Not only did the conservative/”centrist” coalition collectively win the 2015 Denmark elections this week but the country’s second largest party — and largest conservative party — in parliament is now the far-right (but highly polished) Danish People’s Party. The DPP, which primarily exists to bash immigrants and insist on draconian immigration controls while putting a classy “euroskeptic” spin on it all, has previously served in center-right governments before as a minor partner. But now, while still not expected to lead the government, it is still a formidable force, rather than a background player. A few more points and it would have finished first. Soon it probably will.
In my January list of 15 national elections to watch in 2015, I included Denmark. I gave one simple explanation for its inclusion:
Denmark: Will the far-right continue to be treated as a legitimate and not at all terrifying part of the country’s politics? (Yes.)
That’s exactly what happened. The ruling center-left Social Democrats’ main strategy involved campaigning as almost-as-tough on immigration as the DPP. That a fool’s errand: people generally pick the real thing over the pale imitation that they believe is openly posturing rather than committed to the position, if that issue is a major motivation in their voting decision. But is also just mainstreams (and “confirms” the validity of) extremist positions. The left should not have conceded to milder versions of DPP talking points and thrown immigrants under the bus. They should have argued the matter and fought back against vile framing. Doing the opposite confirmed my fears about Denmark’s increasingly casual treatment of political extremism like the anti-immigrant DPP.
Not only did the DPP increase from 22 to 37 seats since 2011, but it remained virtually at the same vote share it had captured in the low-turnout 2014 EU elections, which were dominated by hardline populists across the continent but which did not translate later into big wins in national elections in most countries. In the EU vote just over a year ago, the DPP came in first with 26.6%. In the national elections this past week, the DPP captured 21.1% of the vote (up from just 12.3% in 2011).
Center-right parties like Venstre and CPP lost 15 seats between them…exactly the number that the far-right DPP gained. The other big losers were the left-of-center-left parties, which is ultimately why the left-leaning constellation of parties ended up with fewer seats collectively than the right-leaning coalition, despite the Social Democrats finishing first, ahead of the DPP.