NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s Socialist Left party (SV), once a mighty force on the left side of Norwegian politics, has sunk to a new low in public opinion polls. After 18 months below the level needed for representation in Parliament, SV may have lost its most important basis of support, while the Greens party keeps growing, likely at SV’s expense.
“This is a very serious situation for SV,” election researcher Johannes Bergh at Norway’s Institute for Social Research (Institutt for Samfunnsforskning, ISF) told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. SV, which once had double-digit support among voters and held government power from 2005 until 2013 in a Labour-led coalition, has been well under the 4 percent general limit for Parliament for months on end.
New numbers show that SV has now lost ground with its core voters: students, women and immigrants. It only holds support from 1 percent of men aged 40 to 49 and 7.6 percent of students.
“That’s interesting, especially because SV traditionally has done very well among youth,” Bergh said. “They’ve lost their bedrock.”
Many SV voters are believed to have drifted over to the Labour Party during the past year. With the up and coming Greens Party (Miljøpartiet De Grønne, MDG) grabbing support from 17.3 percent of all students in the new poll, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Greens are grabbing SV’s voters, too.
The reasons center largely on SV’s perceived failure to push through most its environmental program when it had a chance while in government. It did manage to stop the government from drilling for oil off Lofoten, but it lost climate credibility when it didn’t slow the pace of oil exploration otherwise. It was also forced into many compromises on other efforts to cut carbon emissions and boost alternative energy projects.
A different sort of party meeting
These are areas where the Greens are unequivocal and uncompromising in their stands, which of course is easier to be when not part of a government coalition. They were the last of the parties represented in Parliament (albeit with only one seat, held by Green leader Rasmus Hansson) to hold their annual national meeting earlier this month, and newspaper Aftenposten noted how its format alone sent clear signals of party priorities: Members arrived by train in Stavanger (instead of flying) and then crammed onto packed local buses for the ride to their hotel, where a green (not red) carpet was rolled out to meet them. Members had to let organizers know if they did not want strictly vegetarian food at mealtimes, fish served was described as “sustainable” and delegates took a break from meetings to clean up a local beach at Jæren.
Much of that was arguably symbolic, but they approved measures when they were all done that included a proposal to halt expansion of the E18 highway west of Oslo (to force more commuters over to public transport), opposition to a government proposal to allow stores to open on Sundays and removal of all advertising from the “public room.” The Greens instead called for improvements such as drinking fountains, public toilets and outdoor furniture.
They also want all retouched photographed to be labelled as such, to reduce cosmetic pressure on women and men. They’re in favour of Norway accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria and don’t want the state rail system put out to bid in a move that would involve partial privatization.
Attracting the environmental vote
The Greens are also, from before, firmly opposed to opening up more oil and gas fields in the Arctic and would rather see a halt to most oil production in the seas off Norway. They’re opposed to coal investments and favour harsh measures to also reduce carbon emissions from transportation.
They’ve thus emerged as the only fervent environmentally oriented party and that’s won them support heading into the fall municipal elections. In some communities, they may even win local government power. With a multi-cultural leadership team, they also are appealing to more immigrants along with the cultural elite in Norway.
They’ve been meeting the public at the latest political party presentations at El Dorado Bokhandel in downtown Oslo this week and will maintain a presence there every afternoon through Saturday. Two years ago they were little known but still did well in national elections, winning representation for the first time. Now they’re zeroing in on the local level and are reaching out like never before.
“I thought our assignment was a bit overwhelming when I began working on it last fall, but now I see how I can be part of changing life in Oslo for the better,” 28-year-old Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, who may win influence on Oslo’s City Council, told newspaper Aftenposten recently. Her party colleague Elisabeth Amundsen may do the same in Bergen, less than two years after becoming a member of the party.
“I have been politically interested but never active before now,” Amundsen told Aftenposten. “It just suddenly occurred to me that today’s traditional politics will never solve our climate problems.”
That in a nutshell can explain why SV has lost steam. The formerly radical newcomer in past decades may be viewed as too “traditional” now, not least after its frustrating years in government. The Greens are sowing the seeds of change, and viewed as the proverbial burst of fresh air during the upcoming election campaign.