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Shock Poll Rates Sweden’s Anti-Immigrant Right-Wing Party as Country’s Largest

The Sweden Democrats have their roots in the country's neo-Nazi movement.

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If there has been a defining theme of the European political leadership’s response to the migrant crisis currently facing the continent, it is this: panic. With a record 107,500 migrants crossing EU borders last month alone, EU politicians have struggled to come up with a unified response, and Europe’s political class is coming to realize the immense risk that the immigration question poses to their hold on power. A poll released Thursday is the latest data point in this move away from establishment politics: Sweden’s anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats are now the country’s largest party.

According to a poll carried out by YouGov, the Sweden Democrats, a party with its roots in the country’s neo-Nazi movement, now has the support of 25.2 percent of Swedes. Two other parties that spent the 20th and 21st centuries basically trading power with one another — the Moderates and the Social Democrats — took home 21.0 percent and 23.4 percent, respectively. The Social Democrats currently hold power in a minority coalition government.

The poll is a shock result for Sweden. Since the Sweden Democrats first entered parliament, in 2010, establishment parties and the media have carried out a systematic campaign to marginalize the right-wing populist party as racist and xenophobic. But that failed to stop the party’s forward march in the 2014 election to become Sweden’s third-largest party. This latest poll represents a continuation of the trend lines that have marked Swedish politics for the last 10 years — a gradual erosion of support for the two mainstream parties, the Social Democrats and the Moderates, and a move toward the far-right Sweden Democrats.

To be sure, the YouGov poll should be taken with a grain of salt. The poll used Internet responses and a self-selecting group of respondents. While Internet polls tend to oversample young men — a strong demographic for the Sweden Democrats — YouGov has a pretty good track record in its assessments of Swedish public opinion, and its 2014 pre-election poll was quite close to the final result. Yet amid what can only be described as a global crisis in political polling, any such barometer should be heavily qualified, even traditional random-sampling telephone surveys.

With that said, the YouGov result comes at a time that illustrates just how volatile the immigration debate has become in Europe. The poll was carried out shortly after two Eritrean asylum seekers fatally stabbed two men at an Ikea, a case that captivated and shocked the Swedish public. And shortly before the poll was launched, the Sweden Democrats launched an advertising campaign in the Stockholm subway deploring the large number of homeless beggars who have descended on the city and the government’s inability to prevent their presence. And throughout the summer, Swedish and European media have been filled with stories about the huge numbers of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and other borders to gain entry into Europe. Political scientists quoted in Swedish media say this context made for ripe conditions for Swedes to register their discontent with the government’s handling of the immigration question.

On both the left and right, Swedish politicians are promising new solutions and proposals to better deal with immigration, but this is the basic tactic that has been promulgated for the last 10 years. All the while, the Sweden Democrats have made restricting immigration their core issue and are now reaping the benefits as 46 percent of participants in the YouGov poll rated immigration as the most important political question.

So sit back and watch and see if the European establishment can come up with a solution to deal with the migrant crisis or whether it will continue to cede this issue — and public support — to the continent’s growing band of anti-immigrant right-wing parties.

Photo credit: ANDERS WIKLUND/AFP/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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