Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Sweden
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 442-443
SWEDEN: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Sweden has demonstrated orderly development of both its governmental structure and extragovernmental political institutions since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. Parliamentary government, extension of the franchise, and modern political parties progressed together and reached a high plateau of equilibrium near the end of World War I, during which Sweden remained neutral. By 1921, the principle of government responsibility to a parliamentary majority had been established, there was universal suffrage, and all four of the current major parties had representation in the Riksdag. By 1932, the Social Democrats had achieved the ascendancy they enjoyed throughout our time period, and (excepting a brief three month exception in 1936 when the Agrarians formed a kind of caretaker government) the party always governed alone or in coalition: from 1936 to 1939 with the Agrarians and from 1939 to 1945 with the Agrarians, Liberals, and Conservatives in a wartime show of domestic solidarity. Sweden remained neutral again in World War lI, and Swedish party politics flowed on largely uninterrupted to the beginning of our study.

A ripple in the stream of Social Democratic government was caused in 1951, when the party which never claimed a simple majority in the Riksdag found it necessary once more to enter a coalition with the Agrarians (later, the Center Party). In constructive opposition to this governing coalition were the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. These four major parties accounted for more than 95 percent of the parliamentary seats throughout our time period, and a fifth party the Communists virtually exhausted the remaining party activity.

The Social Democrat Agrarian coalition was split in 1957, and the Social Democrats undertook a minority government, drawing the needed margin of parliamentary support from individuals in other parties. Following the 1958 elections, the Social Democrats needed to rely occasionally on Communist votes for continued support of its minority government. The 1960 elections, however, gave the minority government a few mot seats and some breathing room.

Continuity and Change since 1962

As illustrated in the graph of party representation since 1950 in the Swedish Riksdag, the strongest and weakest parties have maintained their positions overt time, but there have been changes in party positions within the middle. Despite these fluctuations, the picture is mainly one of a stable party system. All four of our original parties continued through 1978, and only one new party won enough seats for study after 1962.

Original Parties, Continuing

241 Social Democratic Party. The Social Democrats continued to be the strongest party by far in the Riksdag and headed the government until 1976, with Olof Palme succeeding longtime leader Tage Erlander as prime minister in 1969. The Social Democrats held an absolute majority only from 1968 to 1970, when their support began to decline. In 1976, the party actually found itself in opposition to a center-right government.

242 Center Party. After the Center Party changed its name from the Farmers' Party in 1957, its legislative representation increased rather steadily until it became the second largest party in the Riksdag. Its leader, Thröbjorn Fälldin, became prime minister in the governing coalition formed in 1976, but he and the party left the government in 1978 over the use of nuclear reactors for electric power, which they had campaigned against.

243 Liberal Party. The Liberals had declined in strength since the early 1950s, but they were nonetheless part of the center-right governing coalition formed in 1976. When the Center and Conservative Parties resigned in 1978 over the nuclear power issue, the Liberal Party even formed a minority government under Ola Ullsten.

244 Conservative Party. The Conservative or Moderate Party fluctuated in legislative strength from 12 percent to 17 percent of the seats. Part of the governing coalition formed in 1976, it resigned along with the Center Party in 1978.

New Parties, Continuing

245 Communist Left Party. Formed in 1917, the Communist Left Party is a "new" party only in the sense that it failed to win more than 5 percent of the seats during 1950-1962 and thus failed to qualify as a major party for study. Beginning in 1970, however, the Communist Left held steady at 5 percent of the seats in the Riksdag. It was never part of a governing coalition.


When it was elected in 1976, Sweden's first nonsocialist government in over 40 years continued many of the welfare policies of its Social Democratic predecessor, and the governing coalition dissolved over the nonwelfare issue of nuclear power. With the welfare state accepted as a fact of political life in Sweden, it seems likely that a socialist government will be reestablished before long. But it is not certain that the Social Democrats will reassert their dominance; perhaps the pattern over the next decade will feature alternation in power between socialist and nonsocialist governments.

 [For party politics in Sweden since 1962, go to the essay by Irina A. Danilkina]

1. Our study of party politics in Sweden is based on a file of 575 pages from 35 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Jean Jacobsohn. Kenneth Janda coded the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework based largely on research done by Eve Harris. Joe Board was our consultant.