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.