Time to abandon caution and jump. If I were to bet on Slovakia’s election based on the information we have now, I split my money between two results:
Before the tedious details about how I reached these conclusions, a few thoughts about what they signify:
- Ambivalence about the electoral chances of SF. A month ago I had few doubts. Now, the combination of recent internal turmoil and longstanding weakness of voter support, the party appears to be in serious trouble. Hence the two result hedge. Should new poll results this week show a declining trend, I will abandon the first set of results and go with the second.
- Unambivalence about coalition possibilities. Whether SF makes it into parliament or not actually does not much affect coalition possibilities. It eliminates the possibility of coalitions with SF, of course, but beyond that not much is different: there is still no viable two-party coalition (even in the no-SF variant, Smer+SDKU musters only 67); there is still no way for the current coalition to remain in power without taking on an additional partner (which, as long as Meciar remains head of HZDS, means only Smer); there is still no likely coalition without at least one member of the current coalition (the Smer-SNS-HZDS coalition still does not manage a majority though without SF it falls only one seat short).
- Expectations of Smer’s weakness. The main difference between the models above and those based on straight-up poll results (the kind constantly appearing in the Slovak press) is that these incorporate past relationships between polling and actual results. In both of the last elections, the party has fallen far short of its preferences and this model assumes that it will do so again (though not by as great a degree). This, of course, assumes in turn that nothing else has changed and such assumptions are always dangerous. Still, there are reasons to believe that the party has maximized its support among the discontented and that many of these simply will not bother to go out and vote.
- Expectations of SDKU’s strength. This is the weakest part of the model. Polling data just does not show much reason to expect that SDKU will pick up huge numbers of voters in the last minute, but the data was almost as silent on this in 2002 and 2004 and still the party significantly exceeded its polling totals. So I allow history to guide this part of the prediction, though (as with Smer) to a more moderate degree.
- Ambivalence about purely mathematical models. My thoughts about SF demonstrate the difficulty of analysis from abroad and the degree to which political science’s models are heavily dependent on . As I worked on SF’s poll numbers, I saw some weakness but did not really give it as serious consideration as I should have until I received a report from a friend in Slovakia expressing serious doubts about the party’s electoral viability. I then went back and reanalyzed the numbers and found it to be worse than I thought. But without that report and the subsequent renanalysis, I might not even have bothered to create the "No SF" option that I now think to be the most probable. Fingerspitzgefuhl remains essential, thought technology does sometimes help make it easier to do something productive when the fingers have no choice but to remain on another continent.