Lessons from the Swedish Social Liberal Party

The Swedish Liberal Party (FP) has many parallels with the Lib Dems as it became the junior partner in a coalition government with the right-wing party (Moderate Party) following the 2006 election despite having an ideology of social liberalism. Their poll ratings dropped, as did the coalitions, only for the Liberal Party to recover their poll rating and the coalition increasing their vote share overall in the 2010 election. The Liberals gained 7.5% in 2006 and the table below shows some poll ratings through the parliament:

Obviously there are stark differences to the context and specifics but it may still be worth looking at what helped them maintain their vote share at least.

  • Sweden was experiencing economic growth
  • There was competence of the leader of the largest party who managed to keep the government together and avoid the parties from falling out with each other and feuding amongst themselves as they had done in the 1970s and in the early 90s.
  • Social Democratic Party had an incompetent leader
  • The success of the right-wing party was much to do by the transformation of the right rather than the transformation of voters. The Swedish right has accepted the modern welfare model and has understood that any talk of abolishing it or radically altering it is not a vote-getting strategy. The right has just placed more emphasis on jobs and finances, introducing popular and rather successful tax policies to encourage work.

An interesting pattern in the results here is that the senior government party picked up votes based on the popularity of its leader with the swing voter, but it didn’t squash the smaller parties. Many had thought that, as sometimes/usually happens with junior coalition partners, the largest party would pick up votes from the smaller parties. That may say a lot about the remarkably stable (overall) bases of party support in Sweden, but it also does say something about the competence of the smaller parties’ leaderships and their ability to find a voice in government. That being said, none of the smaller parties in the Alliance performed spectacularly and in fact M was the only party not to lose percentage wise (FP (Liberal Party) picked up 2,129 votes but lost 0.48% – higher turnout is the main culprit). See here.

I leave many of the obvious comparisons to you. Clearly the need for the Lib Dems to find their voice in the government would be seen as an important lesson. Lets hope 2011 and the new strategy will help.

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