What little they have shall be taken away from them

While it has not always been easy to feel sorry for Vladimir Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Society, this week’s FOCUS poll offers yet another way in which insult has added to injury.  I have waited for some time for the results of the October FOCUS poll and when it did not come out around the end of October, I guessed that the firm had waited for things to settle down rather than conduct a poll during the collapse of a government.  Yesterday’s early release of November numbers seemed to confirm that, but a look at the actual FOCUS press release reveals that they /did/ conduct an October poll and simply did not release it during the turmoil.  So now we have yet another set of numbers.  For the most part these are nothing interesting, falling roughly in between the numbers for September and those for November, but in one case they are quite different: in October 4.7% of respondents opted for Meciar’s HZDS.  Does this mean anything?    Probably not, since the month before it got 3% and the month after it got 2.5%.  But the only reason it was ignored is that we did not get the October numbers until after we got the November ones which showed October to be simply an irrelevant blip.

I take two things from this:

First, I have commented frequently on the tendency of the Slovak press (and to be fair, the press of any country) to treat polls as if they are a real, actual indicator of political attitude rather than simply a sample that must be understood in context of other samples.   The Slovak press ignores blips only if they are clearly just that, but without context we have a harder time knowing whether they are simply a blip.  With context, we can make a better judgement.  Had I in October received the news of a 4.7% score for HZDS, I would have looked at the numbers and said a) This is at least a full point out of line for HZDS for FOCUS polls and a reversal of the trendline and b) all of the other polls are mixed, showing either a small rise or none at all.  I hope I would then have said, “this is probably a blip” and then taken the easy way out by saying “time will tell.”  Had the Slovak press received this news in October, I would not have been surprised to read a headline saying “HZDS back in the game” (though to be fair the article might have contained somewhere below the fold a quotation from one of the usual suspects of Slovakia’s political commentary that said “this is probably just a blip but time will tell.”)

Second, I take from this a sign that HZDS simply cannot get a break these days:  after months of irrelevance its one (in-retrospect meaningless) piece of good news, a story that might have helped its chances at election (by persuading some people that it had a chance at election) gets wiped out by a change of government.  Alas.

Volby 2012: FOCUS poll actually does show what Slovak press says it does… but context matters more

According to press reports in SME and Pravda, the most recent FOCUS poll shows the party Smer-SD with a commanding lead and the capacity to gain a majority of seats in parliament.  And for once those press reports are correct.  This does not mean that Smer will win the majority, but this FOCUS poll is a fairly strong sign of the party’s raw level of support.

Three quick points:

  • First, this is the first time I have seen a convincing suggestion of the possibility of a one-party government for Smer, because here Smer manages to go above 75 even without have all other factors in its favor.  In many scenarios, Smer is able to get into power on its own only if all of the small parties (including SNS) should fail.  In this case, however, Smer’s gains its majority at the same time that SNS narrowly beats the threshold.  I would still put the odds well against this outcome, but I am now at least willing to take it seriously.
  • Second, it points to the relative role of the two factors that will affect Smer’s success: it’s own level of support and the support of those around it, particularly those near the threshold.  Smer’s 45.1% in November translated into 79 seats while its only slightly lower performance in previous FOCUS poll in October–43.1%–translated into only 70 seats.  Why the 9-seat difference?  The 2% rise in Smer’s preference actually contributed only 2 or 3 seats and would not alone have given the party a clear majority.   What is crucial here is that in the November poll 13.8% of the population supported parties that did not exceed the 5% threshold, whereas in October the share was only 7.4%.  That, plus a few small differences in the way the opposition vote is distributed explains 5-6 of Smer’s seat total.  In a rather literal sense here, it is not the size of the Smer vote, but the motion of the small waves around it that make a difference.  
  • Third, it is worth noting that if Smer becomes convinced that it can achieve a consistently high level of support at this level, it may begin take a different approach toward SNS.  In 2010 Smer’s failure to form a goverment had quite a bit to do with the significant drops of both SNS and HZDS–drops that Smer helped to encourage–and its inability to find other partners.  According to that thinking, Smer has clearly set out to make sure that other parties might consider it (particularly Most-Hid and perhaps KDH or even SDKU), but it has always kept SNS in its pocket as well, if only as a bargaining chip.  According to the current FOCUS scenario, however, at any level of Smer support above 35%, the failure of SNS to pass the 5% threshold actually help Smer, because half of the 8 seats that would have gone to SNS go to Smer and raise it to majority status.  It might be a bit too early for Smer to gamble on undercutting its closest political partner, however, because as the previous point suggests, relatively minor changes in circumstances have a big effect on the level at which SNS goes from hindrance to help.  Even having both Hungarian parties exceed the 5% threshold would give Smer pause, since in that case Smer would need over 41% to be able to regard SNS as a hindrance.   But don’t take my word for it: try your own scenarios in the online calculator: online results calculator.

Slovakia Party Tree 2011

Thanks to Sme for publishing a nice version of my 2010 Party Tree diagram (the tree is a helpful format I’ve been using for the last decade and first posted here in 2008) .   I wish SME had asked me though, as there is a newer version that might have saved them some work (I try to keep this up to date).  Attached below are my updated graphic and table (click to expand them to readable size).  They are not as pretty as Smer’s, but they have more information (and my graph does not cast Smer as “Red”).  A pdf version is here: Slovak Party Tree 2011.

Family Tree and Data for Slovakia’s Political Parties, 1990-2011

I must say, though, that I am much taken with another version “mapastran”, which I am ashamed I had not seen.  I am much taken for its sheer attractiveness and inclusion of information which is not in my version.  Check it out at :  http://www.mapastran.sk).




