Non-socialist bloc loses popularity

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A new public opinion poll shows gains by both the coalition government’s Labour and Socialist Left parties, at the expense of a non-socialist bloc among opposition parties in Parliament. That Conservative-led bloc would still hold a majority, though, if an election were held today.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg remains popular, and his Labour Party once again logged the single largest gain in a recent public opinion poll. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

They have to hope that they hang on to that majority until the national election actually takes place next fall. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party (Høyre) and the even more conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) have lost the majority they’ve held alone throughout much of this autumn.

A new poll conducted by research firm Opinion Perduco for the ANB group of newspapers in Norway shows voter support for Frp declining by 2.6 percentage points, leaving the party with 16.1 percent of the vote. That compares to the 22.9 percent Frp commanded after the last national election in 2009 and is way below the poll levels held since that time.

Høyre, keen to form a government with other non-socialist parties next year, gained 0.8 points to hold 31.9 percent of the vote, according to the new poll. That makes Høyre the largest party in the country, but Frp’s decline means the two now hold 48 percent together. They’d only have a majority if they allign themselves with the small Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) and/or the Liberals (Venstre), which hold 4.6 and 4.5 percent respectively.

Labour, meanwhile, gained 1.,9 percentage points in the new poll, the biggest single gain among all the parties, to claim 29.4 percent of the voters. Labour’s government partner the Socialist Left (SV) gained half-a-point to 5.5 percent, while their other coalition partner the Center Party (Sp) dipped to 4.6 percent. Sp has lost popularity this autumn for, among other things, its insistence on further protecting farmers by raising import tariffs and its “provincial” behaviour during the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, when it harshly criticized the prize to the European Union (EU). Sp has vehemently opposed EU membership for years and seems keen on trying to appeal to ongoing anti-EU sentiment in Norway.

It hasn’t seemed to pay off much, and Sp’s decline along with that of Frp’s now give the two other small parties in parliament more power to swing the vote. Labour, struggling of late over a number of issues and with the decline of government partners since the last election, was likely cheered by its gain in the new poll.

Fortune tax follies
Frp, meanwhile, has been been catching criticism after changing its position on the thorny issue of Norway’s unpopular formueskatt, a tax on net worth that comes in addition to income tax. The left-center coalition has eased the tax in recent years, by exempting gradually larger portions of individuals’ net worth, but claims it’s necessary to maintain the tax to ease the gap between wealthy and poor. Both the Conservatives and Frp have said they’d abolish the “fortune tax” if they win government power next year, but now Frp is wavering, after opposition from its own members who think other tax relief measures are more important.

That’s led to confusion over what Frp intends to do, and party members seem uncertain themselves. Frp leader Siv Jensen stressed that the party will still make abolition of the tax a priority, while her predecessor Carl I Hagen is calling for reduction but not abolition, to remove the prospect of wealthy Norwegians getting disproportionate tax breaks.

The Conservatives are disappointed that Frp is back-pedalling on the issue, while Labour is seizing the opportunity to accuse them of intentionally blurring their intended tax policies. The issue is likely to remain a matter of debate throughout the election campaign.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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