Understanding the context: the rise of the Danish People’s Party in the Danish party system
For more than two decades, the DF has been a sort of textbook case of an electorally successful and influential right-wing populist party, also outside the Nordic region (Jungar 2017; Widfeldt 2015;Jungar and Jupskas 2014). The role played by this party can only be grasped and fully understood in the light of the broader changes occurring in Danish society and politics since the 1990s. From 1995, the date of its foundation, until 2015, the DF increased its electoral support in almost every election round (Figure 9.1). In the 2015 general election, the DF reached its peak, gaining 21.1 per cent of the vote. The party came second after the SD (26.3 per cent) and ahead of the V (19.5 per cent). Just a year before, the DF had achieved a
FIGURE 9.1 Electoral support for Danish Peoples Party (DF) in General, European and municipal elections, 1997—2019
remarkable result in the European election by becoming the largest party with 26.6 per cent of the vote. Notably, the party main candidate, Morten Messerschmidt, was also the politician with the highest score of personal preferences (540,000).
The DF had emerged in the mid-1990s as an anti-immigration, Eurosceptic and welfare nationalist party (Meret 2010). Since its inception, the party has been overrepresented among the Danish skilled and non-skilled manual workers (Goul Andersen 2017, 58). It is not an overstatement to say that the DF is the most successful party among working-class voters in Denmark (see also Goul Andersen 2017, 56), as shown in Figure 9.2.
It is important to bear in mind that the DF was founded by former members of the now defunct Fremskridtspartiet (FrP - Progress Party). In the 1970s the FrP had successfully run on an anti-tax and ultra-liberal platform. The FrP was among the newly formed parties that, in the so-called Landslide Election of 1973, dramatically transformed the Danish political landscape. The party was also the forerunner of the anti-tax and anti-establishment wave that swept across the Northern countries and contributed to the disruption of the post-war frozen-cleavage system (Lipset and Rokkan 1967), introducing new political issues and coalition alternatives (Goul Andersen and Bjorklund 1999; Pettersen and Lawrence 2004; Rydgren 2006). It also served as a model for the (still existing) Fremskrittspartiet in Norway. In the 1980s the FrP had developed a virulent anti-immigration and a strongly Islamophobic programme and rhetoric. Within the FrP, former DF founder and party leader (1995— 2012) Pia Kjaersgaard, had held a prominent role. Yet in 1995 Pia Kjaersgaard and four acolytes decided to exit the electorally declining and internally divided FrP to launch their own party - the DF. The new party relied on an anti-immigration,
FIGURE 9.2 Share of working-class votes* among Danish main political parties (general elections 2011 and 2015)
* Includes only those employed at the time of the survey Source: Goul Andersen 2016. Based onYouGov data 2011,2015.
anti-Islam, and Eurosceptic platform, but dismissed the FrP ultra-liberal and tax- protest profile. Unlike its predecessor, the DF decided to develop a welfare nationalist approach, defining social rights in nativist terms.Two years after its foundation, the DF could already count on a solid parliamentary representation, with 7.4 per cent of the vote and 13 seats in the Folketinget.
This happened while the SD was still in power. In 1998 the results reconfirmed PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen at the head of his fourth mandate (1998—2001), leading another centre-left minority cabinet with the RV. All four Nyrup Rasmussen cabinets (1993-2001) had been made possible by the support of the RV, which still played a pivotal role in the formation of Danish governments, moving from one bloc to another. This situation changed from the beginning of the 2000s when the RV started occupying a more stable position in the centre-left. In the same period, the Liberals and the Conservatives turned to the DF to win enough political support to form centre-right governments. Minority cabinet coalitions are not unconventional in the Danish political system, at least not since the 1973 Landslide Election, when several new parties entered the parliament (Green-Pedersen 2001). Yet, the 1998 election delivered an even more fragmented and unstable political landscape (Andersen et al. 1999, 17-22). As a consequence, the traditionally dominant role played by the SD in Danish politics started to be questioned. Thus, the rise of the DF was accompanied by the decline of the SD, which was only partly compensated by the success of the liberal right represented by theV (Figure 9.3).
Significantly, in those years immigration became one of the main political issues (Andersen et al. 1999,115-126) and this would strongly influence not only voters’ preferences, but also the opportunity structure and the range of options available for coalition building (Green-Pedersen and Odmalm 2008). Signs of shifting political dynamics were already visible in the 1998 election, despite the re-election of the
FIGURE 9.3 Vote share for the Liberal Party (V) and the Social democrats (SD), 1990-2019
centre-left government. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 only intensified and accelerated the course of the political events which would profoundly transform Danish politics.