Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

Elections in Iceland: voters seem to prefer new to old as never before

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After remarkably large swings in opinion polls it seems that the old and largest party, Independence Party, is picking up support from voters, shown in one poll to pick up 27% of votes. The Pirate Party, which has at times touched 40% in polls is now settling at just above 20%. With nine parties running country-wide and twelve parties in total offering their ideas to the voters Icelanders have enough to choose from in the elections October 29. The big news is that the four old parties, or the “four-party” as Icelanders call them are now only polling at fifty or sixty per cent, the lowest in the roughly one century old history of the old parties, meaning that the new parties are taking forty to fifty per cent.

Iceland provides a clear argument that the economy isn’t everything in elections; Icelandic voters seem to choose leaders they find trustworthy, regardless of policies. In spite of strong economy a new party untested in government like the Pirate party has held a strong appeal, robbing some of the old parties of support. The old parties are the Independence Party, the Progressives, the SD Alliance and the Left Green but the new ones are the Pirates, Bright Future Viðreisn and some smaller parties unlikely to get into parliament.

Now, as the day of  reckoning October 29 looms opinion polls indicate that the tried and tested are attracting voters again. That helps the Independence party and to some degree the Progressive party that after the hapless Winstris affair of its leader chose a new leader, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, who has been serving as a prime minister since Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson resigned in April due to the Panama Papers. Yet, nothing is like it once was – the old parties are appealing to fewer voters than ever.

The latest figures

The latest figures out Friday October 28 vary quite a bit but still show a jump for the Independence party. The Independence Party has the greatest success in a Gallup poll, at 27% with Pirates at 17.9%, Left Green 16.5%, the other government coalition party the Progressives at 9.3%, Viðreisn (“Restoration,” a new liberal centre-right party) 8.8%, the Social Democratic Alliance 7.4% and Bright Future 6.8%. Other parties are below the 5% threshold needed to get into parliament. All these parties except Viðreisn are already in parliament.

MMR poll shows the Independence party at 24.75%, Pirates 20.5%, Left Green 16%, Progressives 11.4%, Viðreisn 8.9%, Bright Future at 6.7% and the Social Democratic Alliance 6.1%.

Morgunblaðið, the daily, also published today its last poll before the election, putting the Independence party at 22.5%, Pirates 21.2%, Left Green 16.8%, Viðreisn 11.4%, Progressives 10.2%, Bright Future 6.7% and the SD Alliance 5.7%.

On the whole the Pirates have lost their incredible popularity a year ago but are still competing with the Independence party for the highest amount of votes – a remarkable success for a young party, only running for the second time.

The outcome 2013


The 2013 elections resulted in the largest losses ever for any parties when the two left parties in government, the Left Green (V above) and the SD Alliance (S) went from being two big parties to two small parties, from jointly having 34 members to 16. The Left Greens have, according to the recent polls, been gaining strength under their young energetic leader, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, minister of education and culture in the 2009-2013 left government. The SD Alliance seems to be stuck in spite of a new leader recently elected, Oddný Harðardóttir, who has only made things worse for the party according to the polls.

In the 2013 elections Bright Future (A) literally lived up to its name, as the new darling in the hood and got 6 members, a phenomenal success for a new party. Now it’s hovering just above the 5% limit. The Pirates (Þ), another new party, got 3 members. The present coalition partners, the Independence Party (D) and the progressives (B) got the same amount of MPs; the Independence Party got a greater numbers of votes but the Progressives made a larger jump and against the tradition of giving the largest party the mandate to form a government the then president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson gave the Progressives the mandate for form a government.

The Pirate party: not as wild as the name suggests

Since early this year I’ve heard foreign analysts and other pundits worry that the rise and rise of the Pirate party bode ill for political and financial stability in Iceland. That is however not the  perception in Iceland. The main reason for their popularity is their measured and reasonable performance in Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament. Making big and broad promises is for example not their way of doing politics.

Their main focus has been on the new constitution, on finishing the work in progress, and they are very much wedded to the idea of the Alþingi sitting for only enough time to pass a new constitution and then vote again as is needed; a new constitution needs to be agreed on by two parliaments. This might very well drive other parties away from a Pirate-led coalition, even if they might otherwise be positioned to lead a new government. Other parties just want to get things done and not be tied up by a short-term constitution-only Alþingi.

Apart from the constitution the Pirates reject the left right dualism but support left-wing welfare issues like free health-care, not the case in Iceland, public ownership of natural resources, direct democracy and fight against corruption – all issues that have loomed large in the election debate.

What colour of coalition? 

If the Independence Party turns out to be the biggest party come Sunday morning its leader will start to ask around for support among other parties. Nothing indicates that the Progressives will be strong enough for a two-party coalition. In addition, it would be difficult to sideline Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson who  will almost certainly be elected to  Alþingi in spite of having resigned as a party leader and  prime minister.

The feeling is however that none of the other parties are keen to be with him in government, which means that the Progressives are unlikely to be in government however things go. In politics “never say never” but suffice it to  say that a government including  the Progressives seems unlikely.

The new liberal conservative party Viðreisn doesn’t seem to be much of a help. Incidentally, its leader Benedikt Jóhannesson was earlier active in the Independence Party and is, as most well-informed Icelanders know, closely related to Benediktsson in a family where blood certainly is thicker than water, as the saying goes in Iceland.

Viðreisn portrays itself as more liberal, less wedded to old power and old money and is EU-friendly, hardly relevant in Iceland these days. Many voters see Viðreisn as all too ready to jump into bed with the Independence Party but it seems to have attracted many SD Alliance members on the party’s right side. SD Alliance, earlier often in coalition with the Independence party, has hardly any political strength to be in government and would in any case provide too few if any MPs.

It has happened in Icelandic politics that the Independence Party, in most governments in Iceland since the founding of the republic in 1944, has cooperated with the far left. Jakobsdóttir has not been flirting with that idea at all, underlining that there is little if any political harmony between the two parties. Bar something unexpected it’s difficult to imagine that any of the four old parties could form a coalition lead by or together with the Independence Party.

All of this, in addition to the polls, many think that a left government is more likely than a centre-right government. That again would probably require at least three parties to form a government, even four. Needless to say the greater the number the more potential for splits and a politically lame government. The next PM could be a lady, most likely Jakobsdóttir. The Pirate Birgitta Jónsdóttir has indicated that she would be more interested in being president of the Alþingi, rather than a prime minister but there are some popular Pirates around her.

Strong economy isn’t enough

The turmoil in Icelandic politics since the winter of 2008 to  2009 is over in the sense that the pots and pans stay in the kitchens. Yet, the political distrust is still palpable and strong economy and what’s best described as  boom doesn’t change the fact that voters seem more ready than ever to embrace new parties and, except for the Left Green, keep the old “fourparty” at bay.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

October 29th, 2016 at 12:08 am

Posted in Uncategorised

2 Responses to 'Elections in Iceland: voters seem to prefer new to old as never before'

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  1. What do you make of the inconclusive rsults?


    31 Oct 16 at 3:31 am

  2. Partly because there are seven parties to vote for. There are blocks in the sense of left and right, those who want to re-think distribution of natural resources/fisheries etc but the question is how these different interests will link. I’m working on a blog on it;)

    Sigrún Davídsdóttir

    31 Oct 16 at 12:34 pm

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