Following the Norwegian election last monday, Jarl Cordua asked if the result was an indication that the left-wing had peaked in Nordic politics with three out of four countries having a centre-right prime minister (we assume the Erna Solberg will be the next Norwegian PM) and the present Danish coalition being slated for an electoral disaster in 2014 or 2015.
I took a brief look at the database at www.parties-and-elections.eu which isn’t complete (some minor left-wing parties are not listed) but offers easy access to data for elections from 1945 onward. My conclusion is that A) the Social Democratic parties are definitively weaker now than in the golden era of the Nordic Welfare States but B) the strength of the respective left wings do vary a lot over time and between countries so it is hard to conclude that the Nordic left as such is on the decline.1
But let us take a look at some diagrams to illustrate the point. First out is Denmark:
Here, we can see that the left-wing recorded its weakest result in 2005, followed by 1973. At the 2007 and 2011 elections, victories for SF and the Red-Green Alliance (EL) have to some extent compensated for the weakening of support for the Social Democrats. 2014/15 could turn out to be a disaster for the left-wing, though. And support for the left-wing has declined from the traditional 50% to 40% during the last decade with the decline of the Social Democrats as the main explanation.
2010 was a spectacularly bad result for the Swedish Social Democrats and here neither the Greens nor the Left could offer any help. 1991 and 2006 were two other bad elections for the Social Democrats and the left-wing. Perhaps the Social Democrats could take some solace from the fact that the party managed a comeback in 1994 – even if it took a massive economic crisis to undermine the electorate’s faith in the centre-right. On the other hand, the rise of the Sweden Democrats could post a long-term challenge to the Social Democrats.
Things have been fluctuating for the Norwegian left-wing but if we look at the long-term beginning in 1945, the trend for the Norwegian left is clearly negative. The 1950s and 1960s saw the left-wing share of the vote at 50-55%, declining to 45% from the 1970s onward. Finally, the period since 1997 has seen the left-wing share down in the 40-45% interval. Still, 2001, not 2013 was the worst election for the combined left.
Finally, there is Finland which traditionally had a somewhat weaker left-wing than the Scandinavian countries combined with a split between the Social Democrats and the Communists (and their successor parties) which made the Finnish party system look more like the traditional Italian and French systems. Here, we are looking at a decline from 45-50% to 35-40% as the Social Democrats haven’t been able to make up for the decline of the post-Communists. The 2011 election was the worst for the combined left-wing since 1945. Incidentally, support for the Finnish Centre Party also declined in the 2011 election. Here, time will tell what impact the True Finns will have on the balance of the Finnish party system.
If you want to play with the data (and add numbers for the minor left-wing parties), the spreadsheet is in my Dropbox.
- I have added numbers for the minor Danish left-wing parties from my own database, but the data are not complete for Sweden, Norway and Finland [↩]