NEWS ANALYSIS: She was grilled this week during Norway’s first formal debate among political party leaders in months, but Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her conservative coalition government have already won strong public confidence during the Corona crisis. A new public opinion poll shows that even voters for opposition parties think Solberg and her colleagues have been doing a good job.
“The Corona crisis has given the government an enormous vote of confidence,” wrote political commentator Harald Stanghelle in newspaper Aftenposten just before state broadcaster NRK’s nationally televised party leaders’ debate Thursday night.
Stanghelle was referring to the poll released this week by Arendalsuka, the organization that usually arranges a huge political gathering in the coastal city of Arendal every August. Like most everything else, the week of meetings and seminars in Arendal was cancelled and the program scaled down to just a few digital events and Thursday’s debate. Arendalsuka’s poll was nonetheless released for the third year in a row.
It showed that fully 69 percent of those questioned by research firm Respons Analyse think Solberg’s government deserves a score of at least six or more on a scale of one to 10. That’s up from 50 percent last year, a remarkable increase that Solberg has all reason to relish.
Confidence in the Parliament, meanwhile, rose from 67- to 77 percent and even the media scored a solid rise in public confidence, from 55- to 63 percent. It’s not uncommon for people to rely more heavily and be less critical of their leaders and the media during times of trouble. The magnitude of Solberg’s support in the new poll, however, confirms that Norwegians traditionally rely on one another and have confidence in the country’s most important institutions and leaders.
The poll comes just a week after Solberg’s Conservative Party once again ranked as the largest in the country. That ranking, with 27.7 percent of the vote, emerged in another poll comissioned by newspaper Dagsavisen, media group ANB and the labour movement’s news agency Frifagbevegelse. The poll, conducted by research firm Opinion, put Solberg’s Conservatives well ahead of the Labour Party, which won 24.6 percent of the vote.
Solberg’s government partners, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, continue to perform poorly, however, and may ruin the Conservatives’ chances for re-election to a third term in next year’s national election. Neither party even qualified for full representation in Parliament, with less than 4 percent of the vote each, and Solberg lost her other, bigger government partner, the Progress Party, when it withdrew from her government earlier this year. Its fortunes have fallen, too, though, so Solberg faces a big challenge in forming a non-socialist majority in Parliament.
Keen to take over are the Labour and Center parties, but they don’t command a majority either and will need to rely on support from other parties. Center remains the joker, with its leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum refusing at present to formally cooperate with any of them.
Vedum currently seems keen to form majorities on an issue-by-issue basis, knowing that he’d have to cave in on tougher climate and environmental measures in any pact with the Socialist Left of Greens parties. Vedum would rather have the freedom to push through more oil-friendly policies with the Progress Party, for example, and tougher regulatory/protectionist policies with SV, the Greens and even the Reds. That’s how he, and presumably Labour, could out-maneuver their opposition on various issues, political commentatory Kjetil B Alstadheim wrote in Aftenposten this week.
All the opposition parties had a chance to grill Solberg and her government partners at this week’s debate, held in Arendal on Thursday. They criticized her for opening Norway up too early in late June and July, and easing travel restrictions that are widely blamed for a recent rise in Corona infection cases. The various parties disagreed on whether Norway should impose mandatory Corona virus testing of people arriving again from abroad, Norwegians and foreigners alike.
They also disagreed on a standard variety of other issues, with Thursday night’s debate viewed as an unofficial launch of next year’s national election campaign. Solberg, just back from some summer holiday herself and visits to Nordland, Troms and Finnmark, retained her customary calm, knowing full well she has lots of work ahead of her.