Paper presented at the 2002 meeting of WAPOR in St Petersburg, Florida, May 15-16, 2002

Value Change and Party Allegiance
in Sweden since 1990

Hans L Zetterberg, ValueScope AB, Stockholm


In Western publics a change in the climate of opinion followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The political right felt victorious and laid down their heavy guns. In the US the political left reoriented under Clinton and took over popular parts of the programs of their opponents. In Europe, Blair, Schröder, and Juspin followed suit. The latter would at times talk ideological socialism, but actions and policies were in line with the ideas of practical market economy. A general rise in pragmatic values emerged in the US and Europe, almost like the end-of-ideology sentiments of the Eisenhower era.

In Sweden we have recorded this shift from value fidelity to flexible instrumentalism in annual measurements in nationwide surveys of adults since 1990. The total number of interviews is 16 905.These surveys also reveal a consistent change from values of materialistic success towards an increased concern for human beings, i.e. more humanistic values (in the modern sense of the word). Contrary to common beliefs and in spite of the fact that Sweden joined the European Union during this period and experienced the international IT boom, our measurements do not find any significant shift in the balance between a traditional and cosmopolitan value orientation.

The paper maps the Swedish electorate and its seven political parties in a three-dimensional value space. The dimensions are: (1) tradition vs. modernity (Pareto’s ‘residue I’ and ‘residue II’), (2) faithfulness vs. pragmatism (Weber’s ‘wertrational’ and ‘zweckrational’), and (3) materialism vs. humanism (Sorokin’s ‘sensate’ and ‘ideational’). We demonstrate how the grassroots of the Swedish political parties responded to the general value changes of the 1990s. We map how well various governments represent the values of the electorate. We test whether stagnation hits parties whose grassroots are unresponsive to general value changes in society.

In passing, this paper contributes to the discussion of the definition of values, how they can be recorded with minimal effort in surveys, how value scales get stable zero-points and consistent intervals. The paper illustrates two major modes of value analysis: a first approach using fixed value groups and a second approach using value gravity points for any grouping of the population. It contains a short theoretical note on value change.


Three Classical Value Analyses

A philosopher of religion, Charles Morris (1942), showed us that at least three dimensions are needed to classify the religions of the world, a Promethean, a Dionysian, and a Buddhist one. They also appear in different guises in the social science literature dealing with changes in the climate of values. From the latter, we shall choose three central themes: Modernity, Instrumentality, and Humanism.

Modernity: Choosing The Old or The New

In the history of ideas modernity originally took shape in catchwords of the Enlightenment such as “belief in reason” and “technology,” which became battering rams against the bulwarks of tradition. In the 1900s new catchwords carried the idea of modernity forward. Nietzsche’s contribution was creative self-realization, the idea of a stellar super man who shapes himself and his world without the constraints of tradition. Josef Schumpeter’s contribution was an analysis of the key roll of the entrepreneur as a creator of the new and abolitionist of the old in the economy. Modernity, however, is not just a question of economics; it also has a place in politics. It was, for example, present in the attitudes of the early labor movements, which named their publications “The Progressive,” “Avanti,” Vorwärts,” and “New Times.” The swelling modernity also reshaped western art opening for new art forms and new ideas on what is good and bad art. Sigmund Freud ushered modernity into our inner lives through his analyses of drives, which allowed man in the early 1900s to recognize his biological self and reject the traditional idea that suffering was good for one’s character. According to Alfred North Whitehead the greatest innovation of the 1900s was “the invention of the method of invention,” a central theme of modernity.

The striving toward modernity is and has always been a movement without a definite end. Thus, to be modern means different things at different points in time. Today’s popular regional and nationalistic values that stress the importance of an individual’s roots are not modernistic but rather express a longing for tradition or stability. Social security was a modern value for the first generation in the welfare states, whereas today security is a traditional value in the established welfare states.

Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian economist and sociologist who lived between 1848 and 1932 formulated the common thread of modernity. He defined the forces of modernity as an openness for new combinations (“residue II”), and the forces of traditionalism as a consolidation of existing arrangements (“residue I”). To be modern is to be open for new combinations, “to become” rather than just “to be.” (Pareto 1916, § 2057). In his discussion of this distinction in the political sphere Pareto referred to Machiavelli’s well known political types, the “lion” and the “fox.” The first forcefully defends the social order and has implicit faith in his beliefs. The second advances the new with craftiness and cunning. When Pareto discussed economics these distinctions reappeared in the differences between a “rentier” who invests in order to retain his capital and its yields and the “speculator” who makes shrewd investments in order to augment his capital.

Instrumentality: Following Firm Principles or Accepting Compromises

The very learned German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) sought the distinctive character of the Western world, compared with other civilizations. Our culture has no monopoly on openness for new impulses and combinations. These were present not only in ancient Athens and Rome but also in the Indian and Chinese civilizations. Weber found that the distinction lies in our singular form of rational openness. Karl Marx had earlier made the observation that everything fixed is volatilized under capitalism: "all that is solid melts into air" . Weber’s observations were more specific.

He distinguished between wertrational acts, that is, those based on firm values, and zweckrational acts, that is, those based on instrumentality (Weber 1956, 12-13). Modern Western rationality is mostly of the latter kind. In other civilizations fixed values have prevailed to a greater extent, a fact we today see evidence of in the conflicts between Islamic nations and the West. In a culture that adheres to fixed values these are dramatized and norms of conduct are rooted in unconditional moral tenets and ethical principles. It orders: “always follow the commandments!” In an instrumental culture one compromises about one’s values and norms of conduct are guided by the pursuit of happiness and an ethics of responsibility. It says: “Do what you want, but take responsibility for the consequences!” Value faithfulness --which is called idealism if you like its expressions and dogmatism if you don’t – has to do with values that you are not willing to compromise. These usually include matters of conscience such as loyalty to one’s own family, solidarity with the weak, compassion for the ill, the preservation of our planet for future generations. Instrumentality – which is called pragmatism if you like the value and opportunism if you don’t – includes values that you could experiment and compromise with in order to achieve an optimal result. They have to do with practical negotiations, calculations, and technical solutions in the spheres of business or politics.

Humanism: Putting People or Things First

Many have distinguished between the material and the non-material. The Russian-American sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968) was the first to succeed in measuring value changes as they have occurred in history. He classified the history of ideas according to a scale that ranged from materialistic (“sensate”) cultures of the senses to humanistic (“ideational”) cultures of ideas. In cultures of the senses most symbols are clearly and closely associated with the evidence of the senses. In cultures of ideas most cultural manifestations are more divorced from sensual data and symbols commonly refer to other symbols, often highly charged ones. In cultures of the senses human activity is outer-directed; in cultures of ideas it is inner-directed. Sorokin’s work shows how Western culture has fluctuated between cultures of the senses and cultures of ideas. Beginning with a culture of ideas 600 B.C. it oscillated to a culture of the senses when the Roman Empire was at is peak, from there to a new culture of ideas in the late Middle Ages, then to a new culture of the senses in our time. As early as the 1930s Sorokin foresaw that the pattern would repeat itself with time and that the West would move toward a new culture of ideas.

We study value changes in a much shorter perspective than Sorokin did. The most useful approach today for those of us who work with value measurements on a practical level is to separate an interest in material and carnal phenomena from the glimmer of non-material values that manifests itself in an interest in human beings and their inner world.

Labels like materialism and humanism give rise to many associations, some of them misleading. Many other terms have been used. One has spoken of “the values of production” (materialistic ones) such as order, punctuality, ambition, efficiency, and other values that facilitate economic growth. These differ from the “values of reproduction” (humanistic ones) such as knowing oneself, empathy, sensitivity, and involvement in people, which facilitate personal growth and genuine understanding of others. Another way of expressing the difference is to be found in the terms “inner-directed people” and “outer-directed people.” Inner-directed people have humanistic values and are governed by cues from within themselves; outer-directed people have materialistic values and are governed by external cues. Here is one example from daily life: more materialistic outer-directed people diet and exercise primarily in order to look better in their own eyes and in the eyes of others, while the more humanistic inner-directed people diet and exercise in order to feel good. The former is governed by outer signals, the latter by inner signals.

