It is the issue which is topping the voters’ agendas across Europe, and it is the issue which continues to baffle across the spectrum of political parties.

Immigration has spawned a resurgence in nationalist politics and it could potentially serve to be the key to securing power. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) might be enjoying a spike in support, but the mainstream parties are reluctant to engage.

This makes SD stand apart from the nationalist parties in neighbouring Denmark and Norway, according to findings by a Malmö University researcher.

“Sweden Democrats take the immigration issue and make it the most important question in the next election, winning the party more votes,” says Anders Hellström, whose findings have just been published in his book, ‘Trust Us’.

Anders HellstromAnders has spent years studying the Sweden Democrats: the party’s ideology, electoral support and the profile of the party in the media. His research now compares the nationalist parties in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland and demonstrates that despite a common rhetoric, there are also stark differences, which single SD out.

To understand the current appeal of the Sweden Democrats, Anders has looked back at how the country’s heritage and national myths have shaped them.

“It uses the radicalisation of popular moods and the idea of a nostalgic dream of the ‘good old days’: a safer society with less crime and violence, better schools and standard of living.
“But SD is careful not to be compared to Nazism. They respect parliamentary democracy and it is against racism and violence. To be considered in tune with the establishment, they have gone so far as to exclude its own youth wing, which has attracted much bad press.”

In its political rhetoric it uses polarising emotional expression such as ‘Sweden has awakened.’ But immigration policy has always been polarised, believes Anders.

“In the 2014 election, there were two camps; one side advocated more refugees, the other, less. But the issue is not one of only two camps – the current refugee situation reminds that we need to broaden the discussion.”

The research shows that to attract voters, political parties need to be within what is considered ‘normal’ for the general electorate and in harmony with the cultural codes in their country. And to get success in the political and public discourse, the party needs to be accepted as part of the democratic process.

“The Danish People’s Party and the Progress Party in Norway have become credible. The other parties have adapted to their policies and they have had an impact on their policies nationally. In Sweden, however, parties at a national level have shut out and excluded cooperation with the Sweden Democrats.”

Anders studied articles on the editorial pages in daily and evening newspapers in Sweden, Norway and Denmark between 2009 and 2012 – before the current refugee crisis – and found coverage of the parties and their policies also differ. Once again, the SD stood out from the norm.

“The tone is different, the influential media in Sweden is much against SD. Whereas in Norway and Denmark, the tone used by mainstream press editorial was far less negative”

You can find Anders Hellström’s book Trust Us, available here.

Anders Hellström
070 – 426 94 65

Lotta Orban, kommunikatör, Malmö högskola
0709-655 492