Anders Behring Breivik’s deadly attack on Norway’s ruling Labour Party may have inadvertently given the party an unprecedented surge in popularity and sympathy, ahead of local elections in September.
Opinion polls have provided the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) with enormous levels of support, just one week after Breivik murdered scores of Labour members on Utøya island, outside of Oslo.
In a poll conducted on July 29-30 for the Dagbladet newspaper, Norwegians gave the Labour Party 41.7 percent of the vote share, an 11 percent increase over a similar poll taken in the prior month.
The opposition Conservative Party fell in popularity by 4.8 percent to 23.7 percent; while the right-wing Progress Party (which Breivik once belonged to) declined by 3 percent to 16.5 percent.
Another poll taken by the newspaper Sunnmørsposten similarly showed a dramatic rise in Labour Party support.
Labour may also be buoyed by Prime Minister and party leader Jens Stoltenberg, who has been cheered across the world for his dignified handling of the unimaginable tragedy.
Breivik targeted Labour because he blamed them for allowing the immigration of Muslims into the Scandinavian country – but it appears his tactic had backfired badly.
However, some analysts caution that much of the current support for Labour might be motivated solely by emotion and compassion -- and may not necessarily translate into real votes come election time in a few months.
Frank Aarebrot, a professor of comparative politics at the University of Bergen, told the Norwegian NTB news agency that it would be “very difficult to predict whether the wave of support has reached its peak, and how quickly it will eventually diminish.”
Aarebrot also indicated to the Dagbladet newspaper that even though the polls show less support for the Conservative Party, “there is nothing that suggests that enthusiasm for the party is [necessarily] smaller.”
He added: "You don't have to be an election expert to see the sympathy effect. Voters who voted for Labour in the last elections but who were in doubt about whether they should vote have returning en masse to the Labour Party."
Labour itself is quite aware that it is getting a lot of the “sympathy” vote.
“We interpret this [strong poll support] as a further expression for the Norwegian people’s sympathy with the victims after the terror in Oslo and the massacre at Utøya, and that they answer violence with more democracy,” said Odd Erik Stende, assistant Labour party secretary, to NTB.
Similarly, Martin Kolberg, the Labour party’s deputy parliamentary representative, told NTB that the poll numbers were “obviously an expression for sympathy” and that it would be “inappropriate” to make further comments.
Meanwhile, Norway is concerned how the Breivik murders will impact the September elections and how political candidates should treat the sensitive matter.
Already, the seven political parties in parliament agreed to postpone campaigning until mid-August.
Lars Arne Ryssdal, general secretary of the Conservative Party, told the Aftenposten newspaper that “the challenge will be to find a balance between a respectful tone and a totally boring election campaign.”