How Values Can Be Measured by Priorities in Everyday Life

Every day contains an element of people’s priorities as to how they want to live. The common elements (which may be latent factors) that appear in reasonably lasting and reasonably consistent everyday priorities for how we want to live are our “values.”

When we interview ordinary people about their values we can do so by asking about their everyday priorities. We do not ask them “Are you a materialist or a humanist?” or about other academic terms from the literature on values. We stick to the simple and familiar. For example: What kind of food should I choose? Which TV program should I look at? What should I do to feel good? What kind of company should I choose? What are we going to talk about when we meet? What are we going to do on Sunday? Then we can as researchers code the answers to serve as indicators of the more abstract terms in our discipline. In brief, we follow the well-established rule to differentiate between interview questions and research questions, a rule formulated by many in the literature on survey methodology, most recently and most thoroughly by Noelle-Neumann & Petersen (2000).

Ideological positions and general values can, in fact, quickly be derived from everyday priorities. Göran Persson, Sweden’s Social Democratic Prime Minister at the time of this writing, provided an example just before Christmas in the year 2000. In an interview he revealed that he had developed a distaste for the headcheese (“sylta”) that was one of the Christmas dishes he had previously enjoyed. This was a wink to the many vegetarians and animal-rights advocates in Sweden at this time that he understood them and sympathized with them. They are well represented in the green and the leftist parties, Persson’s partners in drawing up a budget. In the interview Persson disclosed that he was moving toward their values, which pleased them. The interview also helped modify the image of the Social Democrats from that of a party that was concentrated on bread-and-butter issues to that of a party that was open to postmaterialist values.

The Selection and Coding of Priorities

The first step in our value measurements among the general public is to make a selection of everyday priorities and to let people respond to them. A rule of thumb is that at least three priorities are needed to measure values with any accuracy worth the name. Adding priorities does not usually change the total picture but, of course, provides greater precision. In our surveys we ask about choices between different types of TV programs, how one would choose two people as weekend company, and what one would choose if a good fairy gave the respondents three wishes.

Each priority receives between six to ten fixed response alternatives. Some of the alternatives are markers selected to represent poles (more extreme positions) on value scales. Others are constructed to cover the same area as that in the response alternative for another priority, for example, the choice of a nature program on TV and the choice of someone who knows a lot about nature and the environment as weekend company.

The second step is to let each alternative form the simplest scale possible with three levels:

1=the alternative is rejected

2=the alternative is ignored in favor of others

3=the alternative is chosen


“Simple partial scales” is the term we use for this quantification of everyday priorities.

In one case we need to make an index of two simple partial scales. The answers to the question about TV programs contained two separate alternatives: local news and national or foreign news. We are not interested in the volume of news consumed but in the local or more cosmopolitan character of the news. We therefore make an index of localism in news choices, a new partial scale instead of the original two partial scales for TV news:


                                                                 Local news

Localism in choice of news = –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

                                                Local news + national and foreign news


The third step is the extraction of a common component from partial scales that concern the same subject but are derived from answers to different interview questions. We can, for example, construct a “composite scale” from questions regarding nature and the environment: the choice of nature programs on TV, the choice of company that is knowledgeable about nature, a wish to the good fairy to become an environmental activist. Statistically, the new scale is constructed as a first principle component of the three answers. The function of the composite scales is to relate the measurements of the three questions on priorities to one another, just about as one relates answers in Fahrenheit to Centigrade. We do not need many composite scales for this purpose; it suffices that each question on priorities has two comparable points.

The fifth step contains the secret behind our ability to illuminate a larger canvas of values using a small number of selected priorities. Here, we seek general aspects of the priorities by asking these code questions:

Is it old or new for those involved?

Is it fixed or flexible?

Does it concern material things or people?

When we as researchers answer such questions we do so by means of “theoretical coding” (Merton 1956, p.100-101). The code questions are not arbitrarily chosen. They derive from social science theory and from the history of ideas. We presented them at the opening of this paper. We code peoples’ priorities according to these distinctions:

Traditional and Modern priorities which differ in their emphasis on –

Being something or Becoming something

Consolidating that which already exists or Seeking new combinations

Remaining in the familiar and local or Opening to the new and cosmopolitan



Faithful and Instrumental priorities which differ in their emphasis on either –

Unshakable ideas or Flexible ideas

Dramatization of beliefs or Compromises on belief

Idealism or Pragmatism

Dogmatism or Opportunism

Following conscience or Taking shortcuts

Following commandments or Weighing alternatives



Materialistic and Humanistic priorities differ in their emphasis on either –

The material or The human (the living)

Outer signals or Inner signals

Production or Reproduction

Standard of Living or Quality of life

GNP-growth or Fellowship


Based on reasonably consistent and lasting everyday priorities we can, at this level of abstraction, discern the contours of the values found in the history of ideas. Out of each of the code questions we obtain one single value. Since we have three such questions, our end result is three values: modernity, instrumentality, humanism. If we wish to measure additional values we must use more code questions, but not necessarily additional interview questions.

We do not know how generally valid modernity, instrumentality, and humanism are in time and space. As we have seen, several leading thinkers in the social sciences have found them useful in their analyses of changing value patterns in the West of the twentieth century.


When we code everyday priorities according to our theoretical schema we use a verifying factor analysis. The method has been shown to yield the same three values irrespective of whether the working language has been of Scandinavian, Finno-Ugrian, Germanic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, or Japanese origin. This is really not so surprising inasmuch as we build the values we want to measure into the response alternatives to the questions on priorities.

The factor analyses are to confirm that we obtain three significant factors, and preferably no additional distinct factor.

We wish to emphasize that there is nothing mechanical in our use of factor analyses. A factor analysis never understands as much as a researcher does, and the researcher must take several measures and steps in order to use the results of his factor analysis. This is especially true when the analysis is used to confirm that the data support a certain idea rather than to explore data about unknown conditions.

Table 1. Standardized scoring coefficients to convert everyday priorities to values


Response alternatives of everyday priorities




Choice of pop video




Pro-Entrepreneurship combined scale




Search for fame




Search for pleasure




Choice of religious songs




Pro-Environment combined scale




Pro-Family combined scale




Wish for more security




Index of Localism in news consumption




Self development




Wish for more creativity




Search for novelty




Cosmopolitanism combined scale




Choice of love and friendship




Sociability and contacts








National sport









Based on 4262 interviews from the Nordic countries 1994-1996 in a factor analysis with varimax rotation.
Note that Search for Pleasure (‘To obtain pleasure without guilt ’) which is inspired by Freud’s above mentioned contribution to modernity, does not render significant coefficients on the three factors in the Nordic countries. Instead a new factor forms around it. The item should perhaps be dropped when the questionnaire is revised.


There are six to ten fixed response alternatives to our three interview questions about everyday priorities. In accordance with the accepted rules for the formulation of questions, they contain the reasonable response alternatives. We have, in addition, seen to it that at least one of the response alternatives to one of the three questions represents a high and a low measurement for Modernity, Instrumentality, and Humanism. These “marker items” identify which factors in the factor analysis correspond to the values. In the response alternatives to the question asking whose company you would prefer over a weekend, “A person who knows a lot about foreign countries” is, for example, a marker item for openness to the new, that is, for Modernity.

Table 1 shows the final results of a factor analysis of our scales. Marker items are shaded. The factor that is most highly loaded for a marker item such as “a film about love and friendship” in the question on preferences in TV programs identifies the factor for Humanism. In like manner, the answer “an uncompromising environmental activist” to the question about wishes granted by a good fairy signals value constancy, one of the poles in Instrumentality. In Table I we thus find that Factor 1 stands for Instrumentality, Factor 2 for Modernity, and Factor 3 for Humanism.

