Labour support surges after attacks

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The Norwegian Labour Party has received record levels of support in opinion polls taken during the week after the terrorist attacks on Oslo and Utøya island, which confessed defendant Anders Behring Breivik has confirmed were targeted against the party. Meanwhile, as the mourning for the dead continues, Norway’s politicians are seeking agreement on how to conduct the campaign for forthcoming local elections in September.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) have seen a surge of support in polling since the terrorist attacks on Oslo and Utøya island. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet.no

A poll undertaken July 29 and 30 by Synovate for the newspaper Dagbladet gave the Labour Party 41.7 percent of the vote share, an 11 percent rise since a similar poll taken in June. The survey was undertaken using a sample of 500 people, which is half the usual number of 1,000. Labour’s rival conservative parties both fell in the poll, with the Conservative Party falling 4.8 percent points to 23.7 percent and the Progress Party, of which Anders Behring Breivik was a previous member, dropping 3 percent points to 16.5 percent.

Another poll released early last week, undertaken by Sentio for local paper Sunnmørsposten, also saw the Labour Party’s support increase dramatically with a 10 percent jump forward to 38.7 of the vote share.

‘Extraordinary’ polls
The director of Synovate, Erik Dalen, has stressed to Dagbladet that “the poll is taken at an extraordinary point,” adding that the sample size “means considerable margins of error.” Some election specialists already had noted that the attacks were likely to draw what they called “the sympathy vote.”

Frank Aarebrot, a renowned expert on elections at the University of Bergen, also struck a cautious tone about the data, commenting to news agency NTB that it would be “very difficult to predict whether the wave of support has reached its peak, and how quickly it will eventually diminish.” Aarebrot also suggested to Dagbladet that despite the Conservative Party’s relative fall, “there is nothing that suggests that enthusiasm for the party is smaller” because the large improvement in the Labour vote was likely caused by previously unmotivated voters, meaning that parties with well-mobilized bases were likely to suffer relatively.

Nonetheless, Dalen emphasized to Dagbladet that the data showed strong support for the Labour Party from new voters, as well as a loyal voting base and a high propensity for non-Labour voters to favour the party as a second preference. Many have also noted the influence of Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg, who has received widespread praise for his handling of the attacks – surveys have shown that 94 percent of respondents rated him as performing “well” or “extremely well” following the attacks in Oslo and Utøya.

Labour politicians have themselves been quick to recognize the sympathy aspect of their improved fortunes in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. “We interpret this as a further expression for the Norwegian people’s sympathy with the victims after the terror in Oslo and the massacre at Utøya, and that they answer violence with more democracy,” commented Odd Erik Stende, assistant party secretary, to NTB. The party’s deputy parliamentary leader, Martin Kolberg, went further, telling NTB that the results were “obviously an expression for sympathy” and that it would be “inappropriate” to comment further.

Elections approaching
There has already been much discussion in Norway about how the terrorist attacks will affect the upcoming local elections around the country, which are due to take place on September 11 and 12. The seven parties represented in parliament agreed last week to delay the official opening of the election campaigns until mid-August, and party secretaries of those parties, as well as the far left Red Party, have been working on establishing common ground rules ever since. The officials will meet again on Monday.

The Conservative Party’s general secretary, Lars Arne Ryssdal, commented to newspaper Aftenposten that “the challenge will be to find a balance between a respectful tone and a totally boring election campaign.” He wants to ensure the most normal election possible but recognizes that people will expect politicians to adopt a different tone in the circumstances. Aftenposten has also reported that Progress Party leader Siv Jensen agrees that Norwegians would not tolerate a normal, confrontational election at this stage, and that politicians themselves would have to overcome their shock at the events in Oslo and Utøya.

Despite the attacks, many Norwegians hope that the elections will see a rise in engagement in response to the suspect’s attempts to destabilize Norwegian democracy. The youth-wings of many of the main political parties have already reported a large increase in membership in the last week, and a number of public figures, including Prime Minister Stoltenberg, have called for the coming elections to see record turnout.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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