Finance Minister and Progress Party boss Siv Jensen has reason to smile in the midst of Norway’s refugee crisis. Her party has rebounded in public opinion polls, apparently because of its traditionally tough positions on immigration and asylum.
Support for Jensen’s party was booming even before the Parliament voted on Monday to tighten Norway’s immigration and asylum regulations. With thousands of asylum seekers arriving in Norway every week, even some of the most liberal politicians went along with the Progress Party’s restrictive line that won support within its minority government coalition with the Conservatives.
Public opinion polls released last week show that Jensen’s party jumped fully 5.5 points in the polls to grab 18.7 percent of the vote. That’s the highest level of support the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) has had for more than four years and it’s more than double the result of September’s municipal elections, when the party only won 8 percent of the vote in Oslo and around 10 percent on average nationwide.
The party and Jensen herself were widely viewed as heartless during the election campaign for allegedly sabotaging her government’s own agreement on accepting refugees. Jensen was harshly criticized for suggesting during the election campaign that local communities could simply refuse to accept any of the roughly 8,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees that Norway committed itself to receive over the course of this year and next. Jensen’s predecessor as party boss, Carl I Hagen, was also blasted for suggesting that boats full of fleeing refugees in the Mediterranean should be turned around and sent back to where they were launched.
Now, two months later, Norway has been all but overwhelmed by an influx of asylum seekers arriving on their own, often after hazardous journeys through Europe. Although support for helping them remains strong, their sheer numbers (27,000 at last count this year alone) have raised concerns, also over the lack of border controls.
That prompted one commentator in newspaper Aftenposten to remark that the fall election “came two months too early” for Jensen’s Progress Party. If the refugee influx had picked up earlier, it may well have won far more real votes. She can console herself with the realization that her party’s policies are now being embraced by far more people, according to recent polls.
“Folks see that Norway is not dimensioned for the influx that’s coming,” Jensen told Aftenposten. She thinks the outpouring of sympathy for refugees that came before and just after the election was temporary, and that most Norwegians favour restrictive immigration policies.
Thore Gaard Olaussen, manager of the research firm Respons that conducted last week’s poll, said it was “very seldom” that results shifted so dramatically as they did in favour of Jensen’s party. “It’s completely clear this reflects the refugee situation in Norway,” Olaussen told Aftenposten.
Even some of Jensen’s strongest political opponents were begrudgingly accepting that her party’s policies seemed to be prevailing at present. The party “has taken revenge in asylum policies,” wrote political commentator Arne Strand in newspaper Dagsavisen. Even Jensen’s arch rival, the Labour Party, was going in for much tougher policies to control the flow of asylum seekers, giving Jensen a triumph to report back to her party faithful.