Posted on May 23, 2008

Norway Turns to the Right

Nina Berglund, Aftenposten (Oslo), May 22, 2008

The results of the poll, conducted by research bureau Opinion for news group ANB, mark a major shift in traditional political persuasion in a country modelled as a social welfare state. And the results are bad news for the Labour Party, which currently heads the left-centre government.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported Thursday that fully 27.7 percent of voters now support the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), Norway’s most right-leaning party represented in parliament. That’s up 1.5 percentage points from the last poll.

The poll results indicate that the Progress Party is thus Norway’s largest, bigger than Labour, which garnered 25.3 percent of the vote, down 1.7 points. That’s a relatively small amount of support for Labour and a real downturn for the party, given its history of dominance in Norwegian politics.

The Conservative Party (Høyre), meanwhile, also gained voter support, up 1.4 points to 17.8 percent. That’s quite a bit smaller than the Progress Party, but together, the two parties could rather easily form a non-socialist (“borgerlig”) government with more than 45 percent of the vote.

By contrast, the three parties forming the current government with Labour together commanded only 36.9 percent of the vote, ironically the exact same percentage that former Labour leader Thorbjørn Jagland once said was needed by Labour alone to rule. Labour had to leave power in 1997 when it “only” won 35 percent in national elections.

The current poll shows just how far Labour has fallen since that time. Its government partner SV (the Socialist Left party) also saw support slip, to 5.9 percent, while the Center Party (sp) rose slightly, to 5.7 percent of the vote.

Voters want change, and more for their money

Explanations for Norwegians’ new attraction to more conservative politics varied, from theories that voters are simply tired of the current ruling coalition, to a desire for change and even a new perceived sense of greediness after years of rising affluence tied to high prices for Norway’s oil. They’re perhaps less willing to share their newfound wealth with the rest of society, preferring to keep more of their earnings for themselves, argue some.

Tommy Wessel, a longtime Progress Party voter, disagrees. He’s simply fed up that his daughter’s school is as rundown as it is, and that his parents can’t get a room in local nursing homes. He, like many others, perceive a decline in social services, while taxes keep going up.

He can’t understand why the government won’t use more of its oil wealth to invest in the public sector at home, something the Progress Party wants to do. Even longtime Labour Party voter Eve Vold shares his frustration.

“I’m disappointed with (Prime Minister) Jens (Stoltenberg),” Vold said. “There’s so much talk. The government doesn’t live up to expectations for schools and health care.” She thinks voters are fleeing to the Progress Party because it says things people agree with.

“The Progress Party speaks a language people want to hear,” agrees Wessel. Party leader Siv Jensen has made it clear she’s ready to take over as prime minister, but that still depends on cooperation from the Conservatives. Unlike some of the small centrist parties that have claimed they’d never cooperate with the Progress Party, the Conservatives are keeping the door open.