Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.


Populism Rank: 15


Voter support for radical left in last elections (2021): -1.3%.
Voter support for radical right in last elections: +2,7%.
Populist or radical parties in government (February  2024): none
Number of radical or populist MEP:s (2019): 4/20

01 Speakers

During the postwar decades, Sweden’s five party system was among the most stable in the world with very low levels of electoral volatility. Only towards the end of the 1980s did a new party (the Greens) finally manage to enter parliament. In addition, Swedish party politics has been characterised by the strong position of the Social Democrats (S), who governed uninterrupted government between 1936-76.


For a long time, the only challenge to the established parties came from the left. The Communist Left Party (VPK) was founded as the Swedish Communist Party (SKP) through a split from the Social Democrats (S) in the revolutionary year 1917. The SKP was loyal to Moscow, supported the invasion of Hungary in 1956, but also supported de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union. A shift took place when CH Hermansson became party leader in the 1960s, and the party criticised the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. At the party congress in 1969, a faction from northern Sweden protested strongly against the critique of the Soviet Union and several splits followed, none of them electorally successful.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the VPK, like several other Western communist parties, gradually came to advocate a democratic socialism, while maintaining friendly relations with the regimes in the East. After having been politically isolated for a long time, VPK in the early 1980s for the first time negotiated policy with the Social Democrats and towards the end of decade brought down a Social democratic government together with the centre-right parties. It was not until the party congress in 1993 that the VPK abandoned communism as an official ideology. Simultaneously, it changed its name to the Left Party (V). In the early 2000s, the party once again had a party leader, Lars Ohly, who called himself a communist, which was also a common label in the youth organisation. V defines itself today as a socialist and feminist party. The party’s degree of populism and anti-establishment status is debated, with several scholars classifying them as “borderline left populist”. It has never participated in government, but had confidence-and-supply agreements with Social democratic governments several times. It is radically leftist on economic issues and progressive on social issues. The party has opposed Sweden’s integration in the EU but softened its eurosceptic stance in recent years.

CH Hermansson

Right of the Moderates (M), the leading centre-right party, there was a void in the Swedish party system until the 1980s. New Democracy (NyD) was a right-wing populist party that achieved rapid but short-lived success in the early 1990s. NyD’s won 6.7 percent of the votes in 1991 on a platform focused on tax cuts, reduced bureaucracy and a general anti-establishment rhetoric. During its three years in parliament, NyD exerted a certain influence on the center-right coalition, although they never formally had a confidence-and-supply agreement. Due to internal conflicts and several changes in party leadership, the party collapsed after just a few years and only won 1.2 percent of the vote in the 1994 election. NyD gradually evolved into an anti-immigration party, and in the 1994 election, all other parties strongly distanced themselves from them due to their racist rhetoric.


The Sweden Democrats was established in 1988. A majority of the founders had a background in various far right movements from the 1970s and 1980s and the party was from the beginning strongly associated with neo-nazism and the skinhead movement. SD gained some local representation in the 1990s but remained irrelevant at the national level until the early 2000s. It then began a process of moderation, abandoning openly racist segments of the migration program and attempting to exclude members expressing anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi views. SD:s moderation has led to two splinters of some relevance, firstly the National Democrats in 2001 and then Alternative for Sweden in 2018. None of the splinters have been successful with the voters, however.


The SD’s first breakthrough came in 2010 when they entered the Swedish parliament with 5.6 percent of the votes. The following year they added social conservatism as an official ideology, in addition to the nationalism that had always constituted the core of their program. In 2014, they won representation in the European parliament and later the same year more than doubled its support in the national elections. Following the European refugee crisis in 2015, support continued to rise in the polls.

SD party leader Jimmie Åkesson on election night 2010.

The 2022 election was another success for the Sweden Democrats, who now has increased its voter support for nine consecutive elections. After the election, the party for the first time began formal government negotiations with three of the centre-right parties: the Moderates, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats. It resulted in the so-called “Tidö Agreement”, which gives SD an equal influence over government policy without seats in the government. The agreement has a broad political scope, although not comprehensive. SD has primarily had influence in criminal and migration policy, but is also considered to have influenced economic policy by opposing liberal economic reforms and welfare cuts.


SD used to be strongly eurosceptic but has moderated its position and no longer advocates an immediate “Swexit”. It was also opposed to Nato membership but changed position on the issue even before the war in Ukraine.


SD is socially conservative but nevertheless takes rather moderate positions on most social issues, a reflection of how Sweden differs from most countries. For example, SD is nowadays in favour of Sweden’s liberal abortion law as well as equal treatment of same sex couples, although they took much more conservative positions on these issues before. On economic issues, SD used to be more left-leaning but has gradually shifted more to the right. 


The Sweden Democrats are generally considered to be anti-liberal but democratic. For example, the party’s 2019 ideological program begins by adhering to “the classical definition of democracy, where the concept of democracy is not made synonymous with one’s own political views.” Additionally, the program clarifies that the party would like to see stronger elements of direct democracy and that a “common national and cultural identity” is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy. 


It is also evident that the Sweden Democrats have reservations about many specific elements of liberal democracy. Party representatives frequently voice opposition to minority rights, scepticism towards independent media, lack of interest in international conventions, and a desire to control research and education (with gender studies being a specific focus). There are numerous quotes from prominent party members suggesting that the Sweden Democrats aspire to lead Sweden in a direction similar to Hungary or Poland. However, after one and a half years as an almost regular coalition partner, there is little evidence to suggest that the SD has actively pursued such measures.


Cooperation with SD is highly controversial in Sweden. Until the late 2010s, the party was the subject of an informal cordon sanitaire, all other parties promising to never cooperate with them. This was sometimes motivated with reference to the SD:s roots in right wing extremism, but also with reference to their migration policy.

EP elections

Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 4/20


SD first won seats in the EP in 2014. They hesitated to join the EFN group in 2015, and instead opted to join the ECR group in 2018. SD has threatened to leave the group if Fidesz is allowed membership. 


V has been part of the GUE group since Sweden joined the EU in 1995.

V summary

Economics: LEFT
Social issues: PROGRESSIVE
Democratic credibility: HIGH

SD summary

Economics: CENTRE
Social issues: MODERATE
Democratic credibility: MEDIUM