Abstract

Fifteen years ago, Jens Rydgren (2002) asked why no electorally successful radical right-wing party had yet emerged in Sweden. In this respect, Sweden was a negative case. Rydgren posited four main explanations: (1) social class mattered more in Sweden than elsewhere. Working class voters identified strongly with their social class and with the Social Democratic party, making them largely unavailable to radical right-wing mobilization; (2) socioeconomic issues still structured most politics in Sweden, and issues belonging to the sociocultural dimension – most importantly immigration – were of low salience for voters; (3) voters still perceived clear policy alternatives across the left-right divide; and (4) the leading radical right-wing alternative, the Sweden Democrats, was perceived as being too extreme. Since 2010, however, Sweden can no longer be considered a negative case, as the Sweden Democrats received 5.7 percent of the vote in the 2010 election and 12.9 percent in the 2014 election. In this paper we argue that in order to understand the rise and growth of the Sweden Democrats we should focus on changes in the factors enumerated above, that is:  (1) the decline of class politics in Sweden; (2) the growing salience of sociocultural politics, and in particular the politicization of the immigration issue; (3) the increased convergence caused by a double move toward the center by the Social Democratic party and the Conservative party, leaving voters confused about policy alternatives; and (4) the process by which the Sweden Democrats have tried to distance the party from its neo-fascist past and erect a more respectable façade.