It may be necessary to reverse the signs of the factor loadings. This is the case for Factor 2 in this particular analysis. High Modernity gets a plus-loading and Low Modernity a minus-loading.

The response alternatives we have built into the questionnaire in addition to the markers usually perform double or triple duty by giving significant contributions to two different factors, or, sometimes, to all three factors. Choosing a TV program featuring religious songs contributes, for example, to both value constancy and tradition, the low scores for Instrumentality and Modernity.

When these measurements and steps have been taken we can quantify a person’s values by giving their factor score. Note that the factor analysis does not define values (as in most other value surveys), but rather calibrates them.

A Refrerence Survey for the Nordic Countries

We have calibrated our scales to make them comparable in the whole Nordic region, irrespective of country. We agreed that the averages for our three value scales was zero in the Nordic region in the years 1994-1996. They are based on a “reference measurement” comprising a total of 4,255 interviews from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. And we further agreed that the unit with which we measured was a standard deviation (SD) such as it was in the Nordic region 1994-1996.

The averages for the Nordic countries are given in Table 2. On the whole, these countries have similar values, i.e. values close to zero. Around the middle 1990s, however, Denmark showed lower averages for Modernity and Instrumentality than the other countries. This may explain why hostility toward foreigners gained more of a foothold in Denmark than in the other Nordic countries. At the same time, Denmark showed a greater degree of Humanism, the tendency to place people first. At this time, Sweden was the most materialistic of the Nordic countries.

Table 2. The reference survey: Means of values in the Nordic countries in the mid 1990s



























Many research findings on values from this period bring to mind the tales of explorers at a time before there was agreement on latitudes and longitudes. The explorers returned home with wonderful, exotic tales, but it was hard to determine how their discoveries were related to one another. A cumulative picture of the planet’s oceans and continents could not be obtained until agreement was reached on the planet’s latitudes, longitudes, heights above and below sea level. In order to obtain a cumulative science, geographers had to agree on Greenwich and the North Pole as reference points.

Direction of Axes

Our type of measurements began in Sweden in 1990 (Zetterberg 1992). We then broke with the tradition of presenting values in two-dimensional diagrams and introduced a three-dimensional value space. Nor could we mechanically accept the results of a factor analysis. We specified the directions of the space ourselves (see Diagram 1).

From South to North: From Tradition to Modernity. Here we differentiate between those who wish only to be something and those who want to become something.


From West to East: From Value Constancy to Instrumentality. Here we differentiate between those who have firm values and those who have flexible values.


From Valleys to Heights: From Materialism to Humanism. Here we differentiate between those who put material things first and those who put people first.


Placing Modernity along the x-axis is common to most value researchers. However, not all have given North and South, East and West the same dimensions and directions as we have. Our choice expresses the bias and the intuition of the author. We thought that humanistic values ought to be placed higher than materialistic ones. We wanted right-wing political parties to appear at the right in our diagram and left-wing parties at the left side. That which we measure and illustrate in our diagrams but are not able to influence through our choice of the directions of the axes is distances. They remain the same, however we may turn and invert the diagrams.

Diagram 1. A Three-Dimensional Value Space and its Calibration

All the many considerations and decisions that we have discussed in this section are built into a computer program that is empirically grounded in the various coefficients of the reference measurements. For routine users, such a program can remain a “black box” they can employ for each new survey in the same way they employ demographic categories. For those in charge of research and for programmers, however, it is important to understand everything that has gone into this box.

Gross Change and Stability 1990-2001

Having defined zero on our value scales we can now undertake a rough analysis of changes since 1990 when our measurements began in Sweden. The data are derived from nationwide surveys among the Swedish general public conducted by the research institutes Demoskop (1990-1994) and Temo AB (1995-2001), a total of 16,905 interviews.

Party allegiances are not recorded in all interviews. They are supplied in a total of 10,018 interviews. Since we shall study the roll of values on the grassroots level of politics we bracket time into the periods of office of the various governments. In the beginning of the study these periods were three years in length; at the end they spanned four-year periods: 1988-1991, 1991-1994, 1994-1998, and 1998-2002.

Let us call all persons with values higher than zero on the Modernity axis “the Modern,“ and all with zero or lower values “the Traditional. In like manner we call those with values higher than zero on our scale for Instrumentality “the Pragmatic,” and those with values of zero or under “the Faithful.” Similarly, the scale for Humanity gives us the groups “Humanists” and “Materialists.” Table 3 shows their proportions in different time periods. Gauged by rough binary measures like these, the changes that occur during a decade are small but significant

Tabell 3. Gross value changes in Sweden 1990-2001.



































































The numbers are percentages of the adult population who harbor the different values.

Modernity in Sweden 1990-2001

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 all of Europe was receptive to new trends and new social arrangements. In this climate of opinion the Swedish government unexpectedly made it clear to voters that it wanted to usher Sweden into the European Community. However, in the early 1990s the trend toward Modernity slackened and people who desired to be traditional and stick to the familiar were in the majority; the Moderns declined from 51 to around 45 percent.

Old-fashioned security remained a cherished goal in the Swedish climate of opinion during the 1990s. In 1990 38 percent of those interviewed desired more security in life. This figure rose a few percentage points during the recession years in the early 1990s, but by 2000 it was back at 38 percent. The percentage of those who dreamed of trying something new and exciting was 30 percent in 1990 and declined during the first half of the decade, but rose again and reached 39 percent in conjunction with the Millennium celebrations, only to drop again when the party was over.

It is noteworthy that the enthusiasm over the IT-revolution that peeked toward the end of the decade did not result in a value shift toward modernity among the broad masses of people.

Instrumentality in Sweden 1990-2001

Several factors come into play when firm values become volatile. In the long run, the spread of secularization has laid the ground for a more instrumental stance. The triumphs of the market economy and democracy have contributed to advance pragmatism since both put a premium on negotiations, compromises, and bargaining. For markets and parliaments pragmatism provides a more congenial value climate than steadfast adherence to values.

However, many of the political movements that grew stronger during the second half of the 1990s – for example, the environmentalist, feminist, peace, and animal rights movements – are value faithful. In the public debate about energy pragmatists reason roughly along these lines: how can one find the right and most economical combination of energy sources such as oil, water power, wind power, and nuclear power? For the value faithful greens, on the other hand, nuclear power is basically a matter of conscience and must be judged on moral, not economic grounds.

In Sweden, the Faithful, i.e. persons with firm, uncompromising values, dwindled in numbers during the 1990s from 52 to 41 percent, while the Pragmatics with flexible values became correspondingly more numerous. In terms of everyday priorities we found, for example, that 10 percent of adult Swedes said their first wish was to be “an uncompromising environmental activist” in 1990, but by the year 2000 this figure had fallen to 2 percent.

It is this trend away from ultimatums that has facilitated participation in the compromises of the democratic process of Sweden’s Greens, of the Left Party (formerly the Communist party), and of the Christian Right – parties that earlier had willingly voiced their firm, even fundamentalist ideas on the environment, state socialism, and abortions.

The growth of pragmatism in politics during the 1990s is an international phenomenon. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, pragmatic values that are typical of the market economy and democracy grew stronger among the people of all developed nations. The political right felt triumphant and abandoned its heavy artillery. In the US the political left reoriented itself under Clinton and appropriated popular elements of the opposition’s platform. In Europe, Blair, Schröder, and Juspin did the same. The latter two might sometimes air opinions in line with the old socialistic spirit, but their political actions were in line with a practical market economy. The overall growth of pragmatic values in the US and Europe was reminiscent of the notions about “the end of ideologies” that emerged during the Eisenhower administration.

The most recent interviews conducted in Sweden (from November 2001) reveal a decline in the number of pragmatists to 53.6%. This may be the sign of a trend break.

Humanism in Sweden 1990-2001

Humanism may be seen to be on the rise when a large number of political questions have to do with so-called “soft” issues rather than pocketbook issues. They may concern quality of life for the handicapped, the visiting rights of divorced parents, the rights of minorities, etc.

Since the middle 1990s the percentage of Swedes who are classified as Materialists has declined while the percentage of those who are Humanists (in our contemporary rather than in the classical sense of the word) has grown from 49 à 50 percent in the first half of the decade to 57 percent at the end of the decade. Two examples of the shift: during the decade’s first half every fifth Swede (20%) chose to see a TV-film about love and friendship, but that figure has since risen every year, and by 2000 every third Swede (33%) made this choice. In 1990 31 percent answered that they preferred the company of someone with many contacts rather than that of a successful expert; by 2000 this figure had climbed to 42 percent – a signal that increasing numbers of Swedes give higher priority to fellowship than to status.

The advance of humanism in Sweden is in large measure concomitant with the advance of feminism in the country. In the 1980s the leader of Sweden’s Liberal Party declared himself a feminist. During the 1990s feminism, with its strong humanistic message, implanted itself into Swedish consciousness, and most of the country’s political leaders advocated some form of feminism. The leader of the Left Party and successful feminist spokeswoman, went so far as to say in her address to the party congress in 2002 that she detected a Taliban in every Swedish man. A growing number of Swedes do, however, seem to think that her version of feminism is losing contact with reality The phenomenon of losing touch is fundamental to an understanding of the dynamics of values.

Theory: Value Changes

Values swing between extremes. Nothing ever reverts to “normal.” Every balancing point between the extremes occupies a new and unique position. An individual’s values may mature and attain balance with age, but the climate of values in a society as a whole seldom seems to attain mature tranquility. Daniel Yankelovich has correctly observed that the climate of values stops developing at an adolescent level of emotional but exaggerated positions with abrupt switches between them. However, adults may learn from their experiences with extreme positions and in time abandon them and assume a more neutral stance or even embrace their opposites. The pattern is to lurch first and learn later, according to Yankelovich.

Diagram 2. The Phases of Values

If no historic events occur to disturb their course, the phases that values undergo have so-called immanent causes. Without external influences values swing because of factors that are built into the use of the expressions for the values. In their swift steps toward a consistent humanism the system of symbols they use loses contact with everyday realities. We then need other everyday priorities, and a more materialistic orientation gets a new chance. Swift steps back to an increasingly consistent materialism leads, in turn, to a loss of contact with human and non-material realities. The curve swings back to humanism, and so forth. In time, zealousness in expressions of value thus leads to its own defeat.

In addition to the immanent causes of value shifts there are almost always unique historic happenings and experiences that contribute to value changes. Some of these events color an entire society, others mostly a certain age group in society. Karl Mannheim (1952) argued that big historical events always put extra deep traces in the formative age group of 17-23 years old. The impact stays with them throughout adult life and gives a distinct value profile to the age cohort.

In the “roaring twenties” modernity, pragmatism, and materialism were joined. Its extremes led to some counter-movements of values that were characterized by traditionalism and faithfulness. These were consolidated by a great historic event. Many who experienced the deep Depression of the 1930s in capitalist countries found it hard to defend individualism in a liberal, capitalistic order. Many of them could easily embrace collectivism in the form of fascism or of socialism/communism. Fascism was, however, discredited by the Second World War, another unique historic event.

The post-war years and the 1950s were marked on the one hand by a victorious Soviet communism, which was a model to introduce a modernity with value firm in the form of “socialism in a country.” It attracted sympathizers in the West, at least as long as Stalin’s terror was ignored. On the other hand a majority in most Western countries came to believe in a kind of “collective liberalism.” (The term is derived from Edward Shils (1978); in the Nordic countries it covers social democracy and social liberalism.) It joined democracy to economic growth, full employment, a worship of science, and, not least, to a politically based social engineering that shaped various “reforms” in areas from education to pensions. For a short period when Dwight D Eisenhower was the president of the United States, and despite the Cold War, Western nations seemed to live in an idyll of modernity and pragmatism (Bell 1960, Tingsten 1966). The old ideological struggles faded away and the welfare era had begun. Colonies were liberated, and there was also hope for the Third World.

But there was another, dark, side of the coin. The war effort and the cold war had resulted in a world with a surplus of armaments. Atom bombs and biological weapons had made it incredibly cheap for a nation to kill and incredibly expensive to defend itself. The masses preferably suppressed the thought that peace is another name for a period between wars. “Make love, not war” became the lodestar of youth in the 1960s. It was a part of the growing emancipation from discipline and tradition in the West that is associated with the year 1968.

Emancipation did not only have to do with sexual morals. In the value climate of 1968 the church largely abdicated its former role, patriotism was regarded as a rather foolish virtue, learning was derided, populism was acclaimed. Hierarchies tumbled and equality was proclaimed to be the natural order of things. Dressing in jeans and addressing everyone by first name became common. The Vietnam War added a sizable portion of anti-Americanism to the cultural climate in the West. Marxism emerged from its ghetto and became respectable. Marxism and “critical social science” became synonymous and expressed values more steadfast than pragmatic.

In the aftermath of the youth revolution of 1968 the environmental movement surged forward. Then came the feminist movement and, later, the animal rights movement. All this represented an openness toward the new, and the new was value constancy. It represented a different kind of progress than the notorious growth of GNP.

Under Reagan and Thatcher collective liberalism was undermined, and particularly its fondness for political control of the various parts of society. Liberated market forces created great wealth in the West. Individuals in the Eastern bloc who hungered for freedom and consumption dismantled the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union fell. The old brand of liberalism that centered on the individual hade returned and was called neoliberalism. It was pragmatic and materialistic.

People in the former colonies had streamed into the cities of the former European colonial powers. Local and civil wars after World War II swelled these streams with refugees. European nations were somewhat startled to discover that they had become multicultural, just as the US and Canada, but without the cohesive national ideologies of these countries. The stage was set for the emergence of hostility to foreigners, one of the ingredients in a new fascism. Traditional values surfaced.

In the 80s and 90s the decisive events for each Western generation of youths after 1968 were many and they harbored many interpretations. Generation X was formed by AIDS and Chernobyl and assumed a retiring, ironical stance with clear elements of humanism. Generation Y learned to live with cellular phones and Internet and developed a proud self-realization and materialistic pragmatism in concordance with the return of individualism that Thatcher and Reagan had introduced earlier. None of the experiences of these generations were as profound as those imprinted by the Depression and the Vietnam War, which were so overwhelming for those who lived through them that they still resound in the thinking of their children.

Whether the terror attacks of September 11th  2001 will instigate a new swing in the climate of values is still an open question.. Here is a unique event that may put its mark on the generation that now is in its most impressionable age. The cost effectiveness is startling of suicide bombings against civilian targets (such as restaurants or shopping centers in Israel) or culturally symbolic targets (such as World Trade Center in New York). Such bombings provoke counter-reactions at exceptionally asymmetric effort and expense. The result may be new raw power to aggressors with traditional values, and maybe a rallying of their targeted victims to make it a crime against humanity to organize and finance suicide bombings of civilian targets. If the latter were written into international law, it would be recorded as an addition to the humanistic values of mankind.

It has often been noted that older people frequently have more traditional values than younger people. When older generations die the balance between tradition and modernity in society’s climate of opinion changes in favor of modernity. It is always important to study values in age groups, and to follow these over time in so-called cohort analyses. Research on values has had a predilection for studies of the values of generations of youths, but there have been few follow-up studies of these values as these cohorts age.

Before a generation dies, it has the chance to transmit some of its values to its children. The generation that went out on strikes and large-scale demonstrations during the Depression years of the 30s fostered the protest-wise children who made themselves heard in 1968. It is now time for the children of the ’68-generation to give their version of protest. The emergent Generation Z is more protest-hungry and protest-wise than the X and Y generations. The rapid expansion of globalization is their main target.

The First Methodological Approach: Nine Value Groups

In order to proceed from insightful speculations to a hard science about values we must continuously and systematically measure values and position each interviewed person in our value space. Our first approach will be an analysis placing the persons in predefined value groups.

Diagram 3. A Forrest of 1,000 Persons in The Value Space, Color-coded by Their Nearest Corner

A ”pin” in the diagram represents each person interviewed. Tall pins signify humanistic values. Short pins signify materialistic values. Pins that are placed to the south signify traditional values, pins placed to the north signify an openness for modern values. In the west we find pins signifying people with firm values, and in the east those signifying people with flexible values. Our diagrams are called “distance matrixes.” The more alike people are in the values they hold, the closer to one another the pins that signify them in the value space. In order to differentiate groups of people with different values we have rendered them in different colors, as determined by the corner of the value space nearest to them. Those located in the middle of the space are just about equidistant from all the corners, and form their own group, the “Centerites”, a minority who exhibit the most common values on the coordinates of the value space. We obtain thereby our nine value groups, eight in the corners and one in the middle.

We can now name the groups and ascribe them characteristics, and record their changing sizes. The names may sometimes be misleading, and the characteristics can easily become caricatures that are tied to a specific time and place. The important thing is that the groups represent binary combinations of our three general values, tradition-modernity, faithfulness-pragmatism, and materialism-humanism. Table 4 tells their changing size since 1990.

Tabell 4. Value groups and their changing size in Sweden in four election periods.



Tradition Faithfulness Materialism

Tradition Faithfulness Humanism

Tradition Pragmatism Materialism

Tradition Pragmatism Humanism

Modernity Faithfulness Materialism

Modernity Faithfulness Humanism

Modernity Pragmatism Materialism

Modernity Pragmatism Humanism





Conven-tional Joiners”

“New Advoc-ates”

“Seeking Zealots”








































Let us look at each group separately and sketch its characteristics as we got to know them in Sweden in the 1990s.

Diagram 4. The Upright: Tradition, Faithfulness, Materialism

The Upright are proponents of order and of the (patriarchal) family; their heart lies in material assets. They are loyal to their group (for example, a union), and to the institutions of their hometown. They want to pay their own way, and have an old-fashioned attitude toward money. They want law enforcement to be hard on crime.

As seen in Table 4 the group of the Upright declined in size during the 1990s.

Diagram 5. The Homebodies: Tradition, Faithfulness, Humanism


Family and close friends are dearer to the Homebodies (or “Folks”) than material possessions. They want to take care of one another. It’s hard to beat their home cooking and their spirit of togetherness on holidays. Like their neighbors, the Upright, they favor order, honor, a staunch sense of morals, and are fearful of crime.

The proportion of Homebodies in the electorate increased during the deep recession of the early 1990s (Table 4).

Diagram 6. The Matter-of-Fact: Tradition, Pragmatism, Materialism

The Matter-of-Fact seek practical or technical solutions on an ad hoc basis, not solutions that are decided once and for all. They enjoy their sports, their gadgets, their cars, homes, and the hip entertainment they have on their VHRs or DVDs. Like family ties, this signifies their group membership.

The proportion of the Matter-of-Fact in the electorate in the four terms of office we study remained rather stable (Table 4).

Diagram 7. The Conventional Joiners: Tradition, Pragmatism, Humanism

The Conventional Joiners like to be with others, particularly others with social skills. Group membership is more indicative of their identity than their material possessions. Friends and co-workers are important to them, as are also relatives and childhood bonds.

The numbers of Conventional Joiners increased markedly in the mid 1990s (Table 4).

Diagram 8. The New Advocates: Modernity, Faithfulness, Materialism

The New Advocates are modern cousins of the Upright. They like to lead comfortable lives, but lives with an idealistic content. They are quickly convinced of the superiority of their opinions and want to shape society in accordance with them. They readily express their social conscience on issues such as the environment or the Third World. Many believe in progress.

The New Advocates have dwindled in number during the ‘90s (Table 4).

Diagram 9. The Seeking Zealots: Modernity, Faithfulness, Humanism

The Seeking Zealots wish to know themselves and others on a deeper level. They question tradition, hierarchies, and authorities. Their modernity lies not in an interest in a high standard of living or in technology, but in their passion for the future of the planet, for equality, for the rights of minorities, for animal rights.

The number of Seeking Zealots has declined during the ‘90s (Table 4).

It should be noted that the Seeking Zealots, and often the New Advocates, often are a wellspring of new opinions in society. They give these opinions their first, dramatic formulations, which are then spread to other groups in watered-down form. A public opinion researcher who wishes to identify future opinions at an early stage would do well to listen carefully to group discussions with Seeking Zealots.

Diagram 10. Daredevils: Modernity, Pragmatism, Materialism

Daredevils are often bold entrepreneurs who like business and innovations, including political and artistic innovations that may extend to pop art. They seem unruffled by the complexities of life. When something no longer generates a profit or seems useful, Daredevils easily tire of the project and go on to something newer.

The proportion of Daredevils in the electorate has not changed significantly during the four terms of office we study (Table 4).

Diagram 11. Minglers: Modernity, Pragmatism, Humanism

Minglers know which activities and fashions are on trend. They dislike formal rules and love flexible, informal networks. They like making contacts, including international ones. Unlike their cousins the Daredevils, they are not pronounced materialists.

The group of Minglers grew during the ‘90s (Table 4).

It is noteworthy that because of a serious mistake in market research the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson was long unaware of the significant increase in the numbers of Conventional Joiners and Minglers. These two relatively young groups embraced the cellular phone and turned it into a product that expressed a lifestyle. Ericsson’s competitor, Finnish Nokia, understood that lifestyle and expressed it in the slogan “Connecting People.” Ericsson’s slogan, on the other hand, was “Make Yourself Heard,” which was most suited to Daredevils and New Advocates, group of stagnant or declining size. Nokia’s better understanding of the value climate may have been facilitated by the presence of a larger group of Minglers, 14.4 percent, in the Finnish population.

“Make yourself heard” is also a tenant of participatory democracy. This type of democracy has become the official ideal in Sweden and spelled out by a Commission on Democracy (Göransson et al. 2000). The promoters of participatory democracy are likely to forget that many people, particularly among Minglers and Homebodies, prefer sociability without political content. In my view it is problematic to design a democratic order that discriminates some value groups.

Diagram 12. The Centerites

The Centerites are a minority who lie close to the average in all values. They constitute the group that is most difficult to characterize, but they can be a useful target group. Centerites are found within a sphere defined by the expression:


0.75 <= (tradition_modernity)2  + (faithfulness_instrumentality)2  + (materialism_humanism)2



With the factor 0.75 the share of Centerites of the total population becomes about 10 per cent, somewhat higher if the dispersion has become smaller than in the reference survey and somewhat lower if the dispersion has become higher.

Value Groups and Political Cleavages

Lipset and Rokkan (1967) showed more systematically than others how political parties were anchored in the demographics of democratic states, especially in class differences, but also in regional differences, urban-rural divisions, ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences. Inglehart (1990) found that in advanced industrial societies many new political ideas, movements, and parties are also anchored in valuegraphics, above all in postmaterialist values. He also noted a considerable correlation between demographics, particularly occupations, and valuegraphics.

Both demographics and valuegraphics contribute their special insights to explanations of the differences between the voters for political parties and for shifts in party programs. One could say that both Marx and Hegel were right, though in different proportions at different points in time and place.

The relatively slow shifts in values that we have demonstrated – the growth of pragmatism and humanism – are probably not as slow as most demographic changes, such as, for example, the changes in the age structure of society toward an older population and the change in class structure toward a larger middle class. Our hypothesis is that valuegraphics better explain political changes in a medium term time perspective while demographics better explain changes in a long-term time perspective. The short-term swings in party allegiances that published polls proclaim are, of course, mostly due to topical political events.

