Jacob Christensen

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Project 52 – 2014: Week 38

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… Humour … [scratches head] …

Generally, I’m not too fond of graffiti but this rat* which has appeared at several places in Odense in recent years is a humorous element in the city landscape.

*No, not a rabbit. It has a long tail and I’ve been told from somebody who knows somebody.

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 22nd, 2014 at 7:30 am

The Moderates: How a Good Performance Can Still Be a Defeat

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Elections can have their non-obvious aspects. At Sunday’s general election the Moderates suffered heavy losses, Fredrik Reinfeldt resigned as prime minister and party leader, and his statements on immigration and asylum policy during the election campaign became the subject of many discussions.

As usual, the image is more complicated. Viewed in isolation Sunday’s result was among the party’s best since the introduction of the single-chamber Riksdag in 1970: Only 1982, 2006 and of course 2010 yielded better results for the party. Here, we may note that the 2010 election now looks like an outlier – the Moderates benefitted from the support won by the Alliance during 2010 as a reaction to the handling of the fiscal crisis. Bizarrely, the Alliance actually increased its share of the vote from 2006 to 2010 but still lost its parliamentary majority due to the Sweden Democrats entering the Riksdag. In a way, is was the bad performance of the left-wing in general and the Social Democrats in particular, which cost the Alliance its majority in the 2010-2014 Riksdag.

On the other hand, the 2014 result should give the centre-right pause for thought. While the performance of the Moderates was in the top-four of the last 45 years, the combined performance of the centre-right was the worst since 1970, even including the result of the 1994 election which followed three years of parliamentary uncertainty and economic crisis. This time the weakness was of the centre-right’s own doing with the Moderates, in particular, losing votes to the Sweden Democrats. Given that Fredrik Reinfeldt and the Moderates chose a very positive line on immigration while Sweden Democrat voters cited immigration as their prime reason for voting for the party, this raises the question if a new Moderate leadership will turn the party in a more immigration-sceptic direction in order to win back lost votes or if the party leadership will hope that a large part of this section of the electorate will change its priorities during the next four years.

Finally, we can say that Fredrik Reinfeldt did chose an unusual strategy in dealing with the immigration issue. He and the Moderate leadership stuck to the immigration-positive line all the way and despite all innovations in campaigning and policy making, this points to Reinfeldt essentially being a policy- and not a vote- or office-driven leader.

Moderates and alliance 1970-2014

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 19th, 2014 at 7:30 am

Posted in Politics

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The Night of the 12.9 Percent

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As the dust begins to clear, the causes and effects of the Swedish election begin to show. The most obvious result was the victory for the Sweden Democrats – opinion polls and even exit polls had put them on around 10% of the vote which in itself would have been a major success, but in the end the party managed to win 12.9%. This is actually a better performance than that of the Danish People’s Party in the 2011 Danish general election, even if the DPP had polled 13.9% in the 2007 election.1

This points to an apparent paradox: One the one hand longitudinal studies show that the public opinion in Sweden has steadily turned more positive towards refugees and immigrants since the early 1990s just as public confidence in politicians has increased since hitting a low after 1990-1994 the economic and banking crisis. On the other hand the SD vote has every hallmark of political distrust and xenophobia.

The best explanation in my opinion is that SD under Jimmie Åkesson’s leadership has been able to mobilise that part of the electorate which has low trust in politicians and the political system and which holds negative views of immigrants and refugees. In a way, the change in support for SD from 2006 to 2014 was less on the mass and more on the elite level. The SvT election study also suggests that SD hasn’t exhausted its potential yet with some 17% of voters stating that the party has the best immigration policy.

SvT Valu

Linn Sandberg and Marie Demker on xenophobia in the Swedish public

Anders Sannerstedt on SD sympathizers

Sören Holmberg and Lennart Weibull on political trust

To be continued

  1. The DPP has of course since then managed to improve its level of support beyond the wildest imagination of pundits and pollsters []

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 17th, 2014 at 7:30 am

Posted in Politics

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Project 52 – 2014: Week 37

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“Longevity” – illustrated by an archeological excavation. European towns and cities are ancient by US standards. Even if I live in a modern house, the street next to it dates from the 15th century. The rebuilding of the city centre here in Odense also means that a number of archeological excavations are being made – I’m actually not sure what these foundations (next to the City Hall) are the remains of or if they will survive the building project but they are a symbol of the longevity of urban structures.

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 15th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Posted in General

Notes on the Swedish Election Campaign

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As preparation for Monday’s broadcast, I received some questions/themes about the Swedish election campaign and Swedish politics in general. We didn’t get around to discuss all of them, but I thought I would post some notes about the campaign based on the questions:

1. The state of the Alliance: Why is the governing coalition losing?

If we assume that (un)employment and the economy have been the main issues on the agenda, then slow growth and persistent youth unemployment (even if we are far from Southern European levels) must be the place to look.

