Conservatives hit another low

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More bad news for Norway’s Conservative Party (Høyre) : Yet another public opinion poll shows that it hasn’t had such little voter support heading into a national election for nearly two decades. Only 11 percent of eligible voters now say they back what used to be Norway’s major non-socialist party.

The latest poll, conducted for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), indicates that Høyre is less than half the size of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) , its major non-socialist ( borgerlig ) rival. It’s only a third the size of the Labour Party, currently Norway’s largest.

Political analysts and longtime Høyre supporters have been arguing over the question “what’s happened to Høyre” for months. They’ve also been clamoring for the party to become more aggressive and state its standpoints more clearly, to win more support.

Party leader Erna Solberg, who claims she refuses to get depressed over her party’s poor showing in the polls, tried to do that just this week, “demanding” a new debate over EU membership, which Høyre supports. Solberg accused Labour of bowing to its smaller, anti-EU coalition partners on the issue, and thus keeping it off the political agenda. As a result, Solberg claims, the incumbent Labour-led government is seen as anti-EU as well even though powerful factions within Labour want to join.On the issue of taxes, though, Solberg was all but out-maneuvered when Labour declared it wouldn’t support any new tax hikes. That was one area where Høyre might have had a clear and different stand than Labour and the Labour-led coalition — not least since Labour’s partner SV (the Socialist Left party) favors raising taxes yet again for affluent Norwegians — but it seems to have evaporated.

Squeezed from both sides

There’s little question that Høyre has lost lots of voters to both sides of the political spectrum. Labour arguably has become more conservative over the years, while Frp appeals to those wanting lower taxes and less government control over daily life than Høyre.

Some, like party veteran Astrid Nøkleby Heiberg, note that Høyre’s values simply aren’t as fashionable or needed as they once were. It won the 1981 election on a platform of more openness and choice for individuals, and the party arguably can take credit for the less-tightly controlled society that Norwegians have today. But that battle was won a long time ago, and Labour itself has embraced many of those values.

Most think Høyre’s only chance of winning government power now is through a partnership with Frp. Norway’s small centrist parties may torpedo that, though, if they opt to back the Labour coalition instead.

There’s actually been a proposal that traditional arch-rivals Labour and Høyre should be the parties to team up or even merge, because they actually agree on quite a few issues involving foreign affairs, EU membership and the economy. Then, argued Solveig Lid in a letter to the editor of newspaper Aftenposten , voters wouldn’t have to worry about “all these small parties that behave as though they have the entire population behind them.” Frp, which some fear will uproot the social welfare state, would also be sidelined.

Election researcher Frank Aarebrot notes that many Norwegian voters, including fully 26 percent of Høyre’s own traditional supporters, remain undecided five weeks before the election on September 14. The race remains wide open.