Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Election analysis: Why we lost

There is a saying suggesting that the opposition doesn’t win elections. It is the sitting government who loses. However, before listing some explanations to why the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) just ended up with the lowest share of the popular vote since 1914 (35 percent), we must acknowledge a strategy that allowed the Conservative Party to get its highest share of the vote since 1928 (26,2 percent).

Triangulation is a political strategy implying that you should position yourself close to your political opponent, steal the opponent’s best arguments, and create an image of yourself as the fresh alternative of the future, compared to the ruling government of the past. Think Clinton 1992, Blair 1997, Schröder 1998, and so on.

The Swedish Conservative Party managed to implement this strategy perfectly. They claimed that they would spend as much as the Social Democrats on welfare; they managed to get hold of our two best arguments (employment and the ability to govern); and Fredrik Reinfeldt won the presidential battle of the future against Göran Persson (to a large extent thanks to a very biased media coverage). Fredrik Reinfeldt showed up in the last debate with a plaster on his finger. He had hurt himself while doing some domestic work with his family, and had used his kids’ Pippi Longstocking plaster. The contrast with Göran Persson, who has moved to a big house in the countryside, was effective.

But at the same time, Sweden’s economy is growing by 5,5 percent, employment is rising and life in the welfare state is pretty sweet for most people. In order to understand why the Social Democratic Party lost, one has to consider some problems in our own campaign.

1. The vital center/Stockholm/jobs: We tried to counter their attack into the political midfield through rallying our base. It did not work. We lost ten percentage points among old age pensioners (from 44 to 34 percent); we lost five percentage points among members of the blue color union LO (from 59 to 54 percent); the support among voters born outside the Nordic countries for the Left party and us shrank from 73 to 48 percent.

Moreover, in Stockholm City we got 23 percent of the popular vote, and in Stockholm County we got 26 percent. You cannot win elections and perceive yourself as a 40-percent-party if you get a quarter of the votes in the growing, dynamic region were Swedes (and swing voters) move.

One main reason explaining why we lost both core voters and swing voters is because the conservative alliance won the debate about jobs. We had good policies for growth and jobs, but we did not talk about that, and ended up as the party of welfare (and not growth, jobs, and welfare). Somewhere in there, we lost our historic contract between the working class and the middle class (i.e. our polices benefit both groups, since we use market economy to create a more equal society for everyone, which appeals to the brains and hearts and wallets of rather rich people as well). When the Conservatives positioned themselves very close to us, they did not look as the big threat to the Swedish model anymore. Voters then moved from us to them.

2. Election strategy: All Social Democratic campaigns starts by acknowledging that although we are in government, we are in opposition to injustices, and we want to change society for the better. This time, we often ended up saying: “look, Sweden is great, the jobs are coming, vote for us again”. But the voters still saw some cracks in the welfare state, and were surprised that we did not talk more about that. Also, I guess we were afraid of using the same message a third time in a row (“we are in opposition to injustice and we want to spend more money on welfare”), fearing we would not be credible. A combination of a sound realization of the problems in Sweden, a distinct growth/jobs message, and a vision of a more equal and sustainable welfare state would have been perfect. (To be fair, those things were part of our message, but should have been even more in focus).

Moreover, we should have been tougher during the last two years, explaining how the “new right” still wants to dismantle the welfare state (they were allowed to gain a new image and the political middle ground without much opposition). We should also be harsher vis-à-vis their new, dirty campaign methods.

Lastly, I think we should have focused more on some issues where we are strong and they are weak, which could have rallied our base and attract voters in the center at same time. Examples of such issues could be some of the five “f:s”: females/gender equality, fags/LesBiGay issues, foreigners/the rights of and discrimination against immigrants, foreign aid/international issues, and flowers/the green welfare state.

3. Fatigue/time for a change: Ruling governments in post-Cold War Western Europe normally lose around three percentage points when they try to get re-elected. We tried to get re-elected a fourth time, with the same leader we have had for the last 10 years. Naturally, it is easy to build a “time for a change” mood against that, especially when the media was happy to play that tune as well.

So, y'all: Sorry if this update took a few days, and ended up too long, but I just have to say one more thing. The most important date in this election campaign was the 10th of September 2003, as the magazine Focus concluded. The murder of Anna Lindh changed everything for the SAP, and we are now in a situation were we have lost both the general election and our future leader. That’s quite a challenge, but I strongly feel that a new generation of Social Democrats already has accepted the new political landscape and we are ready to fight back.

