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Matthew Goodwin @GoodwinMJ
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The latest election in Europe:

A thread
On Sunday, Swedes go to the polls in the latest election in Europe. Let's first put the election in wider context
Some pundits & journalists during the 'Macron Spring' in 2017 tried to argue that populism had peaked and that, among others, people like me were wrong. Let's take a look at what's happened since ...
Since Macron, national populists have
-captured new seats in state parliaments in Germany
-then a record 94 seats in German Bundestag
-returned to government in Norway
-entered the Czech parliament
-taken power in Italy
-returned to power in Hungary
-polled strongly in Slovenia
- doubled their vote share in polls in Britain
-and are back up in the polls in Netherlands
Putin was comfortably re-elected
Spain saw its worst crisis for 40 years
Merkel is greatly weakened
Macron's ratings have sunk
social democracy remains in full-blown crisis
And Italy & the EU are standing off over budgets/refugees, reflecting wider divides
Sure, national populism remains weak in states like Portugal & Ireland

But if you are pointing to those as being integral to the future of Europe then … well, indeed
And while some Green & radical left parties are certainly also doing well, the bigger point is that many of Europe's party systems are fragmenting into larger numbers of (ideologically distinct) parties which will make (1) reform & (2) stable governments harder to achieve
We also have a broader public opinion climate in Europe in which --amid terrorist attacks, refugees & a divided EU-- voters are now far more worried about the 'identity-security' axis than the 'economic-GDP' axis
Put in other words, the drivers of the Brexit vote are clearly visible in other EU states even if (for now) public support for the EU remains stronger than in Britain
And these things are partly why we've not seen a major change of minds among Brexit voters. Too many fell into the trap of thinking Brexit was all about the domestic risk of Brexit when it was about what people saw as external risks in the EU -weak borders, insecurity, divisions
Sweden is interesting because it is now witnessing and grappling with many of the same trends as other Western democracies, and despite predictions to the contrary
In the latest polls the centre left is 1st but way down from its historic highs, the centre-right (blue) and national populists (yellow) are fighting for 2nd, and then come an array of smaller parties that are generally doing better than previously
Sweden is also interesting because, traditionally, people who studied populism used to argue that it was one of four states in the post-war era that were basically "immune" to the populist "disease"
The others were Britain (because of its civic culture/strong institutions), Netherlands (because of tolerance/party system) and Germany (because of the Nazi legacy)
Take a look around now -Brexit, Wilders, Alternative for Germany- and you get a sense not only of how many observers in the 1990s "end of history" zeitgeist underestimated nationalism but also how quickly (radical) political change can occur
As recently as 2002, the Sweden Democrats were polling only 1.4%. Now they look set to win at least 15% if not possibly surpass the 20% mark
One early paper -in 2002- that looked into why national popuiism had failed in Sweden was published by @jens_rydgren. You can download it here but I will summarise...…
He argued that essentially 4 things were stopping the national populists
1. The working-class were still very loyal to the mainstream, especially the centre-left social democrats, and this acted as a barrier to a movement that has tended to win most of its support from socially conservative workers
2. Back then, the economic-GDP axis was easily dominating the identity-security axis in the minds of voters -remember this was the late 1990s/early 2000s
3. The more specific lightning rod issue of immigration was basically not registering among voters, it was essentially a non-issue. In 1998 only 3% said it was a guiding concern
And 4. the main parties were basically doing a good job of offering distinctive appeals to voters, giving them choice, which made it harder for an anti-establishment "they are all the same" party to get off the ground
Interestingly, though, Rydgren could see what was coming - "that there may be an available niche for the emergence of a Swedish radical right party in the near future"
He pointed to signs of voter unease over immigration, discontent with the main parties and some emerging space for an anti-EU party
Like a few others, the argument was that space exists for national populism in virtually every Western democracy but what national populism also needs is an articulate, effective 'supplier' that distances itself from the highly toxic Nazi legacy
He rightly predicted that a semi-sophisticated party could win enough voters to enter the Swedish parliament -and that is exactly what happened
Across Europe, more generally, the demand for national populism has been visible since the late 1970s/1980s (long before the Great Recession)
What we are now witnessing is not only that demand enlarging due to external shocks (terrorism/refugee crisis/Islam) but also ...
