Thursday

21st Nov 2019

Opinion

'Nativism' and the upcoming Swedish and Bavarian elections

  • A German election poster for the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). It states 'The AfD delivers what the CSU only promises' (Photo: EUobserver)

Swedes head to the polls in September in a national parliamentary election. Bavarians vote in October in a state election.

The Swedish outcome will determine the composition of the next government in Stockholm, and the influence of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, currently the second-largest party.

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The Bavarian voting may challenge the control the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) has had over regional politics and test the rising strength of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third largest party nationally, with implications for future German politics and policy.

In both elections, voters' nativist sentiments may well help determine the outcome.

New Pew Research Center surveys find that people who have a positive opinion of the anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats and the populist AfD also have more nativist and nationalistic views than people who view these parties negatively.

But their sentiments are helping to frame political debates in both countries in the run up to the balloting.

The Swedish economy is expected to grow by 2.8 percent this year, according to the OECD, the club of advanced economies based in Paris.

And 87 percent of the Swedish public believes their economy is doing well in a new Pew Center survey.

Similarly, the OECD expects the German economy to grow by 2.1 percent in 2018 and 85 percent of Germans say the national economy is good.

People who favour the populist parties in Sweden and Germany tend to have less positive views of the economy than their fellow countrymen, but their views are still positive overall; at least three-quarters in each country believe their economy is doing well, suggesting economy unease is not a major factor behind their populist sentiment.

Nostalgia

Backers of populist parties, however, are much more nostalgic than others in Germany and Sweden.

A 2017 Center survey found that 44 percent of Germans with a favourable view of the AfD thought that life in Germany was worse today than it was 50 years ago for people like them.

Only 16 percent of other Germans agreed. Similarly, 43 percent of supporters of Swedish Democrats said life a half century ago was better, while just 17 percent of other Swedes voice that view.

This wistfulness about the past may be a reflection of a yearning for a more homogeneous, less diverse society.

Indeed, nationalist and nativist views separate adherents of the major parties from their fellow countrymen in both societies.

In Sweden, those who have a favourable view of the Swedish Democrats (40 percent) are nearly twice as likely as all other Swedish adults (21 percent) to believe that Swedish culture is superior to others.

While this is a minority view, it is also notable that a third of younger Swedes, those ages 18 to 34, hold such nationalist sentiments, compared to roughly a quarter of those ages 55 and older (26 percent).

The portion of Sweden's population that is foreign-born has grown from 9 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2015, stirring anxiety about what it means to be Swedish.

Sweden Democrats supporters are more than twice as likely (39 percent) as other Swedes (15 percent) to voice the opinion that it is important to be born in Sweden to be considered truly Swedish.

And they are nearly three times as likely (40 percent) as others (14 percent) to believe that it is important to have family from Sweden to be truly Swedish.

There is no significant difference in support for the Sweden Democrats between younger and older Swedes.

But it is older Swedes (28 percent) who place a primacy on birth-right nationality more than Swedes ages 35 to 54 (15 percent) or the young (20 percent).

And it is those 55 and older (32 percent) who are also much more likely than Swedes 18 to 54 (13 percent) to link nationality to family ties.

There is also a deep societal division in Sweden over Islam, the religion of an estimated 8.1 percent of Sweden's population.

Half of those with a favourable view of the Swedish Democrats (50 percent) believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with Swedish culture and values, a sentiment shared by only 30 percent of other Swedish adults. Swedish men (38 percent) are also more likely to hold such a view than women (30 percent).

'Deutschland uber alles'?

In Germany, a nativist divide also exists among voting-age adults.

Roughly six-in-ten Germans with a positive view of the AfD (61 percent) agree that German culture is superior to others.

Just 44 percent of other Germans share that perception.

The divide over nativist issues is even greater. Three-quarters or more of AfD supporters say it is important to have been born in Germany (75 percent) and it is important to have family from Germany (78 percent) to be truly German.

Less than half of other Germans agree. And 75 percent of AfD adherents say Islam is incompatible with German culture and values, a sentiment shared by only 39% of the rest of the public.

There is no significant difference in support for the AfD across age groups. But Germans 55 years of age and older (50 percent) are more likely than those ages 18 to 34 (42 percent) to say German culture is superior.

Similarly older Germans (55 percent) are more likely than the young (39 percent) to believe you need to be born in Germany and to have a German family background to be truly German.

And 58 percent of Germans 55 years of age and older voice the view that Islam is not compatible with German traditions, but only 35 percent of younger Germans share that view.

The rise of both the Swedish Democrats and the AfD may reflect the difficulty some Swedes and Germans are having with greater cultural diversity in their countries.

Whether such parties sustain or grow their presence remains to be seen and will be tested in this autumn's elections. But the populist sentiment behind their rise seems likely to be a factor in Swedish, German and European politics in the months and years ahead.

Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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