Progress Party jumps in polls

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Norway’s conservative Progress Party has logged the single biggest gain among parties represented in Parliament in the latest public opinion poll for January. The results, which also give a boost to the government coalition of which it’s a member, can help the party fend off fears that it will suffer the same fate as the Socialist Left party (SV), which saw its popularity dive after it became a member of Norway’s former government.

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, now also Norway's finance minister, could be encouraged by results of a new public opinion poll showing a solid gain in support from voters. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, now also Norway’s finance minister, could be encouraged by results of a new public opinion poll showing a solid gain in support from voters. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

The poll conducted by Sentio Research Norge AS for newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) shows the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) climbing 1.6 percentage points to log 15.5 percent of voters’ support. That’s still below the 16.3 percent the party won in the last parliamentary election, and far below the 22.9 percent that the party won back in the 2009 election, but it marks a strong recovery from earlier polls, some of which left the party with only around 12 percent of the vote.

There have been concerns among Progress Party members that it will need to compromise on too many issues for the sake of government unity. The party won government power for the first time in its 40-year history by agreeing on a coalition platform with the Conservative Party (Høyre), while the coalition itself also struck agreements to gain cooperation in parliament from the Liberal Party (Venstre) and the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF). The agreements, some members fear, will likely force the party to make too many concessions down the road.

Veteran defection
Some high-profile members of the Progress Party, known as being Norway’s most conservative and populist party with its constant calls for tax cuts and curbs on immigration, have already seemed to think the party would have been better off remaining in opposition than winning a spot in government. Per Sandberg, for example, a deputy leader on the party’s own conservative side, declined a ministerial post last fall although he now says he may change his mind. He also wrote a book about the party’s inner circles and his opinions about fellow politicians that stirred controversy both within and outside the party.

This week, another party veteran, Bjørn Helgerud of Drammen, left the party in protest, claiming he was furious with party leader Siv Jensen and missed her predecessor Carl I Hagen, who never managed to achieve government power during his rule by effectively keeping the party out of any pacts or coalitions with other parties. Helgerud told newspaper Dagsavisen Fremtiden that he thinks the party has now gone from “being a party for common folks” to being one that is “arrogant and most preoccupied with government power.”

Jensen, who has said she’s glad party members are “impatient” and want to see more party initiatives approved after just 100 days in office, could thus enjoy the new party poll on Friday that showed her party winning back a substantial bloc of voters. The Labour and Conservative parties gained 1.2 percentage points, compared to her party’s 1.6, while the only other party registering a gain was the Christian Democrats, up 0.3 to 4.7 percent of the vote.

Government coalition firms its grip
The Progress Party’s government partner, the Conservatives, rose to 28.4 percent of the vote, up from the 26.8 percent it actually won in the last election, giving the coalition a firmer hold on government power. Labour, however, retained its spot as Norway’s biggest party, with 35.3 percent of voter support according to the DN poll, even though it failed to win re-election. That was because its two coalition parties in the former left-center government that Labour led lost badly in September, forcing the coalition out of office.

Neither of those two parties is doing any better today, in fact much worse, according to DN’s poll. The Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp), ravaged by internal strife in addition to unpopular politics, logged only 4.3 percent of voter support, down 0.6  from the last poll and 1.2 points from the 5.5 percent it won in the last election. SV fared the worst, falling another 0.8 to just 3.1 percent of the vote. That’s the poorest showing for SV ever, and the party’s deputy leader Bård Vegar Solhjell blamed its eight years in government.

Asked whether the party shouldn’t have accepted its initial coalition victory at the real election polls back in 2005, Solhjell answered “No, that can’t be the answer. It’s not unusual that the junior partner in a coalition does poorly. At the same time, there are examples of the opposite.”

While he mainly cites “government fatigue” and perceptions that SV had to tone down its otherwise strong environmental profile on several issues during its government reign, not least on construction of the controversial Mongstad gas and oil plant, Solhjell told DN that the “main point” is that SV did score some major victories in government, such as day care reform.

The Progress Party remains intent on scoring major victories for its politics as well during its period in government. Party leaders themselves generally downplay poll results, stressing that only elections really count, but DN’s latest poll nonetheless reflects a boost for the government after its first 100 days in office.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund