After the election, commentators were quick to point out that the Social Democrats’ share of the vote in the 2007 election (25,5%) was the lowest since the 1906 election when the party (then known as the Social Democracy) – then in its ascendancy – managed to win 25,4% of the vote. The previous low point had been the 1973 earthquake election when the Social Democrats only managed to win 25,6%.
Historical comparisons are notoriously tricky and as Denmark used a single-member first-past-the-post system until 1918, the 1906 election is a bad starting point. In particular, we should note that the Social Democrats and the Social Liberals during the FPTP era cooperated in many constituencies by not presenting competing candidates.
Another problem is that in 1906 the Social Democrats were the only left-wing party in the party system. There were some splinter groups on the extreme left before the Bolshevik Revolution but after the split in 1919 and the formation of the Communist Party, which entered the Folketing in 1932, there has always been more than one left-wing party represented in the Danish parliament with the Socialist Party – formed in 1959 by the former Communist leader Aksel Larsen – as the most important.
As the electorate has become more volatile and the Social Democrats – especially during the 1990s – have lost their traditional electoral basis, it does not make much sense to concentrate on one party if we want to know how the balance of power looks in a long-term perspective. Instead we should look at the entire left-wing to see how bad or how well this part of the political spectrum did on 13 November even if Social Democrats of an earlier era would rather be seen dead than rely on the Communist or Socialist vote.
If we pool the votes of the Social Democrats, the Socialists and the Unity List/Red-Green Alliance as well as earlier, not defunct, socialist parties, the answer to the question “How well did the left-wing do in 2007?” is: Better than in the 2001 and 2005 elections but the left is still in a historically weak position. Even with the Socialist gains, the left-wing is down at the same strength as it was during the 1920s.
It doesn’t get much better if we include the Social Liberal Party – which more often than not has supported Social Democratic governments since 1924 – in the equation. The combined left in 2007 still lies 5-10% below the share of the vote it could count on for most of the period between 1929 and 1998.
What Helle Thorning-Schmidt needs to beat Anders Fogh Rasmussen (or a likely successor) in the next election is a formula that will move a net 5-10 % of the electorate from the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party to the Social Democrats.
Here is the chart with added information on the share of the vote won by parties to the left of the Social Democrats (violet), the Social Democrats (red), the Social Democrats and parties to the left (yellow/orange) and finally the Social Democrats, parties to the left and the Social Liberals.