NEWS | 19 Jan 2021

Political communication: What is happening to the Nordic model?

Nordic flags outside the Swedish Parliament House in Stockholm
Photo: Magnus Fröderberg –

The Nordic countries have been called a supermodel for political and economic governance. But as both political and media systems are changing, the Nordic model is challenged. A new anthology, published by Nordicom, examines political communication in the Nordic countries and questions the actuality of a clear-cut Nordic model.

The anthology Power, Communication, and Politics in the Nordic Countries, edited by Eli Skogerbø, Øyvind Ihlen, Nete Nørgaard Kristensen, and Lars Nord, goes beyond usual generalisations about the Nordic region and aims to provide a more nuanced picture of political communication in the Nordic countries today.

One of the most distinct conclusions of the study is that it is hardly relevant to talk about a clear-cut Nordic model of political communication.

– I don’t think we have reason to say that the Nordic countries are either provincial or very different from other democracies, says editor Eli Skogerbø, professor at the University of Oslo.

– We claim that it’s very important not to group these countries as one model, but to treat them as separate countries that have significant differences, but where you can find some factors that join them.

Some of the countries’ merging characteristics discussed in the anthology are pragmatism, the role of negotiations, and the flexibility of the Nordic systems.

– What I do think we have some reason to say is that the Nordic countries have some kind of benefits when it comes to democratic resilience, says Skogerbø.

– I think that it can be related to this pragmatism, this weight on finding compromises, which is a trait you find in all the Nordic countries – that there is high trust for the media and political institutions. Not among every group in society, but more so in the Scandinavian, or Nordic, countries than elsewhere.

Changing systems and new voices

The study also examines how the conditions for political communication in the Nordic countries have changed over the last decades. One of the main developments is the increased polarisation and weakening of political parties.

– I think it’s very clear that the five-party model has now been disrupted everywhere. And today we see more polarisation in all the Nordic countries – maybe a little exception for Iceland, which is also different in many other ways – but we see more polarisation, some more of what we could call more extreme parties, says Skogerbø.

Another factor affecting how politics are communicated is the developments in the media systems. While traditional media loses readers, listeners and viewers, there is widespread use of digital communication media.

– The political changes have gone hand in hand with the development and spread of social media, resulting in more politicians using social media to establish direct contact with voters, not least when it comes to the mobilisation of voters, and so on.

Though polarisation and the increased use of digital media have strong connections to the changes seen in Nordic political communication today, Skogerbø emphasises that these are not the only factors involved.

– It can also be related to the fact that new voices are heard more often these days, she says.

– We have new minority groups that have accessed the political parties and the parliaments – and also the local governments. You see that very clearly in Sweden, of course, but also in Norway and Denmark.

A broader view on political communication

The anthology also challenges the bounds of what political communication actually is, indicating that it can present itself in several different contexts. Skogerbø explains:

– We have highlighted that political communication is not only campaigns and hard news, which is often what you find in these big-scale comparative studies.

– Political communication is also something that takes place in popular culture and entertainment – TV series, for example. We point to Borgen and Invisible Heroes as series that really say something about the Nordics when it comes to political communication, and we try to involve new actors.

Find the anthology here

Power, Communication, and Politics in the Nordic Countries contains 19 chapters addressing the similarities and differences between political communication in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.