The Over- and Under-Representation of Political Parties in Value Groups

The Swedish Parties

At stake in the Swedish elections in the period under study was the manning of a truly Big Government, albeit in a small state. The winners would control over half of the GNP, and indirectly much of the remaining economy. Together, the central and local governments in Sweden employ about as many people as the entire private sector.

When our value measurements began in 1990, the dominant party, the Social Democrats – designated (s) – had held the premiership since 1932, with the exception of two months in the 1930s and eight years in the 1970s. For most of this long period of time the Social Democrats have been short of an absolute majority in the Parliament. With the help of the Communist Party, called the Left Party (v) after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Social Democrats have organized their own rule without ever admitting the Left Party into the Cabinet.

Nonsocialist interests are split into four loosely aligned parties: the Moderates (m), The Liberals (fp), the former Agrarian Party now called the Center Party (c), and the Christian Democrats (kds). A populist party, New Democracy (nyd), was represented in the Parliament 1992-95. An ecological party, the Greens (mp) entered the Parliament in 1988, was voted out 1991-94, and back in 1994. The Constitution (with some exception) excludes minor parties that receive less than four percent of the national vote from the Parliament. The Moderate Party is a remolded conservative party supported mainly by the commercial middle classes with an ideology of neoliberalism. The Center Party is a renamed Agrarian Party.

As a background to our analysis Table 5 shows the popular vote to the four parliaments sitting during our period of study.

Table 5. Party Votes in Elections 1988-1998 and in Polls in the Spring of 2002




































































*Average of Sifo and TEMO polls April 2002


The Social Democrats captured the premiership in all the above elections except in 1992 when a non-socialist government took office for three years.

The value groups we have defined can be used in analyses of surveys in the same way as demographic categories. Here we shall but illustrate that party standing can be tabulated just as easily in value groups as in groupings according to education, occupation, area of residence, age, and sex. For example, Table 7 profiles Sweden’s political parties according to value groups at the beginning and end of the period under discussion.

The Representation of Political Parties in Value Groups

Sweden’s political parties profile not only the usual differences in respect to the labor market, the private and public sectors, urban and rural areas, etc. but also differences in values. Table 6 is based on a compilation of data from a decade and shows the average over- and under-representation of political parties in the value groups. We use Target Group Index, a measurement, which is derived from market research, to study the representation of political parties in our value groups.

Table 6. Target Group Index* for The Parties 1990-2000





Conven-tional Joiners

New Advoc-ates

Seeking Zealots










































































*A target group index shows under-representation if it is less than 100 and over-representation if it is higher than 100. The formula for calculating the index is:


                           Percentage in The Target Group

           Index = –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––X 100

                           Percentage in the whole population


An index of 85 means that the group lies 15 percent under the figure for the whole population in respect to a certain attribute. An index of 115 means that the target group value is 15 percent higher than that in the whole population.


During the decade the Center Party has been markedly over-represented among the Upright. The Social Democrats have also been over-represented in this group, though to a lesser extent. The Moderates, Liberals, and the Left Party have clearly been under-represented.

During the 1990s the Christian Democrats were markedly over-represented among the Homebodies. Both parties that had ecology as a central part of their platform, that is, the Center and Green parties, were over-represented. As was the case for the Upright, the Moderates, Liberals, and the Left Party were under-represented.

The Moderates were over-represented among the Matter-of-Fact, while the Christian Democrats and the Green Party were under-represented during the decade.

The Left Party was over-represented among the Conventional Joiners during the 1990s. Moderates and Christian Democrats were under-represented.

The Liberals were well represented among the New Advocates in the 1990s, but the Green and Center parties were also amply represented in this group. The Left Party was under-represented.

During the 1990s the Green Party has been markedly over-represented in the group Seeking Zealots. The Christian Democrats and Liberals were also well represented in this group, while the Moderates were under-represented.

The Moderates were markedly over-represented among the Daredevils during the decade. The Center Party and the Christian Democrats were the most under-represented parties in this group.

Among the Minglers the Left Party and the Liberals were clearly over-represented during the 1990s. The Moderates were slightly over-represented. The Center Party and the Christian Democrats were under-represented.

The most successful parties of the decade, the Christian Democrats and the Left Party, are both over-represented among Centerites.

Table 7. Percentages of Different Value Groups in Sweden’s Political Parties 1990-91 and 2000-01





Conven-tional Joiners

New Advoc-ates

Seeking Zealots





























































































































































At the beginning of the period the Social Democrats were the largest party in all value groups in Sweden except among the Daredevils, who composed the core of the Moderate Party. After the turn of the century the Social Democrats have laid claim also to the largest proportion of Daredevils. This is partly a result of the party’s increasing strength in Stockholm during 2001; many Daredevils live in the city.

The Swedish Social Democrats are in many ways remarkably robust in European politics. We can add one more remarkable fact. Prime Minister Göran Persson’s Social Democracy has become a Jack of all values.

In 1990 and 1991 the Moderates were the largest nonsocialist party in all value groups. The same is true ten years later, with the exception of the Homebodies, among whom the Christian Democrats have become the largest nonsocialist party.

The Social Democrats and the Moderates clearly vie for supremacy among the Matter-of-Fact and the Daredevils. The other parties are weak among these groups, and none had more than 10 percent, neither in 1990-91 nor in 2000-01. Swedish election campaigns are usually designed as if the electorate were composed of only Daredevils and the Matter- of- Fact.

As we saw earlier, the Conventional Joiners and the Minglers are the value groups that are gaining most among the electorate. The Left Party has won many adherents among them: in 200-01 they won 15.7 and 20.6 percent respectively; in 1990-92 these figures had been 9 and 8 percent. During the 1990s the New Advocates were a diminishing group. The Liberals had 11 percent in this value group in the period 2000-01. This represents a loss of 16 percentages compared with the figure a decade earlier, but it is still a high figure compared with the party’s 4 to 5 percent among the electorate as a whole.

The Second Approach: Points of Gravity in The Value Space

An exercise

So far we have made our analysis using fixed value groups. Now let us turn to a second approach using value gravity points for any grouping of the population. First, a pedagogical exercise.

In Diagram 13 we have color coded 1,000 persons interviewed in 1990 and a different 1,000 persons interviewed in the year 2000.

Diagram 13. Forests of 1,000 Persons in The Value Space 1990 and 2000



A careful visual inspection of the two diagrams reveals the change in the value climate that we have reviewed: more pragmatic and humanistic pins in 2000 than in 1990. However, when you have many interviews it is hard to see the different trees for the forest. To see differences in the pictures from 1990 and the year 2000 we need to use more concise measurements.

In order to clarify such differences we calculate the gravity points in the forests, that is, the arithmetic averages of the measurements on the three axes. The averages are also marked with pins in the value space. Diagram 14 shows these averages for the electorates in 1990 and 2000. Note that the scale on the axes has now been changed so that the difference in averages becomes more clear.

Diagram 14. Gravity Points in the Value Space of The Electorate in 1990 and 2000.

We see again the dramatic and consistent difference of a more pragmatic and humanistic electorate in 2000 than in 1990. The pin for the gravity point is moved to the right and becomes taller. So far our second approach does not tell us more than that which we learned from the first approach. The first approach required many figures, bar graphs, and tables. The second used one single simple diagram. Thus ends our pedagogical exercise.

The Values of the Electorate during Different Governments

Ups and downs, swings and straightaways in values must be studied separately. Sorokin suggested that the first phase of a swing in values is the most turbulent and merits special attention. However, we shall first consider a straightaway (Type A in Diagram 2 of value phases) when value changes follow the same direction. This has, by en large, been the case 1992-2000. We shall at the end of the paper briefly mention two swings in the curve (Types D and B in the Diagram 2) when values change direction, namely 1990-91 when the protest party New Democracy entered the scene and today’s situation, that is, 2001+ when we are in danger of finding new fascism in some form on the scene.

