In the news: Slovak Spectator article on parties (Warning: Self-promotion alert)

Just a note to cite a very nice article by Michaela Stankova in the Slovak Spectator on political parties.  Not only is the article completely faithful to our email interview, but it does a nice job of balancing our conversation with comments from others including Miroslav Kusy.  The complete article is here:

Polls, Politics and Parties, Part 5: Who with Whom? Doing the coalition math

coal allWith 8 parties potentially entering Slovakia’s parliament there are 255 different coalition possibilities.  Fortunately, not withstanding Bismark’s aphorism that “Politics is the art of the possible,” there are quite a few coalition possibilities that we can exclude and in the end we can narrow down the possibilities to a relatively small number.  In the paragraphs below, I do this as systematically as I can by excluding (with great care) individual relationships that simply will not work and ranking others by probability, and then with guesses about which of the remainder will manage to muster a sufficient number of seats.  Those who don’t want to read the whole process by which I reached the answer can jump down to the bottom and look at the pretty graph:

Coalition (im)possibilities: What can we exclude?

I heartily accept Charles Dudley Warner’s conclusion that “Politics makes strange bedfellows” and I am no longer surprised when lifelong enemies join forces against a new opponent, so it is a dangerous business to say that “Party A” will not form a coalition with “Party B.”   In fact, as I learned the hard way, it is still a dangerous business even when the leader of “Party A” has said it himself.  For example:

(HZDS leader Vladimir) Meciar only ruled out post-election cooperation with the Slovak National Party (SNS). “This is because of its low political culture, vulgarism, and inclination toward unethical behavior, and I cannot cooperate with Jan Slota (SNS leader).” Sme, Tuesday, April 11, 2006 T08:49:17Z:

Since this statement led me to discount the combination that emerged 3 months later and that has governed in Slovakia during the past four years, I now think it wise to seek out other standards.  What leaders say can be helpful but only if backed up by something else.  Unfortunately, that something else is the rather insubstantial notion that barring alien invasion, some parties very reasons for being exclude coalitions with other parties and whose electoral existence would be threatened by the combination.  There are only a few of these:

  • Slovak National and Hungarian National:  It is hard to envision a coalition between the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Hungarian parties, Most-Hid and MKP-SMK.  It would be very hard for the Slovak National Party to accept partnership with parties it tried to ban, even if the Hungarian parties were willing to accept.
  • Left and Right:  It is hard to envision a coalition between Smer and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) or the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU).  This one’s a bit less certain because the economic dimension is not quite as bitter as the national one, but from its beginning SaS pointed to Smer as its chief opponent and differentiated itself from other parties on its same side of the political spectrum (especially SDKU) precisely on its unwillingness to form a coalition with Smer.  For an older, more established party, it might be possible to go back on the promise, but SaS doesn’t have too much else to offer.

coal1This reduces the range of party relationships a bit and drops the total number of coalition permutations to 119:

The next step is to eliminate combinations that are highly unlikely, on the basis of leader statements backed by some fundamental opposition that would cost a party major support if it joined with another.  Here I would suggest several candidates:

  • Right and Slovak National: KDH, SDKU and SaS are highly unlikely to form a coalition with SNS.  It is not impossible that right-wing parties might join with SNS, but it is hard to imagine the circumstances.  SNS has used such strong national rhetoric and has faced so many corruption allegations that even Smer has found the combination difficult.  For the right wing parties, whose voters are less nationally oriented and who are likely more sensitive than Smer to the opinions of international partners, the combination would be even more difficult.  Furthermore, any seats that SNS would bring to a right-wing coalition would be more than offset by the loss of any possibility of Hungarian seats.
  • Let and Right: It is also hard to envision a coalition between Smer and SDKU.  At one time the combination seemed utterly impossible given Fico’s hatred for Dzurinda; now that Dzurinda will no longer be the electoral leader of SDKU, it might be a bit easier, but Fico has just as much disdain for one of the leading candidates for SDKU leader–Miklos–and the other leading candidate, Radicova has recently sharpened her rejection of this kind of coalition.

coal2Since coalitions can occur only if all parties are willing to pair with all others, this drops the number of permuations to a (slightly) more reasonable 83.

In addition to these, there are a number of hard relationships, those which would be made difficult either by personal animosity or by potential loss of support.  This category—where I should have placed HZDS-SNS in 2006—is a bit larger but doesn’t help us much as it merely raises the cost of coalitions rather than preventing them altogether.  Still, these combinations are worth noting as “expensive”

  • Right and Slovak national.  It is not impossible to exclude a coalition between HZDS and KDH, SaS, MKP-SMK and Most-Hid, but past conflicts between HZDS and the right and Hungarian national parties are still vivid enough that such a coalition, while possible, would not be easy.  KDH in particular has resisted any connection with HZDS but the Hungarian parties are also disinclined.  SaS leader Sulik has moved from a statement that a coalition with HZDS would be a lesser evil, to a statment that HZDS leader Meciar should be “behind bars.”
  • Left and Right.  The only left-right coalition not excluded above is Smer with KDH.   This is the one that is merely unlikely rather than hard to imagine.  The coalition would be hard to accept for Smer voters and especially hard for KDH voters.  Recent comments by KDH chair Figel about Smer are sharper than in the past and a coalition would likely hurt KDH with its supporters, but it can’t be excluded entirely.
  • Left and Hungarian national.  Both Hungarian parties, for their part, seem desirious enough of entering government that they would probably be able to overlook Smer’s past rhetoric on national questions but Smer has put a lot of energy into criticizing Hungarians and so would find it difficulty (though probably not impossible) to choose a Hungarian partner as it would lose a relatively strong electoral appeal.  Since, as below, Most-Hid and MKP-SMK are not getting along well at the moment a coalition between Smer and only one of the Hungarian parties would be slightly less fraught, but might be no more desirable to Smer and would have a lower chance of gaining a majority.
  • Hungarian and Hungarians.  Ultimately a conclusion may well include MKP-SMK with Most-Hid but doing so will take some work as the leaders of the two parties dislike each other intensely and the rhetoric has becoming sharper.


