Two-thirds Rule

A brief note here to comment on one specific element of Robert Fico’s press conference remarks here regarding contracts received by those close to Smer: “the government coalition will not allow discrimination against two-thirds of the population only because they sympathize with the government party.” (see below in red).

This is notable for several reasons,

  • first because it is a nice example of the power of the current coalition’s public opinion position as political argument (popularity here becomes a justification for actions) and, within that framework, of a particular interpretation of public opinion.  It is certainly fair to say that 2/3 of Slovakia’s current voters support Smer, HZDS or SNS, but to the extent that in any given poll about 30% of voters do not support any party.  Of course this is ordinary political use of numbers and nothing particularly unusual or scandalous.
  • Second, and I noticed the artfulness only in translating and transcribing, there is the notion of government refusing to permit discrimination.  This is a common argument, but it is distinctive here because the prime minister is arguing that he will not permit discrimination against his own supporters.  The powerful subtext here, and what allows this to work despite the fact that in the same sentence he notes that he and his coalition partners have a clear supermajority in public opinion, is the spectre of dominant forces other than 2/3 the people who seek to do them harm.  I have been noting for some time how well Fico has maintained his anti-establishment position despite having almost sole control of the strongest party (and coalition) in Slovakia’s postcommunist history.  Whether he can keep this up is another question (and I have consistently been wrong in predicting that he couldn’t, but that is a question for another post).  The key appears to be his ability to persuade others (perhaps because he believes it to be true) that others (media, the former opposition, the United States, foreign investors) are the ones shaping Slovakia’s destiny.  Balancing that appeal to weakness with appeals to his own efficacy requires a delicate sense of balance.  So far he has proven himself a master.

Nedovolíme diskrimináciu ľudí len preto, že nás podporujú, odkázal médiám Fico

22. augusta 2008  16:28
Premiér Robert Fico sa znovu zastal ministerky práce Viery Tomanovej, ktorá čelí kritike za sporné štátne dotácie ľuďom blízkym jeho strane Smer-SD. Premiér zdôraznil, že nezákonné postupy alebo predražené tendre bude trestať, zároveň však je podľa neho prirodzené, ak sa predstavitelia vlády snažia v súlade so zákonom podporiť obce a mestá, ktoré vedú zástupcovia vládnych strán.

Predseda vlády Robert Fico počas tlačovej besedy, na ktorej oznámil, že vládna koalícia nedovolí diskrimináciu dvoch tretín obyvateľov len preto, že sympatizujú s vládnymi stranami.
Predseda vlády Robert Fico počas tlačovej besedy, na ktorej oznámil, že vládna koalícia nedovolí diskrimináciu dvoch tretín obyvateľov len preto, že sympatizujú s vládnymi stranami.

(autor: SITA)

Vládna koalícia nedovolí diskrimináciu dvoch tretín obyvateľov len preto, že sympatizujú s vládnymi stranami, vyhlásil premiér na brífingu, po ktorom nepripustil žiadne otázky. Predseda vlády chcel len novinárom ukázať prípady “straníckeho klientelizmu” vo fungovaní americkej demokracie a aj tak ich presvedčiť, že za dotáciami svojim nie je nič nemorálne.

Kritiku za podporu sociálnych podnikov v oblastiach s vysokou nezamestnanosťou považuje za zvrhlú. Zároveň oznámil, že už viac nebude reagovať na mediálne útoky a rôzne pseudokauzy, ako boli sociálne podniky či verejné obstarávania. “Vy nemôžete nahradiť Úrad pre verejné obstarávanie,” povedal médiám.

Fico: Nenecháme sa terorizovať médiami

Zdroj: SITA • 5,14 MB • zaznamenané: 22. 8. 2008

Ministerstvo práce podľa tlače pridelilo spolu asi 500 miliónov korún (16,6 milióna eur) na budovanie takzvaných sociálnych podnikov spoločnostiam, s ktorými sú spojení poslanci a členovia premiérovej strany. Tomanová (Smer-SD) však nedávno odmietla úvahy, že žiadatelia ťažili so svojich kontaktov s najsilnejšou vládnou stranou. Sociálne podniky by mali pomáhať znižovať nezamestnanosť. Určené sú napríklad pre ľudí, ktorí sú bez práce dlhodobo.

“Nebudeme považovať za neprípustné, ak napríklad v prípade dvoch rovnocenných projektov s rovnakou kvalitou a rovnakým výsledným efektom člen vlády uprednostní starostu či primátora za vládnu koalíciu,” vyhlásil Fico. Podmienkou podľa neho však je, aby nebol porušený zákon.

Ministerka Tomanová už v minulosti čelila výhradám za vyplatenie štátnej podpory Centru privátnych sociálnych služieb Privilégium napriek tomu, že na ňu nemalo nárok. Za sporné dotácie z verejných zdrojov nedávno musel na žiadosť premiéra odísť Jaroslav Izák (SNS) z postu ministra životného prostredia. Predražené tendre zas stáli miesto ministra obrany Františka Kašického zo Smeru-SD.

Nedovolíme diskrimináciu ľudí len preto, že nás podporujú, odkázal médiám Fico – – Flock

Small (and getting smaller) parties

In a previous post I noted a growing gap between parties above the threshold of electability and those below, one that was unusual by Slovakia’s standards.  Thanks to the generosity of UVVM, FOCUS and IVO, which opened various archives to me during my time in Slovakia, I can now show a much longer time series (though numbers before 1999 are sketchier than those after because of a relative dearth of polls and less systematic methods of reporting.

Here is the development of the gap over time between the smallest “viable” party (i.e. one with more than 5%) and the largest “non-viable” party (i.e. one with less than 5%):

Viability gap in Slovakia, 1990-2008

Something is clearly changing.  With the exception of a few surveys in 1999 (like the result of the temporary consolidation of small parties into the Slovak Democratic Coalition) there were very few gaps larger than 5% from Slovakia’s first election in 1990 until its most recent in 2006 (in fact only one in twenty polls during that period showed such a large gap) whereas since 2006 there are almost no gaps smaller than 5% (only about one in ten).  In fact the band around the threshold of viability now utterly empty: since the 2006 election not a single party has had a monthly polling average in the range between 3.3% and 7.2%. Not one.

As might be expected, the gap has meant a sharp reduction in the overall share of preferences received by small parties.  The graph below shows the same trend.

Sum of Preferences for Small Parties in Slovakia

Small parties used to collect about 10%-20% but this is no longer the case.  The total number of preferences for parties below the 5% threshold in August 2008 was 4.2%. Put in other words, even if all the supporters for obscure parties banded together (not very likely), they would not together have enough to cross the threshold. Between the 1990 and 2006 elections only 17 of the 161 months with surveys showed a sum below 5%; since the 2006 elections only 1 of the 26 months shows a sum above 5%.

There is no single clear explanation for this change but there are several reasons that might make sense:

  • Smer and SDKU have “mopped up” several of the smaller parties (and the re-unification of SNS helped in this direction as well).
  • Voters have finally decided that they do not want to “waste” their votes on small parties (though of course “waste” is a contentious term in itself since there are reasons to vote for parties that have nothing to do with those parties’ chances for election to parliament).  Evidence from recent IVO surveys shows that voters think consciously about the support received by the party they intend to vote for and are less likely to vote for a party that might not get elected (preferring to give their votes to an electable second choice).  Unfortunately we do not have older data on this and cannot easily perform a time series.
  • Media and financial structures have come to play such a strong role in party choice that small parties which cannot get media attention or financial sponsorship cannot attract meaningful support and drop from the public radar screen.

The current “all-or-nothing” pattern of party support does not mean that there is no chance for new parties, but it does suggest that it is even more difficult for a party to to climb its way up from below as KSS did in 2002.  As before, new parties will need to drop in from above as big splinters of even bigger parties with dissatisfied electorates (DU, and to some extent ZRS and Smer) or as saviors (Smer, ANO, SOP).

Back from outer space (and/or Finland)

But still in the stratosphere (and/or Ferndale).


A virtually computer-free vacation meant no July poll analysis. There is one (and really only one) sense in which this is unfortunate: July polls showed something I have never seen before in Slovakia, a one-party parliamentary majority.

UVVM+poll+data+ for +estimated+party+seat+distribution for the most recent +1+month+ in Slovakia

In the UVVM July survey, Smer polled 48.5% which, after factoring out all the parties below the five-percent threshold (see the next post on small parties) gives the party just over 50% of all supporters of electable parties and, thanks to some slightly favorable electoral-system math, one vote more than half.%C2%A0 Whether or not the party sustains this level of support, the instance itself is notable because it is unprecedented: 48.5% of voters expressing a party preference, 76 seats, 4.2 times as many as the next largest party, 5 times as many as the next largest opposition party.


So far all we have for July or August are the UVVM polls so I will use the restricted comparison set here. The August UVVM polls put Smer back down to 44.9% which is still at the high end of its previous “normal” range, with “only” 3.5 times as many supporters as the next largest party (once again the opposition party SDKU).

UVVM+poll+data+ for +all+parties+ for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

The same “return to normal” is apparent for the smaller parties (and compared to Smer,
every party is a smaller party). July’s record high for Smer was accompanied by a post-election record low for SDKU (9.7%, in percentage terms an even bigger shift from the average than Smer’s high-water mark) but August returns the party to the (low side of the) 11%-15% range where it has been since the election. Since SNS has showed a steady climb back from its poor showings in May and June, this again leaves us with the 3-track pattern of party support–Smer around 40, SDKU and SNS around 13 and HZDS, MK and KDH around 9–that dominated the first half of 2008. Indeed, August 2008 is virtually identical to February 2008, with no party’s results differing by even a full percentage point from 7 months ago and overall volatility between those two months at a shockingly low 1.5%. Of course we are not back in February–a lot has happened since then–but the long-term stability is striking.

UVVM+poll+data+ for +all+parties+except+Smer+ for the most recent +4+months+ in Slovakia

Though the shifts mean that this month is not as propitious for the current coalition as last month, it is still near its overall high point in the post-election period…
UVVM+poll+data+ for +coalition+support for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

…a second graph shows that the gains have been mostly for Smer and show a slight declining trend for the both the “Slovak national” and “right” parties (their current recovery takes them back only to a point that would have been considered low for much of 2007 and 2008.

UVVM+poll+data+ for +party+'blocs'+ for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

As for parliament, the August figures again correspond with the likely “real world” consideration that were elections held today Smer would require one (and only one) coalition partner.

UVVM+poll+data+ for +estimated+party+seat+distribution for the most recent +1+month+ in Slovakia

UVVM+poll+data+ for +estimated+party+seat+distribution for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

We will need to wait for figures from FOCUS or MVK to make a better assessment of whether UVVM’s trends show echoes elsewhere or whether July was an anomaly, though given the erratic change, I bet on the anomaly.

As always, the actual polling numbers are available online at Google Docs:

And the most recent three months are below in tabular format (using “iframe” which may not work on all browsers).

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