Why has Sweden’s far-right political party gained popularity?

Why has Sweden's far-right political party gained popularity?
To understand a country, you need to understand its politics. SI News spoke to two experts to find out why traditionally-liberal Sweden has seen a recent surge in support for the far-right Swedish Democrats.

The Swedish Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna), Sweden’s right-wing political party, has been on the rise since they won representation in the Swedish Riksdag for the first time in the 2010 general election. Recently, support for the national-conservative party has reached new heights and, according to a series of fresh polls, they seem now to be well on the way to become Sweden’s largest political party.

The answer as to why the Swedish Democrats continue to gain support depends on who you ask. Political scientists in Sweden generally offer two explanations for the trend. 

According to Jonas Hinnfors, Professor in Political Science at the University of Gothenburg, the first explanation is that as the ties between voters and political parties have weakened in general in Sweden over the past 40 years, new political parties have been able to attract voters. The second explanation, he continues, is that as the major post-WWII societal reforms – such as the welfare state, labour market legislation, and the market economy – have proved rather popular among the electorate some of the old tensions between the left and right parties have been reduced. 

“On top of that, the Swedish Left has found it increasingly difficult – both administratively and economically – to continue to improve the public sector and the welfare state – thus further reducing the differences between the left and the right,” says Jonas Hinnfors. “This reduction in the old tensions has made it possible for the populist radical right to politicize other issues as a response to peoples’ dreams of a better life and to mobilize voters who never felt totally comfortable with some aspects of socio-cultural modernization – such as gay rights and feminism.”

A demonstration for International Womens' Day  in Gothenburg. Credits: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedish journalist Daniel Poohl, who is the Publisher and CEO of the Swedish anti-racist magazine Expo, adds to Hinnfors’ analysis that the Swedish Democrat’s upswing in the more recent past goes hand in hand with the increasing focus of public discourse on issues of domestic security. He believes that the Swedish Democrats have been successful in capitalizing on the immigration issue and its relation to other social problems – which has been a particularly hot topic in Sweden especially since the 2015 refugee crisis.

“The political issues where the Swedish Democrats are outspoken and have credibility – including issues pertaining to criminality and safety – are currently high on the political agenda in Sweden,” says Poohl. “In addition, more and more actors in the political discourse in Sweden – including some of the other major political parties – have subscribed to the Swedish Democrats’ analysis of Swedish society – that all social problems can, in principle, be attributed to immigration. As a result, for an increasing number of Swedish voters topical issues such as gang violence have become synonymous with immigration.”

Poohl also states that there is currently a general discontent in Swedish society about the way Swedish politicians are handling the issues around safety and security. He believes that this, along with a greater sense of insecurity in society and the world at large, has led an increasing number of voters to decide to give the Swedish Democrats a genuine chance.

“Combined with the proliferation of the view that Sweden’s major social ills can be accounted for in terms of failures of immigration and integration, there is a widespread sense that Swedish politicians are not doing enough, politically, to address these pressing issues,” explains Poohl. “At the same time, in an era of global insecurity and rapid societal change, a certain faction of society is resorting to national-conservatism – and scapegoating – as a panacea for all the challenges we face today as a society.”

Credits: Mona Loose/imagebank.sweden.se

Hinnfors and Poohl agree that the political focus in Sweden on stricter immigration rules, distinctly tougher policies on crime and a tendency to mobilize against certain Muslim practices have become stronger since 2014 – when some of the other parties soon started to blame Sweden’s open immigration policies for the rise of the Swedish Democrats. They further agree that the rise of the Swedish Democrats and their ideological ethos has shaped Swedish politics and society in a number of important ways, especially in the past couple of years.

“Initially, after the 2010 general election, the Swedish Democrats did not affect Swedish politics to a great extent,” says Hinnfors. “At present, however, as the two the Moderates and the Christian Democrats have come across as a little less concerned about potential Swedish Democrat influence over parliamentary – and Government decisions the once very successful non-Socialist ‘Alliance’ has split up – a more right-wing bloc (the Moderates, Christian Democrats and the Swedish Democrats) – along the lines with what happened in Denmark 20 years ago – appears potentially possible as a future government alternative.”

Poohl adds that the Swedish Democrats’ outspoken anti-Liberalism has made other political parties become nervous and indecisive – and increasingly prone to adapt to the Swedish Democrats both politically and ideologically.

“The fact that the Swedish Democrats have won over an increasing number of voters has made some of the other parties think that they can win their voters back by showing them that they understand their concerns,” says Poohl. “They do this, for example, by reinforcing law and order and stricter immigration policies – by adopting a more authoritarian image.”