We can also do a preliminary assessment of the mathematical possibilities of coalitions, using a maximalist version of current party support.  A coalition of SDKU and SaS might work nicely but the party has no practical chance of a parliamentary majority.  We can exclude electorally impossible coalitions by taking current poll results and (for safety’s sake) giving each party a 30% bonus (assuming maximal poll error in a party’s favor).  This brings the number of even barely viable coalitions down to “only” 27.

From this, furthermore, we can remove 7 coalitions as containing redundant members (eliminating the smallest still leaves more than 80 seats by current estimates).  This brings us down to 19.

Coalition possibilities: What’s left:

For simplicity we can further categorize these coalitions by similarities among members.  The graph below tries to makes sense of these many options by comparing them along two axes:  from left to right a internal compatibility of coalitions (related to the “expensiveness” of coalition pairings discussed above but based on my own highly-arguable judgment rather than any quantitative measure) and from bottom to top an expected number of seats based on current month polls.  Least likely coalitions are in the lower left; most likely in the upper right.

coalition matrix

The coalitions in terms of likelihood are, therefore:

  • coal lsnSmer + Slovak National:  From an electoral perspective, the current coalition has a strong chance of return, and is not utterly unpalatable for the coalition members.  Slightly more internally compatible would be a subset of the current coalition—Smer with either HZDS or SNS—but this has a somewhat lower chance of sufficient electoral success.
  • coal lhnSmer + Hungarian National: A coalition between Smer and both Hungarian parties is electorally possible but less mutually desirable by its member.
    • Smer + Hungarian National + Slovak National: Adding HZDS to this mix is theoretically possible but probably would not be necessary in electoral terms and would add consideral internal incompatibility
  • coal lrSmer + Right: It is hard to imagine a coalition between Smer and a “right” party except KDH and even this would be unappetizing for Smer (though perhaps moreso than a coalition with Hungarian parties) and even less so for KDH.
  • Right + Hungarian National: A coalition resembling the 2002-2006 Dzurinda government is coal rhncertainly a possibility in terms of internal compatibility (these parties conflicted with one another when in government but seem willing to tolerate one another rather than see another Fico government).  From an electoral perspective, however, these are highly unlikely.
    • Right + Hungarian National + Slovak National: Adding HZDS to this coalition could perhaps coal rhnsnpush this coalition into a parliamentary majority but only by adding so much internal incoherence as to make it highly unlikely.  It is hard to imagine what incentives could inspire HZDS to chose this coalition rather than one with Smer but the party is certainly relying on having more bargaining potential than SNS, for whom Smer is the only coalition choice.

Both of these are only very rough indicators of the actual factors (coalitionability and electoral strength) but they are the best I can come up with at the moment.  I will try to nuance these as the election nears.  One nuance, worth thinking about now, however, is the fact that Slovaka’s electoral system does not make a smooth equivalence between seats and votes but rather imposes (as most countries do) a 5% threshold.  Since 5 of Slovakia’s 8 major parties have support near 5%, a small change in support can have major impact on the composition of parliament and these deserve consideration in the next post.

Dashboard News: Unhappy Median, January 2010

medianFor once I’ll get the lead on the Slovak press and talk about a poll first, the results of which I have added to the Dashboard.  Median published its January poll results today and they have their effects on the overall averages, pushing the MKP-SMK average below 5% for the first time in my dataset, while flattening out the sharp rises of Most-Hid and SaS and softening the drop of HZDS and SNS.  We shall see how the press covers it (“CSAKY, BUGAR AND SULIK FALL SHORT!”) but in the context of other polls, its’ rather hard to accept.  There are lots of ways to analyze this but for the sake of time and simplicity I’ll simply compare Median to the other three polls taken at approximately the same time (MVK, FOCUS, Polis).  On the two biggest parties, Smer and SDKU, the Median result is right in line but on all the rest it stands out to a remarkable degree.  Long-established Slovak parties (SNS, HZDS and KDH) score high in Median’s poll.  Very high.  Meanwhile newly established parties (and SMK) score low.  Very low.  In fact, for all six of these parties, the Median poll result is not only the outlier, but its addition more than doubles the range of poll values or more (x3 for HZDS, x4 for SAS and x6 for SNS).  In other words Median results are more different from the nearest of the three other polls than any of those polls are from one another, as the graph below shows.

Where Median polls high Where Median polls low
Median 9.6 9.3 11.3
Highest of other 3 polls 6.2 5.8 10 6.7 6.4 9.6
Lowest of other 3 polls 5.6 4.1 8.9 5.1 5.6 8.1
Median 3.3 4.3 2.7
Largest difference between other 3 polls 0.6 1.7 1.1 1.6 0.8 1.5
Difference between Median and nearest of other 3 polls 3.4 3.5 1.3 1.8 1.3 5.4

As I’ve discussed before, this may have a lot to do with Median’s unorthodox procedure of not providing a list of parties to choose from.  But  what to do with these results?  I’m loathe to eliminate them as I suspect they capture some kind of political truth (some people when shown names of new parties in polls pick them but revert to long standing loyalties and remembered names in the voting booth) but they do ignore another (the inability of people to remember the name of the new party they’re interested in).  And the firm’s past performance suggests that it’s take on the political truth does not much help us predict final results (  Median may thus act as a useful corrective but simply cannot be looked at in isolation.

Polls, Politics and Parties, Part 4: Poll Predictiveness by Party, Pollster and Time

p16How well do public opinion polls in Slovakia predict election outcomes?  Well as the previous post suggests, not too well.  But they’re all we’ve got.  Of course we could always wait until the future comes to us, but, frankly, where’s the fun in that.  So rather than sit around and wait or make faulty predictions, we can try to figure out where and when the data we do have is most useful.  We can get a bit more mileage out of the data if we understand its strengths and limitations on three dimensions: time period, pollster and party   (It is theoretically possible to go further and divide it by categories within the surveyed population, but that requires the original data which is available only for limited periods and certain pollsters and so I will hold off on that for the moment.)  It is no surprise that recent data is better than old data, but even that generalization has its limits.  And while we can’t assume that polls will err in the future in the same way as in the past, it is important to know where the diversion between poll and reality crept in.

Time: Polls get better closer to elections.  Sort of.

As we elections near, shouldn’t polls become more predictive?  Yes, but not in a purely linear fashion.  I do not have a lot of data on this–only 3 elections, two of which were for the European parliament–but what I do have suggests that increases in predictiveness really only begins about 6 months before the election.  The graph below shows the differences in raw percentage points between poll “predictions” and actual results extending backward from election day.

Predictiveness of average poll results or major parties, approaching election

Predictiveness of average poll results or major parties, approaching election

There is quite a bit in these finding are news to me:

  • Improvement is not linear. I did not expect the “reversal” that occurs between one and two years out in each case–such that in each elections predictions made about 500 days before the election would be better than those made 200 days before the election.  Of course it is impossible to predict on what day to make the best predictions (for Slovakia’s parliament in 2006, T-500 days was better than T-700 or T-200, but this was not true for the 2009 Euroelections.
  • Europarliament predictions do not get better over time; Slovak parliament predictions do. Nor did I expect, though I should have, that predictions in Europarliament elections actually don’t get any better over time.  This is clearly related, I think, to the low voter turnout in Euroelections.  In this case the polls are considerably more representative than the elections themselves.  The results for Slovakia’s parliament, by contrast, have plateaus and valleys but do get closer to actual results with time.  (And one small footnote:  I worried that the results above were the result of differences in polling patterns: Slovak parliamentary elections have more polls and might therefore be more accurate.  But when I re-ran the numbers with only a single polling firm–UVVM–I got essentially the same results, suggesting that the patterns do not depend on the polling density).
  • Sharp increases in predictiveness come in the last 150 days. For two of the three polls, the best increase in accuracy came in the final five months and since today we are at entering month 4, we are already in that period.  Using these models (a rather thin basis for comparison) we could guess that we are just leaving the period of relatively low predictability and so any judgments made on the basis of polls to date should be taken with some care.  By a month out, we can make guesses about the final result that are not overwhelmingly different from the final rush of polls.  That’s not true today.

Pollster: Some firms are better than others, but not by too much

The second big question of accuracy depends on the pollster.  It may be that some firms are simply better than others and that to average them together is to inject unnecessary noise.  The graph below shows the errors in poll predictivness for each major polling firm’s final pre-election survey in four elections:  Slovakia’s parliament in 2002, Europarliament in 2004, Slovakia’s parliament in 2006 and Europarliament again in 2009.  Gray boxes mark “final” polls taken more than a month before the election.

Poll predictivness by pollster 2002-2009

Errors in poll predictivness by pollster 2002-2009

In this case the data–closer to the bottom means less error and more predictiveness–lends itself to several relatively clear conclusions (the full data set is at the bottom):

  • Slovakia’s parliamentary elections produce small differences. During parliamentary elections–the first and third clusters–all firms tend to cluster closely together with a very small difference among them.  These surveys tend to be large enough and carefully-enough framed, and with voters sufficiently politicized that the polls tend to converge around a single answer.   The only exceptions here–Median and FOCUS–are not exceptions at all since these (like Median in 2009) are polls taken a month previously and (as the previous section shows) a month makes a some degree of difference (about 0.5 or so).
  • Europarliament elections produce bigger differences. During Europarliament elections the spreads are much greater and the number of pollsters much smaller.  Here the differences among pollsters would matter (if Slovaks felt that the elections themselves actually mattered, which most appear not to do).

With regard to specific pollsters, two stand out, but they have either ceased their work in this or work quite infrequently:

  • UVVM was an excellent pollster and the decision by the Slovak Statistical Office not to continue these tests is a big loss.
  • OMV does good polls.  It’s a pity they only do them immediately before elections.  (As an aside, no matter how good its polls may be, they cannot be used as a substitute for exit polls, as STV tried to do in 2006.  Even the best, biggest pre-election poll seems destined to miss something).

