The report comes from the Swedish Institute (SI), the government agency responsible for cultural exchange and sharing information about Sweden beyond its borders, and it regularly carries out surveys to understand how the Nordic nation is viewed abroad.
“As far as we can see, the negative reports haven't changed the image of Sweden among the general public. It's still overwhelmingly positive,” said SI analyst Jacob Stenberg.
The themes most associated with Sweden by survey respondents included the Swedish welfare state, nature and environment, a modern and well-functioning land, and sustainability.
The report looked particularly closely at the view of Sweden in the Netherlands, where 58 percent had a “very strong and positive” image of Sweden and 15 percent said this positive image had been strengthened over recent years. Those who had visited Sweden or had friends in the country typically had a more positive impression than the average, which SI suggested could show that experience of Sweden contributes to a positive image of the country
Another thing the agency looked at in its annual report is how often articles and other content related to Sweden were spread online in English, Russian, Spanish and Arabic.
It found that over the past year, the two pieces of Swedish news that had the widest reach internationally were the death of musician Avicii and the discovery of a pre-Viking era sword by an eight-year-old girl, which was widely reported globally after The Local interviewed the sword-finder.
The reunion of electronic DJ group Swedish House Mafia was also widely reported – while the top domestic story, the Swedish election, received very little attention according to SI's study.
“Politics is generally not a major discussion topic. There were reports on the Swedish election in the traditional media, but engagement on social media was limited,” commented Stenberg. “Sweden's mediation in the Yemen conflict, however, received a great deal of attention on Arabic-speaking platforms.”
Culture and sport were also popular discussion topics, with Sweden's unusually good World Cup run and the Eurovision Song Contest generating many international reports. Attention was also given to the topic of migration throughout the year, and a spate of car burnings in Western Sweden over the summer made the news beyond Sweden's borders.
The agency also looked into Sweden's performance in various international indexes ranking countries in topics such as equality, democracy, happiness, and education. In all the 22 indexes studied, Sweden had made the top ten the previous year. In half of these, Sweden's position improved between 2017 and 2018, but it fell in two of the rankings: digital competitiveness and innovation.