Norway’s minority government coalition has gained some voter support, according to the most recent public opinion poll released on Thursday. It’s under heavy pressure, though, from the resurgent Center Party, which is riding a wave of discontent over government reforms that have pitted outlying districts against Oslo.
The Center Party claimed 11.4 percent of the vote in the latest “party barometer” poll conducted for newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) by Sentio Research Norge AS. That’s up 2.1 percentage points from DN‘s last poll and marks the Center Party’s highest level in years. It’s also more than double the party’s result (5.5 percent) in the last national election in 2013.
“We have been clear over time in our opposition to the government’s large-operation policies,” Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, leader of the Center Party, told DN on Thursday. He was referring to the government reforms regarding agriculture, the police, local governments, hospitals and defense that are aimed at centralizing and cutting costs. Residents living outside urban areas fear job losses and that public sector services will be moved farther away from them.
Even though the local economies of many of Norway’s outlying areas are performing far better than those in Oslo and Stavanger, Vedum sees no paradox over how residents of those areas continue to complain about a so-called “elite” in Oslo, where the government is based. “Folks see that the reason for growth in forestry and fishing industries, for example, has nothing to do with government policy but with the low oil price and the weak krone,” Vedum insisted. Nor does he seem impressed that farm production is so high that some products like lamb meat have been stored away and kept off the market to keep prices high.
The Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) has especially been benefiting from the current public debate over wolves, and many have accused Vedum of being both populistic and divisive, keen on stirring up more conflict instead of being more solutions-oriented. He’s even been referred to as Norway’s version of Donald Trump, a comparison he dislikes and fends off.
It’s not the two government parties, the Conservatives and the Progess Party, that are losing voters to the Center Party, though, in DN‘s new poll. The Progess Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) gained nearly as much as the Center Party did, up 2 percentage points to 14.1 percent of the vote, while the Conservatives (Høyre) gained 0.9 to claim 23.7 percent. Their support party, the Liberals (Venstre), rose a full point while their other support party, the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) dipped only one-tenth of a point, with both landing at 5.3 percent.
That gives the conservative government coaltion with its two support parties 48.4 percent of the vote, compared to their left-center coalition rivals’ 45.5 percent, when the poll results for the Center Party are combined with its former government partners, Labour and the Socialist Left (SV). The Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) fell dramatically to 30.2 percent while the Socialist Left party (SV) fell to 3.9 percent. The current government bloc thus remained larger after some earlier polls showed a tip in the balance to the socialist side of Norwegian politics, less than seven months ahead of the next national election in September.
It’s the Labour Party that actually seems to have lost voters to the Center Party, its potential government coalition partner. While it remains Norway’s largest single party, it fell a stunning 5.5 points in DN‘s poll, with some election analysts agreeing with Vedum that the Center Party has been more clear in its left-center policies and orientation than Labour has. “This is not an especially good result,” admitted the Labour Party’s secretary Kjersti Stenseng to DN. She said the Center Party is reaping the results “of having a clear profile over time against the government’s centralization policies,” an issue she said the Center Party virtually owns.
Stenseng claimed she couldn’t identify any single issue that’s turning off voters, but Labour has caught criticism lately for its so-called “compromise” proposal for oil exploration and drilling off Lofoten, which is strongly opposed by the fishing industry that doesn’t want oil activity anywhere near rich fishing grounds. The Labour Party has also announced it will raise taxes and use less oil revenues to shore up Norway’s social welfare system, and Labour is losing popularity in Oslo, where it holds city government power. Labour’s rush to impose and now greatly raise property taxes, make it much more difficult to have a car in the city and even land in a scandal over garbage collection has not won support from many city residents.
While Labour was disappointed by DN‘s poll, it encouraged the government parties that face a tough election campaign ahead. Progress Party leader and Finance Minister Siv Jensen seized the opportunity to point out how Norway’s economy is largely riding out the economic turbulence caused by the oil price collapse, and she stressed that the Center Party “is a socialist party that will raise taxes, reverse important reforms … they’ve always objected to change. We (her party and the Conservatives) favour renewal.”