Unemployment and the Radical Right in Scandinavia: Beneficial or Non-Beneficial for Electoral Support?


A new family of political parties has emerged in Europe, emphasizing the need for a radical change in immigration policy. Their success has been accounted by various hypotheses. One hypothesis is that they appeal to marginalized voters, or more specifically, to unemployed voters, losers of modernization. Joblessness also has a connection to voters’ discontent with immigrants. The argument is that immigrants take jobs from native voters. Altogether, this sways towards the expectation that unemployment is related to the success of these parties. I question if this is the case in Scandinavia. The empirical evidence presented leads to the opposite conclusion. Low unemployment seems to give fertile soil to the growth of the radical right. When high unemployment is removed from the political agenda, a political space can be opened for questions of immigration, or more generally, issues related to the socio-cultural cleavage.

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  1. 1.

    Thanks to two anonymous referees, and especially one, for constructive comments.

  2. 2.

    OECD Employment Outlook, June 2001, OECD, 2001, 208.

  3. 3.

    All statistics regarding unemployment in Denmark, Norway and Sweden are taken from various editions of Nordic Statistical Yearbook, the last one, Nordic Statistical Yearbook, 2005, NORD 2005: 1, Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers.

  4. 4.

    The 1999 local elections survey pose the question if the respondent has been unemployed in the course of the last three months. 3.1 percent of the potential employed were unemployed compared with 3.7 percent among the Progress Party voters. In MMI's 2001 Exit Poll the question is if the respondent at the moment is unemployed. The share then becomes not higher than 1.7 percent as 3.5 percent among Progress Party voters. In two other parties, there is also an overrepresentation of unemployed in the Exit Polls, Socialist Left and Red Electoral Alliance. One similarity between these three parties is that they all recruit well among the youth who is especially vulnerable for unemployment.

  5. 5.

    The analysis is based on the county elections in 1987, 1995, 2003 and the 1997, 2005 parliamentary elections.


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Bjørklund, T. Unemployment and the Radical Right in Scandinavia: Beneficial or Non-Beneficial for Electoral Support?. Comp Eur Polit 5, 245–263 (2007).

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  • radical right
  • unemployment
  • immigration
  • political party
  • election