Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Danish Folketing
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

Denmark held an early parliamentary election on Thursday, June 18, 2015. An overview of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the unicameral Danish legislature, the Folketing, is presented here.

National-, regional- and district-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Folketing elections:

      June 18, 2015      
      September 15, 2011      
      November 13, 2007      
      February 8, 2005      
      November 20, 2001      
      March 11, 1998      
      September 21, 1994      
      December 12, 1990      

Nationwide results are also available here for the following Folketing elections:

      May 10, 1988      
      September 8, 1987      
      January 10, 1984      
      December 8, 1981      
      October 23, 1979      
      February 15, 1977      
      January 9, 1975      
      December 4, 1973      
      September 21, 1971      

The election statistics presented in this space come from official reports issued by the Danish Ministry of the Interior and Health and Statistics Denmark - which has detailed 2015 election results in Danish - well as election results published by the Danish Folketing. Voter turnout statistics for Folketing elections prior to 1988 were verified with the invaluable help of Dr. Jørgen Elklit of the University of Aarhus' Department of Political Science. Dr. Elklit is a well-known scholar on matters pertaining to electoral systems, both in his native Denmark as well as in other countries around the world.

May 22-25, 2014 European election results are available here. Statistics Denmark has detailed results in Danish of the 2014 European election in Denmark.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Kingdom of Denmark consists of a single chamber, the Folketing, composed of 179 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a maximum term of four years. A total of 175 members are chosen in metropolitan Denmark, while the Faroe Islands and Greenland elect two members each.

Members of the Folketing are elected by a two-tier, six-stage proportional representation (PR) system. A total of 135 seats are filled in multi-member electoral districts grouped into three electoral regions. Voters may cast a ballot for a district party list, or for a specific candidate. From 1970 to 2005, there were three regions - Copenhagen, the Islands and Jutland - and seventeen districts, in which seats were distributed according to the modified Sainte-Laguë method of PR. However, following a comprehensive local government reform, the existing electoral districts and regions were replaced in 2007 by ten multi-member constituencies, grouped into three new electoral regions: the Capital, Zealand and South Denmark, and Central and North Jutland. In addition, constituency or district seats are now distributed according to the d'Hondt or largest average method of PR.

Nonetheless, Folketing seats from metropolitan Denmark continue to be apportioned on a nationwide basis by the largest remainder method of PR among political parties that obtain at least one district seat, or a number of votes equal to or larger than the ratio of valid votes to district seats in at least two of the three electoral regions, or at least two percent of all valid votes cast at the national level.

Likewise, other aspects of the electoral system have remained unchanged. Thus, district mandates won by a party at the multi-member constituency level are subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party, and the remaining mandates are filled from forty supplementary or compensatory seats distributed among the three electoral regions. These additional mandates are subsequently allocated among parties and regions without changing the nationwide distribution of seats or the apportionment of additional seats among regions. Additional seats won by a party in a given region are then distributed among the party's multi-member district lists, and finally among its candidates, who are required by law to stand in at least one of 92 nomination districts (from 1970 to 2005, there were 103 such districts). In each multi-member constituency, a political party may have each of its list candidates stand in a single nomination district, or it may have its candidates run "in parallel" in all nomination districts within the constituency.

Candidates who stand in individual nomination districts receive all the votes cast for their party in their corresponding nomination district (where they appear at the top of the party list), in addition to the preferential votes they obtain across the entire constituency. Party seats are then allocated to candidates with the largest vote totals, unless the party has chosen the "party list" method, in whose case seats will be allocated to candidates in the order in which they appear on the party list. Nonetheless, the list ranking may be overriden if a candidate receives a number of votes equal to or larger than his party's Droop quota, calculated by dividing the number of votes cast for the party in the constituency by one more than the number of seats won, and then adding one to the result.

Meanwhile, candidates who stand in parallel run in every nomination district within a multi-member constituency (although they may not stand in more than one multi-member district). In each nomination district, votes cast for the party proper are distributed among candidates according to their number of preferential votes, and party seats are filled by candidates with the largest constituency vote totals. Nonetheless, parties may vary the order in which candidates running in parallel appear on the ballot in different nomination districts, thus implicitly nominating different candidates across nomination districts in a multi-member constituency.

Seats in the Faroe Islands and Greenland are apportioned separately, according to the largest average method of PR.

The Danish Folketing electoral system shares some similarities with the systems used in neighboring Norway and Sweden to choose members of their respective national legislatures, the Storting and the Riksdag. A more detailed description of the Danish system is available on The Parliamentary Electoral System in Denmark (in PDF format).

