Polls vary widely as election nears

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Norway’s Conservative Party (Høyre) is storming ahead in the current election campaign, winning voters away from both Labour and the Progress Party. Or is it? A flurry of pre-election public opinion polls is showing wildly varying results.

Nightly news broadcasts were dominated earlier this week by reports of the Conservative Party’s surge in voter popularity. By some measures, the party known as Høyre (literally, right) had jumped 2.5 percentage points in the polls, in others 3.7.

But then there were polls showing a dip for Høyre. All told, the party could claim anywhere from 12.6 percent of the vote (according to research firm Respons’ poll for newspaper Aftenposten ) to 16.7 percent (according to a poll by research firm Opinion for newspaper Dagsavisen and others in Avisenes Nyhetsbyrå ).

One poll, conducted by research firm InFact for newspaper VG, even gave Høyre 18.1 percent of the vote.

Analysts, not to mention voters, are left scratching their heads. There’s little doubt that Høyre seems to be doing better than it was just a few weeks ago, but the degree of improvement is highly unclear and so are its prospects for at least being part of a non-socialist coalition that could form a new government.

One thing is clear: Labour and the relatively right-wing Progress Party remain Norway’s two largest parties in all the polls, although some of the wind seems to going out of the Progress Party’s sails. It’s been hurt by endless quarreling among the non-socialist parties and lately even Høyre, which had indicated it could cooperate with the Progress Party on forming government, has seemed to be backing away from any such plan.

When in doubt, the large amount of undecided voters may stick with a known quantity, namely the existing left-center government dominated by Labour. Several analysts following the campaign closely think Jens Stoltenberg will still be prime minister after polls close on September 14, and that his Labour Party colleague Jonas Gahr Støre will still be foreign minister, arguably the two most important government positions in Norway.It remains a mystery who would fill the other ministries, if Labour is allowed to form a government. Various polls indicate, for all their differences, that Labour’s current coalition partners are losing favour and that the current “red-green” government won’t have a majority after the election.

Meanwhile, the campaigning continues with party leaders being grilled every night on TV, party faithful ringing doorbells and staffing party booths in towns all over the country. Høyre leader Erna Solberg, clearly enjoying a boost of momentum despite endless commentaries on her large physical frame (unusual in Norway) and efforts to lose weight, continues to sum up the points that she says the four non-socialist parties agree on: Cutting or abolishing the country’s controversial “fortune tax” on individual net worth, cutting or abolishing the country’s inheritance tax, allowing more private alternatives within the health care and elder care sectors, and stressing improvements for the schools.

Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress Party, maintains that her party won’t support any non-socialist government that it’s not invited to join.