“The Sweden Democrats’ discourse has become normalised”

14 September 2022

Hand holding Swedish Democrats Ballot

The Sweden Democrats were able to set the agenda in this year’s election campaign, according to Irene Molina, Professor of Human Geography.

The Sweden Democrats surpassed the Moderate Party and will now be a force to be reckoned with. What type of government are we most likely to see? And might the protracted voting process have impacted this year’s election? Oskar Hultin Bäckersten, Irene Molina and Li Bennich-Björkman offer their comments about the 2022 election.  

Even though the vote count has not been completed yet, we can see some clear results in this year’s parliamentary elections. The Sweden Democrats have increased their vote share the most and will become the second-largest party. Political scientist Oskar Hulton Bäckersten does not find this particularly surprising. 

Portrait of Oskar Hultin Bäckersten
Oskar Hultin Bäckersten, doctoral student in
political science. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“The election campaign centred around issues such as immigration, integration and law and order – areas in which the Sweden Democrats command a high level of confidence. They are also improving their standing among young people more than they have previously, and exit surveys show that they attracted many first-time voters.”

Irene Molina, Professor of Human Geography, considers that the Sweden Democrats’ successes are in part due to the fact that the debate came to be dominated by criminality and immigration. She maintains that the election campaign could just as easily have focused on welfare or housing, but that it did not do so because all the other parties focused on the issues that the Sweden Democrats had driven up the agenda. 

Portrait of Irene Molina
Irene Molina, Professor in Human Geography
at the Institute for Housing and Urban Research.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“The Sweden Democrats’ discourse has become normalised and it has become easier for the other parties to highlight the same issues in order to get votes,” notes Molina.

She takes the Social Democratic Party as an example of a party that has not traditionally been particularly interested in either integration or crime, but has spoken more about welfare and the importance of preventive efforts. The fact that before the election they pushed ideas such as tougher sentences and limits on the amount of people with a non-Nordic background who can live in certain areas indicates that they have embraced a different politics.  

Do you think this had an effect, given that this election also went well for the Social Democrats?
“Yes, I think it was a smart move, but also that it’s tragic for Sweden as a country. It’s hard to take such things back once these various proposals for combatting crime have been launched. It contributes to a cultural shift, a politics of differentiation whereby we make a distinction between us and them,” adds Molina.

In contrast, Li Bennich-Björkman, Professor in Political Science, does not feel that the success of the Social Democrats is due to them imitating the rhetoric and politics of the Sweden Democrats.

“No, I don’t believe that. Just look at the Moderate Party. Despite them becoming more like the Sweden Democrats, their results were worse,” explains Bennich-Björkman.

Instead, she believes that the Social Democrats increased their share because many people consider them to be competent enough to lead Sweden.

“There’s been a pandemic and the government has shown that they were up to the job. Then came the Nato application; I feel that Magdalena Andersson was seen as a party leader fit for government,” explains Bennich-Björkman. 

Queues led to people abstaining from voting

As a result of a change in electoral law, long queues built up outside certain polling stations on Sunday. It also looks as if turnout this year fell by around five percentage points compared with 2018. Oskar Hultin Bäckersten believes there may be some connection.

“I think we can say with one-hundred-percent certainty that the queues led to some people abstaining from voting. That said, I have trouble imagining that this could explain the whole difference in turnout between 2018 and this year,” adds Hultin Bäckersten.

Molina, who conducts research into underprivileged areas in which turnout is generally lower, believes there are more reasons for people choosing to abstain from voting. 

“For example, it could be due to people not feeling represented by anyone in politics and that they choose to abstain from voting as a protest.”

However, they both emphasise that more studies are needed to provide a certain answer as to why turnout fell.

Sausage in the spotlight 

Several party leaders used sausage as part of their communication during the election campaign. Ebba Busch took a falukorv sausage with her to raise the issue of food prices, while both Johan Persson and Ulf Kristersson were seen posing with hot dogs. Hultin Bäckersten is doubtful as to whether the endeavour paid off.

“My guess is that they want to portray themselves as being one of the people. They also want to symbolise that they are an alternative to the Green Party, which doesn’t eat meat, and that they are not politically correct. However, I’m not sure whether it really hit the mark,” he notes, adding that there ought to be better symbols to use. 

Bennich-Björkman is also sceptical about whether the use of sausages was a success. 

“Hot dogs are fast food from an earlier time, Swedish street food. They see it as a symbol of ‘everyman Sweden’, but I think many people perceived it to be tiresome and tacky.”

Difficult balancing act ahead for the Liberal Party

If the predicted election result of one seat majority to the right-wing block is maintained, it is most likely that Ulf Kristersson will be the first to try and form a government, note both Hultin Bäckersten and Bennich-Björkman. The Sweden Democrats have already produced a list of areas over which they would like to have influence in order to support such a government.

Portrait of Li Bennich-Björkman
Li Bennich-Björkman, Professor of Political Science.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“If they manage that, it will be a government driven by the politics of the Sweden Democrats. This will prove to be a tough balancing act for the Liberal Party, which has said that it does not want to enable a government containing the Sweden Democrats,” notes Bennich-Björkman.

Although the future shape of a government is currently unclear, she does not believe that it will take as long to form a government as after the previous election.

“It is a little clearer this year what options there are for forming a government, and I believe that Speaker Andreas Norlén learned some lessons last time that could be of use to him now.