In a Nutshell
The Political Team here at the Tony Blair Institute is watching several key elections around the world this autumn, in what is shaping up to be an intense period in global politics.
On 11 September, Sweden elected a right-wing bloc, beating the left-of-centre coalition by three seats. The far right made record gains and will have significant influence. Italy, Bulgaria and Brazil will all hold elections at the end of September and start of October, as the US gears up for its midterms on 8 November.
After a year of positive results for progressives, the outcomes of the upcoming elections will be an important barometer of the appeal of progressive politics among voters. The result in Sweden adds strength to the idea that progressive successes in 2021 and 2022 were isolated events based on national context rather than the start of a progressive wave.
The key issue in each election is how to beat the increasing cost-of-living crisis and respond to legitimate grievances as populists exploit fears and provide “easy” solutions. Progressives need to find a credible policy framework and narrative to counter this if a genuinely international progressive wave is to take shape.
Deep Dive: Sweden, 11 September
In an incredibly tight parliamentary election, the right-wing bloc, led by centre-right Moderates and far-right Sweden Democrats, beat the Social Democrat-led left-wing alliance by a single seat. Ulf Kristersson, leader of the centre-right Moderates, is set to become prime minister of a minority government, which will not include the Sweden Democrats.
The Social Democrats comfortably remain the largest party, gaining seven seats compared to 2018 and collecting 31 per cent of the vote count. They collected the most votes in all but one province, and among both men and women, which shows they retain considerable influence.
2022 Swedish Election Seat Share
Source: Swedish Election Authority
Key to the debate leading up to the election were:The cost-of-living crisis and high energy pricesIncreases in violent crime and immigrationNATO accession (with broad consensus across the political spectrum, it is unlikely to be affected by the election)
Fears around immigration and violent crime played into the hands of the far-right Sweden Democrats, who will now have significant influence in the Rikstag, despite not being in government. The Swedish Democrats could be said to have exploited grievances – but they didn’t invent them. Progressives have to develop and communicate credible answers to these issues or risk falling out of touch with the electorate and losing out to populists who will hold a mirror up to voters’ fears.
Italy, 25 September
In early July, the 5-star movement withdrew its support for the government of national unity, leading to Mario Draghi’s resignation and triggering a snap election.
Polling suggests that the election will be won by a right-wing coalition, headed by the far-right party Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni.
Parties with pro-Putin leaders could enter government as coalition partners, potentially undermining European support for Ukraine.
The centre-left Democratic Party is currently projected to be the second largest party, polling at around 22 per cent. But without wider support, there isn’t much they can do.
Bulgaria, 2 October
Bulgaria will hold its fourth election in two years after the progressive Kiril Petkov-led coalition lost a vote of no confidence in June, the first in Bulgaria’s history.
The populist, center-right GERB currently sits top of the polls with 26 per cent, ahead of the center-left progressive party We Continue the Change, which is currently polling at 19 per cent.
The election will be shaped by the response to the war in Ukraine. Petkov’s coalition stood up to Russia, adopting a firm pro-EU position, despite Bulgaria being historically close to Russia and being heavily reliant on Russian gas imports. Post-election, Bulgaria is likely to move back towards Russian energy.
Brazil, 2 October
Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will go to head-to-head in Brazil’s presidential election. Bolsonaro, who presided over the mismanagement of the Covid pandemic and an increase in deforestation in the Amazon, faces an immensely popular Lula, who leads him in the polls.
Former president Lula, campaigning on a centrist platform with more focus on the environment, is projected to lead the incumbent Bolsonaro after the first round (Lula is polling at 49 per cent to Bolsonaro’s 38) before comfortably beating him in a runoff.
The election is shaped by Brazil’s economic situation, with inflation at over 10 per cent. This should favour Lula, due to Bolsonaro being the incumbent and having a poor record on cost-of-living crises.
This example should provide progressives with a ready-made response: populists rarely deliver strong economic policies, whereas progressives in power have responded to the cost-of-living crisis (Macron is currently keeping inflation in France well below the European average).
Deep Dive: United States, 8 November
2022 started with a “red wave” by Republicans projected in November. Current polling suggests the Democrats may now hold the Senate and limit their loses in the House considerably.
The Democrats are projected to hold the Senate, while the Republicans still maintain a lead in the House. However, polling on the generic ballot continues to show that the Democrats lead with a +4 advantage.
Senate forecasts from early 2022 showed a much more favorable environment for Republicans than polls show now, reflected in the two graphics below:
Senate Forecasts, Early 2022
Senate Forecasts, September 2022
Source: TBI using FiveThirtyEight data
As primary season drew to a close on the 13th of September, and in the remaining run up to the midterms, many Democratic candidates will be walking a line between distancing themselves from an unpopular Joe Biden (who continues to deal with consistently low approval ratings) while at the same time championing Biden’s legislative successes and popular aspects of his agenda.
Candidates endorsed by Donald Trump have been winning their respective primary races across the country. With an endorsed candidate winning percentage around 88 per cent, Trump still holds a firm grip on the GOP.
Key policy debates:
The overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court drastically reshaped the political environment. Record numbers of women voters registered across the country, and the resounding defeat of a ballot measure in Kansas seeking to limit access to abortion in the state shows how the issue will energise voters this cycle.
Prior to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation decision, Republicans had said that if they took control of Congress (which is far less likely now), they would discuss the possibility of passing a nationwide ban on abortion. But now it’s unclear what Republicans would try to do, due to public backlash and waning support.
Biden and the Democrats have a clear set of policy goals going into the second half of his term, including codifying access to abortion and protection of voting rights, but how much of that agenda gets through will of course depend on the outcome of the midterm elections.
The cost-of-living crisis remains a major issue in the US, and while inflation is showing signs of peaking, in order to bring it down to more sustainable levels the Federal Reserve has signaled that it is willing to let the US economy sink into a recession. While higher levels of unemployment are usually a huge political hurdle for presidents and their party to overcome, we are seeing that record levels of inflation are having equal, if not more, negative effects on the electorate.
Republicans are attempting to keep voters’ attention squarely on the economy in November; however, falling gas prices and energy costs in the US have helped the Democrats keep some pressure off of their economic record and given them room to run on social issues where Republicans have a weaker position.