Jacob Christensen

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Nick Aylott on Sahlin

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Nick Aylott, a former colleague from Umeå who is now an associate professor in political science at Södertörn College, has written a comment in the Swedish edition of The Local about the state of the Swedish Social Democracy after Mona Sahlin’s decision to step down as party leader. I hope Nick will forgive me for quoting the central part of his argument at length:

Sahlin’s own period as party chair involved an almost complete lack of leadership. Perhaps this was partly a reaction against her predecessor’s rather heavy-handed style. But it may have more to do with the party’s institutions (defined in a broad sense).

She did manage to pull the Social Democrats’ education policy towards a position that was more in line with most voters’ views. She was also responsible for the decision in 2008 to build a pre-electoral coalition with the two other left-of-centre parties (even if she was forced by her party to include the Left Party in that alliance, which proved electorally catastrophic).

But with regard to other substantive policy areas, especially economics, nothing was achieved – and, even worse, it never became at all clear what Sahlin WANTED to achieve. The manner in which she was selected as leader never involved her having to declare her candidacy, never mind set out a platform for where she wanted to take the party.

As I pretty much agree with Nick, I’ll just point you to his article for the rest.

One comment may be that the Swedish Social Democrats should avoid the curious process of 2006-2007 which involved selecting a leader by default and open the field for competing candidates. (You might want to check my review page for my comments – #1, #2 – from 2007)

Written by Jacob Christensen

November 15th, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Posted in Politics

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The Game of Ministerial Chairs; 2010 Edition

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Political scientists think this is fascinating, so please allow me to go through the distribution of portfolios in the reshuffled Reinfeldt government. For my take on the 2006 edition, look here.

This time, Fredrik Reinfeldt decided to expand the government from 22 to 24 ministers. This was no doubt done in order to accommodate demands from Moderate ranks for a higher share of the portfolios as well as keeping the coalition partners happy. If the government had kept its previous size, the smaller parties would have had to hand over portfolios to the Moderates.

After the election, the share according to the share of the votes looks as follows

  • Moderates: 30,1% of the vote = 60,9% share of the Alliance vote = 14,62 ministers (24 portfolios), 13,40 ministers (22 portfolios)
  • Liberals: 7,1% of the vote = 14,4% share = 3,45 (24) or 3,16 ministers (22)
  • Centre Party: 6,6% of the vote = 13,4% share = 3,21 (24) or 2,94 ministers (22)
  • Christian Democrats: 5,6% of the vote = 11,3% share = 2,72 (24) or 2,49 ministers (22)

If we then look at the actual cabinet, the distribution was: Moderates – 13, Liberals – 4, Centre Party – 4, Christian Democrats – 3. Strictly speaking, the Moderates gave away two portfolios to the Liberals and the Centre Party respectively, but this was what we normally expect.

There was some changes with regard to departmental boundaries (for instance, the title of Civilminister has been resurrected while the post as minister for higher education went the way of the dodo), but all in all the set-up looks pretty predictable. Especially with the benefit of hindsight. The personnel changes may have included some minor surprises but most of the new ministers look pretty solid and experienced.

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 6th, 2010 at 12:12 am

Posted in Politics

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Sweden: Developments in Women’s Representation

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After almost five years of eponymous blogging, I’m happy to introduce nothing less than the first guest blogger on this site: Jessika Wide, a former colleague from Umeå who is now a Post Doc at Uppsala University. Jessika’s main line of work concerns the political representation of women and here she writes about the decrease in the share of women MPs at the recent Swedish election and the possible causes.

The results from the dramatic parliamentary election in Sweden are just settled. So far the entry of the Sweden Democrats into the parliament and their position as the holder of the balance of power has attracted most attention. However another striking result is a decrease in female representation, from 47 % to 45 %. The decrease might be seen as marginal, but it is a break in the development. Since Swedish women became eligible in 1921, female representation has constantly increased, election after election. The only exception is the fateful election in 1991.

In 1991 the female representation in parliament decreased from 38 % to 33 %. One reason was the entry of male-dominated populist New Democracy into parliament. Another that the right-wing parties won seats from the left, and the right-wing parties had a lower female representation than the left-wing parties. The decreased female representation was seen as very serious and as a consequence a number of feminists created a network called “the Support Stockings”. The aim of the network was to pressure the political parties to increase the female representation in the election in 1994. Otherwise the network should create a women’s party, which was supported by a majority of the population and seen as a threat by the other parties. The result was that the established parties did increase the share of female candidates, for example the Social Democrats introduced zipped lists.1 In the election 1994 the female representation increased to 40 %, a new world record at that time.

