May 31, 2016 / 7:52 AM / 2 years ago

Support for far right dips as Sweden toughens asylum rules

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Tougher asylum policies in Sweden have undermined support for anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, bucking a trend in much of Europe where the refugee crisis has boosted the far-right, a poll showed on Tuesday.  

The twice-yearly Statistics Office poll, one of the biggest surveys of the year, showed support for the Sweden Democrats at 17.3 percent after 19.9 percent in November, reversing a rise in support over the last year and echoing other recent polls.

More than 1 million asylum seekers reached Europe last year leaving the European Union struggling to cope and seeing support for mainstream parties draining away to the far-right. Earlier this month Austria’s anti-immigration Freedom Party came within a whisker of winning an election for president.

“The discussion on migration has changed now and the Sweden Democrats have got some competition,” said Henrik Oscarsson, political scientist at Gothenburg University.

The party has seen its support surge in recent years, entering parliament for the first time in 2010, getting nearly 13 percent of the vote in the general election in 2014 and peaking at around 20 percent late last year.

The recent dip follows a sharp shift to the right by the minority government, which has introduced of tougher immigration rules aimed at dramatically cutting asylum numbers.

The four-party opposition Alliance bloc backed the measures.

Sweden took in more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015. By November, it was forced to admit it could no longer find housing for new arrivals.

Border controls and restrictions on family reunion have slashed the number of asylum seekers from around 10,000 a week at its peak to just a few hundred.

However, numbers could rise again. With Sweden facing huge long-term problems in finding schools, jobs and homes for new arrivals, the Sweden Democrats are unlikely to be a spent force.

“I would be surprised if the kind of issues they thrive on disappear,” said Nick Aylott, political science professor at Sodertorn University. “The question is what level they settle at.”

He said core support for the Sweden Democrats could be around 12-15 percent.

The trend is echoed elsewhere in the Nordic states. Support for Norway’s anti-immigration Progress Party, the junior partner in the minority coalition there, and for the nationalist Finns party both have dropped over the last year

The Statistics Office poll of 4,838 people over the period April 28 to May 28 showed support for the Social Democrat-Green government at 34.2 percent from 33.5 percent in November.

Support for the center-right Alliance was unchanged at around 39 percent.

Reporting by Johan Sennero and Simon Johnson; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Tom Heneghan

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