Right and left neck and neck and gains by the populists (SD) not as significant as forecast

Elections in Europe

Corinne Deloy


11 September 2018

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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

A unique thing: the day after the Swedish general election the true winner is not yet known. The Social Democratic Party (SAP), led by outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Löfven achieved the weakest result in its history, but managed to retain its place as the country's leading party, which it has occupied since 1917, with 28.4% of the vote and 101 seats (-12 seats in comparison with the previous elections on 14th September 2014). It was followed by the Moderate Party (M), led by Ulf Kristersson which won 19.8% of the vote and 70 seats (-14).

The Democrats of Sweden (SD), a right-wing populist party, led by Jimmie Akesson, achieved a lower score than forecast by the polls. They came third with 17.6% of the vote and 63 seats (+14).

As for the "small" parties the results were also different from those provided by the polls. Hence, the Centre Party (C), led since 2011 by Annie Lööf, won 8.6% of the vote and 30 seats (+8), the Left Party (Vp), led by Jonas Sjöstedt, won 7.9% of the vote and 28 seats (+7), the Christian Democratic Party (KD), led by Ebba Busch Thor, 6.4% and 23 seats (+7), the Liberals (L) led by Jan Björkland, 5.5% of the vote and 19 seats (=).

Finally, although we might have thought that the heatwave of the summer in Sweden would have led the population to turn to the ecologists, this was far from what happened. The Environment Party-the Greens, led by Gustav Fridolin and Isabella Lövin only just managed to take 4% of the vote and therefore satisfy threshold required to be represented in parliament with 4.3% of the vote and 15 seats (-10).

With 40.6% of the vote and 144 seats, the three parties on the left (SAP, Vp and MP) are just ahead of the 4 parties on the right (M, C, KD, L) which won 40.3% of the vote and 143 seats.

According to an exit poll 41% of the electorate changed their vote between the general election of 2014 and that of 2018.

And so, we shall have to wait for the count of the voting slips of the Swedes living abroad (around 250 000 people, 4% of the electorate) which will take place on 12th September before we know whether the left will maintain its lead. We might note that those living abroad usually vote more for the parties on the right.

Turnout was slightly higher than that registered during the previous general elections on 14th September 2014, totalling 84.4%, i.e. 1.1% more.

"We would have liked to have achieved a higher score, but we are still the country's leading party," said outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Löfven on the announcement of the results. The Social Democratic leader presented the vote as a "referendum on the House of the People, (Folkhemmet, the Welfare State)", calling on the Swedes to vote for a "stable government that can lead Sweden in uncertain times," also presenting the SAP as a bulwark against the right-wing populists. "Only a government led by the Social Democrats will be able to guarantee that the Democrats of Sweden, a racist party, will not have the slightest influence over the executive," he declared.

Jimmie Akesson (SD) wanted the election to be a vote against the outgoing government's migration policy. "We shall have great influence over what will happen in Sweden in the weeks, months and years to come," maintained the populist leader. Although the Democrats of Sweden are rising, they did not achieve the breakthrough they had hoped for by their leader who was betting on a result totalling "between 20% and 30% of the vote," but it did not reach the symbolic level of 20%. "They have made a very good score, they have strengthened their status as the country's third biggest party and they are continuing to form a conservative, nationalist block between the two ordinary blocks, but the leadership of the party and its supporters were expecting a better result," stressed Daniel Poohl, editor-in-chief of the magazine Expo.

Jimmie Akesson issued a warning, ahead of the election to the other political leaders that they could no longer exclude his party and consider it "as a passing sickness that is temporarily affecting parliament," and that, whatever the result. He also said he was prepared to work with the left as with the right, on condition that he could decide on the country's migratory policy.

According to an exit poll, slightly more than half of the Democrats of Sweden's electorate (54%) voted for this party in the election of 2014, 19% voted for the SAP and 18% for the Moderates Party. We can see that the populist party succeeded in winning over its supporters and attracting voters from both the right and the left.

"We are facing a European trend in which parties that have been in government for decades are losing their grip and in which the political landscape is more fragmented," indicated David Ahlin, Opinion Poll Director for IPSOS.

Since the two political blocks are almost on an equal footing the formation of the next Swedish government will be difficult. There are two main options.

The first is that the left retains its majority after the count of the vote of the Swedes living abroad and thereby succeed in form a majority government - or the strongest of minority governments - which will have to contend with a strong opposition. Jonas Sjöstedt indicated ahead of the vote that the Left Party was prepared to take part in a future left-wing government.

We should remember that in Sweden support of a majority of MPs is not necessary to form a government. There just has to be a majority of MPs that do not oppose it. "To know who will govern, we have to ask the following question: which configuration of parties will minimise the risk of a negative vote," explains Li Bennich-Björkman, a political expert at the University of Uppsala.

The second is that the forces on the right will choose to break the taboo of negotiating with the Democrats of Sweden and try to form a government coalition with them, with the risk of breaking up the right.

According to the polls the majority of Swedes are against any collaboration with the Democrats of Sweden: only 22% of the electorate who do not vote for this party say they support the idea.

Just before the election Jimmie Akesson wanted to push the leader of the Moderates Party into a corner: "Ulf Kristersson has 24 hours to answer the question: Would you rather cooperate with me or with Stefan Löfven?" Answer on 12th September after the final results.

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