Key Challenges

Robust performance across indicators
The far-reaching consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have cast a long shadow across all polities and societies. They have affected all aspects of policymaking and good governance, while democratic values are debated, in some national contexts quite extensively. The uncertainty and the restrictions placed on human mobility combined with disruption in the supply chains have halted economic growth globally, though Sweden, in line with the Nordic countries, has performed better than EU countries as a whole. Additionally, Sweden continues to perform very well across the entire range of indicators, exhibiting a sustainable economy and society, large-scale integrity when it comes to democratic values and civil protections, and robustly good governance despite the various challenges of the last two years. However, the country faces a number of challenges.
Pandemic highlights cleavages
First, in Sweden as everywhere else, the pandemic highlighted existing societal cleavages. Even though unemployment rates are declining, foreign-born people continue to have a harder time finding employment than people born in Sweden. Despite government efforts to improve integration policies, recent immigrants who arrived in Sweden as refugees often find themselves in segregated urban spaces with limited opportunities to take up well-paid and secure employment. Additionally, the pandemic revealed gaps in the Swedish healthcare system, especially the shortage of staff in hospitals and nursing homes. These gaps are also the subject of some controversial debate against the backdrop of advancing privatization in the Swedish welfare state.
Organized crime an increasing concern
Second, lackluster integration policies may also have a hand in the second challenge that the country must grapple with in 2022, which is a sharp rise in violent crime, and especially gang violence and organized crime. Despite the fact that this problem has been high on the political agenda, the statistics on violent crime keep worsening, often dominating the news cycle. A legislative change is sure to take place after a 2021 commission of inquiry, placing increased responsibility on municipalities to manage violent crime in their jurisdiction. Without adequate funding and support, this risks becoming an insufficiently funded mandate. The issue of law and order is bound to dominate the public debate of the 2022 election year.
Political center of
gravity shifting right
Third, and in the subject of public debate, party polarization seems to have been on the rise recently, with the center of political gravity having generally moved to the right, partly as a corollary of the precarious parliamentary coalitions. The gap between the issues covered by mainstream media, such as the economy, the labor market and healthcare, and the issues taken up in social media, such as migration, equality, taxes, and law and order also reflects the cultural polarization within Swedish society more broadly, an issue to watch for ahead of the elections in September 2022.
Decline in political
Finally, the political crisis of 2021 that followed the first-ever vote of no confidence against a Swedish prime minister is a sign of increased political instability and the persisting precariousness of political compromise. If the elections of 2022 once again produce complex results, the political space for compromise could erode further, and policymaking could remain difficult with unclear direction, problems and solutions.

Party Polarization

Rise in levels of
party polarization
Party polarization has been increasing in Sweden. With few exceptions, cooperation across the left-right divide has been rare, highly conflictual and short lived. More recently, the so-called GAL-TAN divide (GAL: green, alternative, libertarian and TAN: traditional, authoritarian, nationalist), which refers to the political cleavages associated with values and lifestyles, has emerged as a decisive feature of party system developments. Traditionally opposed parties within the left-right spectrum may adopt similar positions within the GAL-TAN scale. For example, on issues such as migration, the Social Democrats and Conservatives share a similar policy position, while left-wing, green and center parties tend to share a different policy position (Lindvall, 2017).
Cultural issues
increasingly a
This increase became more pronounced in the 2014-2018 period, when polarization across the left-right continuum increased among red-green and center-right parties, but also among parties within these alliances. The extent of cultural polarization articulated in such issues as migration has also increased. This trend could be the start of an era of greater polarization, but at the same time, the increase is not out of step with the Swedish context (Oscarsson et al., 2021).
Collapse of informal
coalition; minority
government with
external support
The Löfven II government (in office from 21 January 2019 to 9 July 2021), depended on informal support by the Center Party and the Liberal Party. This cross-bloc coalition was based on an explicit cooperation paper (“January Accord”) and aimed to isolate the Sweden Democrats. However, this broad informal coalition broke up in summer 2021, leading to the first vote of no confidence in Swedish history. The Social Democratic minority government under the leadership of Magdalena Andersson got off to a curious start in autumn 2021. Shortly after Andersson was elected prime minister, the bourgeois parties and the Sweden Democrats supported the Conservative Party’s budget – whereupon the Green Party left the minority coalition and Andersson resigned the same day. The bourgeois parties could not mobilize a majority, and so Magdalena Andersson was reelected as head of government after only seven days. The new minority government is formed only by the Social Democratic Party, and depends on cooperation with the center parties. In summary, attempts to dampen polarization in the party system and in the society are evident, but the observable success so far is small. (Score: 5)
Lindvall, Johannes, Hanna Bäck, Carl Dahlström, Elin Naurin, and Jan Teorell. 2017. ”Samverkan och Strid i den Parlamentariska Demokratin.” SNS Demokratirapport 2017. https://snsse.cdn.triggerfish.cloud/uploads/2020/02/samverkan-och-strid-i-den-parlamentariska-demokratin.pdf

Oscarsson, Henrik, Bergmann, Torbjörn, Bergström, Annika and Johan Hellström. 2021. “Demokratirådets rapport 2021: Polarisering i Sverige.” https://snsse.cdn.triggerfish.cloud/uploads/2021/03/demokratiradets-rapport-2021-polarisering-i-sverige.pdf
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