So, what happened in the election this year? Hitherto the decrease in female representation is said to depend solely on the entry of the Sweden Democrats, with 3 female and 17 male MPs. However this is only half the truth. The female representation has also decreased significantly in some other parties. For example if only the Centre Party and the Liberal Party had sustained their share of female MPs from 2006, the female representation in parliament would not have decreased at all this election, despite the entry of the male-dominated Sweden Democrats.

This is the female representation in the political parties after the election (with female representation 2006 in parenthesis) and the number of MPs in total:

The Left Party: 58 % (64 %), 19 MPs

The Social Democrats: 48 % (48 %), 112 MPs

The Green Party: 56 % (42 %), 25 MPs

The Centre: 30 % (41 %), 23 MPs

The Liberal Party: 42 % (54 %), 24 MPs

The Christian Democrats: 37 % (38 %), 19 MPs

The Moderate Party: 48 % (43 %), 107 MPs

The Sweden Democrats: 15 % (–), 20 MPs

Why do we see this decrease in some parties which normally are considered to be positive towards gender equality and with a previous history of a high female representation? It is even more confusing that the Moderates have a gender-balanced representation, despite the fact that issues concerning gender equality and gender quotas are not very prioritized in the party.

The answer is the electoral system. Sweden has a proportional system which is seen as positive towards female representation, but the country is divided into 20 constituencies. The Social Democrats and the Moderates both received about 30 % of the votes and in most constituencies they won several seats each. Meanwhile the smaller parties have won maximally one seat each in the constituencies. This is nothing new, but it is clear that in this election the right-wing parties have gone to the polls with most lists topped by a male candidate. Since only one candidate from each party is elected it makes no difference that the rest of list is zipped. Also the Green Party and the Left Party won maximally one seat each in the constituencies, but in those parties the candidate selection is coordinated on a national basis to achieve a gender-balance also among the top candidates.

What will be the consequence of the decreased female representation? Most likely we will not see a repeat of the reactions in 1991. Most people will probably consider 45 % to be just as good as 47 %. Still it is the second best in the world (after Rwanda). Moreover we already have a feminist party in Sweden today, Feminist Initiative, which only received a modest 0.40 % of the votes in the election. More likely there will be a discussion within the smaller right-wing parties with a decreased female representation, especially in the Centre Party, which had 50 % female MPs in 2002. There might also be a discussion about the gender distribution of the parties’ top candidates on the ballots in the elections. This affects not only the female representation in parliament but also the gender distribution of positions of power at the national as well as the municipal level. For example, men still dominate in the municipal executive boards and among municipal commissioners.

  1. Zipped lists – or “varannan damernas” – means that male and female candidates alternate on the party lists /JC []

Written by Jessika Wide

September 25th, 2010 at 2:11 pm

A Note on Sweden Democrats Voters in the 2010 Election

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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.

  1. In case you wonder how education made it to #1, the answer is that the issue has a fairly high priority among most parties while other issues vary. []
  2. For a slightly different way of reaching the same conclusion, see Andreas Johansson Heinö’s blog post here. []

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 23rd, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Politics

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Post-Election Round-Up

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Round-up and reflections by my colleague Nick Aylott (apologies for the self-referential link at the end).

Henrik Oscarsson notes that a quirk in the Swedish election system may lead the Alliance to lose the majority it would have won if the system had been more proportional.

Whoops: Forgot these

Gissur Erlingsson argues that the success of the Sweden Democrats was caused not by a change in public opinion (demand) but a change in organisational strategies and capabilities (supply). If you have some kind of institutional access, you might also want to check these (gated) papers by Jens Rydgren: “Radical Right Populism in Sweden: Still a Failure, But for How Long?” (from 2002) and “Is extreme right-wing populism contagious? Explaining the emergence of a new party family” (from 2005).

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 21st, 2010 at 3:05 pm

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Interesting Times Indeed: First Thoughts about the Swedish Election

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This was an entertaining evening if you were a political scientist or a Sweden Democrat.

From the beginning, it was clear the SwedDem would pass the 4% threshold and the question was if the government would retain its majority. In the end, we had the rather weird situation that the government in fact increased its share of the vote compared with 2006 and lost its majority in the process.1 Even stranger is the fact, that immigration (SweDem’s major issue), despite the hopes of Danish right-wing commentators, appears to have been a marginal issue for the overwhelming part of the voters. The dynamics behind the increased support for the Sweden Democrats are not completely impossible to explain (a mix of nationalist and industrial society nostalgia in a limited segment of the electorate), but they add a new level of complexity to a party system which has been dominated by the socio-economic left-right dimension since the 1920s. If you read Scandinavian, you might want to take a look at this post by Anders Johansson Heinö about the development of the Sweden Democrats.

