Has coronavirus silenced populists in Denmark and Norway?

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Has coronavirus silenced populists in Denmark and Norway?
Siv Jensen, leader of Norway's Progress Party, at the press conference announcing her party's decision to leave Norway's ruling coalition. Photo: Fredrik Varfjell / NTB Scanpix / AFP

The coronavirus crisis has made the populist right in Denmark and Norway almost vanish off the map. Can they find a way back after the pandemic?


The Danish People's Party now polling at less than a third of the share of the vote it won in 2015.
A poll by Voxmeter, published on Monday, gave it the support of just 6.7 percent of the electorate, quite a come down for a party which in 2015 won 21.1 percent of the vote. Over in Norway, a Kantar poll published on May 2 gave the Progress Party just 8 percent of the vote, half what it won in 2017. 
For populist parties in the Nordic countries, the pandemic has been a political catastrophe. 
According to Kristian Thulesen Dahl, the Danish People's Party's leader and co-founder, this should not come as a surprise. 
"If every country in the world, those in power have gained greater support during this time of crisis," he told the BT tabloid after dire poll results at the end of April. "And this can't happen without others losing support." 
Over the last month, he complained, his party had been were simply unable to cut through. 
"When the Prime Minister went out out to Valby School on Wednesday morning, both major TV stations were there. When I went to Give School, there was no one," he said. 
"You have to respect the fact that in a crisis, the focus is on the Prime Minister. The rest of us are just extras."  
Danish People's Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl and his predecessor Pia Kjærsgaard after the party became Denmark's second biggest party in 2015. Photo: AFP 
Others in the party are less sanguine, with rare internal dissent against Thulesen Dahl's long dominance of the party he co-founded bubbling into the open last week. 
"It's as if we've crashed into a wall at 120km/h", complained Anders Vistisen, a 32-year-old former Danish People's Party MEP  in an interview with the Avisen newspaper on Sunday. The party, he said, was just "wandering around". 
"Sometimes the worst strategy is no strategy," he said. 
Vistisen accused Thulesen Dahl of taking too weak a line on the "value politics agenda", steering the party towards the mainstream and leaving competing parties room to win "greater credibility on the immigration issue". 
Over in Norway, Siv Jensen, the longstanding leader of the Progress Party, has yet to face an open challenge. But it is now clear she miscalculated when she pulled her party out of Norway's government in January over a decision to bring home a Norwegian mother with suspected IS sympathies from Syria. 


"A trend all over Europe and in Norway as well is that people are giving increased importance to the party which is in power, no matter if it's a Social Democrat or a Conservative party," Dag Ingvar Jacobsen, a politics professor at the University of Agder, told The Local. 
"It's rallying around the flag, as they call it. What the Progress Party did was to lose the possibility to get some of that boost by being part of the ruling coalition. It was not a very wise move, but nobody could have known that beforehand." 
Jacobsen said that in a pandemic, voters seemed to want to put their faith in those with scientific expertise, a difficult situation for populists. 
"They seem to be relying on expert opinions, and many populists have built their success on criticising mainstream knowledge coming from researchers." 
The Danish People's Party has also been temporarily neutralised by the suspension of normal party politics, argued Karina Kosiara-Pedersen, an associate professor at Copenhagen University. 
"In the first phase of the crisis, national unity and sticking together was deemed important for all political parties," she said.  "In these non-normal circumstances, they're not able to drive with the message they've driven before. They're not able to push the agenda that they usually do in order to gain support." 


The last few weeks have seen the party slowly return to form. 
At the end of last month, the party's former leader Pia Kjærsgaard complained that a mosque in Aarhus had been allowed to issue the call to prayer, even though churches remain closed. 
The party has also raised the issue that people living in Denmark with immigrant backgrounds are more likely to have coronavirus. 
But Kosiara-Pedersen said it was still being uncharacteristically cautious. 
"It's definitely easier to criticise the government now, and we see that from all the opposition parties," she said. "But this is a situation where it might boomerang on them, so I think they're stepping lightly." 
As to whether the Danish People's Party had had its heyday, she said it was far too soon to write them off. 
"They have been so successful that I have a hard time imagining that they will disappear altogether," she said. "I don't see any disappearance, because there's still some pretty capable politicians in the party." 
As for Progress, Jacobsen said that if the coronavirus crisis starts to tail away the party still might have time to rebuild support ahead of next September's election, meaning January's decision to leave Norway's coalition government could still turn out to be astute. 
"They always do better in opposition than when in power," he said. "If this crisis lasts quite a short time, then it may not have been such a stupid move." 


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Anonymous 2020/05/06 14:42
This 'rally round the flag' effect is temporary as any student of history knows. What is a fact is that the voter has a short memory. It will not be long before covid19 is off the front page and another crisis will hit, which will give opposition parties plenty of room to grow.

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