Swedish Left Ahead in Polls But Without Majority

Stefan Löfven’s Social Democrats look certain to win the election but could struggle to form a majority government.

Stefan Löfven, leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, delivers a speech in Gothenburg, September 13
Stefan Löfven, leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, delivers a speech in Gothenburg, September 13 (Socialdemokraterna/Mattias Vepsä)

Swedes looked certain to return a leftist majority to parliament on Sunday but the Social Democrats, ahead of the ruling liberal party in the polls, could struggle to form a government.

Surveys put the Social Democrats at around 30 percent, close to the support they got in the last election. But Prime Minister John Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderates are down to around 22 percent, likely giving opposition leader Stefan Löfven a mandate to form the next government.

Löfven’s Green Party allies, however, are unlikely to win enough seats to give the two parties a majority, necessitating a coalition with either the formerly communist Left Party or centrist parties that are now in Reinfeldt’s alliance.

The Sweden Democrats are expected to win more than one in ten votes but the other major parties refuse to work with what they consider to be a far-right movement.

Many Swedes believe the liberal reforms and tax cuts enacted under Reinfeldt since he first came to power in 2006 have gone too far, weakening health and welfare services and allowing businesses to profit from schools.

Yet the opposition as a whole is barely outpolling the ruling parties, perhaps because Reinfeldt’s policies also enabled Sweden to weather the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and achieve high income growth. Gross domestic product per capita has risen almost 20 percent in the last eight years.

The Social Democrats are quick to point out that more Swedes now have less income than half the national median than when they were in power and that inequality has risen under Reinfeldt’s government.

At the same time, the labor market has vastly improved. A new earned income tax credit incentivized especially workers with low skills to find a job rather than stay on welfare.

Bo Pettersson argues in the business daily Dagens Industri that the latest job figures still favor the government. Unemployment has decreased to under 8 percent and more young Swedes and those who have been out of work for a year or longer are finding jobs — “making a mockery of the opposition’s scaremongering.”

While Löfven claims long-term unemployment is rising, Pettersson points out this “only” represents a fifth of the total, compared to over 40 percent in Germany.

According to the liberal Svenska Dagbladet‘s Per Gudmundson, the more decisive issue in the election is welfare — which he believes the parties on the left treat too much as a question of resources. “Quality may well be increased through competition and choice which independent schools and choice in care have clearly shown,” he writes.

The risk is imminent that Red-Green politics will lead to lower tax revenues and less freedom of choice. The Left Party wants to ban profits in the welfare sector, the Green Party is against growth and the Social Democrats cannot do without them.

The Greens and Social Democrats reject the Left’s proposal to ban profits from hospitals and schools but might well have to acquiesce in exchange for the radical party’s parliamentary support if neither of Reinfeldt’s current coalition partners will back a left-wing majority government.

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