Voters desert coalition parties

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After finally winning government power for the first time in its 40-year history last year, Progress Party leader Siv Jensen has since seen voters desert the party after she and her colleagues took office.  She woke up Friday to public opinion poll results that were described as nothing less than “catastrophic” by political commentators.

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who also became Norway's finance minister after last year's election, suddenly faces voter desertion after a year with government power. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/NRK screen grab

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who also became Norway’s finance minister after last year’s election, suddenly faces voter desertion after a year with government power. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/NRK screen grab

The poll, conducted by Sentio Research Norge for newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), shows the Progress Party  with just 10.7 percent of the vote. That compares to the 16.3 percent of the vote that the party actually won just a year ago, and a record 34 percent that it claimed in public opinion polls six years ago.

The Conservative Party, which leads the non-socialist minority coalition with the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), also tumbled in DN’s poll, falling 2.2 points to 23.3 percent of the vote. That compares to the 26.8 percent that helped sweep the Conservatives (Høyre) and Frp into office last year. And while both coalition parties have lost favour with tens of thousands of voters, the opposition Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) has attracted them. Labour jumped again in DN’s poll, claiming fully 41.2 percent of the vote, while all the other small parties in Parliament remained small. They all logged gains but they were slight.

The Liberal Party (Venstre), for example, gained only 0.2 points to claim just 3.8 percent of the vote in the new poll, way down from the 5.2 percent it won in last year’s election and under the 4 percent level generally needed to win representation in Parliament. The Liberals’ poor showing came despite lots of media attention over the past month for its criticism of the government’s proposed state budget and its active role in budget negotiations. The party is one of the coalition’s so-called “support parties” along with the Christian Democrats, which gained just a tenth of a point to claim 4.6 percent of the vote, also down from the 5.6 percent it actually won last year.

Budget gets the blame
Political commentators blame the government’s voter exodus on the last few weeks of tough negotiations over its first state budget. Core members of Jensen’s own Progress Party complain she has compromised too much and seem surprised that Jensen can’t simply provide funding for all the nursing homes, roads and other projects they want. The opposition, meanwhile, has blasted Jensen’s efforts to cut taxes and fees along with some social welfare programs.

“The government has done a miserable job with its first budget, and not just in terms of poor marketing,” Frank Aarebrot, election researcher and professor at the University of Bergen, told DN. “It was a huge mistake to offer tax relief to the wealthy at they same time they cut child welfare benefits for those on disability. If Siv Jensen had been smarter, she would have proposed the tax cuts this year and the welfare cuts next year. You can’t take from the poor and give to the rich without suffering consequences.”

DN‘s poll is the latest in a string of recent polls showing a sharp decline in voter support for the government. Aarebrot called that a new “serious trend” for the government parties. Meanwhile, DN‘s political commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim warned that Labour’s resurgence may not last long. Voters are fickle, Alstadheim noted, and as the debate over the budget dies down and the New Year begins, voters may likely change their minds again. The real test will come next fall, when it’s time fr mid-term municipal elections in Norway.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund