In electoral politics, Denmark and Sweden are very different creatures these days so Denmark may not necessarily have many lessons to offer for Sweden, but the latest talk about two alternative coalitions – Social Democrats, Left and Greens to the left and Conservatives, Centre Party, Liberals and Christian Democrats to the right – competing for office led professor Marie Demker to argue that this would lead to a decline in turn-out.
My immediate response would be that Swedish politics, despite all talk about consensus democracy – generally have been a rather rigid two-bloc affair with the 1994-1998 term as the only real exception in later years. And as we all know, turn-out in 1998 was down while the peak in turn-out was during the 1970s and early 1980s. My main explanation for the lower turn-out in 1998 and 2002 is that the centre-right opposition did not appear as a credible alternative to the Social Democratic government.
If we look at Danish data from 1953 onward1 we get a mixed picture. As in Sweden, turn-out increased from the 1950s to the 1970s despite the gradual lowering of the minimum age from 23 to 20 years. The elections in 1960, 1966 and 1968 which had clear left-right coalitions competing also coincided with an increase in turn-out.2 The same goes for the 1998, 2001 and 2007 elections, so I doubt that having two competing coalitions in itself lowers turn-out.
One factor which may play a role in the next Swedish election is the performance of the Sweden Democrats. The SweDems are outside of the suggested coalitions and my guess is that if opinion polls begin to show relatively strong – as in > 5% – support for the party, turn-out will be up for two reasons: First of all, the party appeals to young men – a group with low rates of turn-out. Second, the possibility of SweDem entering parliament and perhaps even controlling the balance will mobilise anti-SweDem voters.