Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Denmark
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 404-405
DENMARK: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Like the other Scandinavian countries, Denmark displayed considerable stability in its politics and political institutions. Although the country adopted a new constitution in 1953, the new system was not much different from the old. The major structural change was the elimination of the Landsting, the upper house, and an expansion of the Folketing, the lower house, from 151 to 179 members. For our purpose, party activities just before 1953 can be compared with those afterward, obviating the need for adjusting our time period to correspond to the constitutional change. Throughout the period, four parties were especially prominent in Danish politics, with a fifth emerging in importance toward the end of our period. The Social Democrats, the Moderate Liberal or Left Party, the Conservative People's Party, and the Social Liberals or the Radical Left Party consistently accounted for about 90 percent of the seats in the Folketing from 1950 through 1962. In 1960, the new Socialist People's Party, which split off from the Communist Party, won enough seats to deserve attention, but its role was more important after our period.

From the governmental standpoint, the most important of the four major parties was the Social Democratic Party. Our time period begins with the Social Democrats being ousted from government following the 1950 elections and replaced by a Moderate Liberal Conservative coalition. The coalition lasted until the second elections in 1953, when the Social Democrats returned to power with Hans Hedtoft succeeding Erik Eriksen as prime minister. Although the Social Democrats never obtained a parliamentary majority and although their leaders changed because of death or poor health, they continued to head the government. Hedtoft was replaced in 1955 by H. C. Hansen, who was followed by Viggo Kampmann in 1960, who was succeeded by Jens Otto Krag in 1962.

While the Social Democrats never enjoyed a majority in parliament, they also never had less than 40 percent of the seats, which accounts for their success in naming the prime minister. From 1953 to 1957, the party maintained a minority government without sharing cabinet responsibilities with another party. But, in 1957, the Social Democrats entered a coalition government including the Social Liberals, who continued in the government with the Social Democrats following the 1960 elections

Continuity and Change since 1962

The graph of party representation over time in Danish Folketing illustrates that the party system in the late 1970s has become more complex than that in the 950s. All four of our original parties continued through 1978, but three new parties won enough seats and lasted long enough to qualify for study after 1962.

Original Parties, Continuing

201 Social Democratic Party. The major governmental party during 1950 to 1962, the Social Democrats lost the government to a coalition of bourgeois parties in 1968. The party returned to office with a minority government after the 1971 elections but lost power in 1973. In 1975 and 1977 the Social Democrats again formed minority governments with support from center-right parties.

202 Liberal Party. The Liberal Party (Venstre) tended to decline in strength after 1962, but it did participate in coalition governments with the Conservatives and Radicals (1968-1971), formed a minority government (1973-1975), and entered an unusual coalition with the Social Democrats in 1978.

203 Conservative Party. Conservative parliamentary strength held steady at around 20 percent of the is until the 1970s, when new parties siphoned off support and dropped the party to under 10 percent of seats.

204 Radical Liberal Party. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Radical Liberals (Radical Venstre) enjoyed a doubling of their parliamentary strength to about 15 percent of the seats, and the party headed a governmental coalition in 1968-1971. But the party's support fell sharply afterward to about 4 percent of the votes and seats.

New Parties, Continuing

205 Socialist People's Party. The Socialist People's Party was formed in 1958 by former Communists who split from the party after the Hungarian revolt. The party hovered between 5 and 10 percent of the seats, with some evidence of recent decline.

206 Progress Party. The Progress Party burst upon the Danish political scene in 1973 as a tax protest party and emerged as the second largest party with 16 percent of the votes. The party retained most of its strength over the next two elections, but it has not been regarded as a responsible partner in coalition governments.

207 Center Democrats. Also formed in 1973 to protest high taxes and the "leftist" tendencies of Danish government, the Center Democrats were only about half as successful as the Progress Party, but they lasted through subsequent elections in 1975 and 1977.


The rise of several new parties in Denmark has unsteadied a previously stable multiparty system. Eleven parties won at least five seats in the last election in 1977, and the largest party (Social Democrats) held only 37 percent of the seats. Despite the stability offered by continuation of the same four parties for most of this century, Denmark has recently entered an era of party fragmentation.

[For party politics in Denmark since 1962, see the essay by Daniel Corstange]

1. Our study of party politics in Denmark is based on a file of 1,191 pages from 78 documents, all of which are in English except 1 in French (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Carolyn Billingsley Smith, with the assistance of Jean Jacobsohn and Judith Newsome Gillespie. Smith coded the Danish parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Kenneth Miller was our outside consultant.