What Sunk the Pirate Party?

Sweden’s Pirate Party has failed to repeat its success in last year’s European elections in this month’s poll for Sweden’s own parliament. Its vote collapsed to roughly a sixth of its total last year, prompting debate on what caused the apparent huge drop in support.

Last summer the party — which campaigns for reforms of online freedom laws and intellectual property issues — picked up 225,915 votes in elections to the European Parliament. That was 7.13% of the total, enough to pick up one seat. (Both the Swedish and European parliaments use electoral systems where parties with a big enough share of the vote can earn a seat without having to win in a specific location.)

Had the party achieved the same percentage of the vote this time round, it would have won around a dozen seats in the Swedish Parliament. In reality it achieved 38,941 votes which, with a higher turnout, worked out at 0.65% and earning no representation.

There seem to be several reasons why the campaign lost steam:

  • I don’t know if this is the case in Sweden, but in the United Kingdom at least many voters treat European Parliament elections as an opportunity to register a protest vote for a minor party but, once national legislature elections come around, pick one of the major parties that might form a government, rather than “waste” a vote. (This shouldn’t be as much a factor in Sweden where the electoral system makes it easier for smaller parties to win representation.)
  • The type of issues the Pirate Party deals with weren’t considered a big deal in the context of a national election, and none of the other parties spent much time debating them. (That’s the theory of the party itself, with leader Rick Falkvinge giving TorrentFreak the beautiful analogy: “If the wind is not in your sails, the sweat on your brow will still not steer the ship.”)
  • Some of its most high-profile policies in this campaign weren’t particularly attractive to most voters. The main example of this would be the promise to host both WikiLeaks and the PirateBay on the Swedish Parliament’s computer network, thus getting the sites immunity from prosecutors.
  • The high level of votes last year may have simply been a case of momentum building, with enough people saying they would support the party that others considered it worth doing as well. That phenomenon appears not to have been repeated this year.