Despite the focus on the Sweden Democrats, I will maintain that they are a sideshow to some more profound developments in the Swedish party system and society as a whole. Since the 1930s, the Swedish party system has been a dominant-party system with the Social Democrats in command of the median voter and the median MP (until 1970, the SocDems had an additional advantage due to the composition of the upper chamber). Exactly when the Age of Social Democracy ended may be a topic for discussion: The party faced electoral problems during the 1970s and since 1988 it has only once managed to win more than 40 percent of the vote. Yesterday, the Social Democrats only managed to win marginally more votes than the Moderates – just as in Denmark, the party’s share of the vote is the lowest for a century.

Bad leadership has played a role but as my colleague Ulf Bjereld points out, the party faces some more fundamental challenges. Sweden 2010 is not Sweden 1985.

One characteristic of the present party system is an increased volatility. As Fredrik Reinfeldt was careful to point out, the difference in the share of the vote between the Social Democrats and the Moderates in 2002 was 25 percentage points. In 2010 it was down to less than one percentage point. Much of this volatility is intra-bloc volatility but the fight for the median voter has definitively increased.

Another characteristic is that Sweden now has to major parties commanding around 30 percent of the vote and six smaller parties each holding around 5-7 percent of the vote. The real difference between Sweden and Denmark is that Denmark has two 25% parties (V, SD), two 15% parties (DF, SF) and four parties hovering between 3 and 10 percent of the vote (KF, RV, LA, EL). Finland and Norway each have three major parties and a number of medium-sized and smaller parties.

There are many aspects of the 2010 to discuss but the most acute problem concerns the parliamentary basis of the government. First, we should note that there is one, and only one, way Fredrik Reinfeldt and his four-party government can be brought down: If the Sweden Democrats join the Red-Green opposition in a vote of no confidence.2 Needless to say, the Red-Greens could present a motion of no confidence but they will need the SweDems to vote actively against the government and such a move would trigger a massive round of recriminations.

Commentators and political scientists have pointed out that the government has the advantage of being able to choose between relying on the Sweden Democrats (Fredrik Reinfeldt emphatically ruled out this alternative on the election night) or seeking more or less formal agreements with the Social Democrats (as did Carl Bildt during the 1991-1994 parliamentary term) or the Green Party (Reinfeldt made such an invitation, only to be rejected by the leaders of the Greens). We should remember that these are early days and all three alternatives bring advantages and risks to all parties even if the interest on election night concentrated on some kind of agreement between the alliance and the Green Party.

Besides the symbolic aspect, the problem with the Sweden Democrats is that their economic policy builds on the assumption that curbing immigration will finance the expansion of a lot of transfers and services. The problem with the Greens is that the environmental and energy policies of the Alliance differ fundamentally from those of the Green Party (nuclear energy, for starters!) and if we look at the Social Democrats, taxes and social insurance appear as the major stumbling blocs.

That’s it for tonight, but stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.

  1. Look here for the election night result []
  2. From the 2014 election, things will be a bit different as the term of the prime minister will expire at the end of the parliamentary term. But Sweden will still apply negative parliamentarism []

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 20th, 2010 at 1:42 am

Posted in Politics

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A Round-Up of Posts and Links about Sweden

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Unless my internet connection goes down and Twitter gets hit by the infamous Fail Whale, I’ll be tweeting as jacobchr. If you want more, the more-or-less-official hashtag seems to be #val2010. Henrik Oscarsson has promised to be there as well.

And at this point, I may as well admit: It looks clear already now that I s**k at predicting. This was my guess back in April and it is obvious that I got the developments in the public opinion completely wrong. The election looks set to be much tighter than expected and turn-out to be higher than I predicted.

Why? Well, back in 2007 I noted that the opinion had turned against the government and wondered why: 1, 2, 3, 4. But just as the Alliance looked set for the burial came a comeback worthy of Lazarus.

Maybe the Social Democrats picked the wrong leader, or forgot to reconsider their policies and strategies in the process? Or maybe they forgot that Sweden these days isn’t the country it used to be? Or perhaps the prospect of Lars Ohly entering government spooked middle-class voters with the collapse of support for the Social Democrats as the result?

Among the Danish commentariat the Sweden Democrats have been the cause célèbre during this campaign – “why can’t a Swede be like us”, the refrain goes. Well, maybe the Swedes are more like us than many would like to believe, but on the other hand the priorities among voters and the political elite may be different in Sweden compared to Denmark.

