”
You'd be forgiven for thinking that opposition parties coordinated their message: They all called for Stefan Löfven to resign as prime minister. He said he had no intention of doing so, though he'll potentially face a vote in October, when Sweden Democrats could join with the opposition Alliance to force him out.
Moderates: Within 10 minutes of the first exit polls, center-right Moderate Party Secretary Gunnar Strömmer told Swedish TV viewers that Löfven should resign (despite the fact the Moderates were 8 points behind Lofven's party). Former PM Carl Bildt tweeted on the Sweden Democrats: “Despite clear success, SD did not become the Big Bang that many had thought/feared.”
Sweden Democrats: The Local's Paul O'Mahony reported “huge disappointment” and “deflation and disbelief” at the party's election event, despite efforts by leader Jimmy Åkesson to lift the mood.
Left Party: “We will have a Red-Green government and a government that leans to the left. Löfven will remain and we will have more influence,” said party leader Jonas Sjöstedt.
Centre Party: “I'm proud that we haven't given in … I'm proud that we have achieved the best election result for the Centre Party in 30 years. Now I think it's important that Stefan Löfven resigns.”
Liberals: “There's only one conclusion to draw and that's that Stefan Löfven should go to the speaker tomorrow and hand in his resignation.”
Christian Democrats: MEP Lars Adaktusson said Löfven should resign.
MUTED MARKET REACTION: The only thing markets will truly worry about is a snap election if there is no viable mainstream government at the end of negotiations. Analysts expect the Swedish Krona to stay on its seven-month course of depreciation. In other words: A drop is the default, not a crisis.
MEDIA REACTION – FAR-RIGHT SET THE AGENDA: “Already, the far right has won the contest to determine the national agenda. Rivals have sought to prove that they, too, can be tough on lawbreaking and immigration,” is how the Washington Post saw it.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The top issues: While migration and refugee integration concerns stole the international headlines and helped propel the Sweden Democrats, overall, voters were also worried about the climate after a record-hot Nordic summer and brutal fire season, not to mention Sweden's housing crisis, health care and education.
New exit poll methodology: After inaccuracies in 2014 exit polls, Swedish TV channels changed their methodology for 2018, Expressen reported.
How did the polls fare? As election day approached, the two most likely government formations – a left bloc and a center-right bloc – were tied on 40 percent each in polls. That was reflected at the ballot box, though the mix of support between parties differed somewhat. The far-right Sweden Democrats were slated to win 19 percent, and ended up closer to 18 percent. Catch up on a Sweden poll of polls here.
Outlier poll: YouGov, which had the Sweden Democrats first in four consecutive summer polls, is the polling company with most questions to answer this morning.
Controversy at public broadcaster: The political editor of Sweden's national broadcaster's election program was replaced Saturday after liking two tweets by the Sweden Democrats.
Fun fact: Sweden allows people to change their minds after they've voted and vote again. Officials at polling station in Stockholm Central Station told Sky News “plenty of people” have been doing that. We're almost sure PM Stefan Löfven didn't do this, though this tweet suggests he might have! h/t Michelle Clifford
VIEW FROM NORTHERN SWEDEN: The Local's northern Sweden correspondent Paul Connolly talked to voters in Skellefteå through polling day. “Northern Swedish voters aren't nearly so exercised by immigration as their southern counterparts. Although most municipalities up here have taken in a substantial number of refugees … most areas in Norrland need more people, not fewer,” he wrote. “Many voters up here tend to focus on health and education issues and more regional concerns, such as transport and the methods of funding local services. Many northerners resent the amount of money that flows south from northern industry, especially from power companies.”
One voter, Jonas Persson, said: “I think the main issues in rural areas are about centralization – people are concerned that they have fewer police stations, ambulances, schools, banks, and other public utilities close by. Some parties have proposed a system that is closer to Norway's approach, which is to allow northern municipalities to keep the profits from natural resources.”
BIG IN GOTLAND: The Local's Rupali Mehra toured polling stations in Visby on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland: “I live in a student dorm, and even though I separate my garbage, we don't have a recycling facility as it is too expensive. That is a real concern for me,” says Johan Fällberg. For others like Max Kusserow, a student of archaeology, it is lack of affordable housing. Sweden has been reeling from a housing crisis.
COMPETING REASONS FOR REFUGEE-RELATED PROBLEMS: Refugees don't integrate because Sweden is so highly skilled – that's a new theory doing the rounds in the south of the country. The thinking is that Sweden's economy is now so service- and digital-driven, there's just no place for refugees in it. Typically voters on the right will say refugees from predominantly Muslim countries are a cultural mismatch. Voters to the left argue that refugees would contribute more if they faced fewer labor market restrictions.
BEST ELECTION READS
Catch-up read – POLITICO's election primer.
The town in southern Sweden where Sweden Democrats hope to get a third of the vote.
How migrants lift Sweden's economy and what they cost.
Stefan Löfven's Social Democrats' struggle for relevance. “As Sweden's economy has become more high-tech and service-oriented, the Social Democrats' grip has weakened.”
What would a world without Amazon look like? A visit to high-tech Sweden, where Amazon doesn't operate.
THANKS to Matt Kaminski, Jeanette Minns, Zoya Sheftalovich, Paul O'Mahony, Emma Löfgren, James Savage, Ryan Heath, Viktoriia Zhuhan, Victoria Martínez, Nele Schröder, Richard Orange, Rupali Mehra and Paul Connolly.