Sheri Berman of Columbia University explains the background and implications of the election results.

Sheri Berman is a professor of political science at Columbia University’s Barnard College. Her forthcoming book, Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Regime to the Present Day, will be published by Oxford University Press in January 2019.

In the Freedom House interview below, Professor Berman describes the forces behind Sunday’s election results in Sweden, which made the populist Sweden Democrats the third-largest party and denied both the ruling Social Democratic Party and the center-right Moderates a governing majority.


What are the main factors behind the rise of the Sweden Democrats in recent years?

Two main types of changes are usually invoked to explain the rise of populism: economic and social. In Sweden there is evidence for the impact of both, but not in a straightforward manner.

Economically, Sweden has generally done very well over the past decade or so: Growth is high, unemployment is low (with high labor force participation), and the country is consistently ranked as highly competitive and innovative. Inequality has increased, and this is an issue, but it remains comparatively low.

However, a significant change in the Swedish welfare state that began over a decade ago has created social and political problems. Much of the welfare state was in essence privatized, which diminished the quality and equality of service, particularly in schools and health care. (Education and health care remain free, but many schools, hospitals, and so on are run by private or even…