The arrival of more shrewd campaigners who acknowledge the importance of reaching out to younger voters, workers, the lower middle-class and the need to "detoxify the brand" so as not to violate social norms against blatant racism
In Sweden, aside from moving away from its more extremist roots, a number of more specific things happened that helped clear the path for the national populist Sweden Democrats
One is that voters in general gradually became much less loyal to the established mainstream parties
The % of Swedes who say they feel strongly aligned to the mainstream has tanked, like in many other Western democracies
This makes it easier for challengers
Another is that over the years the working-class has become less strongly attached to their traditional left-wing home
Again, this is not unique to Sweden, it's happening elsewhere and it is why I am very sceptical of the idea that social democrats can win these voters back
This gradual abandonment reflects broader moves
1 Social Democrats across the West are great at talking to the middle-class but bad at talking to workers
2 And great at talking about cultural liberalism but bad at talking about tradition, belonging, security, identity
Those two things reflect the fact that, despite their claims to the contrary, many social democratic politicians have simply become much less representative of these key groups than they were in the past so of course they struggle to listen, talk and relate
So, while class loyalties weakened so too did support for the centre-left, including among many trade union workers who along with their non-unionised counterparts jumped ship to the national populists, alongside defectors from the centre-right
While the potential audience was growing in size, other things began to shift
The economic-GDP axis gradually began to make way for the identity-security axis
Public concern about the increasing number of refugees in Sweden, who mainly arrived in 2015, began to rise
Or seen from another angle... the importance of immigration as an issue, 1987-2015
In fact, between 1987 and 2017 the % of Swedes who said that immigration and/or integration was one of the top issues facing their country rocketed from 7 to 43%

This made it the top issue (look at top row)
This was not irrational

It was shaped by real world events that were happening around voters, mainly the sharp rise in the number of migrants and refugees who were entering the country
I see lots of people (on Twitter) often trying to frame national populist supporters as irrational xenophobes who are completely detached from what is happening in the real world. This is wrong.
I'm not even sure why people obsess about voters who support these parties but live in ethnically homogeneous areas. We have known for a long time that voters do not only think about themselves & their locality - they think about the nation, about the wider community
As elsewhere in the West, an increase in public concern followed these real world shifts which made lots of Swedes feel uncomfortable
In 2015, the country accepted 163,000 asylum-seekers, a higher proportion of its population than almost every other European country
This was the famous "open your hearts" moment
This was initially supported by many. Unfortunately, it has since made way for media coverage of gang shootings, grenade attacks, the mass burning of vehicles and accounts of rape
With voters reading things like this:…
Or this: "Swedes have grown accustomed to headlines of violent crime, witness intimidation and gangland executions"…
As the Financial Times recently summarised: 'Scarcely a day has gone by in the past few years without a shooting, burned-out car, or even a grenade attack being reported in one of the cities"…
And all of this has clearly not been lost on ordinary Swedes, who are now voicing much stronger concerns over issues like terrorism and crime
And who have become more likely to think that "accepting fewer refugees" is a "good proposal"
These are exactly the issues that have been targeted by the Sweden Democrats, which has used a fairly standard apocalyptic-style narrative about national decline, violence, gang rapes, no-go areas, incompetent politicians, and the need to choose between welfare vs immigration
Another important point is that while concerns over these identity issues are UP, as is support for national populism, public concern about the economy & unemployment are DOWN
Writers on the left continue to argue a-la Marx that ultimately this national populist wave is all about economic scarcity, lack of jobs, closure of factories, yada yada yada **Send journalist out to bleak rustic town to talk to the unemployed**
While this account has been shown to be deeply flawed across much of the West, it is also particularly unconvincing in the case of Sweden
This is a country that enjoys some of the highest living standards in the world, strong growth, lower than average unemployment and generally sound macro-economic fundamentals (a bit like, say, Switzerland, which is also curiously left out of "economic scarcity accounts"!)
