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.

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