From now until June I hope to post regular (with luck, weekly) analyses of recent developments in Slovak public opinion as they pertain to the upcoming elections.
Notes and acknowledgements.
The analyses I post here would be impossible without the many insights into Slovak public opinion that I have gained from working with Vladimir Krivy, Olga Gyarfasova, Zora Butorova, Jan Luha, Ivan Dianiska, Karen Henderson and Tim Haughton and many others. The blog on which you read this is a gift from John Gridley and allows me to replace the ordinary web pages I constructed in 2002 for the same purpose with this more accessible and interactive medium. If you use Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird you can set the live feed to inform you when I have posted new pages. If not, there are ways to make Microsoft Explorer and Outlook do the same thing. If these methods are not to your tastes, send an email to email@example.com (or the email address listed on the graphs below) that contains the word "Slovak" and I’ll add you to a "please update" list for the next few months as I add new pages. In general I welcome feedback. Let me know what you disagree with and what kinds of analyses you would like to see.
I attach below four preliminary graphs to give a sense of change and continuity in Slovak public opinion since the last election. These begin just over three years ago (though I have data going back for nearly a decade and a half and would be glad to share this for any who would like to see it) and unless otherwise noted, are compiled as averages of the results of monthly public opinion surveys conducted by UVVM, Focus and Markant as published in Slovak newspapers and available through other sources. Since each firm conducts and announces its surveys with different intervals, the monthly average is a bit arbitrary, but it allows for a cleaner presentation of the data without undue oversimplification.
Attached below is the three year track for every major party. The most notable feature is the size of Smer’s lead over other parties–nearly three time as many voters as the next largest competitor. Not since the predominance of HZDS between 1992 and 1997 has Slovakia seen a gap of similar magnitude. Two other factors are noteworthy: first, while Smer’s lead has grown, its level of support has remained relatively stagnant for at least the last six months; second, the size of Smer’s lead has increased in direct proportion to the decline of HZDS from clear second place to a level almost indistinguishable from five other parties (and two sets of surveys in late 2005 showed it in third place which is, I think, unprecedented in its existence).
Parties in the Middle
The clustering of six major parties around the 10% mark makes it difficult to see trends among these parties with any clarity, so it is necessary to use the graph below which shows only the narrow band between 5% and 15% and draws a trend line as a moving average of the previous five months to smooth out monthly variations. Several trends reveal themselves. First, the drop in HZDS support is almost perfectly complemented by the rise in SNS support. Likewise, the data shows an almost identical pattern (much more rapid, but with a 3 month lag) in replacement of ANO by SF. As above, the data is not enough to demonstrate that the voters leaving one are the same who gravitate to the other, but the patterns suggest at least an overall stability. Amid these major shifts, KDH, SDKU and especially SMK have remained quite stable over time, with only tiny variations, especially since mid-2004. Whether the recent coalition split will change this is unclear but the two post-split polls show very little overall change. Finally, KSS has also remained relatively stable since mid-2004 as well (hovering just above 5% after dropping from the 8% level in late 2003), but four of eight recent polls show the party’s supporter under the 5% threshold. Whether this represents the actual level of support is an open question (almost no polls in 2002 showed the party above the 5% threshold and yet it managed a result of 6.3%) and will hopefully be the subject of future posts.
With the large number of parties and the frequent shifts in support–including the emergence and disappearance of relatively significant parties–it is easy to overlook certain markers of underlying stability in Slovakia’s electorate. This is not to minimize the raw effects of party changes, but it is noteworthy that the voting within recognizable ideological blocs remains quite stable. The use of "bloc" here, however, implies only that the parties grouped together share some degree of ideological affinity, but not that these are the only kinds of affnities or that it is these affinities that will shape future coalitions (a question for a future post). Indeed Smer is unlikely to form a coalition with KSS, and the most significant recent political conflicts in Slovakia have occurred within the bloc that I label here as "right" (a reference to economics rather than culture as the "right" bloc spans the full spectrum from libertarian to orthodox Catholic). Despite considerable fludity of its party membership "right" bloc has remained between 25 and 30% for the past two years. The "Slovak" bloc (by which I mean parties that think primarily about Slovak national questions) has likewise remained stable between 20% and 25%. Even the "left," the most volatile bloc, has remained mostly within a window between 32% and 40%.
Translating Votes into Seats
Slovakia’s parliamentary deputies are elected from a single, nation-wide district with a highly proportional electoral system, so the percentages of seats are almost always in direct correspondence to the percentages of votes. Nevertheless, it is often helpful to estimate the number of seats that a party would get if it received the share of votes indicated in a survey. The graph below gives a monthly tally of seat totals. To the extent that party support has remained relatively stable, the graph stays relatively stable as well, with the biggest effects emerging when parties fall below or climb above the 5% electoral threshold, as happens with ANO (falling below consistently after mid-2005), SF (climbing above consistently after mid-2005), KSS (falling below intermittently), SNS (falling below intermittently before 2005) and HZD ( climbing briefly above in spring of 2004). The linear arrangement of parties in this graph is highly limiting, however, and does not do a good job of revealing all possible majority coalitions. A better visual representation of these possibilities is a project for future posts.
(complete copies of these graphs are also available here
Translating Preferences into Votes
As the 2002 Parliamentary election and the 2004 Europarliament elections demonstrated, preferences expressed in public opinion polls may not accurately reflect the actual votes received by a party. I hope to take this question up in future posts, but it is worth noting that the difference arrises both from polling methods (in which some firms perform better than others) and in the degree to which respondents who profess a preference for a party are actually willing to vote for that party. These likelihoods appear fairly stable and future posts will attempt to create a model for estimating actual votes based on stated preferences. For the moment, however, it may be helpful simply to begin with a brief overview of the accuracy of polling duing the 2002 election.
In 2002 there was a systematic tendency to underestimate support for SDKU and (to a much smaller extent) KSS and to overestimate support for Smer (and to a lesser extent) HZD. We need more data to determine whether this is still true, but the results of polls before the 2004 Europarliament elections showed a nearly identical (though even more extreme) relationship to final results. More on this later.
I look forward to reading your posted comments or reading your emails (use firstname.lastname@example.org or the address listed in the graphs). Thanks.