Sweden has not been exempt from the constant coverage and talk about the continued rise of right wing populism throughout Europe, and Sweden’s election put the Sweden Democrats (SD) in the spotlight. The highly anticipated election was to be yet another test of the center-right and center-left’s resilience to their rise, as well as the continued increasing popularity of the left-wing. Polling showed the right-wing SD in a position to potentially win a plurality of the vote, or at least finish in second. Instead, the main event didn’t quite live up to the hype, and the real battle was elsewhere on election night.
As the votes began coming in, at first it looked like the populist wave had truly happened to a significant extent with the SD receiving 21.4% and solidly in second place after 241 electoral districts (out of 6,004) were counted. Slowly, though, it became apparent that the populists had struggled in the more populated districts while the center-left Social Democrats (SAP) never lost their lead at around 28.3%, despite taking significant losses compared to 2014. It was the center-right Moderates (SAP), instead, who surged late into second place, earning 19.8% of the vote, while the SD dropped to 17.7%.
While both the well established SAP and M performed worse than in 2014, both parties will be relieved that the Sweden Democrats were held to a modest 4.8% gain compared to the previous election. Exit polling showed that 19% and 18% of SD’s voters had previously voted for the SAP and M, respectively, in 2014, showing the relative pull the party has had on both the center-right and center-left. The major parties performed better than the polls expected despite that pull, and they will be satisfied following tonight’s results, but the hard work of forming a government begins tomorrow.
While the SAP won a plurality of the vote, both they and their coalition partner, the Green Party (MP), suffered losses combined at about 4.4% of the vote. While a modest defeat, they had a weak hold on power before, and it will be difficult for them to form a government. If you include the socialist Left Party (V) to create a “Left Block,” they together received 40.6% of the vote, slightly more than the center-right “Alliance” at 40.3% (both coalition are unofficially projected to receive 143 seats each despite the left block’s slight vote edge). V, though, is not overwhelming happy to work with the center-left, and tensions were already high between the SAP and MP, making it questionable at best if there is a possible agreement for a minority coalition between the parties. Time will tell, and the SAP is the largest party and will take the lead, as per the usual, on coalition discussions, but they will have difficulty finding enough support.
On the center-right, the Moderate’s Alliance allies had a decent night. While the Liberals (L) gained about the same percentage as 2014 (gaining just 0.1%), the Centre Party (C) gained 2.7% of the vote to reach 8.6%, and Christian Democrats (KD) gained 1.8% of the vote, surprisingly, to reach 6.4%. These gains, though modest, total to 4.6%, enough to counter the Moderates’ 3.5% loss and give the Alliance a serious claim and chance at governing. The group is split, though, on how to deal with the SD, with many within the Moderate and Christian Democratic parties being more willing to work with the populists while the Liberals and Centre are adverse. If the Alliance is to take the lead, they will need at least the passive support of the SAP or SD to elect a Prime Minister, and neither of those parties would be excited to do that. The latter would be possible if just M and KD chose to work with SD, though an agreement is unlikely due to the tension between the parties and they would still fall short of a majority.
As we discussed in our preview of the election, a cross-block coalition is a serious possibility as well. While still short of a majority, a center-left plus liberal coalition or general agreement between the SAP, MP, C, and L could be a possibility, though still likely lacking a majority (they are unofficially projected to receive 165 seats, 10 short of a majority). The Alliance will be tentative about breaking up to help the SAP, but the SAP would likely be even more resistant about allowing a Prime Minister from a party that they beat. No cross-block coalition would work with either V or SD involved, as it would alienate at least one of the partners as well. There are options for the leaders of the main parties, but none of the results are likely to be a comfortable government.
The Alliance: While the Moderates lost seats, the block managed to have a net gain in vote percentage despite the rise of the Sweden Democrats. That bodes well for them and especially for the minor parties which lost little to no support to the SD. They are in a potential situation to form a government. Can they navigate the treacherous waters ahead to do so?
The Left Party: The SAP’s drop left an opening for V to move into. While they didn’t quite live up to the higher expectations of the polls, they managed their best result since 2002 and are in a position to force the SAP to work with them if the center-left is going to lead the government.
Sweden Democrats: While they failed to blow everyone away, the over-hyping from the media was not their fault. The SD managed to increase their vote total from 2014 by 4.75% of the vote and solidify third place. Like the Left Party, they are making the center-right consider working with them in they want to govern.
The Social Democratic Party: They survived. That’s about the only positive out of tonight for the SAP. This is their worst result in 107 years and they are no longer the sole power at play when it comes to forming a government.
The Greens: For a significant portion of the evening it appeared that the Green Party might finish below the 4% cutoff point. They beat it, but losing 2.5% of the vote and two-fifths of your seats is not a fun position to be in. They are on the edge and will need to be careful if they do not want to fall below that 4% mark in the next election.
Even after the results become official, we won’t know the official coalition for a few weeks to potentially months, as there are so many pieces in play. We will post an update following the creation of a government as well as update this post when the results are final. Tomorrow we will also be posting a subjective evaluation of the election apart from our more data focused analysis here.