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The Far Right Didn’t Dominate Sweden’s Election—but It Is Growing

The inconclusive results of Sunday’s Swedish elections could be interpreted to support almost any narrative about the prevailing trends in European politics. Before the vote, most of the international attention on the race was focused on the rise of the Sweden Democrats, a far-right party with neo-Nazi roots that opposes immigration and wants to pull the country out of the European Union. Sweden has taken in more asylum seekers per capita than any other European country since the height of the migrant crisis in 2015. While there aren’t actually immigrant “no-go zones” in Swedish cities, as some foreign politicians and media outlets have claimed, it is true that concerns about crime and immigration have driven support for the far right.

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Some Sweden-focused journalists have complained that international coverage of the election has focused disproportionately on immigration, and they’ve emphasized that voters—including supporters of the far-right—are equally motivated by more typical issues like education and health care. But it’s hard to not to look at the growing support for the far-right in one of the world’s most socially progressive countries as a bellwether.

In the end, the Sweden Democrats did increase their support, taking 17.6 percent of the vote according to preliminary results, compared with 12.9 percent last year. This follows a trend of strong showings for far-right anti-immigrant parties like Germany’s Alternative for Germany and Italy’s Lega.

But the Sweden Democrats also fell short of expectations: Some pre-election polls had had them taking 25 percent of the vote and becoming the second largest party in Parliament. In the end, they finished third, behind the center-left Social Democrats and center-right Moderates, both of whom lost some support.

With no dominant winner, Sweden is now likely to face weeks of uncertainty and negotiation before a government is formed. At the moment, Prime Minister Stefan Lovfen’s center-left bloc has a less than 1 percentage point lead over the center-right. While it’s gotten less attention than the far-right, the formerly communist Left Party also had a good night, probably gaining about seven seats in Parliament. It is very unlikely that the coalition that emerges will include the Sweden Democrats.

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So while the election showed that the far-right is and will continue to be a factor in even the most progressive countries, the center is holding—albeit a bit diminished—for now.