We divide the same time span of our study into terms of office. In Diagram 15 the full terms of office during the ‘90s are marked with pyramids; the current term (which began in 1998 and ends in 2002) is marked with a circle as is the election period 1988-91 to signal that we do not have data for all years of the periods, neither for 1988-89, nor for 2002. The last interviews show a sharp turn of the curve.

Diagram 15. Points of Gravity of the Electoral Terms of Office since 1990

During the Social Democratic term of office 1988-1991 that largely coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath, voters were more open to innovation than they would subsequently be in the 1990s. The Moderate-lead government of 1991-94 preached pragmatism of the neoliberal variety and was thereby in accord with the temper of the voters themselves. But the electorate grew even more pragmatic. When the Social Democrats returned to power 1994-98 the rhetoric of neoliberalism disappeared from the language of the Administration. Pragmatism, however, continued to grow among the electorate. Humanism also grew ever stronger despite cutbacks in welfare programs. The trends toward humanism and pragmatism culminated at the time of the millennium celebrations.

A backlash followed the excesses of the turn of the century. In November-December of 2001 there was, as shown, a large-scale rejection of pragmatism and materialistic attitudes. Interviews from this time also suggest a reversal from the openness toward the new and modern that was manifest at the turn of the century. But one single survey does not suffice to definitely determine a trend break. We should wait for additional measurements before we can confirm this sharp swing in the curve.

A Summary of Value Trends Since 1990

We may now summarize the straightaway of values and its possible reversal after the turn of the century. Since 1990s Swedish voters have shown –

·         An increasingly practical-pragmatic attitude unhampered by dogma. However, a reversal of this trend in 2001 intimates that ideology can became more important.

·         Increased consideration is given to human (especially women’s) conditions and communities. This trend toward humanism seems to become saturated and stagnate, and may reverse in the early part of the century.

·         Except for echoes after the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’89 and the short euphoria of the millennium, we find no increase in openness toward that which is new or cosmopolitan. Neither do we detect an increase in traditionalism or in Swedish nationalism. Our unexpected finding is that the IT revolution did not lead to a systematic movement toward modernity.

Our two major modes of value analysis – the first approach using fixed value groups and the second approach using value gravity points – both support these conclusions. Perhaps the second approached brings the trends out more readily to the researcher. On the other hand, the first approach brings out the great overlap between value positions that mark any group of people. We saw, for example, that one party, the Social Democrats, had achieved a dominant position in all value groups.

The Voters Since 1990 during The Straightaways of The Value Trends

In the previous section when we studied the entire electorate we divided the 1990s into election periods. Turning now to a study of the various political parties and their grass root values we do not always have sufficient number of interviews to analyze the many small parties in Sweden in each electoral periods. We divide instead the time period into only two halves and have enough interviews to account also for the smaller parties.

Changes in The Gravity Points of Party Adherents 1990-2000

Let us study the changes in the gravity points of the parties by comparing the first and second halves of the 1990s. This will give us enough interviews to evaluate the minor parties as well. We will begin with the nonsocialist parties.

Diagram 16. Changes in the Gravity Points of Values between 1990 and 2000 for the Center Party (♣), Christian Democrats (╬), the Liberal Party (► ), and the Moderates(♦)


Like the Left Party and the Green Party, the Christian Democrats have gained increasing numbers of followers with pragmatic values. But the Christian Democrats hold the record in changes made in their basic value platform. Formerly they were the party that was most steadfast in its values. (So steadfast that we had to change the scale in order to include it in our diagram.) They are now more pragmatic than the Liberals were when they participated in the Non-socialist government 1991-94. The fundamentalism of the evangelical churches in Sweden (which resemble the religious right in the US) no longer presented a model to follow. The party leadership instead found their model in the Christian Democratic parties on the Continent which recruited both Catholics and Protestants to secularized policies and opposition to socialism. The party’s members appear to have dim notions about their fellow parties on the Continent, but our data show that they clearly have a more humanistic profile than Sweden’s Moderates. Like the adherents of the Left and Green parties, the Christian Democrats in Sweden now have more open and modern values than the average Social Democrats.

During the entire decade of the ‘90s the Moderates have had their gravity point in a corner of the value space that signifies pronounced modernity, pronounced pragmatism, and pronounced materialism. After their term of office between 1991 and 1994 they have followed the spirit of the times toward greater pragmatism, but not with the same giant steps as the Christian Democrats. Nor have they been completely unaffected by the general trend toward increased humanism, but, like the Social Democrats and the Center Party, the Moderates remain a party that is primarily supported with people who have values of material success.

The Liberal Party mirrors the positioning of the Moderates in the value space, but with a tendency toward more steadfastness in values and, above all, more humanism. On an average the party’s adherents stick to the modern half of the field, but showed no consistent movement in the value space during the ‘90s; they have moved both forward and backward between the two points on the diagram. During a few years (1994-98) they occupied almost the same gravity point in the value space as the Moderates did, but they have subsequently exhibited a more value-faithful and humanistic stance.

During the terms of office in the ‘90s the Center Party first allied itself with the right, then with the left, then sought what it called “the center kingdom.” The party has, however, had approximately the same address in the value space. Its adherents support tradition, have firm values, and are materialists. This is not the center kingdom in the value space; it is rather the most out-of-date and marginal position. The party’s adherents have been less affected by the spirit of the times than the rest of the electorate.

Our picture of the parties that have been grouped to the left reveals changes in the points of gravity in the value space, as shown in Diagram 17.

Diagram 17. Changes in the Gravity Points of Values between 1990 and 2000 for the Green Party (▲), the Left Party (*), and the Social Democratic Party (□)

During the post-war years the core of the Left Party’s leadership and followers held materialistic values colored by a firm fundamentalist shade of Marx’s historical materialism. Those who voted for the party were, however, less steadfast in their values when our measurements began in 1990. With a woman as party leader in 1993, the party attracted a large number of more pragmatic voters and, above all, voters who put a priority on personal relations rather than materialism. Most of the party’s followers were more pragmatic and modern than the followers of the Social Democrats. They had markedly more humanistic values than the Social Democrats.

The Green Party has never put a priority on the standard of living with many material possessions and a high energy consumption. It has been throughout a clearly humanistic party, at approximately the same high level of this value that the Left Party was able to reach. The outstanding change among the followers of the Green Party has been a decrease in fundamentalists with uncompromising values and an increase in realists with a more flexible, pragmatic stance. The party leadership could therefore, without too much criticism from its rank and file, use the parliament as an area for negotiations rather than as just a scene for the dramatization of its values.

Adherents of the Social Democrats have not abandoned the traditional field, nor have they left the material field to any significant extent. But they became much more pragmatic and less ideological in practice. They were thus easier to manage for the party leadership and the government during the late ‘90s.

Party Success and Keeping Abreast of The Zeitgeist

Using the formulas of the space geometry we can calculate the distance between different points of gravity in the value diagrams. The magnitude of the shifts in the points of gravity in Diagrams 16 and 17 can then be related to the electoral successes and setbacks of the parties during the 1990s as reported in Table 5.

The Christian Democrats have had the largest change in points of gravity among their grassroots and they also show the greatest success in the elections. The Center party has had the smallest change in value gravity among their supporters and shows a series of electoral defeats. Such findings are suggestive. However, there are no hard and fast rules in the relations between electoral success and value change. The direction of change is as important as its magnitude. And, as is well known, the outcomes of elections depend on many other factors than keeping abreast of value changes.

The Representation of Values in Political Parties

During 1988-91 the Swedish government rested on a base that had been tried and true since the 1930s, that is a Social Democratic minority government confident that the Communists and their like would never bring about its fall. At the time our first interviews were conducted 1990-91 the left was reorienting itself after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

Diagram 18. 1988-91: The Basis of the Social Democratic Government. Gravity Points among Supporting Parties

Clear indications of humanism and pragmatism emerge among supporters of the Left Party as early as 1990-91. The Social Democrats at that time had their point of gravity among traditional materialists.

During the period 1991-94 the Liberal Party, the Christian Democrats and the Center party governed under the leadership of the Moderates. They had necessary but instable support from the protest party New Democracy. Diagram 18 shows that this government had a very broad representation of the alternatives in the value space. Note that the scale has been extended from 0.5 to 0.7 in order to encompass the extreme steadfastness of values held by the Christian Democrats at this time.

Diagram 19. 1991-94: The Basis of the Non-socialist Government. Points of Gravity among Supporting Parties

Toward the end of this period the leader of the Center Party left the government because of controversies over the building of the bridge over Öresund, connecting Denmark and Sweden, but the Party itself remained within the government. During this time Swedish politics were obviously influenced by the successes enjoyed by Thatcher’s and Reagan’s market liberalism and the collapse of the Soviet system.

A serious banking crisis detonated during this term of office. With one exception, all Swedish banks had borrowed excessively from foreign banks, mostly in order to finance customers who speculated in real estate. Foreign banks reacted by restricting loans to Swedish banks.

With the exception of New Democracy, the parties that formed the parliamentary basis for the Non-socialist period of office participated in the government through departments that corresponded to their main issues. The Liberals handled social policies, the Center Party handled environmental questions, the Christian Democrats handled aid to underdeveloped nations. The Moderates themselves handled defense and shared fiscal matters with the Liberals. In a pragmatic climate of values this is a more satisfactory arrangement for smaller parties than to act as negotiating supporting parties without cabinet posts, as has been the case in Persson’s Social Democratic minority governments.

During the term of office 1994-98 the Social Democrats, supported by the Left Party and with the aid of the Center Party, handled fiscal questions, which were of highest priority at the time. The basis of the government represented in the main the man on the street and his bread-and-butter issues, a traditional and materialistic segment of the total value space. The Left Party was the only party with a point of gravity outside of this segment, but its influence did, in fact, die out as early as the first week of the term of office when Parliament had agreed upon the new Social Democratic premier.

Diagram 20. 1994-98: Göran Persson’s First Social Democrat Cabinet. Points of Gravity among Supporting Parties

A budget crisis exploded during the first term of office. This time it was the state that had borrowed excessively in foreign banks. The crisis was resolved as Persson restored state finances to a sound basis, but in the process a number of sacred cows were slaughtered. This was, however, in agreement with the values of the electorate, which, as we have seen, had taken a big step in the direction of pragmatism. As shown in Diagram 20, the point of gravity among followers of the Social Democratic and Center parties – which constituted the parliamentary base for Persson’s fiscal policies during his first term of office – stayed on the traditional side of the field. At this time the Left Party had no formal say on the budget or government policy.

During the present term, 1998-2002, the Social Democrats have represented more of a minority government than at any time since the 1920s. They have, however, been aided by the Left and Green parties on budget issues. Furthermore, during the larger part of the term of office, voters have continued to become even somewhat more pragmatic. Above all, they are now becoming less materialistic and more inclined to give priority to human relations and fellowship.

Diagram 21. 1998-2001: Göran Persson’s Second Social Democrat Cabinet. Points of Gravity among Supporting Parties

The voters for the parties that composed the parliamentary basis for Persson’s second term, that is, the Social Democrats, the Left and Green parties, represent a larger spread in the value space than in Persson’s first term. The point of gravity of Social Democratic voters now lies on the pragmatic half of the field. The Left Party has real influence now and does not play just a supporting role as it did in the constitution of the cabinet in Perssson’s first term. Both the supporting parties, the Left and Green parties, lie on the humanistic half of the field. Through persistent cooperation with these parties the Swedish Social Democrats – unlike their Norwegian counterpart – have avoided the setback that resulted from a decline in values that focus on the narrow bread-and-butter issues of materialism.

The Problems of Value Representation

In a democracy the government ought to have optimal representation among voters (the majority principle). As researchers of values we can also calculate how well a government is grounded in the different values in society. We have seen that Persson’s first term had the narrowest value basis and that the Non-socialist government 1991-94 had the broadest. The other governments of the ‘90s, the Social Democratic term between 1988 and 1991 and the present term, fall in between.

The questions of voter representation and value representation are brought to a head by the position of the Center Party in Swedish politics. From the point of view of values, the voters for this party represent a millstone in Swedish politics.

·         If the party participates in a Social Democratic government it curbs a socialistic version of the future.

·         If the party participates in a nonsocialist government it curbs a nonsocialist version of the future.

Our diagrams have consistently shown that the values of the grassroots of the Center Party are much closer to those of Social Democratic voters than they are to Moderate voters.

During the period 1988-2002 the Center Party has balanced on the dividing line of four percent of the electorate required for participation in the parliament. The prevailing values of today’s Sweden are poorly represented by these 4 percentages. However, this party, which is peripheral in terms of values, has had and may again have sizable influence over the country’s political future. An electoral system of the Swedish type cannot guarantee more than a very approximate representation of values in the execution of political decisions.

It is my conviction that a society needs elements of all the main values in the value space. Since these values have built-in opposites – tradition versus modernity, value faithfulness versus pragmatism, and materialism versus humanism – the challenge is to find a workable balance between them. Democracy is a system to cope with ever-present value conflicts. A modicum of value representation – not total and not overly narrow – may be in order for successful democratic governance.

Notes on Voters Since 1990 during Swings in Value Trends

1990-1991: New Democracy

The victory of the non-socialist parties in 1991 was supported by a wave of pragmatism in the spirit of Reagan and Thatcher that washed over the West. The Moderates were not, however, sufficiently flexible to capture the abrupt movement toward neoliberalism (See Diagram 15). A new party that called itself New Democracy attracted a significant number of the pioneers of the new values. In the 1991 election the party garnered 6.7 percent of the votes. Soon, however, the party came to embrace hostility to foreigners, a value that is in direct conflict with modernity. It dropped out of parliament after just one term.

Value research suggests that the first phase of a swing in values leads to the greatest turbulence in society. The straight-aways are calmer. The fate of New Democracy is an illustration of this proposition.

2001-: A New Fascism?

The finding of a value swing in 2001 toward greater value constancy and less humanism is still uncertain and needs confirmation through new measurements. The question is whether it will bed for political turbulence in the form of some variant of fascism. In the 1930s, the fascist reaction to the roaring twenties was (1) antiliberal, putting collective interests of nationality, race, and ethnicity over individual interests; (2) antiproletarian and antiplutocratic, honoring hard work and pushing for an aristocracy of achievement; (3) antidemocratic, taking public stands through action and demonstrations rather than through the ballot, in the belief that a brotherhood of corporate interests with faith and firmness of will was necessary to bring order out of chaos (Linz 1978). A development of this kind of fascism during the first decade of this century seems improbable.

In the 2000s, we note instead various reactions to the success of capitalism: (1) increased fear of all things global such as (a) free trade and the globalization of markets, (b) the inter-nationalization of political authority into EU, Nato, and even UN; (2) patriotic celebrations of own ethnicity and nationality coupled with hostility toward the multi-cultural society with increased antagonism to immigrants and foreigners; (3) anti-Americanism among rightists in several countries and among leftists in all countries; (4) romantic notions to improve democracy by violent action against the police and other authorities.

All this could form a breeding ground for a new kind of fascism. However, a neo-fascism will materialize only if traditionalism in the form of glorification of national traits and ethnic or religious roots also grows to a scale that rejects democratic constitutions. Up to now we have seen at the most but a modest increase in traditionalism on the Swedish scene.

The success of parties in Denmark that made pronouncements during the election campaign of 2001 that were hostile to foreigners shows what can happen in Sweden in such a climate of values. This is not a prediction, but a warning.


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