Monday

20th May 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

Burned cars fuel Swedish election debate

Sweden's first big party leader TV debate ahead of September elections was marked by the burning of dozen of cars in cities across the south-west of the country.

Agenda

Brexit, Bono and Bavaria top This WEEK

Crunch time in Brexit talks dominate the EU's agenda as a withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK could be within reach - after months of lack of progress in negotiations. Plus, Bono's in Brussels.

News in Brief

  1. Swiss voters approve tighter gun controls in line with EU
  2. Report: May's fourth Brexit vote a 'retread' of old ideas
  3. Turkey insists on right to drill for oil off Cyprus coast
  4. Anti-Salvini banners become new trend in Italy
  5. EU flies rainbow flag on anti-homophobia day
  6. EU to freeze money and visas of foreign cyber-attackers
  7. EU reassures US on arms sales
  8. Use euros over dollars in energy contracts, France says

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  2. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us