Voting Cities

Soon the Europeans will go to the voting booths to support their representatives in the European parliament. Socialists, liberals, conservatives, environmentalists, sadly a growing extreme right, pro EU, con EU and everything else on the political spectrum have been, and are, in heated TV debates. In the Dutch Polls the Neo-Liberals and the Social-Liberals are the two largest parties, closely followed by the extreme right, the Social Democrats, second in national parliament, are much smaller and on a similar level as the Christian-democrats.

In Sweden the political landscape looks quite different, the social democrats are at an all-time high. The second largest party is the liberal party. The second smallest is the extreme-right (link to a BBC Hardtalk video), which only gets 3.8% in the polls.

Last Sunday I was preparing a little for the upcoming elections: trying the voting compass, checking viewpoints of the different parties, comparing the Netherlands to Sweden and looking at general trends in previous elections. All of a sudden I noticed something interesting.

When looking at voting maps from the Netherlands and Sweden we can see one distinctive difference: In the Netherlands Social democrats rule the cities, while in Sweden the liberals are waving the sceptre over the urban areas. 

Source: Netherlands WI (2012), Sweden Dagens Nyheter (2012) (all maps show the outcome of their country’s last election, in all maps Liberals are blue and Social-democrats red)

Source: Netherlands WI (2012), Sweden Dagens Nyheter (2012) (all maps show the outcome of their country’s last election, in all maps Liberals are blue and Social-democrats red)

The red dots on the map of the Netherlands mark many of the largest cities: The Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Breda, Leeuwarden and Groningen all seem to favour the Social democrats, however these cities are islands in a liberal sea.

I could not find an identical map of Sweden, however I cut out the two largest parties (also liberals and social democrats) from maps made by a Swedish newspaper. These maps show the spatial distribution of their respective voters. Compared to the Netherlands we seem to have a reversed trend in Sweden: the cities are liberal and the country side is dominated by the Social-democrats.

But what does this mean? Why this reversed trend? The best I can do is to give you an educated guess. I assume that much depends on the size and population density of the two countries. When living on the country side in the Netherlands, a large city (with a high concentration of jobs) is more likely to be relatively near. However, in Sweden this is not the case: large parts of the country are lightly populated and are lacking the vicinity to a larger city (and jobs). This means that the richer people in the Netherlands can afford the extra commute costs and hence to live in the countryside. The Northern provinces in the Netherlands are more lightly populated, with relatively small cities, and resembling more the Swedish country side and voting pattern.

Of course, income and jobs don’t explain everything. Lately I listened to a Swedish radio show where a political scientist (unfortunately I don’t know who or what show it was) was arguing that a lot of votes can be explained by party loyalty. However, he also said that the trend of party loyalty could be broken during the untraditional EU elections. Whatever it will be, I’m looking forward to the spatial outcomes.

Don’t forget to vote (Netherlands & UK: May 22nd, most other countries May 25th)

Overview of important dates


Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .