We still have to wait some time for the full report on the 2010 election, but SvT’s ValU still gives some interesting pointers to the composition of the SD vote and questions about this segment of the Swedish electorate which may be worth discussing.
First, SD voters deviate from the mainstream in their priorities. If we look at the top-5 issues for all voters according to ValU, they were: 1. Education and schools (54% said this was very important compared to 54% in 2006); 2. Employment (53% – 56% in 2006); 3. Economy at large (53% – 50% in 2006)); 4. Health care (49% – 51% in 2006); 5. Social welfare at large (46% – not in the 2006 questionnaire)
Needless to say, priorities of voters from different parties differed. The top-5 of the Moderates were: 1. Economy at large, 2. Employment, 3. Own economy, 4. Education, 5. Taxation, while the top-5 of the Social Democrats were: 1. Social welfare at large, 2. Health care, 3. Education, 4. Employment, 5. Care for the elderly.1
But now look at the priorities of the Sweden Democrats voters: 1. Refugees and immigration; 2. Law and order; 3. Care for the elderly; 4. Health care; 5. Own economy. The only issue which made it into the general top-5 of all voters was health care, while care for the elderly made it to #7. On the other hand, the other four issues in the top-5 are placed in the top-10 of the priorities of SweDem voters. Curiously, employment is only #10 on the SD list.
SweDem voters also deviate from the (statistical) norm in another way: Only 20% claim to have a high level of trust in politicians against 70% of all voters (actually, overall trust seems to have increased in 2010 compared with earlier elections!). This may reflect a general lack of trust in the political system, but it may just as well reflect the fact that the priorities of SweDem voters deviate from those of other voters and, more importantly, those of mainstream politicians.
One question which has interested commentators is the degree to which SweDem voters are rational. The answer must be that to the degree SweDem voters emphasise immigration as a political problem and SweDem is the party which make similar priorities, the SweDem vote is rational.2
One fact raises some questions, however: The social composition of the SweDem electorate. It is not really surprising to learn that young male workers are overrepresented. It is more surprising to learn that unemployed and people receiving sickness benefits are relatively more likely to vote SweDem – I would have expected employment to be much higher on the agenda of SweDem voters.
One way of explaining the underrepresentation of employment and overrepresentation of immigration on the SweDem agenda (remember that “own economy” is #5) could be that a section of unemployed and people on sickness benefits see social welfare as a zero-sum game between “Swedes” and “immigrants”: The more money spent on immigrants, the less available for unemployment insurance and sickness benefits. As it is, the Danish People’s Party has successfully used this line of argument when calling for cuts in benefits for immigrants and people with a migrant background.
As anybody who has followed the Danish debate (especially among right-wing politicians and commentators) will know, the focus here has been on the Sweden Democrats revealing the true preferences of the Swedish electorate against the elite conspiracy to keep immigration off the political agenda. It is true that immigration was a major factor motivating the SweDem vote, but a) there may be an element of displacement among some voters (they project welfare problems on immigration) and b) at present, only a minor segment of voters put an emphasis on immigration.
Both the Moderates and the Social Democrats have lost voters to the Sweden Democrats, but all things considered they may not have had much to win by bringing immigration to the top of the political agenda. In this respect, Sweden differs from Denmark.