Nearly all of Norway’s political parties have registered strong gains in party membership this autumn, not least in the two weeks following the election of Donald J Trump as president of the United States. Party leaders, especially those on the left side of Norwegian politics, think Trump’s election caused so much concern that more people want to get involved in policy-making.
“We have had a marked increase in the number of new members after November 9,” Kari Elisabeth Kaski, party secretary for the Socialist Left (SV), told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. “I think the numbers clearly have to do with the election in the US. I think many people are uneasy about the future and want to engage themselves more.”
Just days after the US ambassador to Norway sought to reassure nervous Norwegian voters, Kaski also linked SV’s membership growth to the reaction against Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug from Norway’s most conservative party, the Progress Party. Listhaug sparked an uproar over some crass comments she’s made on social media lately, especially over how pleased she was with a recent New York Times article that ranked Norway highest in Europe for sending would-be refugees out of the country. Kaski thinks that brought as many new members into SV as the party usually gets in a week.
The actual numbers are small, at 216 in the two weeks following the election, but significant for a small party like SV. Among those joining SV were Martine Kopstad Floeng, age 26, who made her decision on the morning of November 9 when the US election results became clear. “Developments in the US and Norway worry me,” Floeng told Dagsavisen. “It has to do with the way people treat other people, but also the climate. I realized that I couldn’t defend just sitting still and letting things happen.” Oda MS Joramo, age 27, cited similar reasons for joining SV: “I felt a need to do something, not just be apathetic. I have felt for a long time that Norway is going in the wrong direction, and thought that if there’s anything I can do, I need to do it now.”
Record growth for Labour
Norway’s largest party, Labour, has seen record membership growth this fall and is also doing well in public opinion polls. “We saw an immediate increase after the election,” Kjersti Stenseng, party secretary for Labour, told Dagsavisen. She said the number of new members in November is double the number in the same month last year.
“I think we can safely say that the US election unleashed engagement,” said Stenseng, who holds what many consider the most powerful position in Labour after its leader and candidate for prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre. “It’s easier to recruit new members when we can get them to see the importance of party membership.” Like Kaski, she also thinks there may be a Listhaug effect: “The debate over the rhetoric that some government ministers are using has been a mobilizing factor for us.”
The Center Party, which cooperated with Labour in the last Labour-led government, reported an increase in membership as well, but doesn’t link it to either Trump or Listhaug. Party secretary Knut M Olsen ties it more to some local issues that have angered and engaged voters, not least the government’s decision to close the Andøya air station in Northern Norway.
Some growth on the non-socialist side, too
The Liberal Party (which, contrary to its name, is a non-socialist party in Norway on the center-right side of local politics) also reports a doubling of new members, while the Christian Democrats have welcomed around 200 new members in recent weeks. Both parties have a cooperation agreement with Norway’s minority coalition government led by the Conservatives, which emerged as the only Norwegian party that could not report an increase in membership.
“We’re experiencing a slight decline so far in 2016,” wrote the Conservatives’ party secretary John-Ragnar Kvam Aarseth in a text message to Dagsavisen. “The decline seems to be stable. People die, stop paying their membership dues or withdraw. We don’t think our membership numbers are influenced by the election in the the US.”
The Conservatives’ government partner, though, Listhaug’s Progress Party, reported what its marketing chief Helge Fossum called “large membership growth this year,” most of it in the autumn when the US election has been high on the agenda.
“Whether the growth is tied to the election, I don’t know,” Fossum told Dagsavisen, “but when the Progress Party’s solutions are heated in the debate, there are often more members coming to us.”