Slovakia Polling Update, November 2: MVK and Polis

In the wake of the fall of the government, we’ve now gotten a few new polls from firms that are less frequent to offer them, particularly Polis (last week) and MVK (t0day).  Despite the headlines which regard these as items of “news,” both of these are interesting in the ways that they show very little shift.  Full results are on the dashboard, but a few thoughts without the fanciness of including party logos.

First, it is notable that in the last two elections Polis has produced results closer to the actual outcome than any other firm.  MVK has done rather worse, with some quite significant problems.  This does not undercut MVK a priori, but it does suggest caution regarding any trends that appear only in MVK data.

Now on to the party-by-party:

  • Smer shows stable preferences in both of the new polls but the difference is quite significant: high 30’s in MVK and mid-40’s in Polis, a difference of about 20 percentage points.  FOCUS and Median have tended to side with Polis in this, suggesting that the actual share of  preferences may not be as low as MVK finds, though how this plays out in terms of turnout could be a different story.
  • SNS is also stable for both, with a slight decline for both MVK and Polis.  But since SNS was already below the threshold for both, its absence from parliament according to these predictions is relatively old news.  FOCUS and Median, however, tend to put SNS above the threshold, allowing it a strong claim to the status of “most uncertain.”
  • HZDS is also stable in both.  Stable here, however, is extremely bad news for the party which appears to have flatlined around 3%.  Jumpstarting the heart here looks unlikely.
  • SDKU shows a big post-Euroval drop, probably not due here to the news about Radicova’s departure from the party (which hadn’t yet become public when the polls were taken) but due to its inability to master the difficulties of a difficult coalition (and perhaps, though I can’t say) because of the return to prominence of Miklos and Dzurinda…  It is fascinating to me that one of the questions in SME’s betting pool is “will SaS get more votes than SDKU” and that at present a significant number of bettors say “yes.”
  • Toward that end, SaS does show a big leap in both polls (as it did in last month’s FOCUS poll.  The party may really have figured this one out in the short run, finding an issue to resurrect its long slow slide to obscurity (a la ZRS, SOP, ANO, VV).  Whether it pays in the long run depends on who gets to form the next coalition, but even there it is hard to expect that a right wing coalition would rather go with Fico than SaS, however unreliable it may seem.
  • KDH maintains its stable 9% with no clear patterns.  This one seems simply to depend on the polling and who’s at home on a given day.  I wonder, though, if the party will be able to maintain that stability if it goes into coalition with Smer, something party leaders are not now ruling out.
  • With the Hungarian parties there is a drop for Most-Hid and a bit of a drop for MKP-SMK as well.  The real question here, however, is the relative strength and ability to cross 5%.  On this Most-Hid still seems to have the upper hand, but there will be a lot of strategic voters on election day who could tolerate either one and will be voting to get the other one in.  The problem comes if too many do that and the leader then falls short (as may have happened with last-minute shifts from SKM to underdog Most-Hid in 2010) .  For the moment the two parties have rejected coalition so they may be willing to risk defeat for the possible chance of a significant gain.

None of these results provide much new information.   Except for the recovery by SaS (which may fade) not much has changed from previous months.  That in itself may be news.  And so (to a lesser degree) is the fact that this blog is going ot have to change to offier placements and lines in the graph for the new parties Ordinary People (OL) and Nation and Justice (NAS) which are going to need their own lines and pages.  Both appear in the new MVK poll (MVK had included them even before their formal registry and while neither would make it into parliament, both appear to have a dampening effect on related parties: OL gets nearly 4%, while NAS gets 1%.  More on that in another post.

Post-Halloween Edition: Vlad the Impaled

I’ve wanted to post this for some time but did not dare to do so until I knew it would work out. Now it has and I can reveal the identity of the guest in yesterday’s Democracy class:

But before you say, “what a bad Photoshop job!” you should know that I would never stoop that low to put myself into a picture with a famous person.  I might, however, resort to this:

More complicated?  Sure, but much more practical for Trick-or-Treat (and for classroom dialogs about Russia).
But, you might ask, “Where can I get a cardboard cutout of Putin to use in my own quest to scare adults and/or engage students in discussion?”  Well you could try one of the many vastly overpriced cardboard cutout vendors online, or you could find a high-rez picture of Putin, photoshop out the background, print it across multiple sheets, arrange them on a piece of cardboard, secure them with spray adhesive and add a stick. 

Since that’s too complicated for all but the most obsessive (of which I am obviously one), I offer below a completed version of the first 3 steps: your-own-life-sized-putin-cutout.pdf.*  Print out pages 2,5,6,7,8 for the short form, or add 9-20 for the long (if not quite full length) version.  Just print out, add cardboard, and stick, and voilà.  

*Wetsuit, equestrian and tiger-tranquilizing gun outfits sold separately.

I realize that this introduces a significant gender bias to the costumes, so I promise that by next Halloween I’ll finish the long-awaited Yulia-Tymoshenko-in-a-leather-space-suit cutout, though at the moment of my writing, the space available to her is rather smaller.



Credits:  While I am the proud owner of the Tymoshenko poster, I am thankful to Dominic Nonni for snapping the picture at the top and to the Slovenian Press Agency for putting its pictures in the public domain under a Creative Commons license (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vladimir_Putin_in_Slovenia_in_2011_(11).jpg), though perhaps they just want everybody to see how Prime Minister Pahor towers over Prime Minister Putin.