If you want a cheap guide to the 2006 election, look no further than here. Statsvetenskaplig Tidsskrift’s special edition on the state of the parties is also available for free. And I have written an overview of the state of the (centre-)right.

Even if the Sweden Democrats are a sideshow to the main event, you might want to check out Niklas Orrenius “Jag är inte rabiat, jag äter pizza” (“I’m not an extremist, I eat pizzas”) about SweDem activists and the media’s problems with coming to terms with the party and Markus Uvell’s discussion of the sentiments and dynamics behind the support for sd in “Folkhemspopulismen” are both worth a read.

Enjoy your election night.

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 17th, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Cautious or Too Cautious?

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Peter Santesson asked in a tweet if Henrik Oscarsson wasn’t being too cautious in his conclusions about the state of the election campaign (and consequently, that my reference to HO was also over-cautious).

As I’m not an electoral researcher or statistician, I’ll leave the technical details to Oscarsson and just summarise how I interpret the numbers:

  1. There are variations between individual polls and we should be extremely careful when reporting or interpreting on the basis of single polls. Especially when a poll shows a major development compared with other polls and earlier polls from the same pollster.
  2. I put Mona Sahlin’s chances of becoming prime minister after the election to = 0%. The collapse of support for the Social Democrats is something which will merit the attention of an army of pollsters and political scientists.
  3. It is not likely that the Centre Party or the Christian Democrats will fall below the 4%-threshold. (See comrade Four Percent).
  4. Support for the Sweden Democrats appear to the on the increase. Even if there are statistical uncertainties, I now think it is more likely than not that SD makes it past the threshold
  5. The big question to me is: Will the alliance win a majority of its own, despite SD entering the Riksdag, or will Sweden have a hung parliament. Here, it looks to me that everybody have something to play for.

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 13th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Swedish Election Posts

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Monday’s round-up:

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 13th, 2010 at 3:32 pm


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A late note on Pia Kjærsgaard’s entry to the Swedish electoral campaign this Saturday. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a transcription of her speech at sd’s rally in Höganäs, so I will stick to making some general observations.

First, I don’t know of any studies into the use of foreign party leaders in national election campaigns. I suspect that the reason is that these appearances are generally seen as electorally irrelevant. Most voters only know national party leaders but will have a hard time recognising foreign party leaders. Just to test yourself: If you are Danish, name the leader of the Swedish Liberal Party. If you are Swedish, name the leader of the Danish Socialist Party. Googling is not allowed.

This leads to my second observation: Why invite foreign party leaders, if they have no visible impact on voters? After all, the Social Democrats have invited Norwegian Labour leader and prime minister Jens Stoltenberg and the Centre Party Finnish Centre Party leader and prime minister Mari Kiviniemi. (For some reason, nobody appears to have thought of inviting Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen.)

My guess is that these guest appearances are mostly directed at the party activists. Seeing yourself as part of an international (successful) movement might spur activists during a campaign and that may again be a help in mobilising voters.

Kjærsgaard’s visit in Höganäs might bring a little more than that. sd is struggling to achieve electability and DF is not only electable, it has also been the partner of choice for the Danish Liberals (and to a lesser degree the Conservatives) since 2001. Appearing alongside Pia Kjærsgaard would give sd party leader Jimmie Åkesson a massive boost among party supporters, especially those who want sd to be a mainstream party, and help mobilise campaign workers in the last week of the campaign.

(I’m pretty much in line with Marie Demker as quoted in an interview with SvD here)

On the other hand, the visit might not be without risks for Kjærsgaard. After all, sd historically has its basis in the nationalist fringe and the border between sd and extremist currents has not always been clear. Even if she often uses a very potent rhetoric, Kjærsgaard is in fact a cautious party leader and she and the rest of the DF leadership have always been careful in distancing themselves from outright xenophobic or racist organisations or individuals. DF has no doubt vetted Åkesson and the sd leadership thoroughly before deciding to attend the sd arrangement.

The final question is if Pia Kjærsgaard’s appearing at an sd arrangement has any benefits for DF. There is of course an anti-Swedish sentiment among a large section of the nationalist opinion in Denmark (check out Ralf Pittelkow or any of Jyllands-Posten’s bloggers) and they would love to see sd enter the Swedish parliament as it would reassure them that the Swedes (or rather 5-6% of them) are just like us (or rather 13-15% of us).

Again, this is more of an elite (hah!) phenomenon, but I doubt if it has any direct effects on present of prospective DF voters.

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 13th, 2010 at 12:54 am

Posted in Politics

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