So shocking was the result, that polling institute Megafon had to repeat the survey. But the result was real – the Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterne) are bleeding voters at an unprecedented rate. In the June 2015 election they received 26.3 percent of the vote. On January 28, the poll showed support had dropped to 19.3 percent.
The seven-percentage point drop in support is a blow for Socialdemokraterne, the traditional leaders of the left-wing ‘red bloc’ of parties. The culprit is the party’s immigration position. In January they supported the Liberal Party (Venstre) government’s controversial new refugee laws, even though the government had enough votes without their support.
The poll found that among Danes who voted for Socialdemokraterne in the June election, 55 percent think the party’s immigration policies are too strict. This is unsurprising, given that the January deal with Venstre was a major departure from the immigration and refugee policies they pursued while in government between 2011 and 2015, when they improved the conditions for asylum seekers by allowing some to live and work outside asylum centres. This policy has now been withdrawn under the new set of immigration laws.
A long time coming
Professor Christopher Green-Pedersen, from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University, argues Socialdemokraterne are in a tight spot. On the one hand, they have to lead the left wing bloc, which generally opposes stricter immigration policies. On the other, they have been losing voters to the pro-welfare and anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF) over the past two decades when they pursued a less hard line position.
“It took Socialdemokraterne far too long to move to the right on immigration. Their voters have long sought a tougher position,” says Green-Pedersen.
In January, Socialdemokraterne leader Mette Frederiksen made a very public departure from the party’s traditional line on immigration. In an interview on the DR2 programme Deadline, Frederiksen said the party should have listened sooner to its mayors in deprived parts of the country, who had warned about the impact of immigration.
“When many immigrants arrive and have to be integrated into schools and housing, it becomes the responsibility of the public housing sector, which is already burdened with the most social problems,” she said.
“It is important to get through this crisis with our values intact and end up with a cohesive society. We insist that, firstly, we help people fleeing war. And, secondly, that we treat them with dignity when they arrive. Integration must work. But there must be a balance so that we don’t take in more than we can integrate. Our social model is so unique that it rests on an economic stability and balance, as well as a social cohesion.”
Green-Pedersen explains that even with the tougher position on immigration, the new policies might have gone too far, hastening the party’s decline in the polls.
“The policies were very symbolic, such as the confiscation of valuables from refugees. Voters think that they have gone too far, which is why the voters have moved to parties with less strict immigration policies, such as The Alternative [Alternativet] and the Social Liberals [Radikale].”
Professor Jørgen Goul Andersen, from the Department of Political Science at Aalborg University, agrees.
“By tightening the rules so much – and by emphasising the most nasty elements – both Venstre and Socialdemokraterne have lost. Four years ago, the Liberals enjoyed support from about 35 per cent of the voters. Taken together, the Social Democrats and the Liberals have always commanded a very solid majority. By trying to compete with the Danish People’s Party both parties combined have currently support from some 37 per cent. DF is unaffected and has become the biggest party due to the two other parties’ kamikaze course.”
While Socialdemokraterne tumble, their former coalition partner Radikale surged from 4.6 percent to 8.5 percent.
But more impressive was Alternativet, who were elected into parliament for the first time last June with 4.6 percent of the vote, but would now secure 9.3 percent.
Formed by former culture minister and Radikale MP Uffe Elbæk, Alternativet supports entrepreneurialism and a green economy, but challenges the neo-Liberal paradigm. He argues that the Socialdemokraterne’s new hard line attitude on immigration is a heartfelt and honest position by the leadership who want to protect the future of the welfare state.
But he warns that pursuing protectionist policies will be damaging to both Denmark and the EU in the long run.
“We in Alternativet are totally sceptical about what is happening in Europe in response to the refugee crisis. Countries like Denmark are reacting to the lack of EU leadership with policies that now mean we have to show our passport to go to Sweden and when we return from Germany. These are not merely symbolic actions, it is threatening the very core of the European project.”
In September, Alternativet released a five-point plan for reacting to the large numbers of refugees and migrants. These include a Marshall Plan for North Africa and the Middle East, refugee reception centres on each side of the Mediterranean, as well as European quotas.
“We are witnessing a crisis of values. We are totally split and confused about what to do and there is rising frustration in Denmark about where we are heading as a society. What we need is leadership and to build bridges between the two political blocs, rather than erecting walls.” M