Labour dives as the non-socialists rise

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UPDATED: New public opinion polls show that the Norwegian Labour Party has taken a dive in popularity, just a month before the country’s parliamentary election. It’s down to its lowest level since it lost the last election in 2013, while the non-socialist parties led by the Progress Party jumped in the polls and recaptured their majority. The new poll also suggests Labour won’t be able to form a new government without cooperating with the resurgent Greens.

The Labour Party’s election booth in downtown Oslo is located right next to the rival Progress Party’s. Booths set up by all the parties running in the upcoming parliamentary election opened during the weekend as part of their campaign to spread their messages and attract voters. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

A poll released late Tuesday afternoon by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), which hosted the first major party leader debate Monday night, showed Labour with just 27.1 percent of the vote. That’s considered “catastrophic” for the party, which once famously said it would only lead a government if it had at least 36.9 percent.

Labour’s potential government partner, the Center Party, also fell back into the single digits, landing at 9.2 percent of the vote. That marks a major fall from polls that had showed the protectionist party that advocates a wolf hunt and detests many reform proposals with as much as 14-15 percent of the vote.

NRK’s new poll, conducted by research firm Norstat, showed a corresponding leap in voter popularity for the conservative Progress Party, which rose to 16.7 percent of the vote, up 2.7 percentage points and more than the 16.3 percent that won it government power for the first time in 2013. That helps give the non-socialist parties, all of which rose in the new poll, a majority for the first time since last autumn.

Perhaps most significantly, the poll pushed the Greens Party (MDG) up to 4.6 percent of the vote, well over the 4 percent limit needed for representation in Parliament, and made them bigger than the Liberals, which claimed 3.9 percent, also up half a full percentage point.

Other polls dismal for Labour, too
Labour only held 28.1 percent of the vote in another recent poll conducted by research firm Respons Analyse for newspapers Aftenposten, Bergens Tidende and Adresseavisen during the period August 8-10. That marked a fall of fully 3.6 percentage points from a similar poll conducted in June.

When teamed with its former government partners, the Center Party and the Socialist Left, Labour would still have just 44.6 percent of the vote. That compares to the current Conservatives-led non-socialist bloc with 47.1 percent, in a poll showing neither constellation with a majority.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), meanwhile, reported Tuesday that an average of four polls released so far in August also shows a decline for Labour and its leader, Jonas Gahr Støre. Election researcher Bent Aardal showed Labour holding 30 percent of the vote, still down from June polls, after having lost voters every month since last October.

If Labour teams up as expected with the Center Party, which held 10.6 percent of the vote in Aardal’s averages, and the Socialist Left (SV) with 5.1 percent, the left-center bloc would hold 45.7 percent.

The Conservatives held 24.6 percent of the vote in the Aardal calculations reported by DN, while their current government partner, the Progress Party, had 13.1 percent. Their current support parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, held 5.3 percent and 3.3 percent respectively, giving the non-socialist bloc 46.3 percent of the vote.

Majorities hard to find
While clear majorities for Norway’s socialist and non-socialist parties remain elusive, the polls re-enforce the potential clout of not only the Greens but also the Christian Democrats, which have claimed they want to form a center-right government with the Conservatives but are also being wooed by Labour and the Center Party. If the Christian Democrats switch sides, the center-left constellation would have 49.7 percent of the vote in the Respons Analyse poll and 51 percent according to Aardal’s current figures.

That could eke out a majority for the left-center bloc, but still leaves them vulnerable to having to cooperate with the Greens, which has famously said it wants to phase out Norway’s oil industry. If the Christian Democrats remain loyal to Prime Minister Erna Solberg, then Labour would have to drop its ban on cooperating with either the Greens or the Red Party in order to form what DN calls a “traffic light” of a government.

Solberg remains confident
NRK’s latest poll helps restore a majority for the non-socialists, but Solberg still faces conflicts among the three other parties she’s worked with since 2013. Neither the Christian Democrats nor the Liberals want to support the Progress Party any longer.

Solberg has denied her coalition is falling apart, however, telling Aftenposten while opening up her Conservative Party’s election booth in Oslo last weekend that she’s sure the Christian Democrats will support a non-socialist government and that the Liberals will perform better at the ballot box than polls suggest. NRK’s poll suggests they already are. Solberg also thinks the Christian Democrats and the Progress Party can reconcile after a spurt of offenses last week provoked mostly by the Progress Party’s outspoken and unapologetic immigration minister, Sylvi Listhaug.

“I think that when Labour systematically has talked about how bad everything is in Norway, and how bad the government is, it presents a picture voters don’t recognize,” Solberg told NRK. “The country has become better during the last four years (with her leading the government). We’re not satisfied with everything, but the dark picture  painted by Labour makes me think that voters think we have a better recipe for the future.”

Labour officials admitted they were disappointed by the poor poll results. “These numbers are much too low for us, and show that we have a major mobilization job to do,” the party’s secretary, Kjersti Stenseng, told Aftenposten. At the time, the government’s majority was “still gone,” Stenseng noted, but it was back on Tuesday.

Social media can defy the polls
In the midst of all the fuss over poll results on both sides, warnings were issued over the weekend that they may be just as misleading as they were in the US election, when the far-right side mobilized and shocked the world by electing Donald Trump as president. Dag Herbjørnsrud, a left-leaning author and journalist, tested the power of social media last week by adopting similar aggressive tactics used by right-wing radicals in an anti-right commentary that wound up as the most-shared piece in Norway last week. His commentary was attacked in what he called “almost synchronized, strategic publication” of posts on right-wing websites that ridiculed him and what he’d written, proving his theory that the right-wing websites are underestimated in their popularity and their ability to “manipulate” the system.

“When even I can manipulate the system (by using the ultra-conservatives’ own provocative methods) it shows that there’s an entirely other dynamic out there than the traditional ones,” Herbjørnsrud told newspaper Dagsavisen. He warns that traditional public opinion polls may not pick up waves of attitudes that can materialize through the heavy traffic to conservative websites, just like the polls didn’t accurately predict what happened with Trump or Brexit. Herbjørnsrud criticized the left-leaning think tanks and websites for not being as aggressive and up to speed as the right-wing outlets.

“The problem with the mob on social media is that they’re allowed to carry on without anyone challenging them,” he said. “They’re getting the new power now.” He said it’s “frightening” how many voices are being scared out of the public debate by so-called Internet trolls, “and what does that have to say about a free election? If folks no longer dare to express themselves (because of online bullying), do we have a free election?”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund