Two months ago, Slobodne Forum’s electoral fortunes
seemed secure. Its support stood
comfortably between 7% and 8%, not quite enough to join the traffic jam of
other parties at the 10% mark, but enough to ensure its entry into parliament despite certain structural weaknesses.
One month ago, all three major polls (UVVM, FOCUS, MVK)
showed a drop in SF’s electoral fortunes; this month all three polls
showed a further decline. Except for dropping support for Smer (which can afford the losses), this is the most consistent evidence of
decline for support for any party in Slovakia in the past year. As the graph below shows, the only bright
spots for the party have been increases in the results recorded by the less
regular, and less consistent results reported by Dicio and Median. Nor is
are the firms in the second tier of survey
providers unanimous in predicting higher support. In fact OMV for May shows a drop of more than
2.5% to the very margin of electoral viability.
Of course in comparison to KSS, SF’s fortune’s still seem
secure. Whereas KSS’s poll results
cluster above and below 5%, SF’s tend to be at least 1.5% above the danger
line. According to the graph below, the
party’s three- and one-month trendlines show decline, but even these, when
projected June 17, still put the party above 5%.
This good news, however, must be weighed against several
other factors that suggest the party’s support is weaker than it looks:
- Weak voter loyalty toward new parties
Smaller and particularly newer parties in Slovakia frequently underperform their polling numbers as voters decide at the last minute to stick with larger and more established parties. In 2002, Smer’s average polling numbers
dropped by 25%, as did those of SDL and SDA and the divided SNS. ANO’s dropped by 11%. (Only KSS and PSNS showed an increase and both of those could arguably be understood as somewhat more-established parties, KSS having campaigned in most previous elections and PSNS led by the past president of SNS, Jan Slota.) In 1998, SOP averaged 16% in UVVM surveys over the three months before the election but received only 8% of all votes cast, a drop of 50%. SF may not experience this significant a drop, but even the common 20% drop would mean electoral failure.
- Weak SF voter loyalty
A variety of surveys suggest that SF has a particularly weak base. One publicly available such survey, that of the Institute for Public Affairs (http://www.ivo.sk/vyskum_maj_2006.htm,
see also Pravda 19.05.06) suggests that of those preferring for SF, 7% would
certainly vote for the party, 65% would probably do so, and 28% might vote
for somebody else. Not only is this
the lowest share of “certain” voters for any party in Slovakia
(by a significant margin) but it is also the highest “maybe not.” Notably, it is also significantly worse
than /any/ of the new parties in 2002 at a corresponding point in the electoral cycle (Smer, which lost 25% of its poll support had 28% certain, 53% probable, and 18% maybe not; ANO, which lost 11% of its poll support had 14% certain, 68% probable, and 18% maybe not). Not only are SF voters relatively
uncommitted to their party, but many have recourse to an easy alternative. As in 2002, voters for new parties tend to have net positive evaluations only of other new parties.
In 2002 Smer voters expressed sympathy for ANO by a ratio of 63:37; ANO voters expressed sympathy for Smer by a ratio of 61:39. Among April 2004 supporters of SF, the ratio of sympathy to antipathy for Smer is even higher than these past marks: 64:34 (and this is a slight decline from the 71:27 ratio of November). SF voters also offer relatively high and increasing levels of approval for Smer chair Robert Fico: 22% in
November 2005, 35% in April 2006.
- Divided SF leadership
On factor that is difficult to calculate but sure to affect the SF’s outcome is its recent bout of internal turmoil. Some observers believe the problems to be so severe as to make it “hard to see SF crossing the threshold now.”
Given these problems, it is not a surprise that Tipos odds,
recalculated as probabilities, offer a 46.6% chance that SF will clear the
five-percent threshold and that the odds have worsened by almost two percentage
points in the past two days. The true
test will come when polls emerge that cover the last several weeks of turmoil
within the party. Even strong numbers
will not guarantee the party’s success, but continued or increased weakness
will doom the party. The question then would
be the degree to which the remaining SF voters would stay with their chosen
party or shift. If the latter, the
question is where, and Smer looks set to reap the most.