2. Why won’t the Conservatives cooperate with the Sweden Democrats?

The Conservatives (and the Alliance in general) are market liberals and pro-open immigration. The Sweden Democrats a) have a troubled history and b) lean toward the Nationalist-Conservative pole. We can also note that the Alliance have chosen the Green Party as its ally in immigration and asylum policy.

3. What are the main differences between the Sweden Democrats and Danish People’s Party?

The history. SD were born out of the violent and anti-democratic extreme right of the 1980s and 1990s. Jimmie Åkesson’s project has been to mainstream the populist right and make it acceptable first electorally and later parliamentary. It may take another change of leadership to reach the latter goal. The electoral potential is difficult to gauge – establishment commentators couldn’t see SD enter the Riksdag before the 2010 election.

4. The state of the Social Democracy

First, the Social Democratic platform seems very backward-looking with an expansion of (subsidised) jobs in the public sector as the main electoral promise and the solution to youth unemployment. Second, the party is looking at its worst election since the introduction of general and equal suffrage in Sweden. There is a contradiction here (or rather, the lack of new ideas may be an important explanation for the continuing weakness of the Social Democrats)

5. The New Politics dimension

The original question was about the role of the Green Party and Feminist Initiative, but in my opinion the new politics dimension also includes the Christian Democrats and the Sweden Democrats. That would make up some 25-30% of the electorate. Perhaps the fact that the socio-economic scale is so dominant in Swedish politics despite the strong post-modern character of Swedish society. On the other hand, the SD is the only party which doesn’t fit nicely into the established political blocs.

6. Is Sweden leading Denmark or Denmark leading Sweden with regard to political mobilisation?

In comparative research both Denmark and Sweden clearly belong to the group of Protestant countries which are also high in (post-)materialism and individualism. Sweden looks like an outlier – a very (post-)Protestant and perhaps even post-national country. Sweden also looks to the US with regard to identity politics while Denmark has moved closer to a European cluster. In many ways, contemporary Denmark is closer to a country like the Netherlands. So it is perfectly possible that Sweden and Denmark will follow different trajectories in the coming decades.

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 12th, 2014 at 8:00 am

Project 52 – 2014: Week 36

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Blue September sky and blue waters in central Copenhagen

Blue – as in a blue September sky and blue waters at the harbour of Copenhagen on a Saturday afternoon.

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 9th, 2014 at 8:00 am

Talking about the Swedish Election

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For anyone wanting to hear me speak, I was part of the panel on the upcoming Swedish election in today’s edition of Det Røde Felt. I got lost in an In-the-Days-of-Adam-and-Eve argument at the end but the basic point was: No, I don’t think Sweden or Denmark are necessarily models of trajectories of political competition.

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 8th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Project 52 – 2014: Week 35

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Pantheonsgade, Odense: Late Summer Rain

Something which is typical of late summer in Denmark? Sudden bursts of torrential rain.

It is not quite the tropics and yesterday’s shower in Odense was by no means as severe as the rainfall which hit the Copenhagen area on Saturday night.

Written by Jacob Christensen

August 31st, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Posted in General

Ms. Vestager Goes to Brussels

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And in the end, the grapevine had it right: It was Margrethe Vestager, not Helle Thorning-Schmidt who left for Brussels.

First of all, Helle Thorning-Schmidt has been in a “when will you stop beating your husband”-situation for a long time: Even if she were a possible candidate for the European Council presidency, there was no way she could announce her interest or disclose any details about the process. In fact, it is a bit of a lose-lose situation: If she had left Danish politics for Brussels, she would have been described as a defector. Now, media can spin the “Thorning lost the Council presidency” angle.

Vestager is the highest-ranking politician Denmark has sent to the EU since the appointment of Henning Christophersen in 1985. Incidentally, Christophersen, Vestager and Connie Hedegaard all came from the junior partner in the sitting government. Exactly which portfolio she will get in the Juncker commission remains to be seen – even if the Trade portfolio may be seen as less prominent than some of the economic portfolios it is still central for the foreign relations and economic policies of the EU member states.

Vestager has been party leader (not chairman!) since 2007. 7.5 years in office is a respectable run for a party leader these days, even if she trails her successor Marianne Jelved with 10 years. Her career in national politics spans a 20-year period so she is also typical of the present generation of politicians who enter national politics in their mid-20s and leave before the age of 50.

Finally, Vestager has also been representative of the contemporary Danish social liberals: Distinctively urban, with steely self-control (see: Max Weber on Protestantism), right-wing (or perhaps rather: Neoclassical) with regard to economic policies and left-wing in cultural and immigration issues. Despite the change of party leader, there is little reason to believe that Morten Østergaard will choose a different line.

Written by Jacob Christensen

August 31st, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Politics

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Project 52 – 2014: Week 34

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Odense was host to two festivals during the past week and of course I missed both the Hans Christian Andersen and the Spoken Words events. Anyway, Ny Vestergade was transformed to a Festival Street but on Sunday afternoon this was what remained. The dumpsters look like unintentional artworks.

Written by Jacob Christensen

August 25th, 2014 at 8:00 am

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