Stoltenberg loses grip on voters

NEWS ANALYSIS: Jens Stoltenberg has been one of Norway’s most popular and respected prime ministers ever, both at home and abroad. Now the voter fatigue that seems to be hitting his Labour Party appears to have hit him personally as well, with new polls showing that more voters want to replace him with Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservatives.

Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg has been a popular prime minister but now even he seems to be losing his grip on voters, along with his party. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg has been a popular prime minister but now even he seems to be losing his grip on voters, along with his party. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Norwegian politics aren’t nearly as personality-oriented as they are in other countries, with voters voting directly for parties and politics instead of for people. Stoltenberg’s charisma and, not least, his highly acclaimed leadership during the terrorist attacks two years ago have changed some of that, though, with many voters identifying with Labour because of Stoltenberg himself, and choosing Labour mainly because they “want to hang on to Jens,” as some say.

Now, however, Stoltenberg’s personal charm and professional attributes seem to be failing him. In the new political barometer that research firm Norstat has compiled for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), 37.7 percent of voters questioned said they want Jens Stoltenberg to be Norway’s prime minister. Fully 42.1 percent said they want his challenger, Erna Solberg.

It’s a far cry from 2011, when Stoltenberg seemed invincible and a strong figure who also led the nation through crisis following the attacks that targeted his government and his party, not least its youth group. Several foreign leaders who offered their support after the attacks also hailed Stoltenberg, who has an enormous international network and personal contact with figures from Angela Merkel to Bill Gates. Even opposition politicians at the time stood firmly by Stoltenberg’s side, with Siv Jensen of the conservative Progress Party memorably commenting that “he’s my prime minister, too.”

PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservatives, looks more likely than ever to be Norway’s next prime minister. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

After two terms and the last eight years in office, in addition to a shorter term as prime minister before that, voters now seem keen on a change. With Solberg now running 4.4 points ahead of Stoltenberg, she has increased her lead since the last barometer in June.

Bernt Aardal, political scientist and election researcher, told NRK that he views her new standing as a reflection of the general party poll results coming in. “I think these numbers to a large degree follow the standings of the parties,” Aardal said. “When we see results where the Conservatives are clearly bigger than Labour, it’s not so strange that’s also reflected in the question on the prime minister candidates.”

Aardal said the numbers also are “a confirmation that Labour is meeting a lot of resistance right now.”

Solberg was predictably pleased by the latest results. “I think it’s very nice that so many people want me to be prime minister,” she told NRK, adding quickly, though, that “I know that it’s not because it’s a question of me personally, it’s first and foremost a question about whether they want different politics in Norway. It’s the politics that are critical for these results, not the person.”

Asked whether she can now see herself moving into the new prime minister’s residence in Oslo, she admitted, though, that “I can see the possibility of realizing my political ideas, and that’s something every politician dreams about.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund