The 2019 General Election – First Impressions

When Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen called a general election for June 5, it marked the end of an unusual parliamentary term and the election looks set to be equally unusual.

First, the 2015 election saw the Danish People’s Party win an exceptional 21,1 % of the vote while the Liberal Party (Venstre) suffered a significant loss of votes compared to the 2011 election: 19,5 %, down from 26,2 % in 2011.

Second, despite the loss, the Liberals were able to form a one-party minority government which was the weakest in terms of direct parliamentary support since Poul Hartling’s 1973-1975 government. The Løkke Rasmussen II government was also the first one-party government since Anker Jørgensen’s last Social Democratic government which was in office 1981-1982.

Third, Løkke expanded his government in December 2016 by including the two small centre-right parties, Liberal Alliance and the Conservative People’s Party (Konservative Folkeparti) following a very complicated negotiating process leading up to the agreement between the three parties and the Danish People’s Party on the 2017 budget. This was the first time since the formation of the Social Democratic – Liberal government in 1978 that a Danish prime minister expanded the government during an electoral term.

Generally, the 2015-2019 term has been characterized by conflicts between the Løkke Rasmussen governments on the one hand and the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) with the governments trying to accomodate DPP demands for tighter immigration policies while (unsuccessfully) trying to pass tax cuts for high-income earners. The DPP has been engaged in a sort of indirect warfare against the Liberals with the smaller Liberal Alliance being the object of most of the direct attacks. The effect has been to make the centre-right “Blue” bloc look unstable and inconsistent.

In the final months of the parliamentary term, the government has tried to regain control of the political agenda by entering agreements with the DPP including continued tightenings of immigration and integration policies, a reform of the organisation of the public health care system, investments in road transport and finally an early retirement agreement. The latter even has the potential of undermining central Social Democratic electoral promises of easing early access to the old-age pension system for manual workers as the Social Liberal Party (Radikale Venstre) joined the four centre-right parties in the agreement.

None of this has had any effect in reviving the government’s fortunes in opinion polls. In fact, the last six months has seen a collapse in DPP support with the party now polling 12-15 % of the vote and with the Liberal Alliance also facing major losses in the election. To add insult to injury, the centre-right is experiencing a major fragmentation on the extreme right with two new anti-immigration parties, the New Bourgeois (Nye Borgerlige) and Hard Line (Stram Kurs) competing with the Liberals and DPP for the xenophobic vote. In the unlikely event of a centre-right win, Lars Løkke Rasmussen would have to navigate between parties setting up ultimate demands on immigration policy – many of which would put Danish participation in the EU and international agreements in jeopardy – and economic policy. A party set up by maverick businessman Klaus Riskjær Petersen has only added to the confusion.

Meanwhile, the centre-left is also characterised by disagreements between the parties. The Social Democrats under Mette Frederiksen who took over as party leader immediately after the 2015 election has put a major effort into reversing the party’s policies on immigration and economic policy in an attempt to attract traditional blue-collar voters from the DPP.

While the strategy, which has also included attempts to create an alternative bloc consisting of Social Democrats, the DPP and the Socialist People’s Party (SF) to exclude the Social Liberals and the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) from any influence on immigration and integration policy, has stabilised Social Democratic support, it has at the same time strained the relationships between the five parties in the “Red” bloc with the Social Liberals, the Red-Greens and the green Alternative Party (Alternativet) declaring that Mette Frederiksen could not automatically count on their support in the formation of an new government after the election.

Polling trends on the centre-left point to a complicated picture with the Social Democrats gaining votes from the DPP but looking set to only marginally improve its overall performance from the 2015 election. At the same time, the Social Liberals, the Red-Greens and the Socialist People’s Party, which all call for more liberal immigration and integration policies, look set to gain votes. The overall picture thus is one of polarisation on the “value politics” or GAL-TAN scale while both blocs suffer from internal conflicts over economic and tax policies. At the same time polls consistently point to a clear victory for the “Red” bloc.

Note: Political scientist Erik Gahner Larsen calculates a tracker of political polls and also a projection based on active polls. When reading individual polls, one should note that there are significant house effects on Danish polls while the existence of three new parties make calculations and predictions difficult.