Sweden wraps up

Counting is now effectively complete (the official website shows three polling places still outstanding) from last Sunday’s Swedish election and the opposition has indeed snatched the extra seat that it was close to – although it came at the expense of the Social Democrats, who did poorly in the late counting, rather than the Left. The right-of-centre forces finish with 49.6% of the vote and 176 seats, about 44,000 votes and three seats ahead of the four parties supporting the current centre-left government, who had 48.9% and 173 seats.

The Social Democrats picked up seven seats to finish on 107; the Greens also improved, up two to 18. But their other allies lost ground, with Centre and Left both finishing on 24 seats, down seven and four respectively. On the right, the far-right Sweden Democrats were the only ones to make gains, up 11 to 73 seats, followed by the Moderates on 68 (down two), the Christian Democrats 19 (down three) and the Liberals 16 (down four). Turnout was 84.1%, down about three points on 2018.

Social Democrat prime minister Magdalena Andersson has conceded defeat and will resign today. Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson will be invited to form a government in her place, but his success is not guaranteed. While Kristersson has accepted the need to bring the far right within the tent, it’s not certain either that his allies will tolerate ministerial posts for the Sweden Democrats, or that the latter will come to the party without them.

And with only a three-seat majority, Kristersson will have very little margin for error: two dissident Liberals would be enough to put the centre-left back in office. As the Guardian’s David Crouch remarks, it will “make any future government fragile and vulnerable to individual parliamentarians voting with their conscience.”

In yesterday’s Crikey my friend Guy Rundle tries to explain how Sweden got to this point. It’s well worth a read, but I’m not convinced he’s on the right track. Coming himself from the left, Rundle looks to the Social Democrats as the answer and argues that they have bled working-class votes to the Sweden Democrats – who promise the welfarist and dirigiste economics of the left without any of its social progressiveness or cosmopolitanism.

There’s probably an element of truth in this, but it doesn’t really fit the data. Go back to the 2010 election, when the Sweden Democrats first entered parliament. Since then, their vote has climbed from 5.7% to 20.5%, but the Social Democrats have barely changed, going from 30.7% to 30.3%. (Ditto the Greens and the Left, who have lost only 1.1% between them.) The big drop has been with the Moderates, who’ve fallen from 30.1% to 19.1%.

So while the figures don’t prove it, it looks to me as if the major shift is within the right, and that the far right is mostly attracting support from people who used to vote for centre-right parties – helped, in all probability, by those centre-right parties legitimating some of the far right’s themes.

We’ve been here before, or sort of. After the Nazis rose to power in Germany in the 1930s, much commentary asserted that their appeal to the masses (the working class and lower middle class) had been the basis of their success. But as Richard Hamilton demonstrated in his 1982 book Who Voted for Hitler?, Nazi voting strength actually depended much more on the middle class: their key gains were among wealthier voters, not poorer ones, and it was the vote of the traditional middle-class parties that collapsed.

The Sweden Democrats have moved away from some of their neo-Nazi past (which is of course another ingredient in their success), but it’s not unreasonable to think that the dynamic of their rise might be similar.

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