How damaging is local election result for Danish PM Frederiksen?

The Social Democrats, the party of Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, endured a difficult night during municipal and regional elections on Tuesday in what could be a sign of trouble on the horizon for the PM.

Danish PM Mette Frederiksen following local elections on Tuesday.
Danish PM Mette Frederiksen following local elections on Tuesday.Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Frederiksen’s party did not perform well at the polls, despite a historic triumph in Frederiksberg which heralded the end of 112 years of Conservative mayors in the Copenhagen district.

A headline defeat for the Social Democrats also came in Copenhagen. In the Copenhagen Municipality, the left wing party Red Green Alliance won the biggest vote share, humiliating the Social Democrats, who have held the mayor’s office in the city since it was created in 1938.

Despite the Red Green Alliance victory, the Social Democrats keep the mayor’s office with their candidate Sophie Hæstorp Andersen taking over the job. That is because an absolute majority of parties backed her candidacy, giving her more overall support amongst the elected representatives than Red Green Aliance rival Line Barfod.

But Barfod’s party has taken a bigger share of the seats in the city government, giving it the power to strongly influence areas like awarding contracts for city development or appointments to semi-public companies, and weakening the influence of the Social Democrats.

A 10-point loss of the vote share in Copenhagen – from 27.6 percent in the 2017 election to17.3 percent in 2021 – represents a big defeat and reflects the unpopularity in Copenhagen of the politics of the parliamentary Social Democrats, who have often directed unfavourable rhetoric at metropolitan demographics and, for example, cut university education in the capital in favour of smaller towns.

The party also moved backwards in Denmark’s other major cities, its vote share shrinking in Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg as well as in Copenhagen.

Nationally, the 28.45 percent vote share for the Social Democrats is a 4 percent loss compared to 2017. This also looks damaging for the party, and Frederiksen, more broadly.

Commenting on Tuesday’s election results, Frederiksen attempted to ward off the suggestion that her party’s poor performance in traditionally Social Democratic cities was a consequence of the government’s focus on rural areas ahead of urban Denmark.

“We have made a lot of good decisions which benefit large parts of Denmark. And if there are some people in cities who say ‘hang on, now you have to look at us. There are some decisions we want to be made on our behalf’, we’ll take a look at that,” she said according to news wire Ritzau.

“This applies not least on the housing market. Everyone must be able to afford to live in cities,” she added. The government earlier in the autumn announced a spending plan to boost affordable housing in major cities.

Frederiksen also conceded that controversy over deleted text messages related to last year’s decision to cull all of Denmark’s fur farm minks may have impacted the party’s popularity at local polls.

The PM has faced questions over a policy to automatically delete texts after 30 days, a practice not universally applied across government ministries.

READ ALSO: Why are Danish PM Frederiksen’s deleted mink texts causing controversy?

“I stated yesterday that, as we know, there has been some discussion of SMS messages (during the election campaign). Can I exclude the possibility that discussion of minks and SMS’ has rubbed off in some places? No, I can’t,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

A bad result in local elections could see the PM’s hitherto extremely strong support inside her party come into question for the first time since she won the general election in 2019, according to an analyst who commented on the matter prior to the elections.

“One of the reasons she has no internal opposition is that she’s so strong and she’s winning,” Jakob Nielsen, editor-in-chief of Danish political news outlet Altinget, said to media including The Local at a pre-election briefing.

“And once she stops winning, she’s not going to be above the natural laws of politics. She’s going to get people (within the Social Democrats) talking about being against her immigration policies, against her policy on climate change.. against her moving education out of the big cities,” Nielsen said.

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Poll suggests Danes ready to scrap EU opt-out in referendum

A new poll indicates a majority of Danes is in favour of scrapping the country’s EU defence opt-out in an upcoming referendum.

Poll suggests Danes ready to scrap EU opt-out in referendum

The poll, conducted by Epinion on behalf of broadcaster DR, shows 38 percent of voters in favour of revoking the opt-out, compared with 27 percent who want to retain it.

28 percent said they do not know how they will vote, meaning there is still plenty of potential for both a “yes” and “no” outcome in the June 1st vote.

An earlier poll, conducted in March, put the two sides closer, with 38 percent of eligible voters then saying they would vote ‘yes’ to scrapping the opt-out, with 31 percent saying they would vote ‘no’ and 31 percent saying they didn’t know.

The government announced in March a June 1st referendum in which citizens will decide whether to overturn Denmark’s opt-out from EU defence policy. The referendum was called following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Denmark’s opt-out – retsforbehold in Danish – is one of four EU special arrangements negotiated by the Scandinavian country, and has seen it abstain from participation in EU military operations and from providing support or supplies to EU-led defence efforts.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark have four EU ‘opt-outs’ and what do they mean?

In April, the wording of the question on voting ballots for the referendum was changed, following objections from politicians opposed to scrapping the opt-out.

According to a breakdown of the new poll, younger voters and women are the most undecided groups. 20 percent of men said they were unsure how to vote compared to 38 percent of women.

Among 18-34 year-olds, 39 percent were unsure how they would vote compared to 22 percent of voters over the age of 56 who have yet to decide how to cast their votes.