Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Norwegian Storting
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

Norway held a parliamentary election on Monday, September 9, 2013. Unlike most Western European legislatures, the Norwegian Parliament - the Storting - is elected for a fixed, four-year term of office. A description of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the Storting is presented here.

In addition, national- and county-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Storting elections:

      September 9, 2013      
      September 14, 2009      
      September 12, 2005      
      September 10, 2001      
      September 15, 1997      
      September 13, 1993      
      September 11, 1989      
      September 9, 1985      

The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development's Election Portal has detailed 2013 election results here (in Norwegian) as well as full 2009 election results (also in Norwegian); all other election statistics presented in this space come from reports issued by Statistics Norway.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Kingdom of Norway, the Storting, is composed of 169 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a fixed term of four years. Although elected as an unicameral legislature, the Storting subsequently nominates from among its members one-quarter to constitute the Lagting, with the remaining three-quarters forming the Odelsting.

Members of the Storting are elected by a two-tier proportional representation (PR) system. Since 2005, a total of 150 seats are filled in nineteen multi-member electoral constituencies - Norway's counties, including the municipal authority of Oslo, which is a county in its own right. Constituency seats, which are allocated among the counties in proportion to the size of their populations and geographical areas, are distributed according to the modified Sainte-Laguë method of PR. In addition, each multi-member constituency is allocated one at-large seat, for a total of nineteen seats. Voters cast a ballot for a constituency party list, and may modify the order of candidates on the list.

Storting seats are apportioned on a nationwide basis among political parties in the same manner as constituency seats, namely by the modified Sainte-Laguë method. However, in order to participate in the distribution of at-large seats at the national level, a party must obtain at least four percent of all valid votes cast. If the number of seats awarded to a party on a nationwide basis is smaller than its total number of constituency seats, the constituency seats obtained by the party in question are subtracted from the total number of Storting seats, and a nationwide distribution of the remaining seats is carried out among the other qualifying parties. Note that this rule also applies to parties that have obtained constituency seats but polled fewer than four percent of the nationwide vote.

Storting mandates won by a party at the multi-member constituency level are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party, and the remaining mandates are filled from the at-large seats assigned to the counties, following a complex procedure designed to insure that these seats are allocated in all constituencies without changing the nationwide distribution of mandates.

At-large mandates were introduced in 1989 in order to attain a greater degree of proportionality in the overall distribution of Storting seats among party lists. However, from 1989 to 2001 there were only eight at-large seats (out of 165), and these were not initially allocated to the constituencies.

Allocation of Seats in the 2005 Storting Election

The Political Parties

Norwegian party politics trace their origins to the establishment of parliamentary rule in 1884, an event which led to the foundation of Høyre and Venstre - literally "Right" and "Left", respectively, but known in English as the Conservatives and the Liberals. These two parties dominated Norwegian politics throughout the early decades of the 20th century, but in 1927 the socialist Norwegian Labour Party (DNA) became the largest single party in the Storting, and has remained so since then. In due course, Labour became the country's dominant political force: in 1935 the party formed a government by reaching a compromise with the Farmers' Party, which had enjoyed significant electoral support in the years after World War I.

In 1945, following the end of World War II - and of the five-year occupation of the country by Nazi Germany - Labour won an absolute majority of seats in the Storting and went on to rule Norway for the next two decades, retaining its absolute majority until 1961. Save for a few weeks in 1963 when a center-right government held power, Labour remained in office as a minority government until 1965, when the four right-of-center parties - Høyre, Venstre, the Center Party (before 1959 the Farmers' Party) and the Christian Democratic Party (Kristelig Folkeparti, literally translated as the Christian People's Party) - won a clear majority in the Storting and subsequently formed a coalition government.

Although the right-of-center parties narrowly prevailed in the 1969 Storting election, the coalition split in 1971 and Labour came back to power under a minority government. From that time up to 2005, Norway was ruled by a succession of minority governments (with one exception, as noted below), and Labour alternated in power with one or more of the center-right parties. In a 1972 referendum, Norwegian voters rejected a proposal to join the European Economic Community (EEC); the Labour government subsequently resigned and was succeeded by a minority centrist coalition administration. However, in 1973 the left-wing parties won an overall majority in the Storting and Labour returned to power.

In the election, two new political forces gained representation in the Storting: the right-wing, anti-tax Anders Lange's Party (subsequently renamed the Progress Party); and the leftist Socialist Association for the Election, an alliance of earlier Labour breakaway groups with the Communist Party. These eventually merged into the Socialist Left Party (minus the Communists, who pulled out at the last minute). Meanwhile, Venstre suffered a damaging split over the issue of Norway's entry into the EEC; by 1985 it lost its by then much-reduced parliamentary representation.