As Joe Hill said and as loads of people are saying now: "Don’t waste any time mourning - organize!"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hola, 'Rico --

I enjoyed this commentary very much, it's a nice to see a reasoned approach to a hard-fought loss.

I particularly enjoyed the comment about triangulation being an effective election strategy, and noted that all three examples you site (excluding Sweden's election), were all about center-left parties stealing center-right ideas. What's that about?


26/9/06 21:39  
Blogger Anna, Fair and True said...

Great analysis! Will link to this on my blog.

26/9/06 22:33  
Anonymous Jon Worth said...

Good analysis, but what now? Who can help sort things out, organise the opposition to Reinfeldt, and achieve a victory in 2010? Would be good to hear your thoughts on that... :-)

27/9/06 23:29  
Anonymous paw said...

Excellent would be interested to see the numbers and not the percentages, as voter fatigue might have played a part.

30/9/06 14:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe Hill var ingen socialdemokrat. Hills ideologiska plattform-syndikalismen- har absolut ingenting med statskonst och S att göra.Hills definition av organisering är antagligen dig så främmande att du inte skulle ta den på allvar. Det är människorna som ska organisera sig själva o varandra inte partier.Hill var demokrat och ville krossa klassamhället, inte konsolidera det. Men det är klart, Castro använder ju gärna José Marti för sina egna syften. Marti som bla sagt: "Att byta herre är inte att bli fri". Så sluta släng dig med beundransvärda citat som inte har ngt som helst att göra med din politiska agenda.Pinsamt var ordet.
/Olle Eriksson

2/10/06 06:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Håller med Olle. Det är en värdelös, obildad, självgod och/eller oärlig - de är inte ömsesidigt uteslutande - debatt- och citatteknik att lyfta ut en så innehållslöst och allmänt applicerbart uttryck ur sitt sammanhang. Antagligen har både Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pinochet, Göran Persson, Fredrik Reinfeldt och en jävla massa andra personer sagt något i stil med "vi måste organisera". Det betyder inte att de stöttar ens egen form av organisering - i detta fall medelst värvande av medlemmar vars uppgift är att hålla käften och låta topparna tala i god mensjevikisk ordning.

Och vad säger Joe Hill egentligen om människor av socialdemokratisk typ? Ja, vi kan ju citera hans visa "Funktionären" - tillägnad dem som ingenting har att förlora utom sina stolar".

Han är så satans liknöjd
att knappt han lyfter lurn
och hellre litar jag på
en gris än den filurn
Arbetare som kämpar
mitt enda råd det är
att aldrig sätta lit till
en höjdarfunktionär

Ja, det kanske inte är helt fel att fundera på det i dessa tider. Inte bara på grund av valresultatet, utan kanske främst för att SAP har skapat en arbetarklassmentalitet som i princip går ut på att lita på att partiet - föråt Partiet - ska sköta allt.
Vidare "Mr Block" (Block ska här läsas som "träskalle"):

Election Day he shouted "A socialist for Mayor!"
The "comrade" got elected, he happy was for fair
But after the election, he got an awful shock;
A great big socialistic "bull" did rap him on the block
And comrade Block did sob, "I helped him to his job."

Så man vet inte om man ska skratta eller gråta - men Joe Hill själv skulle definitivt vrida sig i sin grav om han hade haft någon. Vad händer härnäst. Ska du citera Bakunin?

2/10/06 13:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jag håller med Olle och Mattias. Socialdemokrater som pratar om "organisering" i någon verklig betydelse av ordet bevisar bara att de har munnen full med bajs.

3/10/06 02:11  
Blogger Eric Sundström said...

Mattias och Olle: Ta det lugnt, det är ett citat som avrundar ett blogginlägg, att kasta in Hitler och Castro i en sådan här debatt känns helt främmande och överdrivet från er sida. Ni borde göra som jag; stänga av datorn och res bort ett tag och varva ned. Men jag har förstått er poäng: om du är sosse får du alltså bara citera andra socialdemokrater?! Hur gör jag om jag vill citera Mark Twain, eller andra personer som inte var födda när det socialdemokratiska partiet hade bildats? Eller om jag inte är helt säker på om personen verkligen är socialdemokrat ? Ska jag mejla er först?

Och du som a) väljer att vara anonym och b) använder ordet bajs hoppas jag kan lämna den här bloggen ifred. Jag vill att den här bloggen ska vara glad och ha en schysst ton så jag klarar mig utan dina inlägg, tack.

3/10/06 17:49  

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