Czech Election Update: Time for the Bigger Picture

A third post on the Czech election. There is a lot to say. I will begin by not quite rejecting the strong temptation to direct criticism to Dnes for celebrating the record high number of women in the new Czech parliament by adorning the article with a drawing of a topless woman and then inviting its readers to vote for “Miss Parliament” based on electoral headshots (I feel compelled to include the link just to prove I’m not making this up, but please don’t go there). It is enough to say, perhaps, that this is sexist even by Central European standards .

Instead I will focus on the question of volatility. In yesterday’s post I plotted Czech volatility over time but did not have time to use the right methods or comparison set. Now that vacation is over, I can fill in the gaps.

First, I can provide references to the articles I cited: the two best recent works I know on volatility:

Because Powell and Tucker provide time series data, I will focus on theirs here, but Mainwaring et al handle the question beautifully as well (particularly their focus on “young” as opposed to strictly “new” parties). My first task was to take the Czech electoral data and use it to distinguish between volatility among existing parties (Mainwaring et al call this intra-system; Powell and Tucker call it Type B) and volatility created by parties entering and leaving the party system (Mainwaring et al call this extra-system; Powell and Tucker call it Type A). Using Powell and Tucker’s method (slightly different from my rough cut yesterday because it excludes parties with less than 2%) produces the following graph which decomposes the red line into its
From this it becomes clear that with the exception of 1992 (when extra-system volatility was huge because of the breakup of Civic Forum and seversl other parties) and 2006 (when extra-system volatility was basically absent), the Czech Republic has had both types of volatility in roughly equal levels.

These levels are low not only with regard to the first electoral period but also with regard to the region as a whole. To convey that point, I steal figures from Powell and Tucker’s 2009 analysis, circle the Czech Republic, and insert the 2010 data. For comparison’s sake, I do the same for Hungary (and in two weeks will do the same for Slovakia). The results are as follows, with the Czech Republic in blue and Hungary in green.

By comparison with the region as a whole, both the Czech Republic and Hungary have exhibited low levels of both types of volatility; indeed in most election years during this period, these two countries have been at or near the lowest overall. On specific kinds of volatility, both Hungary and the Czech Republic have only occasionally been above average on intra-system volatility and never (since 1992 in the Czech Republic) above average on extra-system volatility. In 2010, however, their levels of intra-system volatility rise above the regional average, but so did the previously extra-system volatility, pushing the overall levels from the near the bottom to slightly above the regional trendlines.

In addition to the quantitative resemblance, there are also other similarities.

  • First, both elections show a clear exhaustion with those in power that is clearly motivated by a general disillusionment with large segments of the political elite. Both the Czechs and the Hungarians had, for the most part, avoided this for some time, with large numbers of disillusioned voters holding their noses and voting for old parties anyway or switching to the other big party (accounting for the not insignificant levels of intra-system volatility). The higher levels of extra-system volatility in both countries suggests that these tendencies have diminished and that these two countries have moved closer to the Central European norm of disillusioned voters shifting to new parties.
  • Second, related to the above, both countries saw the emergence of a culturally liberal party attractive to younger, educated voters making extensive use of social networking software: LMP in Hungary, VV in the Czech Republic. (It seems to my uneducated eye that the Hungarian variant is economically more statist, but this seems relatively unimportant to the overall profile.) It is significant that a nearly identical party–SaS in Slovakia–looks set to take a similar share in Slovakia, and that similar parties have done well in the Baltics. There is here something new, not exactly a new party family (though in their cultural liberalism and anti-corruption emphases they share significant elements) and not exactly a new party type (though their methods and organization do not fit fully with any of the currently hypothesized models, even cartel and firm models), but with strong and intersecting elements of both. Nor is it unique to Central Europe alone but elements of it have emerged also in the West. Expect to hear more on this question in this blog. This is something that will need explanation.

Despite these similarities, it is important to emphasize that the election results in these two countries also differ in ways that are quite instructive:

  • First, in Hungary the intra-system volatility represents the evisceration of one major party at the hands of the other–MSZP dropped while Fidesz rose–while in the Czech Republic, all of the established parties lost support compared to the last election.
  • Second, although both countries saw the emergence of new parties, there is a very big difference between the center right TOP09 in the Czech Republic the far more radical right Jobbik in Hungary. This difference is important not only for the political content of the two parliaments (something we see already in the legislative output of the Hungarian parliament) but also for future volatility: a party with a clear programmatic message such as Jobbik may be able, despite its internal factionalization, to survive multiple election cycles whereas the more diffuse TOP09 may have a harder time of it (though because I have just predicted that it will turn out not to be true).
  • Third, there is a significant difference in the role of these new parties: Jobbik will be able to remain outside of government whereas TOP09 and perhaps VV will likely be part of government. Both positions have their risks: Jobbik may be able to avoid responsibility but will also be able to claim few accomplishments and has already had the softer parts of its agenda on national questions pulled from underneath it by the current government. TOP09 and (probably) VV will be able to implement parts of their agenda but will also become responsible for any resulting problems (even those they merely inherit) and will face problems when their new (and relatively inexperienced) cabinet ministers succumb to the same clientelistic temptations as their predecessors. It is interesting to me that VV has openly contemplated staying out of government, suggesting that it has learned the lesson of past Czech “new” parties and those elsewhere in the region. (As Tim Haughton and I have argued elsewhere: new anti-corruption party + government participation = death)

What happens in Hungary and the Czech Republic as the result of these elections will not, I think, have much impact on the broader world (and may not even have much impact on the quality of the daily lives of Hungarians and Czechs) but they are worth this degree of close scrutiny (and more) because what is going on there is indicative, I think, of significant transformations in the relationship between who people are (demographically), what they think (attitudinally) and who they vote for (politically). Demographic patterns and attitudinal patterns still exist but their relationships to political behavior have changed as perceptions of corruption have risen to the top of the list of concerns (and “endurance” becomes shorthand for “corruption”) and as political entrepreneurs take advantage of this change and of new organizational technologies to provide an ever changing menu of new parties (themselves organized primarily for short term gains). For awhile the Czech Republic and Hungary offered some evidence that the trend was not inevitable. With the most recent elections in these countries, it is more difficult to see any alternative.

Finally, from the broader perspective it is interesting that in Hungary and the Czech Republic the election has been regarded as a fundamental shift, a major change in the game of politics despite the fact that the degree of shift was, by regional standards, only about average. Perhaps earthquakes only seem major if you are not used to them, but they still shake buildings. Of course people and institutions figure out ways to survive even where earthquakes are a regular occurance, but their lives are different than they would be in areas with less seismic activity (money is spent differently, personal habits follow different patterns). I hope to spend a good portion of the next few years thinking about how political life is different when every election is an earthquake.


Ben Stanley commented via Facebook: “It’s great being a CEE specialist. Instead of accumulating common wisdoms, we get to throw them all away and make up new ones!”

Cas Mudde comented via Facebook, “Would be interesting to see the same for seats in parliament.”
Here it is, though it is actually rather uninteresting compared to the same calculations with votes.  It suggests, however, that one of the reasons that new parties do not survive is that they never really get started.  US, VV and TOP09 are the only new parties actually to have made it over the threshold since 1992, but this rather technically excludes the Green Party, SZ whose 2006 incarnation is difficult not to describe as a new party despite a certain degree of legal and organizational continuity with the one established shortly after the revolution of 1989.  It will also be interesting to see if, as Sean Hanley wonders, Suverenita manages to use its stronger-than-expected performance to chip away at CSSD in the next election cycle, thus enhancing (or if VV or TOP09 fare badly, maintaining) the red “2010” bar.

Czech Election Update: The (Slightly) Bigger Picture

Another quick and ugly post from vacation (thanks to my family for tolerating my obsession even as we drive from city to city to visit loved ones).  I wanted briefly to put the 2010 Czech election into the context of the Czech party system over time (the next quick and ugly will, I hope, put it into broader regional perspective, if Josh Tucker of the Monkey Cage doesn’t do it first.

For now, all I wanted to do was to post a few pictures about what the most recent elections say in raw quantitative terms about the Czech party system circa 2010.

The big news is that thanks to this election cycle the Czech Republic’s party system looks significantly different today than it did ten years ago (indeed it is closer to 1992 or 1996) and signs are that the current changes will presage more change (or, to put it in a different and more awkward way, a period of stable change as opposed to stable stability)

Let’s start with the number of parties:

While the actual number of parties in parliament (the green line) did not change from last election to this one other measures suggest a substantially increased number of parties.  The red and blue lines show calculations of party system size based on Taagipera and Laakso’s method which show more significant parties in the voting than any time since 1992 and more even distribution of seats in parliament since 1992 as well (and it actually comes quite close to reaching 1992 levels.

The second major difference is in volatility–the number of seats changing hands from one election to the next.  This is actually quite a complicated question because it depends on how we consider succession from one party to the next, but in this election in the Czech Republic the lines of succession are fairly clear (not so in previous elections).  Without going into too much detail, volatility in Czech elections looks like this:

While not approaching 1990-1992 levels (and there is a good argument that even 1990-1992 was not that high), this is the highest volatility the Czech Republic has seen since, with only 61% of seats remaining in the hands of parties that held them before the election.  (As I will try to discuss tomorrow, while this is unusual for the Czech Republic it actually brings it more within the “normal” range for Central and Eastern Europe.)

This shift is even more interesting because of the nature of the volatility.   Both Tucker and Powell and Mainwaring et al have done fantastic work in the past two years distinguishing between types of volatility and suggesting that it makes a difference if the shift is between parties already in parliament or between parties in parliament and new parties.  I do not have time to recreate the calculations of the authors above, but there is another method for displaying it that is perhaps even more provocative.  The graph below shows the share of vote going to parties depending on when they first appeared on the ballot (more or less corresponding to when they were created):

What this graph says to me is two things:

  • Until this election, nearly all of the Czech vote went to parties that were created in the first two years after the fall of communism.
  • New parties appeared, but they almost never survived.  It is remarkable that even though dozens of new parties appeared in the Czech Republic between 1992 and 2006, the combined vote totals for those parties in 2010 was less than 1%.  The Czech Republic’s political scene today contains parties that are (by Czech standards of 20 years of democracy) rather old (60%) or entirely new (39%) and almost none in between.
  • Given that, pattern, the question is what the Czech Republic looks like in 5 or 10 years.  If the current new parties show the same survival patterns as their “new” predecessors, they will not exist in one or two election cycles (this is the pattern elsewhere in the region).  The old parties may recover some of their voters but probably not all of them and the rest will go on to other new parties which will be equally short lived.  The larger this space gets, the larger space it may create for the next election and the more likely the Czech Republic is to find itself with the same patterns as the Baltics and other countries in the region.  The Czech party system dog has stopped not barking.

Guest Blogger: Tim Haughton on Czech Electoral Politics

The smiling gentleman pictured here–Tim Haughton of the University of Birmingham–is not a blogger, but he should be, and so I have pressured him into sharing his impressions of electoral politics in the Czech Republic in the run-up to today’s election.  I have the good fortune not only to profit from Tim’s insightful analysis of European politics on an almost daily basis but also to be able to call him a close friend.  With less than an hour to go before we get the results, I want to share his first-hand observations of the Czech political scene in Prague on the ground level on the last day of campaigning, a piece that is not only astute but also beautifully evocative of the city from which he is writing.

City of Angels: Impressions of the Czech Election Campaign

Tim Haughton, University of Birmingham

There are two rules for political scientists studying an election in another country: don’t just visit the capital and try not to rely on your closest contacts. Although I’ve fallen into both traps, in response to Kevin’s request for a post for his excellent pozorblog, here are a few impressions.

Thanks to the timing of my students’ exams, piles of undergraduate dissertations to mark and other exciting administrative tasks, I arrived in the Czech Republic late on Wednesday with just one day of campaigning to go. As my wife is a native of Prague the first duty (and pleasure) whenever we visit the Czech Republic is to meet up with the family. In a local watering-hole in the shadow of the Staropramen brewery, with the golden beer quenching our thirst, the debate begins.

My wife’s family all enthusiastically jangled their keys in November 1989 welcoming the end of communist rule. They swung behind Klaus and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the early 1990s keen to see rapid marketization, democratization and a ‘return to Europe’, but as the decade progresses they became increasingly disenchanted by Klaus’s arrogance and the corruption, lies and incompetence of ODS, not just at the national level, but also in the capital where the party has (mis)ruled since the early 1990s. Twenty years after the first time they cast their votes in a free election, they remain largely undecided about whom to vote for this time.

One member of the family is set on voting for the Greens. The party entered parliament in 2006 and became a member of the Topolanek government, but has haemorraged support in the past couple of years and if the polls are to be believed will fall well below the 5% threshold. The support of former president and iconic figure Vaclav Havel maybe doesn’t count for much in Czech politics anymore, but he does offer a sign of where some of the moral, upstanding people may remain in Czech politics.

Another member of the family is inclined to support TOP ’09, a relatively new party formed as the name suggests last year. The centre-right party which offers tradition (‘T’), responsibility (‘O’) and prosperity (‘P’) has at its head Karel Schwarzenberg. The former Foreign Minister (nominated by the Greens to the Topolanek government) is a popular figure who appears everywhere in the TOP 09 material. ‘I am voting for the prince’ declares the family member rather than mentioning the name of the party. The avuncular aristocrat may speak an odd version of Czech betraying his roots and long exile in Austria during communist rule, but he is trusted, not just thanks to his experience and skills, but because he is not afflicted by the disease of Czech politics: corruption.

‘How can you vote for TOP ’09 declares another member of the family? Schwarzenberg maybe a great figures, but ‘what about [Miroslav] Kalousek’. The creator of the new party who shrewdly persuaded Schwarzenberg to join may have been a relatively successful finance minister, but his career is not free from the strains of corruption and dirty dealing. Kalousek – just like leading figures in ODS such as Prague major Pavel Bem and former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek – is far from being an angel.

All member of the family dislike the Communists with a vengeance and have little sympathy for Jiri Paroubek the leader of the most popular party in the Czech Republic, the Social Democrats (CSSD). Paroubek may have given a very positive impression in CSSD’s party political broadcast as he spoke in glowing terms about his country and vision for the future but put him in a media studio and out comes the street fighter. In the car from the airport my mother-in-law recounts in great detail the insults Paroubek and ODS leader Petr Necas traded during the latest radio debate.
One other round the table is tempted to go for Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDU-CSL). The party lost many prominent members and support when Kalousek left the party to form TOP ’09. The party’s old-new leader Cyril Svoboda is one of the great survivors of Czech politics who has held office in governments led by the left and the right and has not been stained by a major corruption scandal. His moderate, Christian, pro-European stance isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but even those enthused to vote KDU-CSL recognize the possibility that the party won’t cross the threshold and will hence be a wasted vote.

Where else to head this morning in the city of such whiter than white politicians than ‘Andel’ (angel)? In fact I spent most of the day travelling between Andel and Republic Square. ODS is the dominant party in Prague with strong levels of support. The party offers the best pre-election meeting at least for the hungry and thirsty. The smell of sausages and draught beer entices many of the shoppers to stop and listen to the music and collect the party’s material. Elsewhere on the street young, pretty Czech girls decked out in blue T-shirts (the party’s colour) hand out bags of party material to all who come within range.

Just along the road is a small CSSD stall. It doesn’t compete in size with the ODS, but it does offer a fuller bag of goodies including a book written by the party’s Prague bigwig, Peter Hulinsky, and has the clever idea of handing out orange roses – a smart way to get the romantic vote. Even if orange is a slightly odd colour for roses (unlike the party’s sister parties abroad CSSD adopted the colour orange thanks to the advice of marketing gurus in the run-up to the 2006 elections), at least orange looks like an almost natural colour for roses, whereas blue would look decidedly odd.
Further along the street are a couple of Green party activists desperately trying to attract the attention of the passing shoppers. Their efforts, even under a sign declaring the greens are not dead, seem not enough to revive the voters who backed the party in 2006. A stall of the small Party of Free Citizens set-up by the Klausite policy wonk Petr Mach has a greater number of party activists sheltering from the drizzle, but it is not attracting much interest, unsurprising for a party which barely registers in opinion polls.

A short metro journey away the Prague Communists are having their final rally. A small crowd of mostly white and grey-haired citizens have congregated to listen to some of the city’s communists including the leader of the party’s list in Prague Jiri Dolejs. No-one seems especially enthusiastic, although one of the female speakers who bemoans developments in the past twenty years earns plenty of nodding heads. The criticisms of developments of the past two decades seem rather incongruent given the party’s stall is next to one of the new shopping centres. A symbol of capitalism sure, but one the citizens of Prague seem to be enjoying with relish judging by the number of shopping bags in hands. On the opposite side of the square, the Social Democrats also have a stall. No set-pieces speeches here, just more orange roses, a jazz quartet and the presence of the larger-than-life Interior Minister Martin Pecina who towers above the citizens who are asking him questions.

The surprise package of Czech politics in recent months has been the new party Veci Verejene (‘Public Affairs’). No day of campaigning would be complete without seeing something of the party led by Radek John, which if polls are to be believed, could win around tenth of the votes. The party has a stall opposite its Prague HQ. Under a billboard calling for the end of the dinosaurs in politics, but reminiscent of ODS’s event near Angel, VV has arranged young pretty girls to distribute cakes and chocolates to entice the passing citizens, and for some musicians to persuade those who congregate to tap their feet. Moreover, they have a candy floss (cotton candy) machine.

After lingering for awhile I decide to leave and start walking back to Andel to take the tram back to the in-laws. A few hundred metres from the VV stall a German family with three young children are walking in the same direction as me. They probably know little about Czech political dinosaurs or Radek John, but they are really enjoying the taste of the candy floss. Not everything in Czech politics has such a bitter taste, but the tastiest things are sometimes the offerings of the new to the ignorant.

Guest Blogger: Sean Hanley on Czech Electoral Politics

Editor’s note:  For the first time on this blog I welcome a guest blogger, and there is no better way to start than with Sean Hanley of University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, Centre for the Study of Central Europe.  It is Sean’s Blog, made me realize how useful blogs were for academic communication and gave me the inspiration to take mine much more seriously.  Sean writes:

“I think that we are seeing the rise of new parties – and actually if you track other things including the world of Czech extra-parliamentary parties there is a clear ‘below the radar’ trend that has been underway for several years. I tend to see the challengers as still very much (as they have always been) on the centre-right.  On the left the challenges are not so serious. SPO(Z)  given their current inability to go beyond 3% in the polls, are not, and I think will not become, a serious challenger to CSSD as TOP09 and VV are for ODS and KDU. Crucially, SPO(Z) lack the element of novelty.  Suverenita, if they could get the resources and pick up the political momentum needed for lift off, would be a better bet for real a centre-left populist breakthrough: populist message, well known leader, element of novelty including having a female leader (Veci verejne have also traded on the same formula and have done well despite being led by the bluff Radek John).  On the other hand, this type of formula was tried in 2006 by Zelezny and the Indepedent Democrats and flopped. There is also the possibility of a recurrence of the 1999-2002 surge of KSCM, but I wonder about how likely that would be to repeat since KSCM lacks the broad appeal and tactical flexibility to capitalise on such opportunities.

It would be interesting to compile a dashboard window for support for non-parliamentary parties (including TOP09, which has not made it independently into parliament) to see what trends there are As regards, disillusionment/new party cycles, I would be a little cautious about the viewing this as a very general model to which the CR — after an odd and exceptional period of historically conditioned party system stability — will tend gravitate.  An underlying question is the nature of the disillusionment cycles and demand for new parties and specifically whether there is a certain cyclical/fixed background layer of frustration with established parties held in check by diminishing stock of organizational and political robustness or whether we are seeing eruptions of discontent, which fit with some longer term unfolding pattern linked to social change or the changing nature of reform politics in the region.

To return to the short term the election looks to be shaping up for the predicted battering for ODS and Pyrrhic victory for CSSD.  It will be interesting to see if Klaus blocks a minority CSSD government as promised to avoiding a CSSD-KSCM entente, although if KDU-CSL make it into parliament (and their apparent loss of all but their core support has the positive electoral implication that such voters will tend to turn out, whereas I think TOP09 and VV might poll less than polls suggest) it could leave us again with the familiar deadlocked situation. Grand Coalition anyone?”

Sean makes his electoral predictions on his blog today!  Check it out:

Tomorrow: guest blogging from Tim Haughton of the University of Birmingham

Czech Dashboard News: Final Factum Poll and Coalition Math

Only three days to go and we have now the final allowed-by-law pre-election poll numbers in (the big three of CVVM, STEM and Factum-Invenio; SANEP and Median did not report, but this is probably all right since I am not yet certain how to think about SANEP and I am certain that Median has significant problems).  And the result is….

Well the average of the big three is CSSD 29, ODS 21, Communists at 13, TOP09 and VV at 11 and KDU-CSL just under 5%.  But Factum’s poll puts CSSD at 26, ODS at 23 and KDU-CSL just over 5%.   As I’ll discuss in a moment, this makes a big difference.  But first a schadenfreude interlude.

I have been reporting for a very long time about the insufficiencies of Slovakia’s reporting on public opinion polls, particularly the tendency to treat each new poll as an utterly independent news item without any regard for previous polls by the same firm or contemporary polls by other firms.  As somebody who has frequently championed equality of status between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, I am happy to report the otherwise sad news that Czech reporters are just as limited as their Slovak counterparts. Dnes reports “Left has lost its majority, ODS strengthened” but ODS improved by a mere 1.2% (well within any margin of error for such a poll, though of course the story did not mention any margin of error) and by my estimation of seats, the left has not had a majority in the Factum poll since February, so it’s only in comparison to other polls that the left lost ground.  But of course that’s not the right comparison to make. To be fair a better Dnes article published twelve hours later interviews the directors of the three major firms and uses their responses to compare the major polls, how they ask questions and why they differ.  It also does a good job of looking at the consequences of the elections.  But this is not an excuse, I think, for bad reporting of the results on the fly.  It does not take a conversation with Kunstat, Hartl and Herzmann to have a sense of why polls differ or why an article should not report on more recent polls as if they are more accurate polls.

The mid-range parties are actually quite consistent in the polls, with KSCM around 13%, occupying an incredibly small range from 13.0% to 13.5%, while for the other parties the range is a bit wider: VV is around 11%, ranging from 10.2% to 12.6%, and TOP is around 12% with a wider range, from 10.4% to 14%.   But the more important differences are at the top and bottom of the party scale.

At the top, CSSD produces two quite different sets of numbers–CVVM and STEM put it around 31% while Factum puts it at 26%–while ODS produces an equally large but more evenly distributed range of responses: Factum puts it a 23%, STEM at 21% and CVVM at 19%.  In percentage terms these differences are not much bigger than those for VV or TOP, but in actual terms these differences are large enough to be crucial for determining the composition of the next government.  At the bottom of the spectrum there is a small difference in the results for KDU-CSL–3.5 in CVVM, 4.5 in STEM and 5.5 in Factum–but a difference with extremely significant results.  Not only does this difference of 2 percentage points represent about 50% of KDU’s average result, but it also means the difference between life and death for the party and perhaps for the coalition.

Given the significance of these two sets of numbers–they Are responsible for the difference between the “Left has majority” and “Left lost majority” headlines–it is time to do what the Czech daily press simply has not done (if any magazines or blogs have done it, I would like very much to hear about them), which is to examine the underlying math.  To do this is more complicated than I would like.

Ebb and Flow of Voters, Czech Republic, 2006-2010. Click here for larger image.

Unlike Slovakia, where a single district makes calculation of seats from votes a simple exercise (which Markiza still managed to get wrong in 2006), the Czech Republic’s combination of many, differently sized districts and parties with varied regional strengths makes a quick estimation impossible.  The best data, of course, would be a fairly significant sample size within each region, but since I don’t have that (and neither do most pollsters) or even a too-small sample size in each region, I am forced to rely on the large but dated data source of the last election.  If parties’ regional strengths are consistent over time (and Kostolecky’s work suggests that they are), then we can guess what overall numbers mean for particular regions and calculate seat results on that basis.  Of course we don’t have historical data for new parties and so I have made a guess that VV will have the same regional strengths and weaknesses as the Czech Greens in 2006 and that TOP09’s regional distribution will be an equal mix of ODS and KDU-CSL.  Those aren’t great guesses but they do at least correspond to the ebb and flow charts a recent Dnes article (see right).  I have no idea if this will work.  We will see in a few days when I can plug in the electoral numbers and see if the 2006 regional distributions predicted those of 2010.

That done,  we can then test various other assumptions, namely the relative performance of CSSD and ODS and whether KDU-CSL makes it over the threshold.  The outcome is not unexpected but it is useful to take a look at the data which I present here in two formats:  a color table and (because I can and have always wanted to) in a piece of (hard to read and pointlessly flashy) topography.

The simple take on this is that if KDU-CSL and ODS do well, there’s a strong possibility of a right wing government with a slight majority; if they do not do well, then they won’t be able to form a government and we’ll be in some odd realm of CSSD-led government where they key will be whether KSCM provides the (silent) supporting votes or one or more of the new parties fills that role.

More interesting are the other combinations: ODS does well but not KDU; KDU does well but not ODS.  In the first case, it would appear that KDU in parliament is equal to a three point swing between CSSD and ODS.  In other words, KDU brings as many seats as would a shift in the CSSD:ODS ratio from 29:21 to 27.5:23.5 (from a 7 point gap to a 4 point gap, which is about the same as the difference between Factum and STEM).  As the experts relate in the aforementioned Dnes article, if KDU falls short, then a majority right wing government will require ODS to outperform all but the most favorable polls vis-a-vis CSSD and for TOP09 and VV to maintain their current levels.  If KDU succeeds, then a narrow majority government becomes possible even with the ODS-negative results offered by STEM and CVVM.

Perhaps most remarkable result here is the renewed chance of deadlock of both CSSD and KDU do well: the amber “plain of indecision” on the graph above.  It is remarkable that in the middle of the Czech Republic’s greatest period of volatility since 1992, one marked by the emergence of two new parties and the probable death of at least one other, the outcome in the middle of the possibility graphs is yet another 50-50 split, yet more deadlock.

Czech Dashboard News: New parties and the big picture

I will deal with the actual poll results in a few future posts, but I want build on the introduction of the Czech dashboard by talking about broader trends and in particular by assessing the magnitude of “new party eruptions,” the dominant feature of the current Czech campaign.

In my own recent study of populism and new parties, the Czech Republic has become interesting to me for two reasons: first because it is a “dog that didn’t bark”–its “new party cycle” remained confined to a small segment of the political spectrum for over a decade; and second because (as in Hungary, which just saw its highest degree of new party vote since the fall of communism) the Czech “dog” has begun to scratch at the door and looks set to start yapping.

It is useful to start with a graph of the overall picture of party preferences in Czech Republic in the last eight years (a graph presented in dynamic and updated form on the dashboard)

Key: █ ODS █ CSSD █ SZ █ KDU-CSL █ KSCM █ VV █ TOP09 █ SPO █ US █ DS █ Suverenita

Several features stand out. First is the relative stability of the three largest parties. The two larger parties, the orange CSSD and the dark blue ODS swapped positions twice during this period but (with the exception of two dark years for CSSD under Spidla and Gross in the early 2002, remained in competition for the top spot well ahead of the others. The red line which denotes the Communist Party stays remarkably stable between 12% and 20%, almost unchanged from month to month for the last four years. Below them the lighter blue KDU-CSL remained in stable fourth place (usually) but showed a slightly declining trend. Together, these four parties have formed the core of the Czech party system from 1992 until the present. Thus far stability.

The second interesting feature is nearer the bottom of the graph, where parties are born and die. The Czech Republic has regularly seen activity in this zone but it has usually been of a particular type, usually a fifth party with market liberal and cultural libertarian positions.  These parties kept the zone filled because they usually exhibited a limited lifespan: ODA lasted from 1992 until 1998, US from 1998 until 2006, SZ from 2006 until (and perhaps beyond) the present. (In the mid-1990’s the Czech system also included a sixth party, the anti-Roma Republicans, but their demise did not lead to a substantial replacement except for the vocal but small DS and NS). The center-right parties account for a considerable degree of the variability of the system shown above, and the combination of stability among the main four parties and the failure of other new parties to emerge kept the “extra-system” volatility low.

This seems to be changing.  The graph below shows the a smoothed line for the combined share of preferences for the top 1,2,3 and 4 parties. Between the early 2000’s and mid-2009 this remained stable, within around 5 points of 90%. But in the last year something new has emerged.

The stability of the Czech system now faces significant changes, and there are good arguments to be made that these are fundamental changes rather than merely cosmetic ones.

First, as the graph shows, the position of the top four parties have dropped considerably to the point that the share obtained by the top party is now smaller than the share obtained by parties outside the top four. Despite similarly high past levels of dissatisfaction with the major parties, this same trend did not emerge before the 2002 or 2006 elections.

Second, the opinion shifts are poised to have a significant shift on the actual composition of the Czech party system. In the past four elections the Czech system has worked like clockwork: the four stable parties gained seats in parliament and the fifth faced a birth-death cycle every two elections (ODA elected in 1992 and 1996, dead in 1998; US elected in 1998 and 2002, dead in 2006) but the cycle has intensified and spread. According to the most recent poll results (available in the Dashboard) SZ does not look likely to follow ODA and US by retaining seats in parliament. Furthermore, there is a not insignificant chance (though also no guarantee) that 2010 will exclude two parliamentary parties–not only SZ but also KDU-CSL is at significant risk–and the birth of two others–both TOP09 and Veci Verejne (VV).

The third shift, a bit smaller, is paradoxically signified by the stability of the Communist Party. In past election campaigns, voters on the left have signaled dissatisfaction with the Social Democrats by opting for the Communists. This year, despite significant dissatisfaction and declining CSSD preferences, the Communists have seen no gains at all. Instead, voters from CSSD have left for Zeman’s SPO and probably (though I don’t have the data) for VV. It is unlikely that SPO will be elected to parliament (its rise has stalled according to the most recent polls), but its ability to attract a a measurable share of the vote suggests that the Communists are no longer the only (or indeed the main) reservoir for the newly dissatisfied (or that if they are, SPO is attracting some of those dissatisfied in turn with KSCM).

The graph below offers a very loose, schematic hypothesis about the ebb and flow of voters within the Czech system. It suggests that the current situation is characterized by the potential for new alternatives on the left and by the emergence of alternatives on the right that draw not only from ODS–there has always been a significant share of voters that agreed with ODS’s positions but did not like the party itself–but also from KDU-CSL.

This would be a significant change even if TOP09 were simply a replacement for KDU-CSL and VV simply replaced the Czech Greens, but we are not talking one-for-one replacement here. KDU-CSL has had a substantial membership base and a strong internal organization and a fairly broad intra-party elite; SZ has seen significant internal change but with fairly significant internal competition. By contrast both TOP09 and VV seem to be largely top-down creations without strong membership bases or independent elites outside the top figures. In our research on Slovakia, Marek Rybar and I have found a strong correlation between the date of party establishment one one hand and the degree of party organization and intra-party democracy on the other. Lack of organization in turn weakens the ability of parties to survive the ordinary ups and downs of party fortunes; centralization makes it difficult for parties to cope with the weaknesses of individual leaders (ODS and CSSD have shown a strong ability to recover from crises by changing leaders; in leader-driven projects, voters and intra-party rivals are more likely to turn elsewhere, usually to other new parties. If Slovakia (or almost any other country in the region) is any guide, new parties are shorter lived. Replacement of KDU-CSL by TOP09, therefore, strongly implies the subsequent replacement of TOP09 by some other party. The Czech Republic could therefore come to resemble its neighbors in the region with a churn of new parties that extends beyond the narrow realm of volatility in the Czech center-right.  As Czech dogs say, “haf haf.”

