One of the biggest problems for Norwegian voters heading into the upcoming national election is that no one knows for sure what a new government coalition will look like, either on the right or the left side of Norwegian politics. Gone are the days when Labour or the Conservatives attracted enough votes to rule alone, and questions remain over the composition of the coalitions they’d need to form, and how that can alter their own party programs.
Most vulnerable to disporportionately powerful influence from a much smaller government partner is Labour at present. It was commanding voter support of nearly 40 percent just a few months ago, but now its voters appear to be fleeing to Labour’s own potential partner in a new left-center coalition, the Center Party.
New NRK poll results
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) published the results of a new poll, conducted by research firm Norstat, on Thursday that showed Labour once again dipping in the polls while the rural-oriented Center Party rides a wave of support from voters resisting an alleged “political elite” and various reforms and centralization of government services promoted by the current Conservative coalition. Center Party leaders were literally laughing with joy and confidence on NRK Radio Thursday morning, as the new poll showed them with 10.9 percent of the vote, up 2.3 points from NRK’s last poll.
Labour fell in the NRK poll, to 32.8 percent, albeit not as low as the 30.2 percent that a Dagens Næringsliv (DN) poll showed recently, but still down 0.2 points. Labour’s other potential partner in a new left-center government, the Socialist Left (SV), was also down by 0.7 points to 4.4 percent.
If the Center Party continues to climb at the expense of Labour, it can force Labour to make many concessions to the Center Party, which is known for championing subsidies and protectionism for farmers, strict market regulation of agricultural products to keep prices high, opposition to the EU and free trade policies and, most recently, wolf hunts to protect ranchers and landowners from the threat of predators. Even though Labour’s leader Jonas Gahr Støre has long favoured the EU and Norway’s cooperation with it, he has already said he’ll listen to the Center Party’s concerns about Norway’s trade agreement with the EU, for example, and the Center Party’s support for Brexit.
Conservatives lost their majority
The NRK poll showed, meanwhile, a 2.2-point decline for the Conservatives, to just 22.4 percent of the vote, while its government partner, the Progress Party, rose 1.4 points to 14.4 percent of the vote. One of their two support parties, the Christian Democrats, also fell in the poll, by 1.2 points to just 4.6 percent of the vote, while their other support party, the Liberals, fell once again below the 4 percent limit for representation in Parliament. With just 3.9 percent of the vote, the Liberals can’t give much support to the current Conservatives-led coalition with the NRK poll suggesting it has lost its majority in Parliament.
It’s still six months until the election, though, and as newspaper Aftenposten noted on Thursday, the situation can shift from poll to poll. Voters, however, are left wondering what kind of government they’ll actually get since the parties don’t know themselves. Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives are expected to team up again with the Progress Party and their two support parties, but they also could partner just with the two support parties who don’t want to govern with Progress. Labour won’t specify any alternatives, but seems most likely to cooperate with the Center Party and SV, while wooing the Christian Democrats over to their side as well. It would be radical for the Christian Democrats to side with the socialists, but speculation is flying.
As the Conservatives gather for their annual national meeting this weekend, their strategy was emerging. They’ll promote more jobs, better schools, more and better health- and elder care and a stronger defense, while resisting the temptation to get too detailed on specific issues. Aftenposten reported how they’ve dropped standpoints on issues like whether to allow shopping on Sundays, bans on begging or forcing fathers to take their share of paternity leave in their party program. That can help them avoid more conflicts with their existing support parties, and keep positions more “round” instead of “sharp,” as one commentator put it.
Newspaper Dagsavisen, meanwhile, reported Thursday on yet another new public opinion poll, conducted for the Labour-aligned trade union confederation LO. It showed 45 percent of its respondents favouring Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre as prime minister over Solberg. LO leader Gerd Kristiansen claimed that “clearly showed that folks think the (current) government is going in the wrong direction.” Only two of 10 responding to the LO poll think Solberg’s government will survive the September election. Their predictions aren’t the same as an actual poll on how people intend to vote, Kristiansen conceded, “but it shows folks are not satisfied.” She, for one, will be campaigning for Labour and a change in government, while those backing the incumbent Conservatives argue for stability in uncertain times.