Sweden Anti-Immigration Party Surges in Poll Amid Refugee Crisis

Swedes are responding to their government’s historic intake of refugees by turning to an anti-immigration group that both the ruling coalition and opposition deem too xenophobic to work with.

The government of Prime Minister Stefan Loefven is losing support as the Sweden Democrats -- a party that wants to significantly reduce the intake of immigrants -- surged to its highest level on record in a Statistics Sweden poll published on Tuesday.

The Social Democrat-led government, its Green Party coalition partner and their Left Party ally would get 39 percent of votes if an election were held today, according to the poll, which was compiled last month. In June, the bloc enjoyed the backing of 42.8 percent of voters. Tuesday’s poll showed the Sweden Democrats at 19.9 percent support, compared with 14.4 percent in June.

It’s the latest sign of the major change in sentiment sweeping across Scandinavia’s biggest economy as the Sweden Democrats -- a party with neo-Nazi roots -- forces itself into the mainstream of Swedish politics. It became the country’s third-biggest party in last year’s election and managed to block the government’s first budget, forcing it to form a pact with the core opposition parties in an effort to prevent the Sweden Democrats from disrupting lawmaking.

But voters are signaling they want the group to have a bigger say. And after Sweden’s generous asylum policies led to a surge in refugee flows from war zones in the Middle East, the government’s political clout has waned. Its budget pact with the opposition fell apart in October and both the coalition and the main opposition parties have since been forced to tighten their stance on immigration.

Loefven in November opted to backtrack on a pledge to provide permanent residence permits to all Syrian refugees and will instead only offer temporary permits, unless asylum seekers arrive under the United Nations quota system. That will adjust rules to the “minimum EU level” to give Sweden some “breathing room,” he said on Nov. 24.

The government is tightening rules for family re-unifications and enforcing border controls. While the measures have had some effect, Loefven said the inflow of asylum seekers is still unsustainable and has urged other EU countries to do more. As many as 190,000 asylum seekers are expected to arrive in Sweden this year alone, a development that is overwhelming authorities in a country of 10 million where housing shortages are already an issue.

It’s not just the government that’s losing support. Backing for the four parties in the so-called Alliance opposition group -- the Moderates, the Liberals, the Center Party and the Christian Democrats -- fell to 39 percent in the November poll, compared with 40.7 percent in June. Statistics Sweden got responses from 4,972 people in the poll, carried out Nov. 2 to Nov. 25.

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