Labour may draw sympathy vote

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The Norwegian Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) is likely to enjoy a new boost of support following the recent terrorist attacks in which it was a major target. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who leads the party and Norway’s Labour-led government, is also more popular than ever, according to a new public opinion poll.

Not only was Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's office badly damaged in Friday's bombing, it also blew out windows in the party's headquarters building three blocks away. They had already been boarded up by Monday, and now Labour seems likely to win new voter support. PHOTO: Views and News

The poll conducted by research firm InFact for newspaper VG, which also was hard hit in the bombings of the government complex in downtown Oslo, showed a whopping 94 percent of those questioned saying that Stoltenberg has handled the aftermath of the attacks either “well” or “extremely well.” Fully 80 percent gave Stoltenberg the highest score possible.

“It’s seldom that anyone gets results that are as unambiguous as this,” Anders Todal Jenssen, a professor at Norway’s technical university NTNU in Trondheim and an election researcher, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Todal Jenssen said it was also “quite special” that Stoltenberg scored higher marks than members of the royal family, although they did well in the poll, too, when judged on their response to the crisis. King Harald, according to VG’s poll, was viewed as performing “extremely well” by 76 percent of the people, while Crown Prince Haakon won a score of 74 percent.

Stoltenberg already has been winning praise for his swift, clear and conciliatory response to the attacks. He’s remained highly visible and instead of resorting to calls for retaliation or using what one professor called “macho rhetoric,” Stoltenberg has reassured Norwegians that the government is still functioning, expressed great sorrow and urged Norwegians to fight terrorism with what the terrorists hate most: “Even more openness in our society, even more democracy, even more solidarity amongst us…”

Todal Jenssen has joined others in saying those were “the right words at the right time.” It headed off any irrational emotion and seemed to calm Stoltenberg’s fellow citizens, many of whom were stunned that so much evil could come from one of their own. A 32-year-old Norwegian, who’s emerged as a murderous right-wing extremist, has confessed to the attacks and is in custody.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (center) laying flowers at a victims' memorial with his wife, diplomat Ingrid Schulerud, and Eskil Pedersen, leader of Labour's youth organization AUF who survived a massacre at AUF's summer camp on Friday. PHOTO: Views and News

Stoltenberg also won praise for allowing himself to show emotion, to hug many people who have lost loved ones in the attacks, and for helping Norwegians deal with their grief. He has shown genuine empathy, not least since his own party was hit hard, his own office was blown up and he lost several close colleagues and friends, many who were young members of the party expected to take over one day. Instead they were gunned down at their summer camp on the island of Utøya.

“Both he (Stoltenberg) and the royal family have acted wisely in an extraordinary situation,” Todal Jenssen told NRK. “I think that folks have felt that our leaders have had control, removed uncertainty and shown an empathy that’s being noticed.”

Author and historian Hans Olav Lahlum and author and royal biographer Tor Bomann-Larsen agreed, saying they’ve been impressed with Stoltenberg and that he’ll go into the history books as a new sort of patriarch for Norway, even though he’s only 52 years old. Dozens of Norwegians sharing their thoughts on local websites wrote that they were “proud” of their prime minister and appreciate how difficult the past few days have been for him. “He deserves all our respect and support,” wrote one commentator.

Labour stands to gain
Election researchers also expect that Stoltenberg’s Labour Party may enjoy a new burst of support, exactly what the terrorist who tried to wipe out its next generation of leaders didn’t want. Labour already has been among the largest parties in Norway for years. Now a wave of sympathy rolling over the country and gratitude for Labour’s leadership in a crisis may end with more people voting Labour in the upcoming municipal elections.

The launch of the election campaign has been postponed until mid-August “but the recent days will certainly have an effect on the campaign and the election,” researcher Bernt Aardal told NRK. It may also mobilize voters, especially first-time voters, to cast their ballots in large numbers.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Wednesday that all of the political parties now represented in Parliament have enjoyed an unusual boost in membership the past few days. That encourages party leaders like Siv Jensen, who’s on the other end of the political spectrum from Labour as leader of the conservative Progress Party and faces a rising challenge in the next elections.

“The toughest punishment that the man charged with the terrorist attacks can get is to see our democracy grow and that more people engage themselves in political parties,” she told Dagsavisen.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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