Of the pollsters who still regularly poll (and with the exception of MVK, post results with increasing regularity) we can say the following”

  • FOCUS has done a mediocre job in parliamentary elections but an excellent job in Euroelections.   Without UVVM it is at the most reliable remaining pollster
  • MVK, by these same calculations has done slightly worse than FOCUS but it too remains fairly solid.
  • Median has not done as well and has been the high-end outlier in the two most recent elections (in 2009 its poll was taken a month before the election but its errant 2006 poll was taken in the final rush).  This may be the result of Median’s open-ended preference question that does not as closely resemble the ballot process.
  • The big surprise, and perhaps it is simply a coincidence, is that the telephone poll conducted by Polis in 2006 actually came close to the mark.  Telephone polls have faced considerable criticism in the past, including my own, but this one worked.  The 2010 election will provide a major test of its reliability.

Finally on the question of pollsters, it may be that no pollster is better overall but that some may be better or worse in detecting support for particular parties.  As the Dashboard shows to even a casual observer (and as I will try to analyze in greater depth nearer to the election), some parties tend to do consistently better in some polls than in others.  Does this translate into differences in electoral predictiveness?  Again we face here a lack of data but what we have yields several conclusions about past patterns, though these are not particularly useful predictors for the future as they reflect a difference of at most a few points from the results of other pollsters.  Nevertheless, we can say that compared to other pollsters,

  • UVVM’s estimates for SDKU in all elections are less than those of other pollsters and its estimates for SNS and KDH are less than those of other posters in parliamentary elections.  UVVM also overestimated HZDS in almost elections.
  • OMV has underestimated Smer in parliamentary elections and underestimated SNS and KSS in parliamentary elections
  • FOCUS has consistently underestimated HZDS and KDH, and has slightly overestimated Smer in parliamentary elections (while slightly underestimating the party in Europarliament elections).  It has also slightly overestimated KSS in parliamentary elections
  • Median has overestimated Smer in both elections for which we have its data and has underestimated SMK and HZDS and KDH (all rural parties, suggesting a weaker rural network of poll takers)
  • MVK has overestimated Smer and KDH in parliamentary elections and underestimated SNS and KSS.
  • With only one poll in, we have no way of making a broader assessment for Polis,  but I for one will be very interested to see what happens next.
  • Postscript: Just discovered this article about accuracy of presidential election results.  It corresponds roughly to parliamentary election results with reasonable results for FOCUS, MVK and, surprisingly, Polis.  See

Party: Some parties outrun the polls (sometimes)

The most interesting question is whether polls as a whole tend to over-estimate or underestimate the electoral support of particular parties.  This is a rather easy circumstance to imagine:  the networks of pollsters do not extend to the ethnic or class group in which a particular party is strong, or a particularly segments of a party’s support base are overwhelmingly less (or more) likely to actually get out to the polls.  The graph below lays out the differences between the averages of the final polls (white circles) and parties’ actual election results (color coded circles) for four elections: the parliamentary election in 2002, Europarliament in 2004, parliament again in 2006 and Europarliament again in 2009.  The arrows (thick for parliamentary, thin for Europarliament) point from the poll prediction to the actual result.

Poll predictivness in Slovakia 2002-2009
Poll predictivness in Slovakia 2002-2009

Only for a few parties do these arrows show clear patterns over time:

  • SDKU has been underestimated by polls all four times, though the gap has narrowed considerably.
  • SMK has also been underestimated, though by smaller amounts (and the gap in 2009 is the result of the emergence of Most-Hid which did not run candidates)

For several other parties patterns are less distinct:

  • KDH and HZDS have been underestimated in Euroelections but results in parliamentary elections produce no clear result.
  • For SNS there is likewise no clear pattern in parliamentary elections but a pattern of overestimation in Euroelections.

The biggest question, of course, is Smer, a party whose poll predictivness becomes an intensely political question.  The results here suggest:

  • A pattern of consistent overestimation in the polls by significant numerical (and even percentagewise) amounts in Euroelections and the 2002 parliamentary election…
  • BUT (and this is a very important but) in the well-polled 2006 parliamentary elections the polls actually slightly underestimated Smer’s performance.

The Smer problem here is simply a large-scale representation of the problem that we find here in trying to make predictions against a moving target (the relationship between party poll support and voter turnout) and with very little data (N=2 for each kind of election).  (Still, for those who are interested, I include the full data at the end of this post.)

This question has driven experts to find a variety of proxy measures to figure out how to adjust polling numbers to reflect the final outcomes.  This post is already too long, however, so that will have to wait for another post (and lest this seem like an unfair cliff-hanger, know that the efforts so far have not produced a particularly compelling answer).

Data Tables for the Obsessive (by the obsessive)

Election Party Major parties Smer SDKU SNS SMK HZDS KDH KSS HDZ ANO PSNS SDA SDL SF All Parties
Average +2.0 +3.8 -4.7 +0.8 -0.9 -0.8 -0.8 -2.1 +2.0 +0.8 -0.5 +0.3 +0.6 +1.5
OMV-SRo +1.8 +2.3 -5.6 +1.6 -0.4 +1.0 -0.5 -1.2 +1.9 +0.3 -0.5 +0.6 +0.6 +1.4
UVVM +1.8 +1.7 -6.6 +0.3 -1.1 -0.8 -1.1 -1.4 +2.1 -0.2 -0.7 -0.4 +1.4 +1.5
Markant +2.0 +4.3 -4.2 +0.7 -2.3 +0.5 +0.4 -1.8 +1.1 +1.0 -0.4 +0.2 +0.6 +1.5
Dicio +2.1 +4.2 -2.8 +0.4 -0.8 -2.2 -1.4 -3.0 +2.8 +1.4 -0.6 -0.2 +0.2 +1.7
MVK +2.3 +5.0 -4.7 +0.4 -0.8 -1.9 +0.1 -3.5 +1.2 +1.0 -0.3 +0.8 +0.2 +1.7
FOCUS +2.3 +5.2 -4.6 +1.4 -0.1 -1.4 -2.3 -1.5 +2.8 +1.2 -0.6 +0.7 +0.8 +1.9
Average +4.3 +9.0 -8.5 +1.8 -1.7 -0.9 -7.0 +1.1 +2.4 +0.5 -0.4 +3.5
FOCUS +3.0 +0.7 -7.9 -1.1 +0.4 -1.4 -8.4 -1.3 +3.2 +1.6 -0.4 +2.6
OVM +4.5 +8.5 -7.3 +3.4 -2.9 -1.6 -5.6 +2.0 +2.1 +0.6 +0.4 +3.3
UVVM +5.0 +13.3 -9.2 +2.7 -2.1 +1.0 -6.9 -0.1 +2.6 +0.1 +0.2 +3.8
Dicio +5.7 +13.4 -9.6 +2.4 -1.9 -1.5 -7.1 +4.0 +1.8 -0.3 -1.8 +4.4
Average +2.2 -1.6 -5.3 -1.7 -1.4 +2.7 +1.4 +1.2 +0.7 +0.8 +2.6 +2.0
OVM-Sro +2.0 -2.4 -4.8 +0.1 -1.7 +1.5 +1.3 +2.0 +0.9 +1.3 +0.8 +1.7
Polis +2.2 -2.5 -4.7 -1.1 -0.4 +2.5 +3.3 +0.6 +1.4 +0.8 +0.3 +1.8
UVVM +2.2 -0.6 -5.7 -2.0 -1.4 +4.1 +0.6 +1.2 +1.7 +0.9 +1.1 +1.9
MVK +2.3 -1.1 -5.9 -1.7 -1.7 +2.7 +2.2 +1.1 -0.6 -1.4 +2.5 +2.1
Dicio +2.4 -1.1 -5.7 -3.5 -2.0 +2.7 -0.2 +1.2 +0.4 +2.7 +5.0 +2.5
FOCUS +3.2 +2.6 -8.9 -3.6 -1.9 +2.3 +1.4 +1.6 +1.6 +2.0 +2.5 +2.8
Median +3.4 +0.7 -10.6 -3.6 -3.2 +1.8 +1.1 +2.7 +3.5 +1.1 +5.5 +3.4
Average +3.9 +11.9 -2.6 +5.0 -3.5 -2.2 -1.6 -0.2 -0.4 +3.6
FOCUS +3.3 +8.4 -1.2 +3.4 -2.7 -3.7 -2.6 +1.1 +0.8 +3.0
UVVM +3.6 +11.7 -4.5 +5.0 -2.8 -0.5 -0.3 -0.0 -0.4 +3.1
MVK +3.9 +11.0 -1.6 +4.8 -3.0 -2.9 -2.7 +1.0 +0.9 +3.5
Median +5.0 +15.8 -2.0 +6.5 -4.8 -2.6 -1.9 -1.7 -1.6 +4.6


Party Parliamentary Election Year Poll Avg. Result Raw Poll Error % Poll Error Average Poll Error Consistency
Smer Slovakia 2002 17.3 13.5 3.8 28% 12% Mixed
2006 27.6 29.1 -1.5 -5%
EU 2004 25.9 16.9 9.0 53% 46% Consistently too high
2009 44.3 32.0 12.3 38%
SDKU Slovakia 2002 10.4 15.1 -4.7 -31% -30% Consistently too low
2006 13.0 18.4 -5.4 -29%
EU 2004 8.6 17.1 -8.5 -50% -27% Consistently too low
2009 16.1 17.0 -0.9 -5%
SNS Slovakia 2002 4.1 3.3 0.8 23% 5% Mixed
2006 10.1 11.7 -1.6 -14%
EU 2004 3.9 2.0 1.9 94% 79% Consistently too high
2009 9.1 5.6 3.5 64%
MK Slovakia 2002 10.3 11.2 -0.9 -8% -10% Consistently too low
2006 10.3 11.7 -1.4 -12%
EU 2004 11.6 13.2 -1.6 -12% -26% Consistently too low
2009 6.9 11.3 -4.4 -39%
HZDS Slovakia 2002 18.7 19.5 -0.8 -4% 13% Mixed
2006 11.5 8.8 2.7 31%
EU 2004 16.1 17.0 -0.9 -6% -24% Consistently too low
2009 5.2 9.0 -3.8 -42%
KDH Slovakia 2002 7.5 8.3 -0.8 -9% 4% Mixed
2006 9.7 8.3 1.4 17%
EU 2004 9.2 16.2 -7.0 -43% -28% Consistently too low
2009 9.4 10.9 -1.5 -14%
KSS Slovakia 2002 4.2 6.3 -2.1 -33% -1% Mixed
2006 5.1 3.9 1.2 31%
EU 2004 5.7 4.5 1.2 26% 29% Consistently too high
2009 2.2 1.7 0.6 33%
SF Slovakia 2006 5.4 3.5 1.9 56% 56% No data
EU 2004 2.9 3.3 -0.4 -11% 11% Mixed
2009 2.1 1.6 0.5 33%
HZD Slovakia 2002 5.3 3.3 2.0 61% 113% Consistently too high
2006 1.7 0.6 1.1 166%
EU 2004 4.1 1.7 2.4 143% 143% No average
ANO Slovakia 2002 8.8 8.0 0.8 10% 53% Consistently too high
2006 2.8 1.4 1.4 97%
EU 2004 5.2 4.7 0.6 12% 12% No average

Polls, Politics and Parties, Part 3: How predictive are polls in Slovakia?

Bep4fore launching into an extended discussion of public opinion in Slovakia, I thought it would pay to look at the quality of the tools we actually have.  I approach this, however, as a non-specialist and look forward to input from others on how this compares to other countries and how better to measure what I am trying to get at.

I also undertake this knowing that whatever the results, I will still look at the topography of party support based on polls.  They are the proverbial lamppost under which we search for our lost keys–the keys may not be there but everywhere else is too dark.

Finally, I distinguish here between accuracy and predictiveness.  I have little doubt, knowing the experts who do this work in Slovakia, that the polls get a read on Slovak opinion that is close to what people actually think (sometimes better, sometimes worse but usually close).  That is not the same, however, as figuring out which of those people will actually come out to vote and how they will make up their minds in the voting booth itself.  When I talk below about “error,” I talk about the difference between what polls say and how ballots are actually cast rather than to mistakes by pollsters.  There may be a technical term for this that I don’t know and I’d be happy to learn it.

From the perspective of somebody who wants to know the result–or wants to make some money in the odds markets, the prediction value of polls for all elections in the sample (Slovakia’s parliament in 2002 and 2006, the European parliament in 2004 and 2009) is not particuarly encouraging.  The difference between results and the average of final polls was 2.5 percentage points which is 36% of the value of the actual result for the parties in question.  Even among major parties in higher turnout parliamentary elections of 2002 and 2006 the average poll got the average party result wrong by an absolute value of 2.1 percentage points or about 24% of the party’s actual result.  The maximum error recorded was 5.4 percentage points (31%). While some polls occasionally came close on specific parties, the poll average never did better than 0.8 percentage points (4%).

Nor do the levels of error seem to be decreasing.  In fact the levels and percentages of error are remarkably consistent from one election to the next when differentiated by the category of election.

Parliamentary Election Year Raw poll error % poll error
Slovak 2002 2.0 24%
2006 2.1 24%
Europarliament 2004 4.7 32%
2009 4.4 34%

This means that any guess about any party’s electoral results based on average public opinion polls, whether made in this blog or anywhere else is, at best likely to be 5% off in either direction and that the error will average (if the past is any guide, as it seems to be) around 24%.  For a party exactly at the 5% threshold, a 24% error produces a range between 4.0 and 6.25.  For a party with 30% support, that same average error produces a range between 28.0 and 43.75!  For low-turnout European parliament elections the potential range is even wider.  This resulting range is the combination of normal margins of survey error (a small part of the total) and a much larger component related to the likelihood of people to actually turn out to vote, regardless of their preferred parties.

The task, then, is to figure out whether there are any ways to figure out specific locations where the errors are likely to emerge and to try and correct for them.  This means looking specifically at time periods, parties, and polling firms, something I will do in the next post.

Dashboard News: Telling the Wrong Story in the Slovak Press

Dashboard NewsSometimes it pays to stop and think before sitting down to write.  Every major Slovak daily yesterday reported on the results of the February poll by the firm FOCUS.  And every one told the same story.

Unfortunately, that story is wrong in two significant ways.

  • First, the decline of SDKU started long before Smer attacks. As the data shows ( nearly every poll shows the party declining steadily from a peak in early-mid 2009.
  • Second, the decline of SDKU did not (yet) accelerate after Smer attacks. We only have two polls for the post attack period–Polis focus sdku 2010and Focus–and both show SDKU within 0.2 percentage points of its December levels.  The appearance of a steep drop was created not by unusually low results for SDKU in the February FOCUS poll but rather by unusually high results for the party in the January poll.  FOCUS can’t really use this as an explanation lest they undercut their own polling methodology (though some noise is simply part of the business), but as the red arrow in the graph below shows, January stands /way/ out.  As the blue arrow shows, FOCUS’s December and February results (and November as well) stand in an extremely relatively narrow band.  Of course the scandal may still hit home, but there is very little in the available data to suggest that it had any effect.

The story is right in one way, but even that is misleading.

  • There something of a reciprocal relationship between SaS and SDKU support
    SDKU’s decline is certainly related to the rise of SaS.  Except for that one month, Focus has shown a steady decline for SDKU from around 16 to around 12.  Polis has shown a decline from around 18 to around 14 (but interestingly did not show a decline for February when the scandals hit).  MVK has shown a decline from around 15 to around 9 (from a poll that emerged /before/ the Dzurinda scandal).  This is almost perfectly parallel with the rise of SaS.  The scandal may contribute to an SDKU decline in the long run but it is one that was already occurring because of the emergence of a relatively plausible non-Dzurinda pro-market party.  And of course the scandal may also indirectly contribute to an SDKU revival if it shifts the face of the party to somebody who is not connected to Dzurinda.
  • …But the tradeoff is not zero-sum.  SaS is also finding other supporters. sk bloc vote roughThe most interesting thing about the SDKU-SaS relationship (along with KDH) is that support for these three “right” parties has actually seen a significant collective rise over recent months, as the highlighted portion of the graph shows.  It would appear that SaS has helped to bring new voters into the mix and re-energize some disillusioned SDKU voters (and Figel’s new energy in KDH has helped a bit as well.  So as long as all three parties remain above the threshold, this is a welcome step for Slovakia’s opposition parties.  It is interesting that Slovakia’s right has only been able to attract above 25% when there has been a third right party other than KDH and SDKU (specifically ANO and later SF) (The same dynamic incidentally applies in the Czech Republic with the Christian Democrats, ODS and a non-ODS right wing party–ODA, then US, then SZ then TOP09).

Finally, the graphs that demonstrate the positive contribution of SaS to the Slovak “right” also demonstrates another story that has gone largely unreported in the Slovak press because it’s development has been more gradual:

  • The most significant shift has been the decline of ethnic Slovak national parties. sk bloc vote smoothThe same graph here, smoothed using the LOESS technique (thanks to Charles Franklin of for the advice and Jon Peltier of for the Excel add-in) shows this in high relief.  Perhaps the smoothing is a bit too great for comfort here but the patterns are not different from those of the month-by month graph: until mid 2008 Slovakia experienced a fairly stable pattern of increase by the “left” and slight declines by the “right,” and the Slovak and Hungarian national blocs; in mid-2008 this began to change, first with sharper declines by the Slovak national parties followed by recovery by the Slovak right (likely thanks to Radicova in the spring and SaS in the fall) and recovery by the Hungarians (thanks to the emergence of Most-Hid, though if it fails to get into parliament or pushes SMK out it will prove to be a highly mixed blessing) and most recently by a reversal of the left as the party dropped from its early 2009 peak.  I suspect that these trends are leveling out more than the graph would suspect but the smoothing does help to take out some of the monthly noise (see above) and help us figure out what’s going on.  More on that in the coming ppp posts.

Politics, Polls and Parties, Part 2: Assessing the present and (badly) predicting the future

p1Yesterday I discussed my plan to undertake a relatively systematic analysis of Slovakia’s parties. I intend to get some additional insight by doing the analysis but preliminary look at the data suggest the following conclusions about where parties have been and where they are going. I hope that I will actually change some of these judgments in the process of analysis, so check back for the final conclusions–by late February.

In the meantime, here’s what I see in the current figures, enhanced by what I’ve learned elsewhere.

Category Party Current position Long term level Medium term Short term trend What will shape numbers in the next few months?



40 ± 3

Gains from 2006 election

Decline from early 2009 peak


Aggressivity of campaign and national focus may help in some circles and hurt in others. At risk of scandals but good at damage control. Economic stabilization should help a bit.



14 ± 3

Peaks and valleys but overall flat from 2009 election (party electoral performance usually better than polls)

Decline from peak in early 2009

Poll differences significant but seems like decline.

If Radicova is electoral leader and relatively untainted by scandal, may see some bounce at the expense of SaS (or may form electoral coalition).


10 ± 1

Flat until recently

Slight increase with coming of Figel

Slight decline from Figel peak but still higher than before

Most stable of all parties in Slovakia. Figel may have slight positive effect.

Near the line


7 ± 2

Peaked in 2008 and fell back below pre-2006 election levels

Erratic but with strong declining trend

Return to decline in recent polls

Election of Orban in Hungary will help but some voters may find Smer more palatable.


6 ± 1

Steady decline since 2006 (actually since 1992)

Recovered in mid-2009 from sharp fall

Return to slight decline

Opaque. Voters aging but loyal. Some inverse relationship with Smer and SNS. Will be close to the threshold–likely just above but hard

to tell.


5 ± 3

Slow decline beginning after 2006 election (maybe slightly before)

Decline prior to and (especially sharp after) emergence of Most-Hid

Return to stability just above threshold

Depends heavily on personality
(advantage Most-Hid) and organization (advantage MKP-SMK). One should
get in. Maybe both.


5 ± 3 (inverse to SMK)

New party

Not included in polls until 2009, beginning around 3% and growing rapidly

Stable just above threshold


6 ± 4 (inverse to SDKU)

New party

Emerged at 3-5% and grew moderately after

Mixed results make size of short term rise unclear: may be significant or slight

Depends on decisions within SDKU and (unclear) effectivness of novel organizational strategies (worked well in Europarliament elections but untested in higher turnout contests)

Hard to imagine


1 ± 1

Erratic but overall gradual decline from 2006 election

Significant decline from peaks in winter 2008 and spring 2009.

Slight further decline

Hurt by rise of SaS and would be hurt more by elevation of Radicova in SDKU; not helped by merger with voter-less Liga and OK


2 ± 1

Erratic but overall gradual decline from 2006 election

Erratic peaks and valleys

Slight decline

Seems flat. Has not gained dissatisfied Smer voters.


