Coverage of 2018 Swedish Elections Mislead Readers into Fearing Rise of Far-Right

Leading up to the Swedish elections, many mainstream outlets predicted that a far-right government, led by the Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats), would win when the opposite results became the reality. This fear stemmed from anti-immigrant nationalist rhetoric. As New Statesman reported, one of the first slogans the Sweden Democrats promoted was “keep Sweden Swedish.”

According to BBC, Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats since 2005, predicted that his party would achieve 20% of the vote or 1/5 of the eligible voting population of Sweden. Instead, Sweden Democrats won 17.6% of the vote or 62 seats.

BBC noted that the results were not quite the ones predicted.

For the past several months, reputable outlets such as Politico and the Financial Times have spun the Swedish election as a fight for the soul of Sweden by writing, “Sweden Freaks Out” and “Swedish State Is In Crisis, Says Election Favourite,” respectively.

Bloomberg also published an article entitled, “‘I’m Not a Racist, But…’: Sweden Faces Historic Upset in Election.” Despite the clear anticipation expressed by the media, the Sweden Democratic surge did not come to pass, begging the question of where these news outlets were coming from.

To understand the political climate from the media’s perspective, one has to understand recent trends in Swedish government.

The change in seats from 2006 to 2018 shows the decline of the Swedish center-left and center-right, and the rise of the nationalist Sweden Democrats. However, the change in seats also shows several of the smaller parties, such as the Center, Green and Left, also gradually gaining influence.

In terms of representation in Parliament, the Red-Green (Social Democrats and Greens) alliance have 144 seats while the Alliance (Center-Right) have 143 seats.  The Swedish Democrats, despite mainstream losses, have 62 seats, according to The Guardian.

As The Financial Times reported, the traditional center is splitting between the far left and right due to the perception that the Swedish center has not made any decisive stands on various topics including immigration and the economy.

Matthew Godwin noted this trend that while in the short-term this is good, in the long term this is yet another example of political polarization.

The view that this election did not go as badly as expected is reflected in the reporting of various mainstream outlets. The Guardian published, “Real Story of Sweden’s Election is Not About March of the Far Right,” noting that this trend was similar to other events in the Netherlands where fears of a far-right government did not come to pass back in 2017. The far-right party has remained isolated ever since.

Other articles with similar themes included the Irish Examiner’s “Sweden Election: Yes, the Far Right Made Gains, But We’re Not Falling Apart” and the Washington Post’s “Election in Sweden Once Again Undercuts Populist Myth of the Racial Apocalypse,” which refers to the white nationalist reputation of the Sweden Democrats.

While these semi-optimistic headlines were published, more troubling headlines appeared from other outlets. The Express reported “Sweden Election Latest: Eurosceptics Vow to ‘Take Down’ Leader After Gaining Huge Ground”. The headline in Haaretz reporting the results read, “Sweden Election: Neo-Nazi Rooted Party Claims ‘Kingmaker’ Status – but Falls Short of Power.”

Haaretz decided to focus on the Sweden Democrats’ Neo-Nazi roots which made big impact in the preceding Sweden Party. Due to this history, the Sweden Democrats have only recently achieved any sort of mainstream appeal.

The party still struggles with this narrative. An incident occurred in 2014 when a local Sweden Democrats candidate got caught wearing a Nazi armband on video. While she was kicked out, this shows that the original themes of white supremacy remain close to the surface of the party, adding to the fear of a Swedish Democratic takeover.

A more recent example occured where Swedish Democrat member said this about immigrants “it’s time to send them home in banana boxes.”

Even though the Sweden Democrats did not quite get the surge they were hoping for, there is still fear of a growing alt-right political movement in the country which was further emphasized by mainstream news outlets this past election cycle.

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