STOCKHOLM The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have overtaken the centre-right Moderates and are the second most popular party in the Nordic country, polls showed this week.
Growing worries about immigration in Sweden, which received a record 160,000 refugees in 2015, have boosted support for the Sweden Democrats, echoing the rise of populist parties across Europe.
The party got 19.2 percent support in a poll published on Thursday by Novus for Swedish Television, up from 18.5 percent a month ago. That compares with the 13 percent they polled in the general election in 2014.
In a second poll in daily Dagens Nyheter they got 18 percent, up from 17 percent.
Both polls showed that the party was in second place for the first time behind the Social Democrats, who form the minority government with the Green Party.
"If we become the second largest (second most popular) party, or even the biggest party, it will of course be harder for the other parties to leave us out in the cold," party secretary Richard Jomshof, told Swedish Television.
The Sweden Democrats have re-drawn Sweden's political map, making it impossible for either the centre-left or the centre-right to form a majority government without them.
All the mainstream parties had refused to have any contact with them, but faced with the prospect of political deadlock, centre-right Moderate party leader Anna Kinberg Batra said recently she was prepared to work with the Sweden Democrats.
Support for the Moderates, the biggest party in the centre-right Alliance has slumped since Batra broke ranks.
The Moderate Party - the biggest in the opposition Alliance bloc - saw their support drop to 18.0 percent in the Novus poll and down to 17.0 percent in the Ipsos survey.
As late as January, the Moderates were polling around 22-23 percent.
Batra's move has widened divisions in the four-party centre-right Alliance with the Centre and Liberal parties ruling out cooperation with the Sweden Democrats.
However, the government has little to celebrate. Support for the Social Democrats, the biggest party in the coalition, was around 27 percent, down from 31 percent in 2014's election.
The Green Party is polling close to the 4 percent threshold for seats in parliament.
(Reporting by Johan Sennero; Editing by Toby Davis)