ELECTION ANALYSIS: Why the Sweden Democrats made it to parliamentPublicerad 2010-09-19
The entrance of the Sweden Democrats into parliament has caused a chock reaction. For months ahead we will be dwelling on the question of how, and why, the Sweden Democrats reach its desirable place in parliament.
It will then be important to look beyond merely the election campaign. The success of the Sweden Democrats did not take place in one night. The party's entrance into parliament is the result of a process that has been going on for a long time. There are several explanations, but in essence it's simple. It is about supply and demand.
The Sweden Democrats have entered parliament because there is a sufficient number of people who like their ideas. They do not vote for the Sweden Democrats in spite of the party's islamophobia and racism but because of it.
There is simply a demand for an alternative that wants to limit immigration and abandon the idea of a multicultural society.
We have seen it in opinion polls and previous elections. In 2009 the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg presented a survey revealing that 36 percent of the respondents found it a good idea to "receive fewer refuges". In a long perspective the opposition has weakened. In 1992 the corresponding figure was 65 percent. On the other hand we know that there is pure antipathy against immigrants and not the least Muslims. The same survey reveals that during the autumn of 2009 there were 12 percent of the respondents who would not "like to have an immigrant from another part of the world married into the family".
In this group we find the Sweden Democrats' potential voters. In the 1991 elections it was partly immigration opposition that brought New Democracy to the parliament. In 2002 the Liberal Party of Sweden (Folkpartiet) were given a serious boost with the help of the anti-immigrant voters.
The turn has now come to the Sweden Democrats.
The death of ideology
The Sweden Democrats gain from presenting themselves as an alternative to the so-called establishment. The bloc politics that has marked the election campaign has turned the Sweden Democrats into a distinct third alternative, an underdog. The difficulty to make a difference between the two "labour parties" heading the two blocs creates a political vacuum where the Sweden Democrats can step in. For those who have been affected by the wide-spread unemployment there has of course been a breeding ground for dissatisfaction and frustration. For them the Sweden Democrats provided a scapegoat policy where immigration is the explanation for all social problems.
When ideology disappears from the public discussions, it will be characterized by morals, by good and bad. This is particularly clear when looking at how the established parties confront the Sweden Democrats. The party is many times being met from moral premises – SD is bad, we are good.
Yelling at the party instead of confronting its policy only serves the Sweden Democrats. Irrespective if this occurs in debates or when talking about the party. The most obvious example is the debate following the publication of Jimmie Åkesson's article on Islam in Aftonbladet last autumn. The Sweden Democrats made a big leap in the opinion polls in connection with the discussions. But it was not Jimmie's article in itself that lead to the upswing. It was the indignant debate that followed. For a few days the Sweden Democrats were the focus of a discussion on how bad and dangerous the party was. Few voices argued against what Jimmie Åkesson actually stated in his article.
It is always easy to blame media. But it is not a fatal mistake by Swedish media that made the Sweden Democrats reach parliament. The problem might rather be that they have done their job. Since last elections the Sweden Democrats' presence in newspapers, television and radio has increasingly become a normal feature. The Party's annual meetings are nowadays well observed events, Jimmie Åkesson has become a frequent guest in debate shows and media report on the party's policy, not the least on a local level. The Sweden Democrats simply have made their media breakthrough. It is a natural consequence of the party's growth. And this obviously benefits the Sweden Democrats.
Another explanation for the success of the Sweden Democrats is that they are so clearly presented as a party holding the balance of power. By reporting on who can consider cooperating with the Sweden Democrats or not, and by constantly returning to the question, media has given the party a role that is more important than they deserve. This has cleared all doubts among the potential SD voters who feared that their vote would be wasted.
Moreover, the media coverage has generally contributed to concealing the ideological differences between the parties. This election campaign has been as much about opinion polls and shape of the day, as about concrete policy. This has contributed to the lack of ideological discussion which has been so favourable to the Sweden Democrats.
Finally, the party ran a relatively successful campaign. Where media evidently played an important role. Media payed little attention to the Sweden Democrats a few weeks prior to the elections, but the party was thrown back into the spotlight again when the its election clip was stopped by TV 4. The alleged attack against one of the party's young activists also displayed what the party likes to talk about as vulnerability. An election campaign that, until the last weeks, had been relatively calm for the Sweden Democrats suddenly changed character. It is hard to say how much it affected, but when, during the last days of the election campaign, public attention was paid to the Sweden Democrats' open-air meetings having to be cancelled, the party yet again found itself in a favourable medial position.
The political climate
For the potential SD voters there must be a reason to vote for the Sweden Democrats. Even if one is opposed to immigration, one might prioritize other issues; education, environment or taxes. For the Sweden Democrats to attract voters their issues must be seen as important. They obviously have so in these elections.
During last years there have been a number of debates putting the party's core issues on the charts. The attention to the municipal refugee reception, the unaccompanied refugee children, riots and stone throwing in suburbs and not the least the veil and burka debate.
In some cases the Sweden Democrats have played a role in the discussions, in other cases they have not. Strictly speaking this doesn't matter. The Sweden Democrats are favoured anyhow because this makes their issues important.
Neither do the Sweden Democrats have to convince the voters about the corner stone of the party's policy – that our country is made up by "Swedes" and "immigrants". This perception is constantly reproduced by established politicians and media.
In the same manner immigration is described as a problem. It is sometimes being said that we do not speak openly about the problems with integration policy in Sweden. It is rather the opposite. That we have failed integration is arguably one of the most worn out political phrases. And the fact that it is constantly being repeated only helps SD.
This, combined, has contributed to turning the Sweden Democrats into a more realistic alternative for the party's potential voters. But it is not the only explanation. The Sweden Democrats of course have contributed to their own success. The party leadership has managed to convince the voters that the party has dealt with its passed and the party leadership appears competent enough. Most importantly the party has effectively reduced its target area for its opponents. They have, as they express it themselves, adapted its policy to reality.
The fact that the party has grown has increased its contact with the voters. In that way they have been able to persuade colleagues and a curious public about the party's necessity, facte-to-face. Moreover they have not stood alone. Last years a significant xenophobic net activism has appeared which has backed up the party.
The party has likewise been capable of dealing with its scandals. Jimmie Åkesson's only mistake was when he apologized for singing satirical songs about Olof Palme. The party has gotten away with everything else. Parties like the Sweden Democrats are able to do so.
The party's connections to the White Power movement and especially racist statements do not seem to have affected the party's sympathizers. As someone said, revealing that the Sweden Democrats are racists is like revealing that the ice cream vendor sells ice cream. It is part of the party's product description. In the same manner, disturbing news of how the party miscalculates budget propositions or lies about figures tends to pass the voters unnoticed. Traditional reviews are instead seen as unjust attacks against the party.
We knew that there was a demand for a party that wants to limit immigration. The voters now obviously see that there is supply of such an alternative. That alternative is called the Sweden Democrats. And the frightening part is not that the party has made it to parliament, but that it is there because there are people who support it.