1 ± 1


Gradual decline from peaks in summer 2009

Slight decline

Seemed to have a chance and now seems not. Might benefit should Smer begin to crumble but not in near term.


1 ± 1


Decline from 2% levels in late 2008-early 2009

Flat or slight decline

Merging with Smer, soon to disappear.

Dashboard News: Polis polls, party death and party birth

DashboardWhile I will still make quasi-monthly blog posts about new polls, I have now integrated those results into the “dashboard” above and so when the changes are minor, I’ll simply refer to what can be found in the dashboard.  

This week there are a few recent news of moderate interest (though with that build-up you’ve probably already stopped reading):

  • Polis polls confirm trends in other polls. Polis’s February poll came out today.  With the end of UVVM polls, both Median and Polis have gotten more serious about publicizing monthly polling results.  As with Median, there are reasons for not taking Polis too seriously in itself: with Median, the problem is with the question, which does not offer options to voters but requires them to fill in the answer, potentially hurting smaller and newer parties whose names voters might have forgotten; with Polis the problem is the sample, which unlike most other polls in Slovakia is phone based (on which more later).  But while we cannot necessarily look to Polis’s results for an answer, we can profit from paying attention to its trends.  And in this case Polis’s trends nicely echo those of most other surveys:
    • drops for KDH and SDKU and increase for SaS;
    • drops for SNS and HZDS and slight rise for Smer;
    • stabilization for MKP-SMK and Most-Hid.

The reciprocal relationship among party votes continues to occur  within the three blocs, with SaS and Smer the current beneficiaries.

  • Polis polls show the strong position of the current coalition. It is notable that even if the Polis results were likely predictors of the electoral results and even though they are about as strong as the current opposition could possibly expect–one of the current coalition parties out (HZDS) and all of the on-the-margin opposition parties in (SaS, MKP-SMK, Most-Hid)–the current coalition would still have a 78-72 majority, underlining the problems of creating a non-Smer coalition.  Only with SNS below the threshold and HZDS below the threshold or lured by the current opposition is it possible currently to envision a non-Smer government taking office in 2010. It has not been until early this year that I have given serious thought to the chance that SNS might fall short–it was doing quite well until last year but its current quite steep slide does not bode well for the party, and the party itself does not have much of an organization to fall back on in hard times.  Still, the party has a leader (whose supporters apparently care relatively little about corruption and all manner of scandal) and an issue: Hungary.  That issue is not going away, especially when Slovakia’s news media can today run headlines saying: “Orban thinks we have a complex.”
  • Parties die, Part 1. This week reported about a merger between Slobodne Forum, Liga, and Obcanski Kandidati.  Since Liga has never gone anywhere and OK has not even shown up on polls, this doesn’t much help Slobodne Forum which is suffering itself from the rise of the other new party in its issue space, SaS.   It also doesn’t mean much for Slovakia’s politics, but it ever so slightly thins the ranks.
  • Parties die, Part 2. Ivan Gasparovic’s HZD is merging with Smer.  This, too, does not mean much since HZD had not exceeded 1% in polling averages since September but it also slightly simplifies the situation.  It is also a bit ironic for me since in 2003 I interviewed Ivan Gasparovic and he told me, rather wearily (and seemingly without any thought of actual success), that he would probably have to run for president simply in order to bring some visibility to his party.
  • Parties are born.  Living up to its established reputation as Slovakia’s main incubator of unsuccessful new parties (see HZD above, along with LU and the less unsuccessful DU and several others), HZDS has given birth to yet another formation: AZEN, the Alliance for a Europe of Nations, this one founded by Milan Urbani, another in a long line of HZDS’s second-in-visibility cast off from his own party.  Given the lateness of the move and Urbani’s relatively low profile and limited appeal, it is unlikely that this party will get very far (it appears not to even have registered before announcing its name).  Given its interesting name, I am reminded of a Buddhist koan.  AZEN is the sound of one voter voting.

Parties, Polls and Politics in Slovakia: Part 1 of a multi-part series.

p0Lots of news from Slovakia in the past two weeks, some obvious and some not. In addition to changes in Slovakia’s leading opposition party SDKU-DS, the reports of recent days have also included a series of other minor revelations and lots and lots of polling data including some new sources.  I’ll try to address some of the quick and ephemeral issues in the next blog entry and then on to something more systematic.

It is my hope over the next several weeks to look at Slovakia’s party system in some detail as summary of the year past and preparation for the busy electoral season ahead (though the campaign’s been in full swing since Christmas). In particular I want to look at long term polling data for each of the major parties, looking at trends in support, the relationship of poll numbers to internal party politics and the relationship of polls to election results.  I’ll be posting those as “Parties, Polls and Politics” and tagging them as “ppp” and they’ll serve as the basis of better analysis come election time.

News for those obsessed with public opinion in Slovakia

may cause drowsinessThose of you who are not deeply interested in how Slovaks vote (i.e. nearly everybody) can tune out.  Those of you who are interested, I understand your pain, and you can now find all of this blog’s monthly public opinion graphs available in one place by clicking the “Dashboard” link on the top of every page.  If it doesn’t work for you, leave a comment that lets me know what browser you are using (I.E. versions seem to have particular problems) and I’ll be glad to send you an updated PDF.  I’ll still be inserting graphs in posts, but this is one way to get the data up quickly without spending time on analysis, and maybe that will prevent me from being so late in posting the data.