So at the weekend the Sweden Democrats look set to win a record share of the vote, certainly up on the 12.9% they polled at the last election
The centre-left Social Democrats may "win" the election but they could simultaneously score their worst showing for a century
Support for the party has been cut in half over the past quarter century
If you want to know what that decline feels like ask social democrats in Italy, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, etc.
Social Democracy is still in freefall and has not yet found a solution.
So one one hand the story playing itself out in Sweden is being driven by some unique factors, but on the other it reflects broader trends
National populism is up (yellow), social democracy is down (red) & behind this a fragmenting party system as others pick up votes
The Sweden Democrats will draw votes mainly from the south, from workers, non-graduates & men (with some polls suggesting it is the most popular party of all among men) -- all of which is broadly consistent with national populist electorates elsewhere
And we know that they are mainly driven by anxieties over migration & are not simply irrational xenophobes
They have clear (legitimate) concerns & feel that, unlike the past, the main parties are offering more of the same (as this study shows…)
Interestingly, some on the left have acknowledged their mistakes. The former home affairs minister said social democrats "underestimated integration problems" because "people did not want to discuss migration so as not to help the far right".…
That right there is one problem that has afflicted in the left in general - focus on the bogeyman while ignoring the real grievances that are feeding your bogeyman
I don't mind being wrong but my hunch is that Sweden is only at the beginning of this debate. One reason is it's traditionally strong welfare model.
As @David_Goodhart argued long ago, once upon a time Britain had a choice between becoming a high-solidarity culturally homogenous society like Sweden, or moving in the direction of a highly diverse but low-solidarity state like America
As research had shown, in more ethnically diverse states you often found lower levels of trust &, crucially, lower support for providing welfare, in particular for ethnic minorities, refugees & immigrants who the national group perceived as not contributing to the 'greater good'
Sweden is interesting because Swedes have traditionally paid high taxes in return for the so-called 'Folkhemmet', the people's home, with a strong welfare provision
But now Swedes are registering their (1) higher concern over migration, (2) crime, (3) insecurity and which will inevitably bleed into worries over (4) public services and (5) welfare.
The jury is out but some questions may gain more resonance amid the current climate. "Do we want to pay all of this money for newcomers to access welfare? Do we want to support those who are not seen to be upholding national ways of life, causing crime" etc etc
Also, it is important to point out that -contrary to some of the alarmist claims being made by some writers (e.g. Yascha Mounk) - the Swedes (like people elsewhere) are not giving up on democracy at all
In fact they are pretty satisfied with democracy. We can all point to 10-15% musing about military rule in surveys but if after a Great Recession, a major refugee crisis & outbreak of terrorism we have 70/80%+ endorsing democracy then, you know, I'd take those numbers
It's not that national populism reflects an abandonment of democracy. It reflects the fact that people want a different conception of democracy. One where "the people" get "more voice" while "elites" get less. This is a legitimate request. We need to keep it in perspective.
Lastly, inevitably when the Sweden Democrats finish 2nd or 3rd there will be the "populism has failed" piece a-la Macron in 2017
This again is an incredibly short-term and misleading view
It glosses the fact that national populism has already had a significant (some might say considerable) impact on public policy and the positions of other parties
Instead of obsessing about the 'direct impact' of populism in terms of vote shares we need to think far more about the 'indirect impact' of populism on policy
The centre-left may win the election but that 'victory' will come after things like this:
The Moderates might do unexpectedly well but that will come after things like this
And such arguments will completely overlook the fact that in Sweden -as in many other established democracies- we are witnessing a sharp rise in the overall rates of volatility (the % of people switching their votes from one election to the next)
Put simply, this does not look like a party system that is about to return to stability anytime soon
So I hope that this has put things in broader perspective and contributed to the debate. If you have found this interesting consider pre-ordering our new book which is out in a few weeks… and ...
consider following these experts on Sweden @jens_rydgren @niklasbolin @acjungar @HenrikOscarsson @CarlWRitter (their research has informed my thinking but we may hold very different interpretations!) Best, M
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