Labour remained in power until 1981 under a succession of prime ministers, including the party's first female leader and Norway's first female head of government, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. However, in the 1981 election, the center-right parties secured an absolute majority in the Storting, and Conservative Kåre Willoch formed a minority government supported by the Christian Democrats and the Center Party; in 1983, the centrist parties were given representation in the Cabinet, and Willoch's administration became a coalition government (and Norway's only majority government between 1971 and 2005).

In 1985, Willoch became the first Conservative in the 20th century to win re-election in Norway, but his victory proved to be not only narrow - the center-right parties won a lead of just one seat over the combined forces of Labour and the Socialist Left Party - but short-lived as well: the Progress Party, which won only two seats but held the balance of power in the Storting, brought down the government the following year when it joined the left-wing parties to defeat a proposed gasoline tax increase. As a result, the Cabinet resigned and was replaced by a minority Labour government headed by Dr. Brundtland, noted for its record proportion of female Cabinet members (eight out of eighteen).

Gro Harlem Brundtland's second government remained in power until 1989, when Labour suffered substantial losses in the Storting elections held that year. Both the Progress Party and the Socialist Left Party scored significant gains in terms of votes and seats (the latter augmented by the introduction of at-large mandates, which resulted in a more proportional distribution of Storting seats). Høyre had even heavier losses than Labour, but support for both the Christian Democrats and the Center Party remained stable. Labour and the Socialist Left Party held eighteen more seats than the three center-right parties combined, but the left-wing parties were short of an absolute majority, and Dr. Brundtland's government resigned shortly after the election. As it was, she would not remain out of power for long: after barely a year in office, a minority right-of-center coalition headed by Conservative leader Jan Syse collapsed over the issue of Norway's membership in the European Communities (EC); in late 1990 Dr. Brundtland formed her third minority Labour government.

Labour made slight gains in the 1993 Storting election, but the Center Party, running on a staunchly anti-European Union platform, scored its best result ever, winning more seats (but fewer votes) than Høyre, which polled one of its worst election results. The Progress Party lost considerable ground in the election (as did the Socialist Left Party to a lesser degree), but Venstre made a modest comeback and won representation in the Storting for the first time in twelve years. The outcome of the election allowed Dr. Brundtland's minority Labour administration to remain in power; the vote also highlighted the prominent role of women in Norwegian politics: Labour, the Center Party and the Conservatives were all led by women, and females won 65 of the 165 seats in the Storting.

In a 1994 referendum, Norwegian voters rejected membership in the European Union (EU) by a fairly narrow margin. The outcome was a stinging defeat for Dr. Brundtland, but she remained in power until late 1996, when she unexpectedly resigned as Prime Minister. Thorbjørn Jagland, who had been Labour Party chairman since 1992, succeeded her, but he resigned after the 1997 Storting election, in which Labour received slightly fewer votes and seats than in 1993; the Progress Party emerged from the vote as the second-largest party in the Storting. The Christian Democrats polled their best results ever, but Høyre fared even worse than in 1993 and the Center Party failed to hold on to its previous gains. In due course, Christian Democratic leader Kjell Magne Bondevik formed a minority centrist coalition administration composed of his party, the Center Party and Venstre, which obtained what was then its best result since the 1973 split.

Bondevik's government remained in power until it lost a parliamentary vote of confidence in 2000 over the immediate construction of Norway's first gas-fired power plants (which Bondevik and his backers sought to delay due to environmental concerns). Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party formed a minority government, but about a year-and-a-half later, Labour suffered a stunning defeat in the 2001 Storting election, polling its worst result since 1924, while the Socialist Left Party made significant gains and received its highest vote ever. Høyre improved significantly, while Venstre suffered a setback and the Christian Democrats fell back slightly. Shortly thereafter, Bondevik became Prime Minister once more, heading a minority center-right coalition government of Høyre, the Christian Democrats and Venstre.

Although Bondevik's second administration remained in power for the entire four-year term of office, his government was soundly defeated in the 2005 Storting election by the so-called Red-Green coalition of Labour, the Socialist Left Party and the Center Party, led by former Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. The coalition obtained an absolute majority (87 of 169 seats) in the Storting, and Stoltenberg - whose Labour Party scored a remarkable electoral recovery - became the first Prime Minister in almost two decades to lead a majority government. Meanwhile, the Progress Party emerged once again as the second-largest party in the Storting, securing its highest vote up to that point, while Høyre lost all of its previous gains, and the Christian Democrats polled their worst results since 1936. However, Venstre had its best result since 1973.

Prime Minister Stoltenberg's Red-Green coalition government was returned to office in the 2009 Storting election, albeit with a slightly reduced majority (86 of 169 seats). Among the opposition parties, both the Progress Party and Høyre scored slight gains - the former had its best parliamentary election showing ever - but the Christian Democrats polled an even worse result than in 2005, while Venstre fell just below the four percent nationwide threshold and lost all but two of its Storting seats.

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Copyright © 2005-2013 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: September 11, 2013.