In a shock polling result, a new Right-wing populist party — the Denmark Democrats — has emerged from nowhere to hit 11% of the vote.
This is shown in the following chart — which uses the local convention of referring to each party by a single letter of the Danish alphabet. In the case of the new party, the relevant letter is ‘Æ’.
11% is enough to put the Denmark Democrats in fourth place behind only the ruling Social Democrats (A), the Conservatives (C) and the Liberals (V). What makes this sudden emergence all the more extraordinary is the party’s backstory.
It was founded only last month by Inger Støjberg, a former member of parliament for the centre-Right Liberals. However, in 2021, she was impeached as a result of actions she took when she was an immigration minister in the previous Danish government. The specific issue centred on the separation of couples in refugee centres where one or both partners are minors. Found guilty, Støjberg was sentenced to sixty days in prison and expelled from parliament. Most, though not all, of her former party colleagues voted against her.
It’s also interesting to note that her new party’s name echoes that of the Sweden Democrats — the populist Right-wing party on the other side of the Øresund Bridge.
Of course, it is too early to tell whether the Denmark Democrats will become as well-established as their Swedish counterparts; but it would seem that the obituaries for Danish populism were premature.
The Danish People’s Party (O), founded in 1995, was one of the first populist parties to disrupt modern European politics. Its zenith was the 2015 general when it won 21% of the vote — making it the second biggest party in the Danish parliament and the biggest party in the governing coalition. But, then, in the 2019 general election, it crashed to 8.7% — and has got weaker ever since.
The party’s decline has been attributed to the decision of the centre-Left Social Democrats to get tough on immigration. By doing so, they won back some of their traditional support and seemingly marginalised the populists. For some on the Left, like Paul Embery, it was an example of how the mainstream Left can win elections again. Though for others it was a worrying betrayal of progressive values.
Meanwhile, for complacent liberals, it was evidence that the populist surge is just a flash in the pan. But as should be clear by now, the populist threat isn’t going away. Though far from invulnerable, populist parties and politicians have a habit of coming back from defeat. We’ve just seen that in France, where Marine Le Pen underperformed expectations in the presidential election, only to lead her party to unexpected success in the legislative elections.
It is a reminder that unresolved social tensions are still gnawing away at western democracy. Looking ahead, we cannot assume that things will get better — or that they can’t get worse.