Støre’s popularity takes a dive

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Labour party politician Jonas Gahr Støre has lost some of the enormous popularity he enjoyed as Norway’s foreign minister, according to the results of a public opinion poll published by newspaper Dagbladet. His transfer to the troubled health ministry just two months ago may not have been the remedy his Labour-led government needed.

Jonas Gahr Støre used to fly around the world as Norwegian foreign minister… PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Støre was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs at the start of Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s so-called left-center, “red-green” coalition government in 2005, and occupied the prestigious post until September of this year. During this period, Støre came to be considered as the most successful and respected minister within Stoltenberg’s team. As foreign minister, he enjoyed an approval rating of close to 70 percent for many years as he flew all over the world representing Norway in a variety of the languages he speaks fluently.

But when Stoltenberg shook up his cabinet in September and assigned his most popular minister to restore faith in the troubled health ministry, Støre was unable to maintain the same privileged position among Norwegian voters. His popularity already had been tarnished by the Tschudi affair, but after just two months as health minister it has plummeted: Dagbladet’s survey, conducted by Ipsos MMI, shows that only 46 percent of voters polled think Støre is doing a good job.

…now, as new health minister, he’s often driven around Norway to visit local hospitals. PHOTO: Helsedepartementet

Støre responded to these results by saying that he was happy “so many people think that I’m doing a good job,” and that “so few think that I’m doing a bad job.” It’s important to put these numbers in context, note some political observers: At 46 percent, Støre is still slightly more popular among voters than Stoltenberg, who received a rating of 43 percent in the same survey. And Støre’s 46 percent looks even better when compared with the ratings of previous health ministers. In January 2012, only 12 percent of voters were happy with the job that then-health minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen was doing.

Støre’s decline may not be so much a reflection of his actions as health minister over the past weeks as it is a reflection of just how difficult it is to be head of health in Norway. A popular minister like Støre has an even longer way to fall when he enters the “mud-bath” that is health politics in Norway, as the political editor at Dagbladet, Marie Simonsen, pointed out. It is well-known that health minister is one of the most exposed posts in the Norwegian government, and many experts were already predicting that Støre’s popularity would take a sharp dive when he was assigned it. Simonsen pointed out that Støre has taken steps to improve upon the problems presented by his new post: At the beginning of the month he oversaw the resignation of unpopular Helse Sør-Øst boss Bente Mikkelsen, and in addition he uses “every available opportunity” to talk up the success of the Norwegian health care system, in the hopes of reversing its “undeservedly bad reputation.”

Støre himself, a former head of Norway’s Red Cross, has taken the survey results in stride, insisting that being health minister is a “great job” to have for someone interested in both politics and people. “These first few months as health minister have been some of the most exciting times in my career as a politician,” he claimed.

Views and News from Norway/Emily Williams

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