The Political Parties

Since the introduction of full PR in 1920, Denmark has developed a multi-party system, characterized at times by a fairly high degree of political fragmentation. Until 1973, there were four major parties: the left-of-center Social Democratic Party; the right-of-center Liberal Party of Denmark (known in Danish as Venstre; literally "Left"); the right-wing Conservative People's Party; and the centrist Social-Liberal Party (known in Danish as Det Radikale Venstre; literally "The Radical Left"), a 1905 offshoot of Venstre. There were also a number of smaller yet by no means insignificant parties: from 1960 onwards, the most prominent of these was the leftist Socialist People's Party, which almost completely eclipsed the Communist Party of Denmark, from which it had split after opposing the Soviet Union's violent suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

The Social Democrats were by far the dominant political force, although unlike in other Scandinavian countries, they never attained an absolute parliamentary majority. In fact, the proliferation of political parties with parliamentary representation sometimes made it difficult to form governments capable of commanding majority support in the Folketing. This task became considerably more complicated after the "earthquake" election of December 1973, in which the traditional parties lost considerable ground to a couple of new parties: the anti-tax Progress Party (which emerged as the second largest single party in the election with 15.9% of the vote and 28 seats) and the middle-of-the-road Center Democrats; the Christian People's Party, the Communists and the single-tax Justice Party (Retsforbund) also won seats in the Folketing, the latter two for the first time in thirteen years. Venstre, which formed a minority government with just 22 seats, polled strongly in an early Folketing election held in January 1975, but was unable to remain in power; the Social Democrats then formed a minority government, and went on to recover much of their previously lost electoral support in the 1977 and 1979 Folketing elections. Venstre failed to hold on to its 1975 gains, but the Progress Party's electoral following remained fairly stable, despite bizarre money-saving proposals put forward by party founder (and then-leader) Mogens Glistrup, such as replacing the country's defense forces with an answering machine saying "We surrender." Parliamentary fragmentation reached its highest levels ever - from 1973 to 1981 there were no fewer than ten parties from Denmark proper in the Folketing (between 1977 to 1979 there were eleven) - and minority governments, already a commonplace occurrence in Denmark before 1973, became the norm and have remained so since then, subsequent political realignments notwithstanding.

The Social Democratic Party suffered a setback in the 1981 Folketing election, and the following year a four-party center-right minority coalition government took office. The coalition - the country's first Conservative-led administration since 1901 - shrank to three parties in 1988, and to just two in 1990, but managed to remain in power until 1993, when it was forced out of office in the wake of an immigration scandal - the so-called Tamil affair. Then, the Social Democrats - who had come close to unseating the ruling center-right coalition in the 1990 Folketing election - formed a coalition government with the Social Liberals, the Center Democrats and the Christian People's Party, which (for a change) commanded a parliamentary majority until the 1994 Folketing election, when the Christian People's Party lost all of its seats, and the ruling coalition was reduced to a three-party minority administration. Both the Social Democrats and the Center Democrats lost seats in the election, while Venstre scored significant gains and the far-left Unity List - Red-Green Alliance secured parliamentary representation. But the most surprising outcome of the election was in Århus County, where comedian Jacob Haugaard was elected as an independent candidate on a campaign platform of shorter lines at supermarkets, better weather, nicer Christmas presents, a tailwind for cyclists, free kettles for old-age pensioners, and the right of men to be impotent (Viagra had not been introduced yet.) Haugaard, who won 23,253 personal votes in the election, became the third independent ever to be elected to the Folketing.

Although the Center Democrats left the governing coalition in 1996, the Social Democratic Party remained in power until the 2001 Folketing election, in which the right-wing parties won a clear parliamentary majority. Venstre, which emerged as the largest single party in the Folketing for the first time since 1920, formed a minority coalition government with the Conservative People's Party. In the election, both the Progress Party - whose voting strength had been steadily diminishing for several years - and the Center Democrats lost all their Folketing seats. More importantly, the far-right, anti-immigration Danish People's Party, which in 1998 had largely displaced the Progress Party (from which it had split), emerged as the third largest party in the Folketing, where it has supported the ruling Liberal-Conservative administration.

In the 2005 Folketing election, Venstre lost four seats but remained the largest single party in Parliament, ahead of the Social Democrats, who lost five seats. The Danish People's Party and the Conservative People's Party gained two seats each, while the Social Liberals scored their best results in more than three decades and nearly doubled their parliamentary representation with a gain of eight seats. Although the Christian Democrats (previously the Christian People's Party) lost all their Folketing seats, Venstre, the Conservative People's Party and the Danish People's Party retained their joint absolute majority of 94 seats in the Folketing, and the Liberal-Conservative minority coalition government remained in power. After the election, the Social Democrats chose Helle Thorning-Schmidt as the party's first-ever female leader; she is also the daughter-in-law of former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock.

Prime Minister Rasmussen's Venstre lost ground in an early parliamentary election held in November 2007, but remained the largest party in the Folketing, narrowly ahead of the Social Democrats, who had their worst election result in over a century. Meanwhile, the Social Liberals lost the eight seats they gained in 2005, but the Socialist People's Party had its best election result since 1988, and the leftist party more than doubled its Folketing representation. Although Venstre, the Conservative People's Party and the Danish People's Party came up one seat short of an absolute majority, Rasmussen remained in office with the support of the Faroe Islands Unionist Party (which won one of two Folketing seats set aside for the autonomous region) and the New Alliance, a new centrist party headed by Naser Khader, a Syrian-born, naturalized Dane who previously belonged to the Social Liberal Party.

After more than seven years in office, Anders Fogh Rasmussen stepped down in 2009, when he was chosen Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He was succeeded as Denmark's head of government by his Finance Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who also became leader of Venstre.

Online Resources


Copyright © 2005-2015 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: June 22, 2015.