Parliamentary Elections

September 12-13, 2021


Norway’s center-left parties, led by Jonas Gahr Støre’s Labour Party, have defeated their conservative rivals. Labour was the top vote-winner, slightly outperforming the latest pre-election poll and claiming 26.3% of the vote and 48 seats. Støre will become Prime Minister. The greatest gains relative to the prior election were made by the agrarian Centre Party, which won 13.5% of the vote and 28 seats (+9 from 2017). Two other left-wing parties made notable gains: the Socialist Left party with 7.6% and 13 seats (+2 from 2017) and the Red Party with 4.7% and eight seats (+7 from 2017). After eight years in power, voters showed their dissatisfaction with the Conservative party of Prime Minister Erna Solberg, handing them only 20.4% of the vote and 36 seats (-9 from 2017). The Conservatives’ coalition partners, the Christian Democrats and Liberals, received only 11 seats between them (three and eight, respectively). The Conservatives’ former coalition partner, the right-wing Progress Party, won only 11.6% of the vote and lost six seats. Turnout was 77.2%, down one percent from the election in 2017, with a record number of votes coming by advance ballot (57.9%).

Coalition talks are now underway, with the Labour Party seeking to combine with the Centre Party (SP) and Socialist Left Party (SV). Although climate change and opposition to oil and gas exploration helped deliver the victory for Norway’s left-leaning parties, neither Labour nor SP support an immediate halt to oil drilling. If they wish to form a majority government, they will need to find a compromise with SV, which opposes oil exploration and will use their leverage to push for more limits on the practice—and a faster transition away from it. Another sensitive area of discussion will concern membership in the European Economic Area: both SP and SV support at least a renegotiation of Norway’s membership, while Labour does not. Coalition negotiations are expected to take weeks or even months to conclude.


  • Unicameral parliament (Storting) in a parliamentary constitutional monarchy: 169 seats.
  • Storting members are directly elected in 19 multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote. They serve four-year terms.
  • Current government: Prime Minister Erna Solberg (PM, since 2013) leads a minority coalition government of her Conservative Party (H), the Liberal Party (V), and the Christian Democratic Party (KrF), since January 2020 when the Progress Party (FrP) withdrew.


  • Nine political parties running.
  • Main parties:
    • Labour Party (Ap): led by Jonas Gahr Støre; center-left; social-democratic; pro-NATO; supports sustainable oil and gas exploration and gradual transition away from fossil fuel production; supports European Economic Area (EEA) membership in current form; moderate immigration policy.
    • Conservative Party (H): led by Erna Solberg; center-right; economically liberal; pro-NATO; supports EEA membership in current form; fairly centrist on social issues; supports a stricter immigration policy but with strong integration measures for refugees; strong support for oil industry.
    • Centre Party (Sp): led by Trygve Slagsvold Vedum; center; economically protectionist; supports decentralization; focused on rural areas; anti-EEA; pro-NATO; supports gradual transition from oil and gas exploration; moderate immigration policy with emphasis on integration.
    • Progress Party (FrP): led by Sylvi Listhaug; conservative; right-wing populist; economically liberal; anti-immigration; pro-NATO; supports a renegotiation of EEA membership; supports oil industry.
    • Socialist Left Party (SV): led by Audun Lysbakken; left-wing; democratic socialist; anti-EEA membership; supports leaving NATO in favor of forming a Nordic defense pact; anti-oil exploration; liberal immigration policy.

Impact on U.S. Interests

  • A highly capable NATO ally, a leader in modernizing its defense forces, particularly focused on the High North (Arctic) and North Atlantic, and a reliable contributor to alliance missions: sent special forces to Afghanistan; contributed special forces to the Global Coalition against Daesh; contributes to NATO’s German-led enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup in Lithuania; contributes troops in Kosovo and Bosnia. There is no significant anti-NATO strain in mainstream politics, SV’s position notwithstanding.
  • Norway is not a member of the European Union (EU) after two failed referendums to join (over 60% of Norwegians oppose membership), but is a member of the EEA. In the aftermath of Brexit, two of Labour’s potential coalition partners (the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party) either oppose or wish to renegotiate EEA membership, particularly around climate and fisheries issues, which could complicate the next government’s relationship with the EU.
  • Because of its extensive land and maritime border with Russia, Norway seeks cooperative relations with Moscow but is increasingly concerned about Russia's military buildup.
  • After years of very difficult bilateral relations with Beijing after the Nobel Peace Prize was given to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo in 2010, Norway is negotiating a free trade agreement with China at the same time that it increases scrutiny of Chinese investment and remains critical of Beijing’s human rights record.
  • Norway is a current member of the UN Security Council.

Key Issues to Watch

  • After eight years in office, there is general public fatigue with the Conservative Party despite praise for the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and economic recovery. Jonas Gahr Støre’s Labour Party and other center-left opposition parties are expected to double the vote share of the Conservative-led governing coalition, likely forming a “red-green” government.
  • The Center Party has been gaining in popularity and could end up being decisive in coalition formation.
  • The focus of the election has been the disconnect between Norway’s stated environmental priorities and its status as one of Europe’s top petroleum producers. The three political parties which oppose new oil and gas exploration—the Greens, Socialist Left, and Liberals—have been climbing in the polls in recent weeks, with the Greens seeing a 25% boost in their membership. Thirty five percent of Norwegians support this view. This could complicate coalition-building efforts: Labour has maintained its traditional support for the energy industry and favors a gradual phase-out of oil and gas production (which underpins Norway’s immense sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest) but will likely need the support of at least one of these parties to form a government.
  • In the 2017 election, voters cited immigration as the most important issue, to the benefit of conservative parties, especially the FrP, who joined the more moderate Conservatives in a governing coalition. In January 2020, however, FrP withdrew from the coalition after the government repatriated a Norwegian citizen who had joined ISIS. Immigration has not been a central issue in this campaign.
  • Since July, daily new confirmed cases of Covid-19 have spiked in Norway. Sixty-one percent of the country has been fully vaccinated. PM Solberg undermined her early, relative success in containing the virus when she was caught breaking social distancing guidelines at her own birthday party in February. The government has nonetheless recently relaxed restrictions. The probable effect on turnout is not clear.


Source: Politico Poll of Polls