Isolating the Radical Right : Coalition Formation and Policy Adaptation in Sweden

Sammanfattning: In recent decades, established political parties across Europe have become increasingly challenged by a new party family: the radical right. In terms of how mainstream parties respond to this challenge, Sweden has been a puzzling case both in a comparative European perspective and in light of established theories of party competition. Rather than co-opting the restrictive immigration policies of the radical right party the Sweden Democrats, the Swedish mainstream parties jointly converged on liberal policies. In addition, rather than being included as a coalition partner or support party to the government, the Sweden Democrats have been excluded from government formation despite a pivotal position between the established left and right blocs in the parliament. In order to explain these puzzling outcomes, this dissertation combines two bodies of scholarly literature that have tended not to communicate much: coalition theory and research on mainstream party reactions to the radical right. It uses a multi-method research design to analyse party behaviour at both the local and the national level, and in both the electoral and the parliamentary arena. In doing so, it identifies aspects of established theories and concepts in need of refinement. The dissertation argues that despite the apparently puzzling nature of the Swedish case, the isolation of the Sweden Democrats can be explained in terms of the strategic pursuit of policy, office, and votes.The key to the strategic explanation lies in considering three things: first, that different kinds of party strategies interact, within and across arenas; second, that the choice of strategy is constrained, between different levels of a party and over time; and third, that we need to reconsider how some commonly used concepts – such as anti-pacts, winning coalitions, and policy dimensions – are operationalised. Rather than relying on the idea of qualitatively different ‘pariah’ or ‘anti-system’ parties, the findings of this thesis show how the isolation of a radical right party can be explained in terms of the strategic incentives of rival parties. The results also show that the transition from isolation to cooperation can, under certain conditions, be a rapid process. The dissertation is a contribution to research on coalition formation, spatial party competition, and mainstream party reactions to the radical right.

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