Introducing the CZECH Dashboard

There’s a new button on this blog that leads to a new page with graphs of all major Czech political parties in all major polls.  This took longer than I had hoped, but I introduce it today with delight because it allows me to return to something I have always loved.

I started my life in Eastern Europe in Bohemia (in Plzen) and the Czech Republic was central to my dissertation and book research.  My interest waned a bit in the early 2000’s, however, as the country’s politics seemed to be settling into a rather dull alternation between left and right governments.  But the emergence of the Greens in 2006 sparked my curiosity and the developments in the last several years have brought me back to the Czech Republic with great interest.  This is not necessarily good news for the Czech Republic: “May you live in interesting times” is not really a Chinese curse, but there should still be some sort of travel advisory for countries frequented by political scientists.

So what is new about the Czech dashboard.  Those who read this blog’s posts on Slovakia may already have seen the Slovakia dashboard.  The Czech version is both more and less functional.  Here’s what you get:

First, the long term view showing the development of party preferences over the last eight years:

The second feature of the dashboard is a shorter term view for each party showing the level and trend of each public opinion poll as well as an overall monthly average.  The use of multiple polls is a far better approach than approaching each poll tabula rasa and drawing conclusions that change dramatically from day to day.  Several sites including Lidove Noviny and MFDnes and the idiosyncratic but excellent Volebni Preference have begun to aggregate surveys, but they do only for individual polls or, at best, trends found by individual polling firms over time.  The following graph, for example, shows development of preferences for the last 18 months for ODS for all major firms.

This dashboard is not the final word–it lacks an estimate of the overall number of seats (more complicated in the multiple-district Czech Republic than in single-district Slovakia) and a more contextual analysis.  The first of these tasks will have to wait until the coming election provides me with a baseline.  The second is much easier and in coming days I will provide much more detailed analysis of Czech public opinion dynamics and, with a bit of luck, more extensive election-eve coverage.

One last note: unfortunately these graphs don’t work on older versions of Internet Explorer (and for all I know, new ones too).  I hate it when websites say “best viewed with…” but in this case there simply is no analog that I can use for these graphs that works with IE.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Obituary for the Communist Party

Obituary for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 29 December 2009

Obituary for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 29 December 2009

A quick entry today which I should have posted a month ago.  Czechs and Slovaks had fun with the collapse of Communist Party and one of the best relics preserved for me by my students was this obituary (in the style of Eastern European obituaries pasted on the wall).  Interestingly the parodist was astute enough to bury the “leading role” of the party rather than the party itself which, in the form of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, still attracts a stable 1/6 of the popular vote but today has a leading role only in preventing coalitions and attracting disgruntled voters.

(Rough English translation)

Who sets traps for others
Falls into them himself

With pain in our hearts we announce to everyone the sad news that forever from us departed is the leading role of the

Communist Party of Czechoslovakia

After 41 years of dissimulation, 29 December 1989

We part from our dearly departed “after free elections”
In 1990

In the name of the survivors

And others closely related

Milos Jakes
Miroslav Stepan
Alois Indra
Miroslav Zavadil
Vasil Bilak
Josef Lenart

(Original Czech-text form but without without diacritics)

Kdo jinemu jamu kopa
Sam do ni pada

S bolesti v srdci oznamujeme vsem smutnou zpravu, ze nas navzdy opustila nase vedouci uloha


Odesila po 41 letech disimulace 29. prosince 1989.

S nasi drahou zesnulou se rozloucime po svobodnych volbach
V roce 1990.

Jemenem pozustalych
Milos Jakes
Miroslav Stepan
Alois Indra
Miroslav Zavadil
Vasil Bilak
Josef Lenart

Twenty years ago today: At the feeding trough

At the Feeding Trough

At the Feeding Trough: Communist Party Headquarters of West Bohemia, November 1989

Twenty years (and about a month) ago, the students of the Vysoka Skola Strojni a Elektrotechnicka v Plzne (VSSE, the College of Machines and Electrotechnics in Plzen) participated in the demonstrations against Communist Party rule by creating a huge banner that read “U krmlecu” and affixing over the front door of the West Bohemian headquarters of the Communist Party on Moskevska Street in Plzen.   As I understand it ( and I would appreciate any further insight) “U krmlecu” translates roughly as “At the feeding trough,” a criticism of the crudness and corruption of the party, phrased in reference to the Czech habit of naming pubs with “U” i.e. “at” something or other: “At the Three Fishermen” or “At the Golden Tiger.”  This was a time of posters on walls–and from the picture it looks like the headquarters had already been a target–but the sheer scale and cleverness of this one is worth remembering.  The best part of the story, as I remember having it told to me, is that in order to affix the banner the students enlisted the help of municipal workers in a lamp-post fixing truck who were happy to oblige.

This is far from the only example of courage and wit from 1989 but for me it is one of the most memorable, because I received the picture from my then-student Ales Vlk (a force of nature in his own right and expert on EU higher education policy) and because when I first arrived in Plzen in 1990 to teach English, this building was my first destination: in a supremely ironic turnaround that seemed entirely appropriate in a country where a dissident playwright had become president, the regional party headquarters had by then become the main administration building of the VSSE and its fifth and sixth floors (hammer and sickle stained glass window still intact) had been turned over to teachers of English, mostly young Americans and Canadians.

Two minor footnotes.

  • First, in a transformation that is perhaps just as appropriate, the storefront next to this building became the location of Plzen’s first McDonalds (the family of McDonald’s pioneer Ray Kroc came from the Plzen area and the Plzen McDonalds boasts a bronze bust of Kroc himself).  It is also an entirely appropriate symbol of the Czech Republic’s changes that the former communist party headquarters and university headquarters has now reverted (in my understanding) to its original function: a bank.   But, perhaps because history tends to repeat itself or because doing so would be just too expensive, or because they don’t even know it’s there, the new owners have yet to remove the 4 meter Red Communist party star which stood on the roof of the building in the 1980’s and is still visible in the most recent Google Maps image:

    Star on the roof of the /former/ West Bohemian Communist Party HQ

    Star on the roof of the /former/ West Bohemian Communist Party HQ

  • Second, and relevant in almost no possible way, I need to relay my constant delight at the “U”/”At the” mode for naming bars.  Of all of them in Prague, my favorite was a bar across from the restaurant  U Zpěváčkůsouth of the National Theatre in Prague.  It’s become the Kavarna Paleta now but it used to be a dive with good, cheap beer you could bring out side and drink while sitting on the sidewalk (no fancy chairs or tables).  It was at this particular establishment that my friend John Gridley and I watched as a young guy holding a dachshund or beagle heaved it to his girlfriend so that he could go in and buy himself a beer.  From then on it became, for us, the Dog-Toss Pub or, even better, U vyhozeneho psa.

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Populism and Extremism in Foreign Policy

1177_titleI’ve recently prepared some thoughts on foreign policy of populist and extremist parties in postcommunist Europe and have uploaded an annotated presentation–see Populist foreign policy annotated.ppt or Populist foreign policy annotated.pdf–for those who are interested. It contains some thoughts on definitions of extremism and populism, makes reference to the excellent expert surveys by Hooghe and Marks et al and suggests that the two most important dynamics in assessing extremists foreign policy involve the tension between foreign and domestic policy (with domestic political needs usually prevailing) and the tension between extremist parties and their proximate “non-extreme” neighbors (and the more v. less extreme factions within those non-extreme parties).  An excerpt below:

When thinking about the broader patterns and how policy-makers should approach these, it is important to note that there are two important dynamics, areas of competition whose outcome has a critical impact on party positions and government policy. The first dynamic is the give and take between foreign and domestic policy arenas. While it may sometimes be the case that foreign-policy issues are highly salient and come first in the public mind, the evidence here and elsewhere (see Liang, Europe for the Europeans) that it is domestic policy questions—and quite often the quest for electoral advantage—that drives foreign policy positions. It is notable, however that extremism and populism have distinct patterns in this regard. In cases of purely extremism, the desire to exclude is often a genuine party goal, and parties may take foreign policy positions to reward those who dislike the same enemies or punish those who champion those enemies (as in the case of extremists increasing their opposition to the United States in response to US recognition of Kosovo, regarded as hurtful to Serbs and metaphorically as hurtful to those countries with large, regionally settled minority groups (Slovakia, Romania)

The populist dynamic can be the same as the extremist dynamic, though the populists may be more likely to employing the extremist cause for the sake of votes rather than out of genuine (this is an assumption and therefore likely to prove wrong on further investigation). The populist dynamic may also have another aspect, however that is relatively unique to populism: since populist parties (by the definition I have used) depend on attacks on a corrupt elite, they face difficulties once in power since they become elites themselves. Rather than seek alternative bases of support, the populist parties may seek instead to look for other “elites” above themselves toward whom they can allege corruption and against whom they can campaign. This may cause them to turn their attacks to major powers and supra-national organizations (the US, the EU) so that they can say, “yes we were elected, but now we’re fighting the real corrupt elite: them”

There is a second key dynamic at play here: the dance between extremists and those closest to the extremists on the “non-exclusionary” side of the boundary (a boundary whose location varies depending on the perspective of the observer and the context). The extremist parties themselves are rarely strong enough to shape policy directly, but they can do so in coalition or through their influence on vote-sensitive “flirt” parties. Parties such as Slovakia’s Smer and Poland’s PiS have demonstrated a willingness to enter into coalitions with parties with similar but more extreme positions on “exclusion” issues. The question, of course, is in which direction the influence runs, whether it is the extremist parties that shape the more moderate (but often much larger variant) or the other way around. Extremist parties can also shift the positions of moderate counterparts by forcing such parties into more extreme positions to avoid the loss of voters to the extremes, but only if they think they can do so without losing centrist voters. More work on such dynamics can be found in Przeworski and Sprague’s Paper Stones (1986) among many others).

Of course the interaction between extremists and moderates may also occur within individual parties and indeed most of the “flirt” parties and larger non-extremist populists have internal factions that represent a range of opinions from those near (or as extreme as) the extremist parties to those who hold rather moderate views on the same questions. The resulting policy positions depend on the complex interplay of coalition partners, intra-party organization and decision-making and voter preference. These are obviously highly contextual and so deciphering (much less predicting) these developments in particularly countries requires considerable local knowledge, even as broader, big-N research can help to identify relevant variables.