Swedish politics and media structure at the time of turning in 2006

Swedish politics

Swedish politics during the 20th century, Sweden is a unitary state with a parliamentary political system. The prime minister is appointed by the party or parties that form/s the government. Seven parties are represented in Sweden’s parliament at the moment. The public can express preference for a candidate, but the parties decide who appears on the ballots, and the candidates must adjust to their parties’ opinions (Strömbäck & Dimitrova, 2006). The party labels are high in Sweden however party identification is on the way down causing the result voting behaviour to be far less predictable (Holmberg, 2000). Sweden has with about 80 percent one of the highest voter turnouts in the world. Swedish citizens vote on the same day in local, regional and national elections which takes place every fourth year. Elections for the European Parliament are held every fifth year (Strömbäck & Dimitrova, 2006).

Socialdemokraterna (s, Social Democratic Party) has since its foundation in 1889 been a strong influence on Swedish politics (socialdemokraterna.se, a). They have remained the biggest party in Sweden throughout almost hundred years and due to its history of being a “labour party” the voter base is particularly strong amongst organized blue-collar workers (socialdemokraterna.se, b). Until the most recent parliament election in 2006 the Social Democrats held the office with a coalition between Vänsterpartiet (v, Left party) and Miljöpartiet (mp, Green party), the Left Wing of the parliament. In 2004 however, a close collaboration between Moderaterna (m, Conservatives), Folkpartiet (fp, Liberals), Centerpartiet (c, Centre party) and Krisdemokraterna (kd, Christ Democrats), the Right Wing of parliament was founded (alliansforsverige.se) and soon became an alternative for the Swedish voters.

To understand Swedish politics in the 2006 election

The Social-democratic party received the smallest share of votes, 34,9% (valmyndigheten, 2006) since 1911 in an general election(s-info.se) resulting in the loss of office to the opposition, the Alliance for Sweden. Analysis of the result clearly showed that support of the voters typical for the party took a drastic dive compared to the 2002 election. The pensioner vote went down 10%, the support from blue collar trade unionists went down 5% and the combined Social Democratic Party and Left Party votes from ‘non-Nordic New Swedes’ (Swedes with foreign backgrounds) went from 73% in 2002 to 48% in 2006 (Sundström, 2006). See appendix 1 for voter outcome 2006.

Four reasons to the loss were presented in the election analysis made by the Socialdemokraterna. Three of the reasons were a result of lack in communication and communication strategies. The first reason was that the party failed to communicate the improvements that would occur with a victory; instead they seemed “happy” with how things were in Sweden at the time. The Second reason was that the opposition had triangulated the party, and in that way “stole” issues from their agenda, primary the job issue. The third reason that can be derived from communication failure was that the party had problems with its own image. From being seen as the safe keeper of stability and safety and “siding with the weakest” they became the party of authoritativeness, who didn’t listen to the people and failed to live as they preach. This combining with several ‘scandals’ painted the picture of a broken party suffering damaging effects on its image (Socialdemokraterna’s valanalys, 2006).

The election analysis made by Moderaterna support Socialdemokraterna´s analysis to some extent. One of their conclusions was that the jobs became a symbolic issue for the voters and the Alliance for Sweden created a healthy alternative to S. They also claim that a key reason for the win was that the criticism towards the “tired” government was shared amongst the population, (Moderaterna’s Valanalys, 2006) suggesting image problems for Socialdemokraterna.

The dissatisfaction of the Prime Minister Göran Persson was a major factor for the image problems in Socialdemokraterna. Persson was under heavy fire from the opposition as well as the media during the election campaign 2006. The criticism was often focused more on his personal character and private life instead of policies and leadership ability. The journalist Jonas Gummesson accused Persson for double standards and misinformed the public of criminal activity done by Persson and his wife in a building project of their newly purchased mansion in a TV documentary produced for Swedish Channel 4, TV4 in October 2005. In response Persson said in an interview with SVTs documentary “Persson about power”, later discussed in “Efter 10” (TV4, 2008) that in order to save his children from the media game he was considering to leave the office and the party after the ´06 election. The statement of Persson leaving the party had immense impact on Socialdemokraterna as they were reviewed as broken and unreliable just month before the election. Even though the party corrected the statement immediately it had already damaged their image in the public eyes. Furthermore, trouble in collaborating with his colleges from other parties made him come across as arrogant and vainglorious during the TV-debates prior the election (DN, 2006a).

“The hardness against politicians is such that it sometimes is purely repulsive, the scope for error is becoming less and less.” –Göran Persson (DN.se, 2006)

Göran Person was not the only person in Medias spotlight however. Ilmar Reepalu (s) was charged for corruption, Alf Svensson & Göran Hägglund (kd) was accused of being homophobes and Anna Sjödin (s) got several media headlines after charged for assault at a nightclub is a few examples just in the time period of a couple of month. Ugly tricks was exposed one after another such as hacking of the social democratic servers by a Folkpartiet employee, Cartoons of Fredrik Reinfeld as a werewolf in SU-campaign material as well as negative e-mails about his person which went as far as leading to slander charges. The newspapers were filled with ads, publications and statements about politicians from the two wings attacking and criticizing each other about anything from their political agenda to their salary the months prior to the election

“Every form of government has its weakness. For the democracy it is populism, the art to sell malicious portraits to a badly informed electorate” – PC Jerslid (DN, 2006b)

The Swedish media system is labelled as the Northern European Model and are described based on “the degree of political parallelism, the strength and importance of newspaper as opposed to broadcasting media, the degree of journalistic professionalism and the role of the state in the media system (Hallin &Mancini, 2004). Newspapers play a very important role as almost 82 percent read a daily newspaper at least five days a week (Andersson, 2006). Morning newspapers have a prominent place in the Swedish daily media. The high frequency readers are in particular resourceful groups, highly educated, officials, married and cohabiting couples and older people while the low-frequency readers are dominated by resource-poor groups such as young adults (15-29 years), low-and medium-skilled workers and single people. The morning newspapers are sold mainly through household subscriptions in contrast to afternoon newspapers which are sold in single copies and therefore must attract readers each day which make them more sensitive to cyclical fluctuations and individual events in the world compared to morning newspapers (Andersson, U., 2006). Previous studies have shown that increased readership in afternoon newspapers is often associated with increased single copies sales at specific events (Wadbring och Weibull, 2001).

Sweden has strong journalistic objectivity with highly professional journalists with autonomy and a strong public service orientation in both printed and broadcast media (Petersson et al. 2005). Like most other European countries the broadcasting service is a dual model of public and commercial service. Since the media reform in 1990s commercial broadcasting has grown tremendously but the public service television audience share was still above 44 percent as late as in 2004 (Hallin &Mancini, 2004) whereas the corresponding share for the largest commercial channel TV4 was 32 percent (Holmberg & Weibull, 2005).

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Extracted from the paper “The impact of negative communication on image and reputation
by Tony Zohari & John Sehlstedt

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