A Guide to the Scandinavian Political System for Americans

How are elections and the political system in Scandinavia different from the American one?

Erik Engheim
17 min readOct 1, 2022


The Norwegian Parliament "Stortinget"
The Norwegian Parliament “Stortinget”

As a Norwegian I have on numerous occasions been baffled and confused by the American political system. So many concepts are different from what we are used to in Scandinavia. Political parties hold primaries. Instead of a Parliament there is a Congress with a Senate and a House of Representatives. Then there is the oddball Electoral College, which Americans always seem get worked up about in the aftermath of every election.

Yet, I realize that to Americans and Canadians many of the European political systems such as the Scandinavian ones are equally if not more puzzling. I was first made aware of this fact when trying to explain Norwegian elections to my American family and relatives. This story is an attempt to enlighten my American friends across the pond. I intend to cover the following topics in this story:

  • Relation between election districts and selected representatives
  • Anecdote explaining why contacting your representative works very different in Scandinavia
  • How representatives get selected
  • Implications of voting using proportional representation
  • How proportional representation arose in Norwegian political history
  • Party vs. person focus under different political systems
  • Difference between a president and a prime minister

Election Districts and Representatives

A major difference here in Scandinavia is that we don’t elect a single representative to represent our voting district. For instance, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is a House representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District. That means AOC represents the roughly 700,000 people who live in this part of New York. She represents these citizens in the US House of Representatives, located in Washington, DC.

We can contrast how AOC represents her constituents with how I am represented in my city Oslo, the capital of Norway. Interestingly, Oslo also contains around 700,000 inhabitants and constitutes a voting…



Erik Engheim

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.