Swedens’s Social Democrats are set to be rebuffed at the polls for a second time by centre-right coalition led by prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, having been already slid to 35% of the vote in 2006. With their share likely to fall to 30% this time, not only does their political hold look to have been broken, but you can be sure too that many will suggest that the model welfare state they pioneered is on the wane.

The party will probably wheel out the same excuse it did the last time, that Swedes still believe in their vision — it is just that the party did not get its message across.And for once, the experts tend to agree. Sociologist Stefan Svallfors, the leading authority on the system, has been surveying his compatriots on their changing attitudes to the nanny state since 1986. And his verdict is clear, “Nothing shows that Swedes want to abandon the idea that wealth needs to be redistributed, or that the public sector is best in dealing with social problems.

So is the Social Democrats’ problem really just one of communication? Or is there not something more serious going on? Take money for instance. Sweden has the highest proportion of shareholders in the world, with nearly a quarter holding shares themselves, while eight out of ten are stockholders through their pension funds. Sweden today is also a wealthly land.

Swedes 'don't like collectivism'

Has this change prompted the Swedes to think more about themselves than the collective good when they come to vote? If you want to look closer into the Swedish mentality, you could do worse than turn to Henrik Berggren and Lars Trädgårdgh’s book, Are Swedes Human? They have reached the startling conclusion that Swedes don’t really like collectivism at all. In fact, they claim that the famous Swedish model is founded on the idea of strong and solitary individuals, committed to equality and justice before an equally strong state. The idea is not of a tight community in which everyone hugs each others, but one where everyone must live up to their responsibilities and give of themselves. The fact that they are now more comfortably off may not have made the Swedes more mean, but it has awakened other parts of them that them the Social Democrats have not been able to exploit.

While it is impressive, Professor Svallfors’ research, however, is not all-encompassing. It is mainly based on Swedes’ willingness to pay their taxes. And one can happily pay your taxes without wanting to utterly embrace the state. There is also a slight lag in his surveys. Since 2006 employment benefit has been falling, pharmarcies have been privatised and sickness benefit cut while at the same time property and other taxes have been reduced. Have these reforms not changed the Swedes?

Fend for themselves

The government’s employment policies no longer carry the universal support that they once had. “Either people don’t believe that the measures are working or they are begining to see unemployment as a problem which doesn’t concern them,” says Dr Svallfors. Is this something that the Social Democrats have not understood — that Swedes now believe that the unemployed should fend more for themselves?

Such a view fits perfectly with Berggren and Trädgårdh’s analysis, that at root Swedes have always thought every individual should manage by themselves, take the jobs that they are given and get up and go to work every day even if they don’t feel like it.

And doesn’t everything turn eventually, this election included, on the ethics of each individual worker? If you believe the opinion polls, what annoys Swedes most is people cheating on their illness benefits, yet the average Swede also suspects his neighbours of doing just that. What we could seeing, in fact, is the Swedish work ethic finally catching up on the nation’s sense of solidarity.