As many as 42.5 percent of Swedes regard immigration as one of the most important questions of the election, a recent poll by Yougov has shown. By contrast, the environment, the EU and foreign policy have all been ranked farther below, the daily newspaper Metro reported.
This makes immigration the next important election topic in Swedes' eyes, second only to healthcare (47.5 percent).
"Historically, the labor market and the economy have been at the heart of the election process. We have not had such an election before," Johan Martinsson, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, told Metro.
The crime rate, school and elderly care ranked third to fifth, with 33.9, 26.1 and 22.9 percent respectively. The environment, a cordial matter for many Swedish left-wing parties, above all the Greens, only ranked seventh, followed by economic issues and taxes. Remarkably, the EU and foreign policy only ranked thirteenth and eighteenth.
Last week, the debate about immigration was fueled by a documentary by national broadcaster SVT called "Sentenced for Rape," which highlighted immigrant's drastic overrepresentation in this department. According to the data from the National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) featured in the film, 58 percent of the rapists over the five-year period up to 2016 were migrants. More than half of them were born outside Europe, particularly the Middle East or Africa. In cases where the rapist and the victim were unknown to each other, the percentage of non-Europeans jumped to 75 percent, with 40 percent of the rapists having lived in Sweden a year or less.
Conservative spokesman Tomas Tobé argued that talking about immigration issues has always been problematic in Sweden, citing a certain interest in keeping the debate under control.
Sweden Democrats parliamentary group leader Mattias Karlsson argued that the debate was only natural.
"In the past 20 years, Sweden has undergone a radical demographic change. Therefore, it is clearly important to have control over how it affects society, otherwise you won't know how to curb the problems that occur," Karlsson said.
Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson stressed that the entire concept of asylum, which he called outdated, is based on refugees seeking their way to the nearest country.
"This is something even Jesus did, he fled to the nearest country, not Sweden," Åkesson said during a recent debate, as quoted by the newspaper Dagen. "There are billions of people in the world living in extreme poverty and for whom you cannot but feel sorry, but everyone just cannot come to Sweden," he said, suggesting that his country should focus on helping people in the surrounding area.
Until recently, the Sweden Democrats had been Sweden's only party pushing for limiting immigration. Today, this narrative has permeated the right-of-center parties, most strikingly the newly founded Alternative for Sweden party, whose leaders openly advocate repatriating hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
With the ruling Social Democrats, who have been at Sweden's helm for most of the 20th century, heading toward an "election catastrophe" amid historically low support, the general election is expected to usher in power changes.