A revolution of sorts has quietly but quickly broken out among Norwegian voters, according to the rush of public opinion polls before Monday’s parliamentary election. Both of the country’s largest parties, Labour and the Conservatives, have lost voters to small parties that were largely dismissed just a few months ago, but have since emerged as the power factors in an historically close race.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday that the small parties on the left side of Norwegian politics are “eating Labour alive.” Most of them were still under the level needed (4 percent of the vote) to win full representation in Parliament as late as last spring, but their support has surged in recent months. Now the Socialist Left (SV), the Greens and even the Reds (long viewed as Norway’s last communist-oriented party) have doubled or tripled their numbers of supporters in Oslo, for example, while Labour has all but collapsed.
Labour’s voters who’ve been disappearing for weeks aren’t switching over to the Conservatives or the Progress Party, Norway’s next-largest parties on a national basis after Labour. Election researchers track their moves to SV, the Greens and the Reds, while Thore Gaard Olaussen of research firm ResponsAnalyse claims there’s a “domino effect” underway as well. While Labour loses to SV and the Greens, SV has lost voters to the more radical Reds.
Even Labour Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre is now calling the rise of the small left-wing parties as “protest votes.” Commentator Andreas Slettholm wrote in Aftenposten Thursday that while there was an uproar in Norway’s outlying areas last winter that boosted the left-leaning Center Party, there’s also been an “urban uproar” in Oslo this summer. “In other words, there’s been no small radicalization of Oslo voters,” Slettholm wrote.
The uproar in the outlying, rural districts was attributed to opposition over the current conservative government’s so-called “centralization” policies and failure to shoot enough wolves. The uproar in Oslo, suggest Slettholm, may be tied to feelings that neither the Conservatives nor Labour are taking major concerns over climate, immigration and the distribution of wealth seriously enough. Both Labour and the Conservatives want to keep searching for and producing more oil and gas, for example. That’s given a huge boost to the Greens party, and, to a lesser degree to SV, the Reds and, on the non-socialist side, the Liberals.
“Maybe Labour isn’t being viewed as a credible alternative to the current government in these political areas,” Slettholm wrote, adding, however, that remains a matter of speculation.
Labour’s huge decline in support in Oslo (down 7.1 points since June to just 23 percent of the vote) is a paradox since Labour won city government power in the capital in 2015. It had to team up with the Greens to form a majority, however, and then they imposed a highly unpopular property tax (as Labour and Center have elsewhere in the country). Labour and the Greens and made life difficult for Oslo residents owning cars. That’s left the Conservatives as Oslo’s biggest party, with 28.5 percent of the vote, but doesn’t explain the rise of the more radical left-wing parties.
That rise was also reflected earlier this week in the school elections held around the country, which often reflect the actual vote. While Labour slipped, SV won 10 percent of the vote and the Greens 6.8 percent, making the Greens as big as the Center Party.
‘Tyranny of the tiny’
For all those bemoaning what they consider the tyranny of tiny parties, because they can wield power in Parliament that seems out of line with their actual voter support, next week’s election does not bode well. Things have changed dramatically since late May, when newspaper Dagsavisen reported that the lack of support for small parties at the time could yield an “historic result” of just four parties in Parliament: The Conservatives, Progress, Labour and Center. This week Dagsavisen wrote that Norway will wind up farther from a two- or even four-party system than ever before. Fragmented election results can also make it more difficult than ever for either side to form a government.
“The small parties have been more clear in their messages than Labour,” researcher Johannes Bergh told Dagsavisen recently. The Center Party is clear about their pro-district politics, the Greens are clear about their opposition to oil and concerns for the climate, the Reds are clear on inequality, he noted. Others think things are going well in Norway, so support for the country’s biggest opposition party has fallen.
With Monday’s election expected to usher more, and more powerful, small parties into Parliament, voters will then need to brace for weeks of negotiations among them to form a government. It will still be led by either Labour or the Conservatives, and yet another new poll this week showed much higher support for the latter’s incumbent prime minister, Erna Solberg, than for Støre.
Aftenposten has outlined as many as 10 alternatives for government coalitions. Either Solberg or Støre can also try to go it alone, form a minority government and seek support in Parliament on an issue-by-issue basis. One thing is clear: Those who decry “the tyranny of the tiny” (the Progress Party even tried, unsuccessfully, to limit it, by raising the 4 percent limit for representation in Parliament) had best get used to it. Or protest by refusing to vote altogether.
“Everyone who votes for the three big parties see that they time and again have to compromise with the small parties,” complained Odd A Strømnes of the small town of Råde in a letter to newspaper Fredrikstads Blad. “The most unthinkable constellations can be formed, without voters having a chance to influence the results. I think there are more than me who begin to wonder whether there’s any point in voting anymore.”