The UK think tank Demos polled Facebook supporters of the Sweden Democrats, Sweden’s far-right populist party who entered national parliament for the first time in Swedish history in 2010. Who are the online supporters, what are they concerned with and are they willing to translate their virtual to real-world activism?
“They are the only party in Sweden that addresses questions that no one else addresses,” said one of the online supporters. This is what unites many of them in Sweden with their counterpoints across Europe: they feel that populist parties address issues that mainstream parties shy away from. Their main concern is the protection of Swedish culture and identity from perceived outside threats. As one Facebook fan put it “Sweden is on its way to stop existing... there is nothing Swedish left. We are more multicultural than any other [country] that exists. I want my country to be remembered as Sweden and not a mixed bag.”
It is striking that Sweden Democrats’ online supporters are particularly young compared to the European average, with two thirds being between 16 and 20 years old. Overall, 63 percent of them voted for the party in the last elections, which is a very high number considering how many of them have not yet the age to vote. What implication does that have for future elections? Is that a trend that could result in even more seats in Parliament for the Sweden Democrats?
But the results also show that there is a way of engaging them. Sweden Democrat’s Facebook supporters believe that politics is an effective way to address their concerns. Despite having low trust in a range of other important social institutions—such as the government, the press and religious institutions— Sweden Democrats supporters are almost equally as likely to trust political parties as the Swedish population in general. Sweden’s mainstream political parties must build on these positives by engaging their supporters online and trying to lure them back into the mainstream, recommends the report.
Populism in Europe: Sweden is the second in a series of country briefing papers released in 2012 about the online support of populist political parties and street-based groups in Europe. These papers are based on a dataset of approximately 13,000 Facebook supporters of these “nationalist populist” parties in 12 European countries, which was published in the Demos report, The New Face of Digital Populism, in November 2011. The first report, Populism in Europe: Hungary, was published in January 2012. Reports on France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Italy and Belgium will follow.
The reports are part of an Open Society Foundations initiative conducting research and pilot projects tackling innovative approaches to keeping societies open in Europe.