The Viability Gap

One more brief post on an issue separate from (but perhaps closely related to) the question of populism and its routinization.  As graphs of party support show (xxx), Slovakia’s party scene has divided itself into three distinct groupings when measured in terms of popular support:  Smer, in a league by itself; a cluster around 10% and another cluster around 2%.  The last several months have seen the largest difference between the smallest viable party and the largest non-viable party in a very long time, as this graph shows (see a bigger version here):

Measured in raw terms, the average gap has risen significantly in the past five years:

The actual gap for September 2007 was 7.8, (between KDH’s 9.6 and HZD’s 1.7) the highest for which I have records.  An astonishing 95.9% of UVVM poll respondents preferred an electorally viable party whereas as recently as 2002 this number hovered between 80% and 90%. 

I cannot easily assess what this means for the future because I do not have corresponding data for the strength of individuals’ party support and their willingess to change, but for the moment Slovak voters seem to have consolidated their choices around six options.  The current small parties–KSS, HZD, ANO and SF–may find this an insurmountable barrier; if another party is to cross the 5% line, it is likely to be an altogether new party, but I suspect that will depend on internal politics within the current viable parties, particularly Smer.

September Polls and Populism

I am late posting the Slovakia’s September polling numbers (October should be out already, actually, but the news has not yet arrived in my inbox), though given the current stability, we could just as well rely on polls from last month (or, indeed, last year). 

Smer shows a 4 point drop in UVVM polls from two months ago (and only the second time in recent memory it has shown drop for two successive months) but this still represents only 10% of its overall support and takes it back down only to its levels of about a year ago.   When the party took power in the summer of 2006, I firmly expected that it would follow the pattern of other "new" parties of the Baltics (New Union, Res Publica, New Era) and Balkans (Simeon II) and drop quite rapidly.  It has obviously not done so, and in the tradition of retrospective explanation of error, I have been trying to explain why the party has remained popular.  The economy has a lot to do with it, I suspect, as has the government’s ability to avoid major scandal.  I suspect that it also has to do with Smer’s own success in becoming (or appearing to become) a different kind of party than it was when it was founded. 

As part of this effort, I have begun to pay more attention to the concept of populism, a term that I have in the past dismissed as too normative and too weakly defined.  I still reserve a high degree of skepticism, but I am now willing to accept that the term can be useful, if defined within relatively narrow parameters.  I am particularly partial to the definitions offered by Cas Mudde, Margaret Canovan and Kurt Weyland (and, most recently, their operationalization by Petr Ucen) which focus on a specific combination of programmatic appeal (anti-elite, anti-corruption), political style (idiosyncratic, moralistic) and political organization (leader-driven, low-institutionalization).  It may be  that the term "populism" itself is too polluted to be useful and that we should instead develop alternative concepts that capture the same characteristics, but for the moment I am willing to consider using the term. 

I recently published a brief chapter on the subject through the Slovak Institute for Public Affairs, and I have made a few presentations on this general topic in the past year and thanks to a new slideshare account, I post the most recent of those here:
(You can view it online, but inconsistencies among fonts mean that will look better if you download it directly:
I will be presenting a variation of this at next month’s AAASS conference in New Orleans and would be extremely happy for any thoughts or other feedback.

For those who are interested in the topic, I also want to post a variety of articles that I have used in the preparation of the papers and presentations: