Political Parties in Eastern Europe: A Discussion about the State of Our Art

  • Kevin Deegan-Krause, Wayne State University
  • Tim Haughton, University of Birmingham
  • Ján Rovny, Sciences Po
  • Stephen Whitefield, Oxford University

This is a full text of a discussion that appears in abbreviated version on the SSEES Research Blog of the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/ssees/2015/01/19/all-tomorrows-parties-the-future/).

The editors of East European Politics and Societies are grateful to the SSEES Research Blog for hosting this discussion. EEPS is at home at SSEES. Not only is the journal co-edited there, but SSEES and EEPS play complementary roles in supporting and promoting the best in East European studies.

–Wendy Bracewell (SSEES) and Krzysztof Jasiewicz (Washington and Lee University), Editors, EEPS

 A few words of introduction: This discussion had its birth in the “Whither Eastern Europe” conference held at the University of Florida in January 2014 which sparked a series of conversation, both during the presentations and during the excellent breakfasts, lunches and dinners that surrounded the formal sessions. When East European Politics and Societies and Cultures inquired about the possibility of publishing several papers in a special issue, the authors offered to work together to produce this supplementary work to reflect the discussions that were so productive toward building a consensus (and revealing differences). The conversation presented here comprises a combination of in-person conversations, online-text conversations and text responses to a formal set of questions with the goal of coming to greater understanding of what we know about political parties in Eastern Europe, what we still need to learn, and how we can get there.

–Kevin Deegan-Krause, Wayne State University

Dimensions of Competition

Deegan-Krause: Let’s start with a simple question: Is there anything we know we can agree about?

Whitefield: I found it highly instructive to ponder the lessons from three intertwined perspectives. First, what do citizens want from parties? Second, what do parties have to offer to citizens? Third, how does the communication between parties and voters help deliver good democratic governance?

In terms of the citizen-party relationship, I believe that Robert Rohrschneider and I have already well-established that the underlying cleavage structure at the party-level differs between East and West: largely one-dimensional in the East but – importantly – no sign as yet of a shift in the axis of the dimension to resemble the West: in the East, party competition is still based on pro-West/Europe, pro-market, pro-democratic parties versus their opposite.

Rovny: Depending on country circumstances and legacies, you should find different combinations of the left-right versus gal-tan and different degrees of salience. The key is ethnicity (and state-building).

Whitefield: Of course, there is local variation. In some countries – historical national boundaries in Hungary for example or ethnic divisions in Ukraine or Latvia – specific issues are present that give national distinctiveness to party competition. But nonetheless, there exists powerful evidence of the importance of a Communist legacy on the nature of cleavages in the region as a whole and even of the freezing of the party systems there.

Underlying structures

Deegan-Krause: To the extent we do see programmatic patterns (or other patterns for that matter), where do they come from? Do you see them anchored in the experiences of the region and if so, which ones?

Rovny: One of the most interesting debates has been the one on structure versus volatility of politics in eastern Europe. It seems to me that this debate has by now found a set of generally accepted conclusions. First, the literature on party systems and voting behavior clearly and continuously finds increased levels of organizational volatility — parties get born, merged and dissolved more frequently than in the west — as well as increased levels of voting volatility — voters switch between parties at a higher rate than in the west, while fewer people turn out to vote. At the same time, the literature on ideological structure continuously concludes that parties in the region offer reasonably framed ideological choices, and voters select parties on the basis of their political preferences. Strikingly, these two conclusions are seemingly contradictory: organizational and electoral volatility contrasts ideological structure. I believe that we should aim at the theoretical reconciliation of these findings by accepting that structured stability and volatility can coexist.

Deegan-Krause: Let’s talk about stability first. Given the kinds of electoral results we see in the region, it is interesting that there is any talk about stability at all.

Whitefield: We agree with what Jan is saying. Work that I did with Geoff Evans in the 1990s and 2000s did indeed point to the importance (contra some expectations) of most of the usual demographic suspects. Social class, measured using the Goldthorpe-Eriksson class schema—which is really based on characteristics of occupations, particularly manual/non-manual and the supervised/supervisory distinctions—was surprisingly useful in the post-Communist context. Given what might have happened to the nature of occupational structures, this class scheme appears both internally valid (occupation is appropriately associated with occupational characteristics in both West and East) but it also provides good predictive value to both attitudes and political behaviour, as much as in the West. As in the West, it doesn’t work as well in all countries—the cleavage structure and what parties offer helps explain variance—but it works. Age and education also work in wholly expected ways. Gender differentiates little. But where some of the most interesting results come, in my view, are from the comparative study of the impact of religion and religiosity in the region. At the extremes, Catholicism and in Catholic countries church attendance matter significantly to public political values and behaviour; in Orthodox countries, religion appears to matter little. I am intrigued to know whether this is a dog that continues not to bark in Russia and Ukraine.

Historical Legacies

Deegan-Krause: If there are deeply rooted competition patterns in the region, where do they come from? And why aren’t they more obvious in the day-to-day politics.

Rovny: Let me take the first of those two questions. Although there has been significant focus on the role of various historical legacies on the partisan divides in the region, I feel that more work needs to be done. In this regard I am an unashamed Lipset-Rokkanian. I think we can profitably apply Lipset and Rokkan in the east and I believe more effort and resources should be spent on exploring the historical, pre-communist, bases of political competition in the region. Despite its particularities, eastern Europe has been exposed to many of the same core formative historical forces, theorized and demonstrated as crucial for the west, such as the Reformation, center-periphery divides, and industrialization. State-building, its elites and the core conflicts between them in the past are crucial to what we see today. The usual suspects—conflicts over economics, religion, ethnicity—all pop up with predictable regularity, and I suspect that, as in the west, the varying exposure and response to these and similar factors is likely a fundamental source of political conflict in the region, though of course not the only one.

In this context, it seems that we, as a discipline, may have overestimated the effect of communism on the region. While communist rule certainly had significant impact on the societies and polities under study, its effect is varied, and possibly diminishing with time. When I want to be provocative, I argue that communism was a cul-de-sac for eastern Europe. A foreign imposed, post-war temporality, and I think Kitschelt makes a good point when he says that even communist regime types were determined by pre-communist legacies

Haughton: The older legacies have played an important role, though we often see them through the filter of communist legacies which often overshadowed them and sometimes reshaped them. The deepest legacy is ethnicity—the key legacy was the demographic legacy of empire. This still shapes politics in many countries in CEE and will do for years to come. In terms of the communist legacies, they matter, but increasingly in different and less direct ways. I wrote an article once where I talked about the past’s role in the ‘battlefields, uniforms and ammunition’ of party political conflict. Although lustration is still, perhaps surprisingly, an important theme to be used in the ammunition of political debate, who did what to whom is far less significant in politics today a quarter of a century on. Where communist legacies still do matter are in the terrain of politics. Communism bequeathed social and economic legacies that have shaped the ground on which party politics is conducted and how political actors think about conducting and resolving such conflicts. Nonetheless, there are not simple straight lines to draw from the communist experience to today, the impact of the communist experience is mediated through the experiences of the post-communist period (which now amounts to over half the entire communist experience in Central and Eastern Europe).

Deegan-Krause: Does communism, and the place of one’s self or one’s family in the communist system or something like that then become another sort of long term structural variable that affects the east rather than the west, a regionally-specific variant of Lipset and Rokkan’s list of cleavages? Or do we need to think about it in some other way?

Whitefield: Let me weigh in here with an example from work that Robert and I have done followed up by some work by Paul Chaisty and myself, there are dogs that continue not to bark. For example, there is the curious ongoing absence of any real association of environmental or Green politics in the East with other political issues or with the left-right dimension, while at the same time the environment does not emerge as an important political division in its own right. It appears to remain largely disconnected from what most parties stake themselves on – though there is some evidence I am looking at now that does indicate that Green parties in the East take stances and make them salient on the environment that are quite ‘normal’ in the West. Why is this? Why should it be that post-Communist citizens not only are less supportive of environmentalism than people in the West or the developing South, but are distinct from them in the way in which they ‘process’ environmental issues into the rest of their political attitudes? This after now a number of years of ‘Europeanisation’ of environmental issues in law and institutions. Of course, there are features of the transition process that are shared across the region, but if variation in experience is increasingly the order of the day, why would it be that on issues like the environment the region as a whole remains distinct. I think the best explanation has to do with the stickiness of political culture at the mass level, which is supported by something like freezing at the party level. Now, we know from West European politics since the 1960s and perhaps the contemporary scene that eventually political change comes and I am sure it will in the East. But so far, the Communist legacy remains vital to understanding the region. What was it about Communism that made its influence so lasting? That’s a complicated discussion.

Haughton:  There is some nascent agreement that most voters have certain structural tendencies that push their voting in certain directions, that there is a certain stability of voter attitudes and relationships to “sides”, but at the same time voters are not always certain who exactly to vote for because there is a high degree of institutional volatility, both in the choices on offer and in the likelihood of dissatisfied voters to jump to another party on their “side”.


Whitefield: I suppose one of the most pressing and contested questions arise from the character of party organization in the region. We know and can agree that many parties come and go, that the choices available to voters have shifted dramatically in some cases between elections, and that the organizational characteristics or parties in the East are often quite different from the classical mass party organization found in the West. I wonder what difference this makes to important political outcomes – to the nature of cleavages and to democratic representation. Richard Rose famously referred to ‘floating parties’ in a quite derogatory way, since he thought that voters would be unable to hold parties accountable from election to election. There are a number of assumptions about party behavior in Europe that presume institutionalization and programmatic consistency across parties — often on a single ideological dimension. One such issue is that that parties may not have a programmatic identity that is shared between voters’ perceptions, their electoral organizations, their candidates and their office-holders.

Rovny: Under all the institutional instability there is a structure in placements of parties in (some) ideological space. (The parties may differ, but they come and go in similar places) (the various liberals in the Czech Republic are a very good example): and yes, I think voters vote for similar type parties, though again, their names and organizations come and go

Haughton: Likewise the amazing thing about Slovakia is that we see the “right” for example with an incredibly stable share of the vote even though the menu of parties is updated for every election.

Whitefield: I agree entirely that party organization and party volatility are vital areas of study in the region. There is research – for example, Alison Smith’s work on incentives driving parties to build mass membership – that show that there are trends towards the establishment of more stable organizational party bases. But two points I think need to be made even in conditions of organizational weakness. First, as Jan Rovny has shown in a very interesting recent paper and as I have argued even about the Russian party system in the 1990s, voter-party ideological alignment is quite possible – in fact, it appears to happen – even in conditions of rapidly shifting party supply. I think this is a consequence of the rather simple one dimensional ideological structure of political cleavages. Parties can come and go, but the new ones end up competing on the same axis of division. Parties present themselves in those terms and voters are primed to recognize where parties stand. Second, Robert Rohrschneider and I noted what we called ‘a paradox of equal congruence’ in our recent book. What we found was that parties and their various voters were more or less equally aligned ideologically in the East and West. Part of this, we argued, was the result of the very simple nature of cleavages in the East, which made it easier for voters to locate parties, even new ones, while in the West voters were faced with a much more complex and multidimensional cleavage structure, which raises the bar for ideological alignment. But why were voters not more incongruent with parties in the West? Here is where the organizational factor comes into play, because in the West parties can draw on strong mass party ties and resources which significantly enhanced their capacities to represent all sorts of voters. These are largely absent in the East, so post-Communist parties can’t yet draw on organizational strengths. This is just one of a number of ways in which Robert and I are finding organizational factors in the East to work quite differently. There is a lot more mileage in that line of research to my mind.

Deegan-Krause: We are trying to understand what seems to be a change in the way parties operate, shifting toward a much more fluid environment, though one which still has significant islands of stability.  Toward that end we are interested the balance between legacies (some regionally specific) and pervasive newer developments related to technology, media, and finance. There is evidence that are seeing a global shift in how electoral political institutions organize themselves and relate to voters, a shift that is related closely to new communications technology, especially the dramatic lowering of the cost of people to coordinate across distances (a reduction in relational transaction costs that discourages short-run investment in traditional organizations) and the increase in the role of individual celebrity and visibility accompanied by the success of startup models, and a further aging of generations of “members”. This has hit every field that deals with large-scale information transfer and organized persuasion, from advertising and journalism to education to political parties. There is a lot of justified talk about the role of legacies in postcommunist Europe, but the biggest may simply be that the timing of the transition meant that these changes hit when the parties in this system were new or relatively young and therefore vulnerable. Combine established but sometimes vulnerable older parties and new parties that are not built (in some cases not even designed) to survive for very long, and you get the kind of institutional instability that we see in the region. This bifurcation of the old and stable and the young and fragile creates two separate party worlds.

Rovny: The key weakness is party organization. It seems that voters often vote for parties that represent who they are or want to be in some way: this is difficult in the organizationally fluid state of EU politics

Deegan-Krause: It is interesting is that none of these parties seem like they can last and yet people vote for them. Do they look completely fragile to ordinary voters?

Haughton: Don’t underestimate how disillusioned ordinary voters have become in CEE and indeed in Western Europe. Desperate times call for desperate measures. How often do we get a sense from ordinary voters that they have confidence in any elected politician? It’s very rare. They want their lives and the life-chances of their families to be better, so they take a chance on an investigative journalist (“he seems nice and cares about corruption”) or on a local billionaire (“he’s rich so maybe he can make me rich too”). And of course the new parties never point out that they are trying to replace previous “new” parties. They’re usually careful to assign the last lot of new parties to the bad old camp.

Deegan-Krause: There does seem to a shortening of the time horizons of political leaders (and their backers) and a preference for immediate return on party investment. These differences should affect basic elements of what we can expect parties to do, from positioning themselves electorally, to choosing coalition partners, to organizing legislatures. This is happening in the West, too. Maybe not as much. We seem to have 2 theories about why this is happening in the east first they are not necessarily contradictory but 1) says that there are legacies in the east that cause this to happen, i.e. communism, weaker civil society, more economic dissatisfaction 2) (ours) says that even if 1) weren’t the case, there would be something like this because /general/ trends (weaker organization, media, the triumph of celebrity) tend to press against institutional frameworks (Naim’s The End of Power) and that E. European parties are simply easier to push over than western ones. Is there any way to decide between these and/or merge them?

Rovny: Yes, I agree when we look at the “instability” part of the equation, the cul-de-sac frustration of communism plays an important role, but the general trends are really crucial — the wind is blowing, and the CEE parties have shabby roofs. In that sense it’s not what the west is now but what the west could become.

Haughton: Most new parties don’t build their structures well enough. It’s all done too quickly—like cowboy builders—so they are vulnerable when the storms come (which they do quite often)

Deegan-Krause: It sounds as if there is not as much contradiction between the two positions as we might expect.

Haughton: Eastern European parties are fragile both because of historical and communist legacies left them with “shabby roofs” and because they (like parties everywhere) are being blown about by winds that make it difficult to tie anything down? In more concrete terms, historical legacies provide an underlying social structure which has ties to particular ideologies, but political organization and voter affinity is hindered by communism’s damage to political trust and efficacy and by new-style organizational flexibility that tends, in the absence of many really solid parties, to play a big role on the political scene. So these systems tend to replicate stable competition patterns but the parties in them come and go.

Rovny: Yes, but all countries have legacies that may cause such shabbiness, even old democracies (I am struck by this in France on a regular basis): established French parties are definitely getting rained on. And in the east it is even harder: can you build parties properly if there is no history of doing it?

Deegan-Krause: The literature on party institutionalization raises the underlying questions of whether things will actually institutionalize at all or whether that institutionalization will look like we expect it to.  If it does not, what are the consequences for democracy? What are the future prospects for this kind of interaction? It is certainly different than what was hoped for in the region but should we be worried? Are its consequences mitigated by the underlying structural stability? Is there anything we can do? These are questions that will take time and effort to answer, and they will require a great deal of intra-regional and cross-regional comparison.

East and West

Deegan-Krause: The tension between uniquely communist legacies on one hand and more universal influences on the other—both pre-communist structural legacies and post-communist changes in organization and communication—raises the constant questions about the similarities and differences between Eastern European parties and those parties in the west that tend to be their reference points. How should we think about the differences between east and west.

Whitefield: In fact, what I think is remarkable about the broad range of evidence about the salience that parties attach to the positions they adopt in CEE countries is how far they correspond to MOST but not all of our expectations from the study of salience in the West. First, the right kind of parties make salient the policies that we would expect given our sense of who owns what issues. Second, and Jan has shown this in some work on the West, positional explains a large amount of salience variance and the relationship is strongly curvilinear on almost all issue dimensions – parties at the extreme on an issue make them more salient. There are some notable and interesting apparent exception

Whitefield: only democratic parties seem to make democracy salient; and only Green parties seem to make the environment strongly salient. Another difference I think I am seeing between East and West, the impact of party family in the East essentially disappears when positional differences are taken into account. In short, it isn’t that party family is not associated with position in the East, it is just that it doesn’t do any work over and above what position does: that is not the case in the West, and I am not too surprised by that since party family strikes me as a more powerfully rooted determinant of parties’ reputation and therefore stances than in the East.

Rovny: It is clear that many distinctions commonly made between eastern and western Europe are of limited utility. In various political indicators of interest such as the extent of competition over economic versus non-economic issues, there may be more variance within the two blocks than between them.

Haughton: Yes, and we need to deal with the fact that most work on political parties is still dominated by the study of Western Europe. We still tend to test theories and apply models derived from the West. (The only exception is when we revert back to using “legacies” as the core of an explanation which is increasingly unsatisfactory not least given the quarter century of developments since 1989.) It seems to us that the study of CEE should increasingly be thought of as a generator of new theories rather than just a new set of cases to apply theory from the west. At the very least we need to encourage that CEE party systems are put on a par and treated equally. This has been done by some scholars, Robert and Stephen’s book springs immediately to mind, but we need more of this.

Deegan-Krause: So what role does scholarship on Eastern Europe have to play in the broader debate in the field?

Rovny: In many ways Eastern Europe is an advanced laboratory for studying phenomena that are also affecting older democracies, such as the disestablishment of political organization and shifts in party competition.

Deegan-Krause: Yes, Eastern Europe gives us an excellent set of cases for studying what happens when new forces encounter weak parties. We see the same instability in certain places in older democracies—Italy, Israel, and Greece in a big way, and Netherlands and Belgium in a smaller way and many other countries in the West to a limited extent. Crises in many of the Mediterranean parities has not only produced volatility but has produced volatility to new kinds of parties that are themselves not built to last. The gift of the east (and much of the rest of the world) to the west, therefore, is the ability to think about how party systems change when they are not protected by “old growth” forests of established parties and what might happen when, either all at once or piece by piece, the established parties fall and are replaced by parties that look like ferns or mushrooms rather than oaks.

Haughton: We second Jan’s point about Eastern Europe being a laboratory. We think that the effects of post-transition legacies on forming governing and voting coalitions make studying Eastern Europe relevant to other areas in the world. The matter of legacies is an example of the broader phenomenon of contexts where incentives exist to use political institutions and parties for purposes other than ideological or policy-based representation. We see the region as an excellent place for studying how parties adapt to formal and informal institutions. The variation in levels of institutionalization among parties within the same system allows us to see how parties can differ in how they interact with the same institutions. The result is that we see a wider range of situations than Western Europe allows, such parties as with very low ideological cohesion and or facing imminent collapse in support.

Rovny: There are also other interesting ‘experiments’ going on in the eastern lab, and surprisingly they are ones that pertain to ideology. The east is been a testing ground for populist ideological frames connecting socially conservative and economically left-leaning positions, combined not only by some post-communist left parties, but also by most radical ‘right’ parties in the east (which are in economic terms anything but pro-market). But this is no longer just an Eastern European phenomenon. While initially unparalleled in the west, some ten years ago Herbert Kitschelt suggested that western ideological politics, depicted in two-dimensional (economic and social-cultural) space, is rotating. Western parties are less divided over economic issues and more over social cultural issues as the left becomes more economically centrist and the right becomes more socially conservative. Given the latest developments in radical ‘right’ positions in the west, which are slowly taking more economically left-leaning stances (the French FN is the best example), we may see a reproduction of eastern patterns of party competition in the west. Additionally, my recent work suggests an intimate ideological connection between ethnic minorities, their views about civil liberties, and general ideological outlooks of parties associated with them — a relationship which I argue significantly co-shaped party competition in the east. It may also come as some surprise but it may be that the differences between East and West are smaller than they seem, even at this structural level. Ethno-linguistic and religious conflict are more potent in the east than in the west, but I am struck by the Cold War absurdity of putting Finland and Greece into one “Western Europe.” The ethnic questions so pronounced in many eastern European countries are also visible in the west, and I suspect that similar dynamics may be at work in the west especially as ethno-regional identities become more salient in the context of the economic crisis and mobilized by (possibly failed) referenda on independence.

Whitefield: Just a further word in defence of CEE parties here. I mentioned earlier that parties in West and East seem equally capable of representing voters at least in their programmatic offerings. Actually, there is one increasingly important issue – European integration – on which mainstream parties in the East may outperform their Western counterparts in representational terms. As the European issue has loomed larger and citizens have over the past years since the onset of the financial crisis become increasingly Euro-sceptic, it is interesting that mainstream parties in the West have not adjusted their stances on integration to reflect that Euro-scepticism nor have they increased the salience of Europe in their electoral appeals, in fact quite the opposite. This means that almost all of the representational strain of rising Euro-scepticism in the West has been taken up by extreme parties – and these are often parties that are not just extreme on integration but on other issues also. But, as Robert and I show in a recent paper, the representational strain is being taken up much more by mainstream parties in the East, which may mean that there is less of an opening for extreme parties and may also mean that the rise of anti-politics associated with representational failure by mainstream parties may be mitigated in the East. Why are post-Communist parties more willing to move on integration issues than their Western counterparts? Because, in our view, the issue of Europe is bound up on the main axis of political competition rather than, as in the West, sitting orthogonally to it. In the East, mainstream parties always competed on Europe. In the West, mainstream parties don’t compete on it, don’t own the issue, and don’t want to talk about it, leaving it to other parties to take up. That is quite dangerous in my view.

Next Steps

Deegan-Krause: So in light of all of the discussion to this point, what is it that our field needs most? Where should we be putting our attention?

Haughton: Put simply, I am particularly interested in the success and failure of parties at the ballot box: why some succeed, why some have lasting success, some merely fleeting success and why other parties fail to persuade voters to support them. To that end, if time and resources permitted I’d want to conduct large-scale comparative research to work out why voters cast the ballots the way they did (interviewing, focus groups etc. plus polling) over a series of electoral cycles. Much of what we have to do is make educated guesses based on opinion polling and surveys which are often not easily comparable or in a form which makes satisfactory comparison possible. We are left to infer from these statistics which may be accurate, but ultimately we don’t know. Beyond that, I’d love to be able to visit every branch of every party in the region to talk to the activists and party workers.

Rovny: I would like to see a research agenda should focus on the historical state-building elites, on the formation of political camps, and on their social bases of support. Provocatively, such an agenda should question whether these historical factors may ‘return’ to frame eastern European politics as the experience of communism recedes into the past.

Deegan-Krause: I think we need to work in Eastern Europe on the general topic of alignment-dealignment-realignment and whether what we are seeing is a general reduction in the socio-demographic underpinnings of political attitudes and voting behavior and to what extent there is (as Kitchelt, Kriesi and others have suggested) a shift to socio-demographic underpinnings that have not traditionally been the subject of inquiry (sector, professional group).  There is a related question of method and data with regard to these questions of things that parties fight about. The range of sources is great: what experts say about where parties stand (according to various standards, pioneered the Rohrschnedier and Whitefield studies and the North Carolina research, both represented in this discussion), what elites say (to scholars in surveys, or with their votes—the core of the work by Monika Nalepka and Royce Carroll–or with their speeches or with their manifestos), what voters say about parties , what voters of parties believe (according to focus groups, according to surveys).  In some cases disagreements about what is going on in countries rests on these different indicators point in different directions.  I’m wondering to what extent we can integrate these perspectives and what kinds of additional we need and what computational methods might allow us to find some common positions for parties on multiple dimensions. I’d also like to see us develop much more sophisticated measures of party change to replace our binary determination of “successor” v. “not-successor” and therefore allow improved understanding of the nuances of supply side shifts and voter decisions that appear to be dealignment but may in reflect voters following their preferred party leaders from one new party to another.

It may also be worth noting that as part of another project we have conducted an informal poll of over 100 scholars of party systems in regions across the world and found a wide range of topics that experts think we should be studying:

  • Questions of intra-party relationship gathered the attention of 30% of all the scholars involved, but the sub-sets split evenly and widely along directions such as organization and party finance, leadership selection, party-parliamentary relationships, party membership and party life cycle. In comparison to others, scholars of Eastern Europeans tended to emphasize organization and finance rather than membership and factions.
  • An almost equal share—27%—mentioned relationships between parties and their voters. A plurality of these comments focused on voting behavior, but significant shares also went to cleavages and turnout and a few others emphasized a broad range of other topics including clientilism, representation, party communication strategies and dealignment. These voting behavior questions were far more popular among those who study Eastern Europe.
  • While few scholars of other regions focused on specific party types, 15% of the scholars of Eastern Europe found these extremely interesting. Of these just under half mentioned “new parties” and a significant number mentioned populist parties.
  • The position of parties in the broader context of domestic and international political systems also attracted about 15%. As might be expected, those who study Eastern Europe were more interested in the broad process of party Europeanization than scholars from other regions, but they were (again, perhaps indicative of the region) overall less interested in interest groups and policy outcomes.
  • About 10% of the suggestions concerned relationships between parties. Most of these mentioned the study of party positions and dimensions of competition but a few mentioned coalition formation and volatility. The scores for those who study Eastern Europe were in line with these figures in general but considerably higher on the question of volatility.

Useful Guides

As we are moving forward with agendas such as these, what scholarly resources are the most useful? Which ones shape your own work? Let’s start with research on parties as institutions in their own right:

Haughton: I am extremely fond of Redeeming the Communist Past, which is full of significant theoretical and empirical contributions. The question for us now is how to take this kind of work into the second and third post-communist decade. We’ve recently been compelled by Margit Tavits’s Post-Communist Democracies and Party Organization, as well as by Allan Sikk’s works on new parties and “newness” as a quality with its own right

Rovny:Also, I very much like the Allan’s work with Sean Hanley on new anti-establishment parties.

Haughton: Ingrid van Biezen has really helped broaden our understanding about patterns of party change (are parties the way they are because of when they were born, how old they are, or the period in which they are operating) and Andre Krouwel has done helpful work on party typologies for the new century. And recent work by Mainwaring, Gervasoni and Espana and Powell and Tucker have both independently started to enrich our understanding of volatility by looking at the role of system entrances and exits.

Deegan-Krause: What about the broader level of party systems and voting. What are your strongest influences?

Whitefield: as we study the questions of what voters want from parties, we would recommend Dalton’s recent piece on partisan learning in new democracies, Barnes et al’s work on the Spanish transition; and Brader and Tucker’s recent work [on].

Rovny: I would add Stephen’s and Robert’s The Strain of Representation and the string of related articles.

Haughton: And along with The Strain of Representation (and the surveys that book and other work of Stephen and Robert is based on) we would add the many articles from the Chapel Hill expert surveys (in which Jan has played a major role)

Rovny: I think the overall contribution here is to help to resolve a long-standing debate in the field, through a multiplicity of similar pointing to the relatively stable ideological nature of political competition in Eastern Europe, underpinned by social divides and individual preferences. Other recent works, such as those by Margit Tavits have echoed these conclusions.

Deegan-Krause: And while they are not always in perfect agreement, the similarities of their findings on party positioning and, especially, the role of issue salience help us map the electoral environments we are dealing with and understand why parties compete and form coalitions as they do. There is a lot of work to be done and other kinds of measures to be integrated but both of these big studies are an important first start. What sources do you find yourself relying on when looking upstream to the sources of political parties and party systems?

Whitefield: When I look to the citizen-party relationship, I often look to the issues raised by Robert Michels’ Political Parties, John Aldrich’s study Why Parties, Henry Hale’s “Why Not Parties,” and Dalton, Farrell and McAllister’s “Political Parties and Democratic Linkage.”

Deegan-Krause: On the role of legacies, I’d highlight Kitschelt’s work on divergent paths of post-communist transitions as well as his earlier work on cleavages and connections between citizens, parties and outcomes.

Rovny: In a similar vein, I find the works by Grigore Pop-Eleches and Joshua Tucker on legacies crucial for our deeper understanding of what it actually is that shapes party conflict in the region.

Deegan-Krause: And looking downstream to the consequences of particular party configurations and outcomes.

Whitefield: On the link to the quality of democracy, I really like Thomassen’s and van Biezen’s work which connect empirical questions about parties to a concern with good governance.

Haughton: I also think the state-building literature has been a valuable contribution to the study of the effects of party politics Conor O’Dwyer’s Runaway Statebuilding, the Venelin Ganev’s Stealing the State and Anna Grzymala-Busse’s Rebuliding Leviathan.

Deegan-Krause: Andrew Roberts’ The Quality of Democracy in Eastern Europe also deals well with the consequences of party competition in particular policy realms.

We asked this same question in our survey of party scholars, and there was considerable agreement on the most important works in the field. Our respondents include nearly all of the works we mentioned here along with several others. By far the most frequently mentioned scholar of parties among our experts is Peter Mair, both alone and in cooperation with Dick Katz

Also receiving multiple mentions the list among scholars of the region are

  • Bonnie Meguid’s work on niche parties and
  • Cas Mudde work on populism and the radical right
  • Fernado Casal Bertoa and Zsolt Enyedi’s work on cleavages,
  • the work of Hanspeter Kriesi and his team of scholars on issue dimensions and globalization,

The list also included the classic works by Lipset and Rokkan, Sartori, Bartolini and Mair, Lijphart, Pannebianco, Scarrow, Knutsen and Scarbrough and Cox.

Lists of scholars who work on other political parties in other regions echo this list of classics along with some of the other works listed here including Mair, Kriesi and Meguid. Here is of the books and articles most commonly cited by scholars of the region is available. Another list including all 100+ books and articles citied by scholars in the survey is available below.

“Adams, James (2005) A Unified Theory of Party Competition. Cambridge University Press

A Cross-National Analysis Integrating Spatial and Behavioral Factors”

Adams, Ezrow, and Somer-Topcu “”Is Anybody Listening”” (2011).

Albright, Jeremy (2010) The multidimensional nature of party competition in Party Politics have been of great interest.

Baumgartner, Frank R., and Bryan D. Jones. 1993. Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Benoit Ken and Michael Laver – Party Policy in Modern Democracies (2006)

Berman Sheri “”The Primacy of Politics”” (2006).”

Bevan, Shaun, and Will Jennings. 2014. ”Representation, Agendas and Institutions”. European Journal of Political Research 53(1): 37-56.

Bevan, Shaun, Peter John, and Will Jennings. 2011. «Keeping party programmes on track: the transmission of the policy agendas of executive speeches to legislative outputs in the United Kingdom». European Political Science Review: 1–23.

Birch, Sarah (2003), Electoral systems and political transformation in post-communist Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Budge, Ian, and Richard I. Hofferbert. 1990. “Mandates and Policy Outputs: U.S. Party Platforms and Federal Expenditures.” The American Political Science Review 84(1): 111-131.

Budge, Ian, Hans-Dieter Klingeman, Andrea Volkens, Judith Bara, and Eric Tanenbaum. 2001. Mapping Policy Preferences. Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments, 1945-1998. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Budge, Ian, Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Andrea Volkens, Judith Bara, et al. 2001. Mapping Policy Preferences: Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments 1945-1998. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caplan, Bryan (2007) The Myth of the Rational Voter. Princeton University Press.

Capoccia, Giovanni and Daniel Ziblatt (2010), ‘The Historical Turn in Democratisation Studies: A New Research Agenda for Europe and Beyond, Comparative Political Studies, p.931-968.

Carey, John M. (2008) Legislative Voting and Accountability. Cambridge University Press.

Carty Kenneth (2004) Parties as Franchise Systems

Caul Kittilson, Miki (2006) Challenging Parties, Changing Parliaments. Women and Elected Office in Contemporary Western Europe. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press.

Chandra, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed;

Chhibber, Pradeep and Ken Kollman (2004) The Formation of National Party Systems. Federalism and Party System Competition in Canada, Great Britain, India and the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Crotty (eds) Handbook of Party Politics, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi: Sage, pp. 204–27.

Crouch, C. (2004) Post-Democracy. Cambridge: Polity.

Dalton “Political Parties and Democratic Linkage: How Parties Organize Democracy by Russell J. Dalton, David M. Farrell and Ian McAllister

Dalton and Wattenberg, Parties without Partisans

Dalton, R., D. Farrell en I. McAllister (2011) Political Parties and Democratic Linkage; How Parties Organize Democracy, Oxford: Oxford Unversity Press

Dalton, R.J. and Wattenberg, M.P. (eds) (2000) Parties without Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies. NY: Oxford University Press.

Dalton, Russell J. (2008) ‘The Quantity and the Quality of Party Systems: Party System Polarisation, Its Measurement, and Its Consequences’, Comparative Political Studies, 41, pp.899-920

Dan Posner, Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa;

De Vries, Catherine and Sara B. Hobolt (2012) ‘When Dimensions Collide: The Electoral Success of Issue Entrepreneurs’, European Union Politics, 13(2) 246-268.

Eijk and Franklin 2009

Erikson, R.S., MacKuen, M.B. & Stimson, J.A. (2002). The macro polity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Evans G. & De Graaf, N.D. Political Choice Matters: Explaining the strength of class and religious cleavages in cross-national perspective, Oxford University Press, 2013.”

Fiorina, M. (1981). Retrospective voting in American elections. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Franklin, Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established Democracies since 1945 by Mark N. Franklin

Gallagher, M. and M. Marsh. (1988). Candidate selection in comparative perspective. Londres: Sage Publications.

Green-Pedersen, Christoffer, and Peter B. Mortensen. 2010. ”Who sets the agenda and who responds to it in the Danish parliament? A new model of issue competition and agenda-setting”. European Journal of Political Research 49(2): 257–81.

Halikiopoulou, D., Mock, S. and Vasilopoulou, S. (2013) The civic zeitgeist: nationalism and liberal values in the European radical right. Nations and Nationalism, 19 (1). pp. 107-127

Heidar, K. (2007) ‘What Would be Nice to Know about Party Members in European Democracies’, ECPR Joint Sessions, Helsinki, 7-12 May 2007.

Hibbing, John, and Theiss-Morse, Elizabeth. (2002). Stealth Democracy. Americans’ Beliefs About How Government Should Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hobolt, Sara B., Jae-Jae Spoon and James Tilley (2009) ‘A vote against Europe? Explaining defection at the 1999 and 2004 European Parliament elections’, British Journal of Political Science , 39(1): 93-115.

Hobolt, Sara Binzer, and Robert Klemmensen. 2008. ”Government responsiveness and political competition in comparative perspective”. Comparative Political Studies 41(3): 309–37.

Hofferbert, Richard I., and Ian Budge. 1992. “The Party Mandate and the Westminster Model: Election Programmes and Government Spending in Britain, 1948-85.” British Journal of Political Science 22(2): 151-182.

Hooghe 2006. Party Ideology and European Integration: An East/West: Different Structure, Same Causality, with Liesbet Hooghe, Moira Nelson and Erica Edwards. Comparative Political Studies 39(2), 155-75.

Jones, Bryan D., and Frank R. Baumgartner. 2004. ”Representation and Agenda Setting”. Policy Studies Journal 32(1): 24.

Jones, Bryan D., and Frank R. Baumgartner. 2005. The Politics of Attention: How Government Prioritizes Problems. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Kahneman Daniel and

Kam, C. D., & Palmer, C. L. (2008). Reconsidering the Effects of Education on Political Participation. The Journal of Politics, 70(03), 612–631.

Katz and Kolodny (1994)

Katz, R. y P. Mair. 1995. “Changing models of party organization and party democracy: the cartel party”, Party Politics 1:1-28.

Katz, R.S. (2005) ‘The Internal Life of Parties’, in K.R. Luther, F. Müller-Rommell (eds) Political Parties in the New Europe. Political and Analytical Challenges. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kedar, orit book”

Klingemann, The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems by Hans-Dieter Klingemann”

Kitschelt 2000, CPS: “”Linkages between citizens and politicians in democratic politics.””

Kitschelt Herbert “”The Transformation of European Social Democracy”” (1994).

Kitschelt, H. (2000) ‘Linkages between citizens and politicians in democratic polities’, Comparative Political Studies, 33 (6–7): 845–879.

Kitschelt, H. (2007) Growth and persistence of the radical right in postindustrial democracies: Advances and challenges in comparative Research (West European Politics)

Klingemann, H. D, R. I Hofferbert, I. Budge, e H. Keman. 1994. Parties, policies, and democracy. Westview Pr.

Knutsen, O. and Scarbrough, E. (1995) ‘Cleavage politics’, in J. van Deth and E. Scarbrough (eds) The Impact of Values, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 492–523.

Laver, Michael, and Budge, Ian (Eds.). (1992). Party policy and government coalitions. New York: St. Martin’s.

Laver, Michael, e Kenneth A. Shepsle. 1996. Making and breaking governments: Cabinets and legislatures in parliamentary democracies. Cambridge University Press.

LEIRAS, Marcelo (2005) Todos los caballos del rey: la integración de los partidos y el gobierno democrático de la Argentina, 1995-2003. Buenos Aires: Prometeo.”

Lijphart Patterns of Democracy (latest edition)

Lovenduski, Joni (2005) Feminizing Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lovenduski, Joni and Pippa Norris (1993) Gender and Party Politics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Luna Juan Pablo, 2014, Segmented Representation, Oxford.

Mair, P. (2006a) Ruling the Void? The Hollowing of Western Democracy. New Left Review, 42. 25-51

Mair, Peter (2008) The Challenge to Party Government, West European Politics, 31:1-2, 211-234

Mair, Peter, and Jacques Thomassen. “”Political representation and government in the European Union.”” Journal of European Public Policy 17.1 (2010): 20-35.

Mair, Ruling the Void (or his earlier The West European Party System)

Manin, B. (1997) The Principles of Representative Government, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

McDonald, Michael D., and Ian Budge. 2005. Elections, Parties, Democracy: Conferring the Median Mandate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Meguid, Party Competition Between Unequals

Morgenstern and Potthoff, Electoral Studies, 2005: “”The Components of Elections.””

Moser and Scheiner, Electoral Systems and Political Context;

Mudde, Cas (2007) Populist Radical Right in Europe (CUP)

Müller and Strom, Policy, Office or Votes,

Panebianco (1988)

Petrocik, J. R. 1996. «Issue ownership in presidential elections, with a 1980 case study». American Journal of Political Science: 825–50.

Plasser, Fritz and Gunda Plasser (2002), Global Political Campaigning. A Worldwide Analysis of Campaign Professionals and Their Practices, Westport CT: Praeger.

Powell and Tucker on improving our understanding of measuring volatility.

Przeworski’s entire work.

Randall, Vicky and Lars Svasand (2002) ‘Party Institutionalisation in New Democracies’ Party Politics, 8:5, pp.5-29.

Riker, W.H. (1962) The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven: Yale University Press

Rothstein, Bo The Quality of Government

Rydgren, Jens (ed.) Class Politics and the Radical right (Routledge)

Samuels and Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers;

Sartori, Giovanni. 1976. Parties and Party Systems: a Theoretical Framework. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Scarrow (2007)

Schofield Norman and Itai Sened, Multiparty Democracy: Elections and Legislative Politics

Sigelman, Lee, and Emmett H. Buell. 2004. “Avoidance or Engagement? Issue Convergence in U.S. Presidential Campaigns, 1960–2000.” American Journal of Political Science 48(4): 650–61.

Simpser, Why Governments and Parties Manipulate Elections: Theory, Practice, and Implications by Alberto Simpser

Sniderman, Paul, and Hagendoorn, Louk. (2007). When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and its Discontents in the Netherlands. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.”

Soroka, S.N., e C. Wlezien. 2010. Degrees of democracy. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Stegmueller’s POQ article on individual-level partisan dynamics.

Stimson, J.A., MacKuen, M.B. and Erikson, R.S. (1995). “Dynamic representation”. American Political Science Review 89: 543–565

Strøm, K., W.C. Müller and T. Bergman (eds) (2008), Coalition Bargaining: The Democratic Life Cycle in Western Europe, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Strøm, Kaare, and Wolfgang C. Müller. 1999. «The keys to togetherness: Coalition agreements in parliamentary democracies». The Journal of Legislative Studies 5(3-4): 255–82.

Strøm, Kaare. 2000. “Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies.” European Journal of Political Research 37(3): 261-289.

Sulkin, T. 2005. Issue politics in Congress. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press.

Thomassen The European Voter (Jaqcues Thomassen ed)

Tsebelis, George. 2002. Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tversky, Amos. (1988). Contrasting Rational and Psychological Analyses of Political Choice. American Political Science Review.

van Biezen (2004)

Van der Brug, Wouter, and Joost Van Spanje. “”Immigration, Europe and the ‘new’cultural dimension.”” European Journal of Political Research 48.3 (2009): 309-334.

Van der Meer, Tom, et al. “”Bounded volatility in the Dutch electoral battlefield: A panel study on the structure of changing vote intentions in the Netherlands during 2006–2010.”” Acta Politica 47.4 (2012): 333-355.

Warwick, Paul V. 2001. “Coalition Policy in Parliamentary Democracies Who Gets How Much and Why”. Comparative Political Studies 34(10): 1212–36.

Warwick, Paul V. 2011. “Voters, Parties, and Declared Government Policy.” Comparative Political Studies 44(12): 1675–99.”

Webb, Party Politics in New Democracies”

Young, L. (2013) ‘Party Members and Intra-Party Democracy’ in W.P. Cross and R.S. Katz The Challenges of Intra-Party Democracy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Slovakia Voter’s Guide, Part II

2010 Slovakia Voter’s Guide.

Four years ago in preparation for the 2010 elections, I came up with an (intentionally) simplified voter’s guide for Slovakia, designed as a flowchart.  No elections are coming up (unless Fico is serious about calling new elections, which I doubt but can’t rule out) but Ben Stanley did such an amazing job with a guide for Poland’s upcoming election in the Why We Study Eastern Europe facebook page) that I wanted to try again.

Poland Voter's Guide, Ben Stanley 2014

Poland Voter’s Guide, Ben Stanley 2014

It has been only four years but circumstances are already different.  One party from the 2010 chart is formally gone–HZDS–and several others are in significant decline–SDKU, SaS–and we are seeing an amazing proliferation of entrants (a sort of “Hundred Flowers” campaign, only for parties).  The new chart highlights that newness in a way that is perhaps more biting than I intended, but /is/ remarkable to see one part of the political landscape of any country so divided.  Slovakia’s “right” (by which I mean non-nationalist, non-Hungarian, non-Fico parties) is split up among more parties than the entire Swedish parliament and it has the same adjusted party system size (over 5.0 according to the Taagipera and Laakso formula), and more seem to be popping up every week.

This must be a prelude to some sort of consolidation but if it doesn’t happen /before/ the election, then Slovakia’s right will (again) give away its chance to triumph over Robert Fico.  Even if the right doesn’t lose its necessary margin to small parties, it will face problems: according to FOCUS’s most recent poll, the right and Hungarians could scrape together a majority only if all five elected parties joined together.  The last so-called “zlepenec” coalition had only four (with a fifth one inside, to be sure) and lasted less than two years..  No wonder that some say KDH is thinking seriously about a coalition with Fico.  Or that new parties keep popping up to try to unify the right under /their/ banner.  Alas, the result is usually simply more fragmentation (see xkcd.com: http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/standards.png).

So with all that buildup, here’s the chart.  And here it is in PDF: slovakia voting flowchart 2014 portrait

slovakia voting flowchart 2014 portrait_sm


Slovakia’s Presidential Election: What the numbers say.

I thought there was not much to say about the results of the recent presidential elections in Slovakia, but I after writing the 2000 words below, I seem to have been wrong (or I have written a lot of words about nothing. Having taken a closer look at the numbers, I see in them both a confirmation of conventional wisdom—the strength of the right-wing vote, the weakness on the left-wing vote—along with often overlooked considerations about the role of political supply in addition to political demand and the pivotal role of new faces. 

The Big Picture:
Fico gets some voters back, but Kiska takes the center right

After the first round, I made the (rather obvious) argument that this election would be decided by 1) the degree to which Fico the degree to which he could mobilize his own voters and simultaneously 2) could delegitimize Kiska and thereby pry center-right voters away from him, and that some combination of both would be necessary.  The results of the second round suggest that his efforts fell short on both counts, but especially on the second.  On the first front, Fico managed in the second round to increase his support in areas where he was already popular, suggesting that he did manage to increase turnout among his own supporters by a significant, but even among these he did not reach the mobilization levels he obtained in the (admittedly unusually pro-Smer) 2012 parliamentary election. On the second front, Fico’s efforts appear to have failed completely: evidence suggests that in the second round Kiska won nearly all of the votes of the supporters of other center-right parties in addition to his own (relatively fewer) first round voters.   In a way that is not surprising since voters of the Center Right are unlikely to listen to critiques coming from the mouth of Fico.

Several tables and charts provide an effective overview of the election.  These are, in a way, massively oversimplified, suggesting, among other things, an undifferentiated spectrum within the center right, when in fact it ranges from strong Catholics to strong agnostics, from doctrinaire free-marketeers to those who are willing to accept a social market hybrid, and from ethnic Hungarians (whom I classify under Center Right for convenience) to ethnic Slovaks with a strong national sense.  It also suggests there is /any/ connection between the ‘other’ presidential candidates from the Communist Party with those of more nationally-oriented forces, with a series of rather idiosyncratic efforts).  In the case of the Center Right, there are enough similarities and historical ties of similarity that the comparison is warranted; in the case of the “others”, the number of such voters is so small as to not have great impact on the overall outcome.

Table 1. Votes and percentages for candidates in the first and second rounds of Slovakia’s 2014 presidential election
Raw votes (rounded to the nearest 1,000)
2nd round vote compared to first round vote
Round Change, 2nd-1st rounds
1st 2nd Narrow (candidate only) Wide (candidate and associated)
Kiska            456,000          1,307,000 +851,000 -15,000
Right            866,000  –  –
Fico            532,000            894,000  +362,000 +316000
Other              46,000
2nd round vote compared to first round vote
Round Change, 2nd-1st rounds
1st 2nd Narrow (candidate only) Wide (candidate and associated)
Kiska 24% 59% 35% -10%
Right 46%  –  –
Fico 28% 41% 13% 10%
Other 2%

Source for all tables and charts: http://prezident2014.statistics.sk/Prezident-dv/download-sk.html, and http://volby.statistics.sk/nrsr/nrsr2012/menu/indexd.jsp@lang=sk.htm

What does Table 1 show us?  Assuming my a priori logic about the existence of a programmatically coherent bloc of Center Right voters (taken as a bloc the largest single group), it appears that the bloc shifted en masse to Kiska, and gave him his second round victory.  Surveys (http://www.sme.sk/c/7137934/kto-su-volici-fica-kisku-a-prochazku-volebne-grafy.html) suggest that Kiska was a viable option for nearly all voters of the Center Right whereas Fico was not, and the number of voters gained by Kiska nicely matches the number of those who supported losing Center Right candidates (differing by a mere 15,000).  Since we do not know who these voters are, however, such evidence is purely circumstantial unless we go deeper.   What we discover is that while appearances may sometimes be deceiving, in this case they are not.

A Collage of Small Pictures:
Little pieces tell the same story

The second table shows a new set of patterns based on correlations between vote share among candidates at the municipal level.  These compare patterns of performance of Kiska and the Right, Fico and the other candidates and do so across the first and second rounds.

Table 2. Correlations between municipal-level votes in various categories
in the first and second rounds of Slovakia’s 2014 presidential election.

Relationship between candidate vote and potentially associated candidates in the first round:

  • No relationship between the Kiska vote and the Right vote
  • No relationship between the Kiska vote and the “Other” vote

Relationship between the combined vote of the candidate and associated candidates in the first round and the votes for the candidate himself in the second round

  • A very strong relationship (.94) between voting for Kiska and the right in the first round and Kiska alone in the second round.
  • An identically strong relationship (.94) between voting for Fico and the “other” candidates in the first round and Fico alone in the second round.

Relationship between candidate vote in the first and second rounds

  • Moderate relationship for Kiska (.41) suggesting that something major affected his geographical appeal (and since his vote total rose, it suggests that it is related to the new voters)
  • Strong relationship for Fico (.94) suggesting that his vote increased across the board without changing geographical patterns

Relationship between candidate vote and gain in the second round

  • No relationship for Kiska (.04)  suggesting that new votes came from areas outside the candidate’s initial base
  • Moderate relationship for Fico (.34) suggesting that the 2nd round efforts tended (at least more than in the case of Kiska) to mobilize voters from the candidate’s base.

Relationship between “related vote” in first round and candidate gain in second round

  • Extremely high for Kiska (.92) suggesting that most new voters came from the base of the right candidates (if not the same exact voters)
  • Moderate for Fico (.30) suggesting that some new voters may have come from the “other” candidates but that these were drowned out by those coming from the candidate’s base.

So this gives quite direct evidence for what I already strongly suspected (and what other pollsters knew long before I did, http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/53464/2/ficos_voters_boosted_turnout.html): that Fico’s new voters in the second round came from newly remobilized supporters in his existing regional support bases while Kiska’s new votes came as a transfer of the already mobilized first round center right voters  (Of course not all of Kiska’s vote came from previous center-right voters: some of those no doubt stayed home and some new voters no doubt turned out, but the overall pattern is remarkably strong and so they appear to have canceled each other out.)

A few graphs can help make this rather concrete (I’ve decided to put the labels in even though they are mostly illegible where the cases bunch up.  It’s ugly but it allows for a look at some of the outliers, mainly the Hungarian cases, but explaining those is a job for another day).

Figure 1. Kiska first round and second round. Vertical cluster suggests that improvements were largely independent of first round performance

Figure 1. Kiska first round and second round. Vertical cluster suggests that improvements were largely independent of first round performance

Figure 2. Center right first round and Kiska second round. Diagonal pattern suggests that Kiska's second round was closely related to first round performance of the center right.

Figure 2. Center right first round and Kiska second round. Diagonal pattern suggests that Kiska’s second round was closely related to first round performance of the center right.

Figure 3. Fico results first round and Fico gain second round.  Diagonal pattern suggests that Fico's second round performance was closely related to his first round performance.

Figure 3. Fico results first round and Fico gain second round.  Diagonal pattern suggests that Fico’s second round performance was closely related to his first round performance.

Figure 4. "Other" first round and Fico gain in second round. Vertical cluster suggests that improvements were largely independent of gains from "Other" candidates.

Figure 4. “Other” first round and Fico gain in second round. Vertical cluster suggests that improvements were largely independent of gains from “Other” candidates.

These snapshots of “obvod” (subdistrict) level voting show a strong correlation between right candidate support in round 1 and Kiska gains in round 2, but they do not show much of a relationship between Kiska’s own results in round 1 and 2 (more of a vertical distribution).  The opposite pattern is apparent for Fico with a very slight contribution from “other” candidates and a strong correlation between his round 1 and 2 results.  Fico drew second round voters where he had already drawn first round voters, but he drew more of them.

A Moving Picture:
Old patterns filtered by new choices

The patterns here draw attention to the ways that this election fits into the broader sweep of Slovakia’s political history.  Looking at the ways in which Fico’s second-round presidential vote followed first round patterns tells us something about the stability of his support (and the lack of influx from other sources).  Looking at the relationship between candidates’ 2014 performance and that of their respective parties in 2012 helps explain why the election was so (unexpectedly) lopsided.  As the graph below shows, the Fico’s results in 2014 almost perfectly followed his party’s results in 2012, but they were lower, much lower.

Table 5. Fico vote share in first and second rounds compared to Smer vote share in 2012. Note that in most obvods even Fico's second round performance falls short of the diagonal line that indicates parity with 2012.

Table 5. Fico vote share in first and second rounds compared to Smer vote share in 2012. Note that in most obvods even Fico’s second round performance falls short of the diagonal line that indicates parity with 2012.

In the first round, Fico received an average of fewer 11,000 votes per sub-region.  In the second round that gap dropped but Fico still turned out 5,000 fewer voters per sub-region than his party had in 2012.  Of course some drop is natural since presidential elections usually have lower turnout levels than parliamentary elections in Slovakia, but it only works if your opponents also have lower turnout levels than in the past.  As the third table shows, the 2014 vote did not work that way.

Table 3. Presidential candidates’ 2014 vote totals as a share of the vote totals of their respective parties in 2012
2014 vote as a share of 2012 vote
First Second
Fico 47% 79%
Right 84%
Kiska 127%

After turning out fewer than half of his 2012 voters in the first round, Fico managed to increase that in the second round to nearly 80% of his 2012 performance, but—and this may be the single most interesting statistical result of the election—the six candidates of the center right had together already achieved a mobilization level above 80% in the first round, not including votes that went to Kiska.  In fact, the candidates from center-right parties attracted nearly as many votes in the first round as Fico did in his much improved performance in the second round.  And when the center-right voters shifted joined with the already significant share of voters who had already opted for Kiska, Fico did not have a chance.

Even without Kiska in the race, Fico faced big challenges—bigger than I saw at the time.  In running for president, Fico needed to outperform his own party’s parliamentary support level by something over 5% (since Smer had only managed 44.4% in the previous election), and the degree of necessary outperformance increased with every drop in Smer’s support.  By early 2014, the Smer’s preference levels had dropped to the high 30%’s , requiring Fico to outperform his party by at least 12 percentage points.  In the second round, Fico probably did outperform his party, but if we use the latest FOCUS polling numbers (http://www.focus-research.sk/files/168_Preferencie%20politickych%20stran_jan-feb_2014.pdf) that outperformance was probably in the neighborhood of 3% rather than 12%.

Of course elections are not about the level of preference alone but about comparative preferences.  The right seems to have managed its high first-round mobilization not through skillful campaigning or inspiring candidates but through a wide degree of choice (each slightly different flavor bringing out a slightly different group of voters) and a common enemy (the prospect of Fico and his party occupying every major political institution).  Had a center-right candidate gotten into the second, however, Smer could have benefitted from some of the same logic in the second round: the right could no longer provide such a high degree of choice and Smer voters would also have had a common enemy (the prospect of, say, Prochazka, occupying the presidency).  This might have increased the Smer turnout above 80% and also limited the gains the center right could make in the second round, and at least produced a close election.

Instead, it would appear, the presence of Kiska in the second round gave the center right the best of both worlds: it preserved the first round center-right mobilization by offering a (marginally) acceptable candidate who could promise to stop Fico, and who could also attract voters for whom center right candidates were also anathema.  At the same time, Kiska presented Smer with significant problems since, for all the claims about scientology, usury and inexperience, he was apparently not frightening enough to push Smer voters and sympathizers to the polls.

Previews of Coming Attractors?
What this election might tell us about the next one(s)

Let me finish with some half-baked speculation that deserves to be looked at with a very critical eye.  For all its infighting and its poor choices—of which there are many examples—Slovakia’s center right has managed to remain a player because it has managed to retain the allegiance of the Hungarian minority and has managed to accommodate the emergence of multiple, sequential new players (SOP, ANO, SaS, OLaNO, and now Kiska) who provide outlets for dissatisfied voters whereas with the exception of the period between about 1999 and 2003, the opposite side of the political spectrum has been dominated by a single party that tries (successfully in the case of Smer, ultimately less successfully in the case of HZDS) to present itself as an unstoppable force and to prevent the emergence of rival players.  The result on the right has been a surprising degree of success (1998, 2002, 2010, now Kiska in 2014) usually followed by paralysis among the multiple players whose presence in the electoral market allowed the victory in the first place.  The result on the left has been political forces that win big pluralities but often lack sufficient allies to create a majority.

Toward this end, Fico’s poor performance in the 2014 presidential election may hold a certain perverse hope for Slovakia’s left.  If the result of this election is to produce cracks in that party or even just to open a space in the minds of some voters (and, especially, some funders), then we might see an end to Fico’s skillful institutional monopolization of political space.  If Fico and his party cannot preserve their one-party parliamentary majority, then the emergence of new parties on the center left might be able to sop up some of the dissatisfied voters who seem to have decided that Fico is just the same as all the others.  Kiska, a candidate not unfriendly toward the center right picked up those pivotal floating voters in this presidential election.  New center right parties such as Prochazka’s and NoVa will try to pick them up in the next parliamentary election but with varying degrees of success.  Fico can hope that the center right continues its intra-familial feuds and ends up with a bunch of parties just below the threshold (not necessarily a bad bet given the past track record of the right), but by relinquishing a little control on the left and allowing a new party somewhere on that side of the spectrum might actually help him remain prime minister.  (As to whether that’s what Fico actually wants, I’ve decided to stop speculating on matters that exist only in the heads of distant leaders.)

Austrian Parliamentary Election, 29 September 2013

In button form the Austrian flag looks a lot like a “Do Not Enter” sign, but this election at least that did not apply for new parties (of course the thing I am most interested in these days).  There was some significant volatility in Austria this year. In raw party terms, two new parties entered and one existing party left parliament.  There was a minimum of 14.5% shift in votes and a 16% shift in seats (less than in the last election, for which my figures are 17% of votes and 27% of seats, but much more than Austria’s overall average during the post-WWII period.)  The shift was of a different character, furthermore:  whereas nearly all of Austria’s volatility has in the recent past been among parliamentary parties (Mainwaring’s intra-system volatility, Tucker and Powell’s Type A volatility), this year nearly half of the total volatility (6.2% of 14.5) was related to new entries and exits (extra-system or Type B).  In the last election the extra-system volatility was nearly as high (5.9%) but it was outweighed by intra-system volatility (10.9%); in elections before 2008, extra system volatility was barely discernable (averaging only 1.3%). 

Particularly notable here is the emergence of the non-traditionally-named Team Stronach whose website ad looks like a blockbuster trailer:

Team Stronach Video

But of course the only interactive website anybody /really/ needs is the one that lets you look at the results yourself, the Political Data Yearbook: Interactive (he said fully aware that this post is simply a plug for that website:

German Parliamentary Elections, 22 September 2013

It’s seems to be election season in Europe–Norway last week and Germany this week, with Austria, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic coming up in the next two months (the latter two of which are somewhat premature).   No time (or expertise) to offer in-depth analysis of the German elections here, but I wanted to post some screenshots and a link to the Political Data Yearbook interactive: http://www.politicaldatayearbook.com/Chart.aspx/14/Germany

SDP did not t do that badly, at least by some metrics, and although this is being hailed as a “commanding election victory” and a “triumph” (which for CDU-CSU’s raw numbers, it certainly is), it looks a bit less impressive when seen in the context of the collapse of the FDP. Party death and birth, as always, are the interesting questions for me.  FDP seems to be the kind of party that can survive a single very bad election, especially if people quickly tire of what is being done in its absence from parliament, as they likely will.  But some support may also bleed off to another destination.  By my rough calculations, there was about a 5% net increase in voting for parties outside the mainstream, most of it to Alternative for Germany (among existing small parties there was no clear increase).  They appear to be betting now on poor economic results and consequences from bailouts to set themselves up and reap the dissatisfaction (not my analysis–that comes straight from National Public Radio (not the finest source on European domestic politics, but good enough, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=224101219).  So an inconclusive death and a not-quite birth.  The same whirlpools that tear Eastern European party patterns asunder with every election are not as powerful here and they face much stronger opposition.  But the currents still seem to be present…

2012 Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia: The Building Blocs of Success

Another year, another election.  This time a joint work by Tim Haughton and Kevin Deegan-Krause reviewing Slovakia’s most recent election and what it means (even for people who can’t find Slovakia on a map). Tim Haughton (not pictured here) is Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Fellow, Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies & Senior Lecturer in the Politics of Central and Eastern Europe, University of Birmingham.   Kevin Deegan-Krause is Associate Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University, Detroit Michigan. 

Keeping a careful eye on Slovakia's elections. Photo courtesy of Reuters (http://bit.ly/yDQg55).

 Slovakia’s 2012 election never seemed to hold much room for surprise.  The Wall Street Journal forecast Slovakia Center-Left Party Headed for Election Victory, the Financial Times watched as Slovakia coalition heads for defeat and nearly every major newspaper and news service said the same thing: power in Slovakia would change hands from right to left on March 10, 2012. 

And so it did, but a look inside Slovakia’s election helps to make a simple story somewhat more complex and even offers a few insights into 21st century-style democracy for those who do not have much interest in Slovakia itself.

What happened in the election? 
The left won; another new “party” erupted; everybody else lost

  • Left over right: For the first time in the country’s history a single party won a clear majority in the elections.  The left-leaning (and sometimes nationally-oriented) Direction-Social Democracy (Smer-SD) led by Robert Fico won 44.4% of the vote and 55.3% of the 150 seats in Slovakia’s parliament). Fico supplanted a four-party right-leaning coalition that took power in Slovakia in 2010 with a narrow majority (replacing Fico, who had governed from 2006 until 2010) whose internal disagreements over the Greek bailout led to a vote of no-confidence in the coalition’s prime minister, Iveta Radicova, and early elections. 
  • Decline of Slovak-national parties:  Slovakia’s 2012 elections witnessed the continuing collapse of parties emphasizing the Slovak nation.  In 2012 the Slovak National Party (SNS) failed to exceed the country’s 5% electoral threshold and followed in the 2010 footsteps of its former partner the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the once-mighty electoral machine of Slovak politics which this year could not muster even a single percent.
  • Split among Hungarian-national parties: On the other side of Slovakia’s national divide, the Hungarian vote split nearly evenly between the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), which fell just below the 5% threshold, and Bridge (Most-Hid) led by a longtime former SMK chairman, which managed parliamentary representation with a 7% showing.
  • Novelty on the right:  Finally as in every Slovak election but one (2006), a newly created party succeeded in crossing the threshold and entering parliament—the evocatively named “Ordinary People and Independents” (OLaNO).  Furthermore all right wing parties experienced shifts akin to the “defenestration” of Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leaders in the Czech Republic’s 2010 elections, as voters made significant use of preference voting to rearrange party lists and elevate new, seemingly cleaner candidates over less than angelic party regulars.

What happened in the campaign: 
The left ran smoothly; the right ran into a gorilla; the rest ran into each other

As with the results themselves, the world’s news sources had little doubt about the reason: corruption.  Reuters offered an explanation for the apparently clear outcome: Slovaks set to dump centre-right after graft scandal.  Yet the actual circumstances are more complicated.  Surveys suggest that the right-leaning coalition lost the support of the majority of voters only a few months after taking office in the summer of 2010, and by mid-2011, Fico’s Smer-SD was consistently polling at levels sufficient for a one-party parliamentary majority, well before the collapse of the coalition over the Euro-bailout or the scandals surrounding the so-called “Gorilla” file.

Prediction came easily in Slovakia’s 2012 election in part because the narrative of the two campaigns followed such clearly divergent paths.  On one side, Robert Fico’s Smer-SD managed to avoid any mistakes.  In part it succeeded in this because it took almost no risks running a similar campaign to those in previous elections; it managed to avoid significant taint (even in scandals that concerned some of its own members) and its campaign relentlessly pushed the key word “certainty” (istota), and maintained a unified, calm and confident (but not cocky) voice all the way through.

Standing in sharp contrast were the efforts of all nearly of Fico’s competitors.  The election campaign itself was often overshadowed by large-scale demonstrations provoked by the “Gorilla scandal,” so called after the leak of the eponymously-named police file purportedly highlighting intimate links and lucrative mutually-beneficial deals between financial groups and politicians, especially those in the 2002-2006 government.  Gorilla, along with allegations that MPs had been offered bribes in return for their loyalty in the fractious vote for the prosecutor-general in 2010, served to indict nearly the entire political class and its murky links with business and produced several vehement demonstrations in Slovakia’s major cities.

Although Gorilla and similar scandals cast shadows over all political leaders, the main victim was the leading government party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKU-DS), and its leader Mikulas Dzurinda.  SDKU also suffered from the decision of its prime minister, Iveta Radicova, to leave politics after her frustrating experience of trying to hold together a fractious coalition in which even her party colleagues Dzurinda and Ivan Miklos were not always safe allies.  Dzurinda, a two-time prime minister (1998-2006) and foreign minister (2010-2012), liked to remind voters that it was his governments that took Slovakia back into the European mainstream after the illiberalism of the Meciar years, but faced struggles of his own.  In 2010 a different scandal forced him to relinquish his top spot on the party’s election list (a position taken by outgoing prime minister Radicova); in 2012 he regained the top ballot position but not the affection of his party’s voters.  In the wake of “Gorilla,” Dzurinda received the preference vote support of only one sixth of his own party’s voters (a drop from 165,000 in 2006 to just 27,000 in 2012) and ceded the leadership of the party—which he had held since its inception—to reformer Lucia Zitnanska.

Leadership change does not appear to be on the table for the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH)—the only other party in Slovakia’s parliament that has not had the same leader since its foundation—but this party, too, saw a shift in preference votes toward younger and more energetic figures including party vice-chair Daniel Lipsic.  The party did not lose strength in this election, but its reliance on its loyal electorate and its weak campaign (encapsulated in the ill-judged slogan ‘white Slovakia’) prevented it from capitalizing on SDKU’s woes and taking clear leadership on Slovakia’s right.

Also on the right—but from an economic rather than a cultural perspective—Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) was only narrowly able to scrape past the 5% threshold.  The party suffered from pre-election revelations that party leader Richard Sulik held monthly meetings with dodgy businessmen, but managed to hang on to enough voters through its unique combination of libertarian morality and pro-market values and its prominent negative stance on the Euro bailout (a position so important to Sulik that he allowed his opposition to bring down the government of which he was a part). 

Among other parties, neither of the two major Hungarian contenders faced a similar taint (although Bugar’s links with businessman Oszkar Vilagi were mentioned on several occasions) but neither could boast of particular accomplishments or a particularly noteworthy campaign.  On the other end of the national spectrum the Slovak National Party  did manage a noteworthy campaign, but only by pushing the boundaries of decorum.  In its 2010 campaign, SNS projected aggressively xenophobic images of bandit Hungarians and indolent Roma with (photoshopped) chains and tattoos.  In 2012 the party abandoned any pretense of style and embraced raw confrontation, borrowing liberally from anti-Semitic caricature and even internet pornography (one billboard featured a female model wearing only an EU-flag thong and the message “the EU is screwed.”)

http://www.heraldica.org/topics/national/czech.htm and http://www.thedaily.sk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/obycajni-ludia-znak.jpg

Weak performance by major parties in Central and Eastern Europe seems more often than not to benefit brand new parties, a phenomenon common to Slovakia but now apparent also in Hungary (Jobbik, Politics Can Be Better), the Czech Republic (Public Affairs, TOP09), Poland (Polikot’s Movement), and Slovenia (Jankovic’s List, Virant’s List).  In 2012 Slovakia again produced a new parliamentary party, but stopped short of producing two.  Igor Matovic, elected unexpectedly in 2010 through preference votes on the SaS party list, tentatively positioned his new “Ordinary People and Independents ” party on the right-hand side of the spectrum, but took full advantage of the corruption scandals (including a revision of the Slovak seal replacing its hills and cross with a similarly-shaped gorilla and banana) . 

A second new party, evocatively called “99%” briefly succeeded in attracting voters with a well-designed and lavishly-funded campaign (including one of the first to use a legal loophole to air paid-television commercials), but quickly lost momentum as questions emerged about the source of the lavish funding and the possibility of systematic falsification of signatures on the party’s establishing petition.  With its final tally of only 1.6% of the vote, 99% suggests that there are limits on the degree of artificiality that even the most disillusioned voters are willing to accept from a new anti-corruption, anti-elite party.

What stayed the same?
Despite the shift in seats, the relative vote share of electoral blocs changed little.

Although the world’s news sources explained their election predictions on the basis of the corruption scandals—Reuters suggested that Slovaks were “Slovaks set to dump centre-right after graft scandal”—the actual footprints of the gorilla-scandal appear to have been relatively shallow. While it certainly had individual and institutional effects, toppling Dzurinda and helping to rearrange the complexion of parties on the right, the scandals actually produced no little change in the overall array of Slovakia’s parties. Surveys suggest that the right-leaning coalition lost the support of the majority of voters only a few months after taking office in the summer of 2010, and by mid-2011, Fico’s Smer-SD was consistently polling at levels sufficient for a one-party parliamentary majority, well before the collapse of the coalition over the Euro-bailout or the scandals surrounding the so-called “Gorilla” file.

Share of votes and seats for relevant political blocs in Slovakia. Click image to enlarge.

When we delve deeper into Slovakia’s results over time we see that frequent changes in party and government obscure a remarkable degree of stability within the electoral blocs. The figure here shows the development of both Slovakia’s electorate and its parliamentary representation over time, beginning with the assumption of four relatively distinct electoral blocs: left and right, and Hungarian national (those of Hungarian ethnicity) and Slovak national (those of Slovak ethnicity for whom ethnicity is particularly important). The figure shows an extremely high degree of long-term stability of bloc-voting levels on Slovakia’s right and among the Hungarian national parties. Whom these voters vote for (indeed, which party is even on the ballot) has changed significantly over time, but the relative percentage in these two categories has not changed by more than a few percentage points over the four elections of the past decade (and not much before that). In the other half of the political landscape, there are more significant shifts—the decline of the Slovak-national parties and the rise of the economic left, but these two developments are almost perfectly reciprocal, and the overlap of themes suggests a high degree of compatibility between the voters in these two blocs.

The horizontal mid-line of the graph suggests that unlike the combination of left and Slovak-national parties, the coalition of right and Hungarian-national parties has never actually constituted a majority of Slovakia’s voters. The right has been able to form coalitions only when allied with the left (as for a brief time in 1994 and again from 1998 to 2002) or benefited from fragmentation among left and Slovak-national parties that kept some of them from passing the 5% threshold and produced a disproportionate number of seats for the right (as between 2002 and 2006 and again, to a lesser extent between 2010 and 2012). In the 2012 election, threshold failures by parties on both sides produced a roughly even redistribution of seats which benefitted the larger combined bloc, that of the Slovak-national and left, and because of the collapse of the Slovak-national parties, and consolidation of the left, this space was occupied entirely by Robert Fico’s party, Smer.

What changed?
Despite stable vote shares, some blocs lost seats when small parties fell below the 5% threshold.

The dynamics of public opinion are always filtered through the institutions of electoral politics and in Slovakia those institutions have recently made the difference between winners and losers. Party change more than voter change has produced most of Slovakia’s recent political volatility.

As an example, of such “supply-side” volatility, it is worth noting that while Slovak-national parties have disappeared from parliament, the Slovak-national party vote has actually changed relatively little. Together, parties which appeal to the Slovak-national themes managed to win nearly 8%, only about two percentage points less than what they achieved two years ago. As with most other changes in Slovakia’s politics, the collapse of parliamentary representation for the Slovak-national bloc lies in the interaction between party splintering and the 5% threshold. Although perhaps less decisively than in 2002, when SNS also lost its representation in parliament, a splinter from SNS led by a former leader may have pulled away a vital share of the SNS vote, and another radically anti-Roma and anti-immigrant party with roots in the skinhead subculture may have done the same. The 0.6 won by the breakaway Nation and Justice (NaS) or the 1.6 won by the People’s Party-Our Slovakia (LS-NS), would have been sufficient supplement to the 4.6 won by SNS to take the Slovak-nationalists back over the threshold and into parliament. It is possible that a new leader could emerge to replace Jan Slota in SNS or that a new national party could supplant SNS entirely, but with Slota’s party still dominating the (vastly diminished) national bloc and with Slota still dominating his party, it is difficult to see alternatives in the short term.

Similar institutional conflicts have affected parliamentary representation on the Hungarian-national side. Although the landscape of the Hungarian voters in Slovakia has long been complicated by division into multiple parties and factions (as befits a national community with a population larger than Luxembourg or Iceland), in electoral contests, Hungarians tended to band together during elections, forming electoral coalitions or even common party structures to maximize the gain above the electoral threshold. That changed with the breakaway in 2009 of popular former party leader Bela Bugar and his new party Most-Hid. Since the Hungarian parties tend to garner between 11% and 12% of the vote, there is a relatively narrow window in which two competing parties can both exceed the 5% threshold. In both 2010 and 2012 only Most-Hid managed to attract more than 5%, in part because of its more moderate stance on national questions and the ethnic Slovaks attracted by Bugar. Its rival, the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) fell in both 2010 and 2012, each time by less than 1%. While the competition between the two parties may help to keep them responsive to the electorate, it also cost the Hungarian population 2/5ths of its potential representation in parliament. Whether two successive losses like this can produce a rapprochement between the parties before the next election will depend on the concessions that either side is willing to make in the interest of overall Hungarian representation. So far that willingness has been quite small and Bugar’s complaints of a “dirty campaign” waged against him and the clear preference of Viktor Orban and the Hungarian government for SMK make a rapprochement unlikely in the short term.

An even bigger challenge awaits Slovakia’s right. Outside observers (and quite a few domestic ones) blame the right for losing the 2012 election, but as the figure above suggests, its combined vote was not much worse than in 2002 or 2006. The figure below indicates that its seat total was actually somewhat higher than in 2006.

Dimension 1: Changes in relative coalition size. Red represents the Fico-led coalition; Blue represents the Dzurinda/Radicova-led coalition

In retrospect, the exceptional election for the right may have been not 2012 or 2006 but 2010. In that year, four years of Fico government, with some sizeable scandals, sent some moderate, anti-corruption Smer voters across bloc lines to vote for anti-corruption right wing parties such as SaS. In 2012, by contrast, the right parties were the target of anti-corruption motivated votes and some migrated (back) to Smer, while others left for Ordinary People or a host of small new parties which had (so far) avoided the taint of the major parties.

The main source of Fico’s victory may thus lie in his ability to calmly preserve his party’s unity and wait for the return of former voters or the arrival new ones as the right parties sawed off their own limbs. Fico secured near complete dominance of a large part of the political spectrum, consolidating the left under his leadership and attracting the support of the more nationalistically-inclined voters, especially those from his erstwhile coalition partners, the SNS and Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), parties whose demise he at times helped encourage. In 2010 this cost him the premiership when it left him without a strong enough coalition partner to form a government, but in 2012 it actually helped increase his parliamentary majority since seats not going to SNS went 5-in-9 to his own party (based on a hypothetical situation in which SNS received 5.01% of the vote).

Dimension 2: Changes in relative bloc size. 2010 figure indicates lost seats in light grey and gained seats in deeper colors (deeper still for seats gained in 2012)

Fico gained an impressive number of seats in the 2012 election: 21 out of a 150 seat legislature. (The additional MPs in Fico’s party would, if they defected, immediately become the second largest party in parliament). The growth was the result both of transfer between sides (a swing of 12) and a nearly equal size transfer within his own side (a swing of 9 from SNS to Smer). This kind of victory creates new risks and rewards for Smer. On one hand, Smer must now govern alone and so unlike the 2006-2010 government, when the most viscerally-unpleasant corruption cases were those perpetrated by its coalition partners, it will not be able to avoid close identification with everything that goes wrong. If the right benefitted from disillusioned anti-corruption voters in 2010 and Fico got some of those back in 2012 when the right seemed to behave no better, then the flow of such voters in the next election will depend largely on how Smer conducts itself in government. The flip side of this focused responsibility is focused power. Smer can now govern alone, and it is worthwhile considering the consequences of a one-party Fico-led government

What happens now?
Robert Fico tests how the limits of one-party-rule in Slovakia (and one-man-rule in his own party)

When Robert Fico left the communist-successor Party of the Democratic Left in 1999 to form Smer, observers asked whether he was “a man to be trusted or feared”? (Indeed one of the authors of this piece, Tim Haughton, wrote on this exact question ten years ago). The question is even more relevant today. In the early 2000s, Fico offered Slovakia “new faces” and a “new direction.” In the 2012 campaign he offered the promise of certainty and stability. After a year and a half of a fractious coalition government, there will be some benefit to citizens and investors in a one-party Smer government, but what kind of certainty and stability can Fico offer?

One-party government is not without its risks. Slovakia’s political institutions have been protected to some extent in recent years by its tense coalitions, whose inability to agree have hampered their ability to deliver fundamental change (both good and bad). Because of Slovakia’s relatively open constitutional framework, a united parliamentary majority can impose significant changes not only on policy but on the institutional structure. For many in Slovakia any one party government would be source of worry even if its prime minister had not exhibited similarities to Vladimir Meciar, the three-time prime minister who came close to toppling Slovak’s democracy during the 1990s. Indeed there are some clear parallels between the two men, especially their central position to their parties’ identity and appeal and their willingness to the national card in political competition. Nor do some of the differences between the men offer much solace. Fico has demonstrated himself to be a more capable politician Meciar. Whereas Meciar oversaw the consistent decline of HZDS (from an admittedly high starting point), Fico has pushed Smer to more votes and more seats in every successive election.

But Smer’s progress also reflects Fico’s recognition of certain political limits and (unlike) Meciar, he has rarely pushed the boundaries too far. Chastened by a disappointing result in 2002, Fico spent much of the subsequent four years building his party’s organization and positioning Smer as the left-leaning alternative to the neoliberal policies of the second Dzurinda-led government. The party remains entirely dependent on Fico, but its organizational expansion has left it with a variety of internal factions and (it is said) financial sponsors that may begin to impose some of their own constraints. If they do not, Slovakia may now be able to fall back on other institutional structures that have strengthened since the Meciar era. Slovakia’s civil society has also demonstrated its ability to play a vibrant (if not always decisive) role. The anti-gorilla demonstrations may not have impacted much on the election result, but they show the willingness of many Slovaks to come out onto the streets if given provocation.

Although the Russian Pravda declared in a headline on Monday that the ‘good times may begin for Russia’ with this election because ‘it is difficult to find a more pro-Russian politician in all of the European Union’ than Robert Fico, it is worth recalling Fico’s press conference in the early hours of Sunday morning when it had become clear he would be the next prime minister. Fico was keen to stress his pro-European credentials. His last time in government began badly when he was roundly condemned by ideological allies in Europe for jumping into the coalition bed with the xenophobic and racist SNS leading to suspension from the Party of European Socialists. He will not want to be marginalized in Europe again. He knows that there are tough decisions ahead in Europe and that Slovakia’s future prosperity is dependent on Europe returning to healthy levels of growth. Past examples have revealed that Fico cares more about the give and take of domestic politics than anything else. He may thus simply ignore EU pressure, but he may have a harder time ignoring the supporters of his party whose livelihoods depend on the EU and wish to be left in peace to make their money.

The last time Fico held power he rode the wave of economic boom which his predecessors had done much to create. This time Fico takes power in an era of austerity and gloom. During the boom years some foreign investors were willing to turn a blind eye to the less than angelic behavior of members of Fico’s government, but with money now tighter, Fico will need to ensure that his government does not get embroiled in corruption scandals and that it stamps down on corruption at lower levels of government and administration. Admittedly many of the worst scandals affecting his government last time were those associated with ministers from Smer’s coalition partners SNS and HZDS, but Smer politicians were not immune. Fico knows that there are some in his ranks who have jumped on the Smer bandwagon hoping to feather their own nests. He must also be aware that if he does not succeed in controlling the greed of his party members, foreign investors may simply take their money elsewhere.

Maintaining support in government is intimately linked to how an administration deals with unexpected challenges and the economic context in which those decisions are made. If as Eurozone leaders are keen to stress, the European economy has turned the corner, Fico may benefit as Europe recovers from euro-related woes, but a glance at Greece indicates we might want to draw a different conclusion.

We have both spent long enough observing Slovak politics to expect the unexpected. Recent history offers us a guide, but as financial advisers would remind us past performance is only a guide to future outcomes. The only certainty is that to understand Slovak politics we need to understand the building blocs of party politics in Slovakia.

Slovakia, what comes next? Scenarios and results generator.

I always bury the lead in these stories and I’m trying not to, so here’s the four sentence summary:

According to current polls Smer is likely to be able to form a government with SNS and would almost be able to form one on its own, but polls are often misleading and obscure narrow margins (particularly with regard to the 5% electoral threshold).  The post below details how I produced several scenarios and a scenario calculator which suggest that the most important role will be played by Smer’s margin (43% produces very different results than 35%) and by the likelihood of some parties to push related parties below the threshold (SNS and Belosouvova’s NaS, SaS and Matovic’s OL) and the ability of others to reach some kind of agreement (the Hungarian parties).  The parties of the Radicova government can theoretically return to government but they will need good luck in the form of some combination of poor Smer results, mutually-assured-destruction among the nationalist parties, and lack of similar MAD by SaS/OL and the Hungarian parties.  But don’t take my word for it: at the bottom of the post is a link to a spreadsheet where you can try your own assumptions.

Now for the interesting (but usually only to me and a few other poor souls) details

I live for elections and while it’s always a bit melancholy to see a government fall (some more than others), it also means a new chance to look at the numbers and think about what they mean.  I’ve been channeling my inner Sabermetrician in the last few day and have started to put together some very rough models that might help us think about the important factors in Slovakia’s upcoming elections.  For Slovakia this means thinking about the relationship between polling numbers and votes, shifts in polling numbers over time, the potential for coalition formation and each party’s chance of crossing the 5% threshold.  While it would be possible to start anywhere, I think we can take a few things as given (at the moment–but I promise to revisit them) and take an initial probe into the rest.  For now I will leave aside the question of coalition formation and simply assume that the easiest coalition partners for Fico’s Smer are the Slovak National Party (SNS), or the smaller Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) or the new Nation and Justice (NaS), and that (with the potential exception of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) all the other major parties are capable of making a coalition with one another.  I will also leave aside the question of poll predictiveness because as I found in an analysis conducted before the 2010 (which I will soon repeat using the data from 2010 as well), the predictiveness of poll numbers is actually at its worst about 5-7 months before an election (and there are just under 5 months left until the 10 March 2012 election).  What’s left to us in this case?  The inter-related questions of translation of poll numbers into actual voting statistics and some considerations about the ability of particular parties to cross the 5% threshold. And even with only those two factors at hand the situation is still remarkably complex.

The main cause of complexity is the relatively large number of parties that might be expected to come close to the 5% threshold.  In my estimation there are only three parties for whom the threshold question is not in doubt:  Smer, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).  Far more questionable are the prospects of eight additional parties: SaS, SNS, Most-Hid, MKP/SMK, HZDS and perhaps also SDL, along with two emerging parties, Ordinary People (OL) and Nation and Justice (NaS).   Assuming that any of these parties might or might not pass the threshhold, there are 2^8 or 256 possible combinations of threshold passage among these 8.  As much as I like playing amateurishly with numbers, that is more than I want to deal with.  I will therefore make two simplifications.

  • First, the range for Hungarian parties is between 2 and 1, not between 2, 1 and 0.  Slovakia has two parties appealing to its Hungarian electorate: Bridge (Most-Hid) and the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (MKP/SMK) but since the Hungarian electorate constitutes approximately 11% of the total, it is mathematically impossible that both will fall below the threshold unless there is some suppression of the Hungarian vote or Hungarians opt for other parties.  Neither seems likely, so I will limit the four options to two.
  • Second, because HZDS has never yet shown an increase in its share from one election to the next, I will therefore eliminate it from the list, and further justify this with the additional argument that it is unlikely to see the rise of both HZDS and NaS.  If HZDS manages to pull it together (unlikely–Meciar has been utterly silent during the whole crisis–either that or, from his perspective worse, nobody’s bothering to ask him), you can substitute “HZDS”  for “NaS” and have more or less the same picture.

This brings our perumation count down 2^6 or 64, which is not small but workable.  We can bring it down a bit more by putting any options with SDL in the background for the moment.  The performance of the resurrected SDL surprised some in the last election, but since then the party has failed to sustain its preferences.  It could rise again–or another new party could rise again–but with NaS and OL running campaigns, the field looks rather crowded for yet another new party to jump in.

These choices bring us down to 32 options in the foreground and 32 in the background.

Having simplified, we need to add a bit of complexity (though not much).  The chances of each of these parties to pass the threshold is not independent of the others–especially of certain others.  Some of these small parties compete for votes with one another.  If one does well the likelihood is that the other will do poorly.  I’ve therefore made certain overall “vote potential” estimates and certain baseline ratios for each combination.  The linked pairs are as follows:

  • Most-Hid and MKP/SMK.  I assume that the total electoral potential for these two parties is approximately 12% which I presume to be the total share of the vote received by the two if they form an electoral coalition or if both exceed the 5% threshold.  If one falls below 5%, I assume that it will do so narrowly and I give the winner in the “one Hungarian party” scenario 7%.
  • SNS and NaS.  I assume based on past experience that the total electoral potential for these two parties is about 8%.  If SNS does well, I assume that it will attract about 6% and NaS only 2%.  If both split evenly, I would assume them to both receive about 4%.  If NaS does well and SNS does not, I will assume a narrower margin, with NaS just above 5% and SNS at 3%.  I also leave open the possibility (though unlikely) that both parties will manage to squeak over the 5% threshold.
  • SaS and OL.  This one is a bit harder since OL, although it got elected on the SaS list, may appeal to some other voters including dissatisfied voters from Fico and Radicova alike.  But without the time and energy at the moment to calculate a more detailed assumption, I assume that these two parties together have an electoral potential of around 10% (again my least certain assumption).  If OL does not get it together, I assume a lopsided 8% to SaS and 2% to OL.  If OL manages somehow to displace SaS, I give OL 6% and SaS a residual 4%.  I also allow for scenarios in which both manage to exceed the threshold with just over 5% and in which both come close but fail just short of 5%.

These scenarios are not all equally likely of course, so we can also weight them.  Here again I have just gone ahead and made guesses:

  • I guess a fairly high probability that M0st-Hid and MKP-SMK will realize the danger of one falling short and make an electoral deal (while holding their respective noses), and there is also the chance that they will not but that they will run neck and neck as they are doing now and both make it over the threshold.  Together I give these two scenarios about a 70% probability and the “one-Hungarian-party” scenario about 30%
  • I guess that the most likely outcome on the nationalist side is the victory of SNS and poor performance of NaS–say 50%–but put my second bet on each cancelling out the other as they did in 2002–say 25%.  The remaining 25% I split between “both” at 20% (especially if both Slota and Belousovova can manage to get in some attacks on Fico related to the EFSF) and NaS only at around 5%.
  • Likewise, I give SaS an advantage in the last group and put the chances of its passing the threshold and leaving OL out at around 40%.  I put the chance of “neither” at around 30% and the chance of “both” at around 15%.  I think it is equally unlikely (but not impossible) that OL could seize the mantle of SaS and give it 15%.  All of this will be a lot clear in a month or so when we see the first polls.
  • Finally, I put the odds of another party–SDL or HZDS or something new–emerging and I put it at 5%.  The only caveat in this is the fairly unlikely but never-say-never possibility of a new party starring Iveta Radicova.  That would fundamentally change the balance of the race, but it would probably not shift things too much as it would simply tap the SDKU electoral base.  If that happens, I’ll come back and redo this analysis.

OK, finally, having guessed about vote share and and probabilities to each of these threshold possibilities, I must still make guesses about the vote share of the three larger parties if we are to make any assessment about what kinds of coalition are or are not possible.  I will use three scenarios.  One based on current polling numbers (Smer 43, SDKU 15, KDH 10), one based on the 2010 election numbers (Smer 35, SDKU 15, KDH 9) and one “from the gut” best guess which also happens to be a middle way between these (Smer 39, SDKU 16, KDH 9).   Here are the results (the full results in .pdf format here) and then an explanation:


What all of this means

  • With current polling numbers (Smer 43, SDKU 15, KDH 10), the only way that Fico won’t be able to muster an easy coalition with SNS is if SNS and NaS split the vote and keep both out of parliament.  Under these polling numbers and probability assumptions, a Smer-SNS (and/or NaS) coalition could expect an 83% chance of gaining a majority, with the size of that majority ranging 76 to 94 seats, averaging about 83 seats.  The opposition would have only about a 9% chance of gaining a slim majority and only if, in addition to the SNS-NaS self-destruction, the parties above the threshold included both Hungarian parties and also SaS or OL.  It is notable that Smer manages to achieve its own a 76 seat majority in 36% of these cases.
  • Using numbers from the 2010 election (Smer 35, SDKU 15, KDH 9), which are probably unrealistically low for Smer, the situation changes even further and the number of scenarios won actually shifts in favor of the parties of the Radicova government (56%) rather than a Smer-led coalition  with SNS or NaS (38%) or a Smer-only government (only 2%).  But the right would have little margin for error–to return to government it would two Hungarian parties in government along with SaS or OL, and a coalition that contained Radicova and Miklos/Dzurinda, and Figel, and Bugar, and Csaky, and Sulik and/or Matovic could not exactly be greeted with excitement.  Ironically the only way for the Radicova coalition to gain a majority without Sulik and/or Matovic (or Bugar and Csaky) is for the infighting at the nationalist pole to be even worse.  If 2010 results prevail, so might 2010-style politics.
  • If, however, past predictors are usable (and I am not sure that they are), Smer will perform worse than its 6-months-left-before-election poll numbers and SDKU will perform better.  This case (Smer 39, SDKU 16, KDH 9) resembles the scenario with 2010 numbers but even narrower margins.  The advantage here is to Smer (winning in 61% of scenarios over the current government’s 25% with quite a few ties).  Even if Smer’s numbers drop to this level it would still need two of the following three things to go wrong for it to lose a majority: 1) a unified front or even performance by the Hungarian parties and 2) success of SaS and/or OL in passing the threshold, and 3) Nationalist self-destruction.   This scenario would, however, cast some cold water on Smer’s stated hopes of governing alone (13% of the scenarios).
And in an unexpectedly simple twist (most things I do online prove unexpectedly complex) I have been able to upload the entire spreadsheet basis for this onto google documents so that anyone can go and modify any of the assumptions and see what would happen to the results.
I’m pretty excited about this because it really changes the kinds of things we’re capable of (a lot like the “D.I.Y. Electoral College Calculators” in the US.  I would ask only that if you modify the numbers, you change them back so that others can use the spreadsheet as you found it.  Thanks.

Finally, it is worth noting that polling numbers taken 5 months before an election in Slovakia have very little relation to the final result, so while there is a general stability in Slovakia’s preferences–they don’t shift by more than a few percentages in any direction over time, how those votes are split up among specific parties–especially small parties near the threshold–can really matter.  This is what keeps Slovakia’s politics (for better or worse) interesting.

Slovakia and the Euro Bailout: What happened? What next? The Long Version

Now that the dust has settled and the world has moved on to other things, it is time for a post-mortem of what happened.  (I wish, in retrospect, that time had permitted me to publish my pre-mortem which, because it revealed certain electoral incentives for SaS to hold its ground and not swerve in this game of chicken, was less inaccurate than my usual predictions.  Alas.).  In trying to figure out why the decision happened as it did (and then happened differently two days later) I think the best framework is Kaare Strom’s model of three party goals–votes, office and policy–which I modify here to take into account the international circumstances related to this of this vote.  For each party I offer a rather schematic four-arrow diagram that looks like the one below.

  • The arrow on the left (pointing right) refers in this case and that of all subsequent diagrams refers to the realm of policy seeking and addresses a party’s overall policy preferences, broadly defined.  These may depend on the preferences of the party leader or party leaders and activists together.  They may be unified or divided.
  • The arrow on the bottom (pointing up) refers to the realm of vote seeking and addresses the degree to which a party’s voters (and potential voters) support a particular step and the degree to which their preferences on that issue will shape their voting behavior
  • The arrow on the right (pointing left) refers to the realm of office seeking and discusses the degree to which a party’s position on the issue will affect its ability to gain or keep political office and/or to influence the other aspects of office-related decisions.
  • The arrow on the top (pointing down) refers to a fourth realm, often ignored in studies of domestic political behavior (often because it is not relevant) which addresses the degree of external pressure from international bodies, neighboring countries and other large institutions.
For each of the diagrams, the size of the arrow reflects the degree to which a particular factor is important in shaping a party’s position while the color of the arrow indicates the policy inclination of that factor:

  • Green – for approving the EFSF expansion
  • Red – against approving the EFSF expansion
  • Amber – mixed or ambiguous

With these annotations, I would suggest that the factors within Slovakia’s party system looked roughly as follows:

Multiple pressures against

Multiple pressures for

Mixed pressure


Let’s start with the easy cases and work toward the harder ones.

Slovak National Party (SNS)

SNS is a fairly easy party to assess in this regard because of its relative political isolation and narrow message.

  • Policy.  SNS will oppose anything that looks like transfer of authority outside of Slovakia’s borders and so opposition to the EFSF was a fairly simple position for the party, made easier by the fact that it can be argued to involve transfer of wealth from Slovakia to others “less deserving” and (this is genuinely a factor in the case of SNS) with swarthy skin tones.
  • Votes.  SNS might stand to gain in maintaining its opposition as the EFSF expansion has not gone beyond bare majority support in Slovakia’s population and because many of those who oppose the EFSF will not be attracted to other, more libertarian elements of the platform of the other EFSF opponent, SaS.  SNS stands to gain perhaps a tiny bit from disaffected Smer voters (if Smer supports the plan on the second round of voting) and from any anti-EU non-voters who turn out to vote next time.
  • Office.  SNS has very little to lose in opposing the vote since it is openly regarded as uncoalitionable by the members of Radicova’s coalition and can return to government only in tandem with Smer.  To the extent that this vote hastens early election and does so at a time when Smer is performing well and SNS faces a downward trend but has not yet fallen through the 5% threshold in most polls, (and also may hope to get the jump on the very recently-registered competitior Nation and Justice [NaS] rather than giving it time to develop) the current political circumstances give the party an incentive to oppose the EFSF expansion even if policy and electoral motives did not.
  • External Pressure.  SNS has no real partners abroad–indeed that would violate its basic tenets–and therefore is not subject to any pressure to go along.

All of this makes SNS’s “no” decision quite easy.  It was the only party whose members actually voted “no” rather than abstaining or absenting themselves.

Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU)

SDKU, almost despite itself, faces pressures in favor of the EFSF.  Things would be a lot better for this party if the issue had never arisen.  But it did…

  • Policy.  SDKU has been one of the strongest supporters of European integration in Slovakia, and has pushed an integration-favorable policy at nearly every opportunity.  It has once in the past used an EU vote (the Lisbon Treaty) to force government changes when in opposition, but it was clear to note that it was a tactical move and that the party did not oppose the Treaty itself.  The party is therefore oriented toward going along and getting along with its European neighbors
  • Votes.  SDKU’s voters tend also to be among the most pro-Euro and pro-European in the country and it would be difficult to explain a “no” vote even if it were done for the sake of expediency.  The party’s voters also tend to have strong business or cultural relationships with the rest of the EU and might be expected to support cooperative decisions.
  • Office.  SDKU had little choice but to push this initiative, because to fail to do so once it was on the table would be to abandon any claim to leadership of the coalition.  In the end, the party was probably chose to risk tying the vote to a vote of confidence in the government, because the alternative–losing–would have been a de facto (if not de jure) vote in the same direction.  Staying in office–and staying in control while in office–were already put on the table as soon as this issue became significant.
  • External Pressure.  EU pressure plays a strong role–and would have played a strong role regardless of the party affiliation of the person who sat in the Prime Minister’s chair.  The PM more than anybody else faced the direct pressure from abroad, and the direct responsibility for the decision.  To abandon support for the EFSF when (as Radicova noted in her speech on the day of the vote) 16 other parliaments had said yes would have been extremely difficult and tantamount to self-exile from Europe.  Radicova faced pressure not only from its party group in Brussels but directly from heads of state across the region.  This would be a difficult force to oppose for any premier (and while it is an untestable hypothesis, even Fico might have bowed to this pressure at the expense of other goals.

Radicova faced pro-EFSF messages in every direction, particularly from the one source–abroad–that she faced more prominently than anybody else.

Christian Democratic Movement (KDH)

KDH tends to work closely with the SDKU, though not always–and they themselves have been responsible for a past vote of no confidence (though in that case it came at the end of a term and merely shortened the government’s duration by 3 months).  KDH faced similar pressures to those of SDKU but much lighter.

  • Policy.  KDH has not always been pro-EU on every issue, but the objections have tended to be cultural rather than financial, and KDH chair Jan Figel served previously as a European Commissioner and therefore tends to have strong ties with Brussels.  This perhaps does not amount to a sufficient cause to vote for the EFSF but it certainly helps.
  • Voters.  KDH voters likewise have expressed some disillusionment in the EU but as religious conservatives rather than as fiscal conservatives.  The party’s voters tend to think of themselves as Europeans (even if they have a slightly different idea of the meaning of “Europe.”  Its voters likely would have demanded an explanation for a “no” vote, though it is possible to envision a plausible response that would not have cost many voters.
  • Office.  As a junior coalition partner, KDH could have maintained its position with any vote that satisfied SDKU, but to the extent that SDKU needed a “yes,” so did KDH.  KDH has ruled out coalition with Fico and does not seem to change its mind any time soon.
  • External Pressure.  While not in the prime ministerial hot-seat, KDH has fairly close relationship with the European People’s Party and Figel has close ties to the European Commission, so external pressure might have helped keep the party supportive even if other factors did not point in the same direction.

While not as vulnerable on the issue, KDH faced incentives similar to those of SDKU and remained loyal on this question.

Most-Hid (Bridge)

Parliamentarians of Most-Hid also remained supportive of the EFSF, though if KDH’s reasons were a weaker reflection of SDKU’s, Most-Hid’s were weaker still.

  • Policy.  Most-Hid’s primary policy concern is Hungarians in Slovakia and this issue had little to do with that one, so the party had only residual “pro-Europe” policy sentiments to fall back on.  Those might have been enough even if there were no other influences.
  • Voters.  Most-Hid’s voters are not likely to shift their vote because of this issue and so the party is not much affected in this regard.
  • Office.  Most-Hid, like KDH, depended on SDKU’s remaining in office.  While it is not inconceivable that Most-Hid might form a coalition with Smer, it is unlikely, and it would require the absence from parliament of a Smer-friendly partner such as SNS.  Most-Hid thus needs the current coalition for its office-related goals and depended heavily on the decisions of SDKU.
  • External Pressure.  Like KDH, Most-Hid has fairly close connections with the EPP and probably faced a bit of pressure in that regard, though it likely was not decisive.
Also part of the Most-Hid parliamentary club were 4 members from the Civic Conservative Party, ethnic Slovaks who had at best a loose relationship to Most-Hid itself.  Of these one opted to support the coalition while the other three
So much for the relatively unconflicted parties.  Two other parties evince a more mixed structure of incentives, which I try to lay out below.
Freedom and Solidarity (SaS)SaS faced perhaps the most difficult choices in this conflict but after a considerable time in negotiation ended up opting for its initial policy orientation (though this may not have hurt its voter orientation–we shall see)

  • Policy.  From the beginning SaS announced its opposition to this bailout and it intensified its position over time, finally issuing an elaborate statement that called this “The Road to Socialism.”  It would appear that party leader Sulik genuinely regarded the EFSF as both a moral wrong (taking from the disciplined and giving to the lazy) and a practical mistake (since it wouldn’t work anyway).  Moral absolutes played a big role in his prounouncements and offer the best explanation for the party’s decision to hold its ground.
  • Voters.  Here the matter is more complicated and tied up with the office seeking goal, but the policy seeking goals should not be too sharply distinguished from the desire to appeal to voters who share those goals (and to prevent the exodus of those already supporting the party).  Sulik’s voters, while pro-Europe in the geographical and cultural sense, are not necessarily pro-European Union in the political sense (not unlike Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic), and by taking this course he may have cemented some of those relationships.  And since Sulik expects the mechanism to fail in practical terms, he may also expect that come March he will have a strong “I told you so” position on which to run (Thanks to Tim Haughton for bringing this aspect to my attention).  Securing voters is especially important for a party that started its life at 12% and quickly fell to around 7% (and lower in some polls) and has seen other similar parties around the region fail to return to parliament.  Having an issue that can cause voters to overlook the lack of other accomplishments (which are hard in a coalition government) and having elections sooner rather than later may allow SaS to stave off the “new-party-in-government” curse that has killed ZRS, SOP and ANO in Slovakia and many other new parties in other nearby countries.  The downside, however, is that in order to achieve this SaS had to be the one to bring down the government, which will leave it in bad odor with some even as it boosts its appeal with others.  The question is which will prevail.  For Sulik, I suspect the calculation was that voting no (even if it meant bringing down the government) would be an electoral plus (or at least electorally neutral).
  • Office. Even if this is an electoral plus, it must be understood at best as mixed in the realm of office seeking.  To bring early elections and provide itself with an issue, SaS had to end the only government that it could be part of, and do so at a time when that government’s overall poll ratings make it extremely likely to win the next election (more on that in the next post).  SaS may survive the next election, but it will not return to the government posts that it seeks unless the current government manages to overcome Fico’s popularity (something that won’t be helped by the collapse of the EFSF that Sulik may expects). Even if this happened, Sulik would also need the parties of the Radicova government to offer some sort of amnesty.  At present this seems far from likely, though it is hard to imagine that they would not relent if Sulik’s party held the balance of power in the next government.  Sulik’s oddly generous remarks about Radicova after the vote suggest either that he does not understand the intensity of feeling of the other side or that he is preparing the way for return to the fold, or both.
  • External pressure.  Unlike all of the other parties in Slovakia’s parliament except SNS, SaS does not have the formal presence of a Europarliament deputy in a well-organized European party structure.  It’s membership in the European Liberal Democrats thus has relatively little immediate impact (and a request from ELDR to change positions had no impact).
The actions of SaS here will significantly change its electoral and coalition parameters, though whether for the better remains to be seen.  Much may depend here on the actual success of the EFSF and of Smer.  If both perform poorly, Sulik may be in a position to return to government (albeit in bad odor), but if either does well, his chances for returning the party to the political position it had on 10/10/2011 will be much smaller.
Finally, there is one party in all of this that must be regarded, in the short run at least, as the big winner.  This party, too, had mixed incentives but managed to balance them well enough to achieve some major goals.



Direction (Smer)For Smer the emergence of the EFSF question–an issue that like the recent debt ceiling question in the US could not easily be avoided and did itself allow a 50/50 compromise solution–provided signficant political opportunities without significant risks.

  • Policy.  Smer has announced its belief in the need for the EFSF, and so I will take this a policy preference on its part, though the principles for or against are less clearly embedded in the Smer program than they are in that of SaS, SNS or SDKU.  The real tension within Smer, I suspect, is between the nationally-oriented group (which might have some sympathy with Sulik and Slota on this) and the internationally oriented group tied to the business community (the party’s sponsors and some of its top echelon) for whom the Euro was a strong priority and who are dependent on its success for their own reputation and prosperity. This latter group won the day on the Euro and on a few other issues and appears dominant on nation-related economic questions, whereas the other group appears to have the upper hand in the party on nation-related cultural issues.  (Just a guess as it all rests ultimately in the hands of Fico).
  • Voters.  Polls showed Fico’s voters  to be slightly less supportive of EFSF than the average citizen of Slovakia but still relatively close to the mean.  The party has little to lose or gain on this from its voters, and while its decision to withhold its support from something it claimed it wanted–and then to give its support once the government had fallen–is potentially problematic in the minds of some, it is not clear that the average voter will mind or will question Fico’s claim that it was the government’s responsibility to achieve its majority before he would join in.  Voters thus played a relatively small role in Smer’s decision here except to the extent that Fico sought to return to them in an election as soon as possible by encouraging rifts in the current government.
  • Office.  Few of the incentive arrows are so clear as this one.  Smer currently has a significant lead in the polls, it seeks to return to office as soon as possible and the current coalition cannot find consensus on an issue that it cannot avoid discussing.  From the beginning Smer took the position that while it had a programmatic position on the issue (vote yes) it would not act on that position unless the government did first.  This can be taken either as a cynical ploy to force the government to unseat itself (which it did) or as a supra-programmatic position to allow the self-defeat of a government which Smer argued was bad for Slovakia.  Regardless of the normative evaluation, Smer’s desire for office gave it a clear incentive to withhold its yes vote.  And it did, until the government fell and then it had a fairly clear interest in supporting the EFSF immediately so that it would not have to deal with any of these questions should it soon find itself in government.  Thus Smer gets two sets of arrows above.
  • External Pressure.  Smer was not without pressure from outside, particularly from the Party of European Socialists which clearly wanted its affiliate in Slovakia to vote yes on the first round.  But Smer has demonstrated itself to be remarkably independent of its European party home, and if the party could resist PES pressure to change coalition partners, it could certainly resist the pressure here. That PES relented on the coalition issue and readmitted Smer with no change on Smer’s part can hardly have strengthened its hand here.
Smer in opposition has been dealt an excellent series of hands and has played them quite well.  At its upper levels It has developed into a well-organized and well-managed organization that knows how to take advantage of opportunities.  But though Fico seems healthier and more comfortable in the role of main opponent than of the lead executive, he and his party cannot resist pressure that pushes it toward the power and position that can only be achieved in government.  At present, it looks as if this is where the party is headed, though it must be noted that its high levels of support have a tendency to ebb when voters are faced with an actual choice in the polling place (or perhaps more significantly, with the choice to go out and enter the polling place).

Slovakia has used up about two of its 15 minutes of fame, and minus a minute used in the 1993 split, a few minutes used by Meciar in the mid-1990’s and some seconds devoted to its rapid turnaround, it probably has about eight minutes left.  At least it hasn’t yet shown any risk of wasting its fame on victory in the Eurovision Song Contest.

It’s My Party–But I’ll Start a New One if I Want To

Two small but notable bits of news today for those of us interested in new parties.  Even (perhaps especially) the highest of party officials may go off an found a new party when they find themselves unappreciated in their own:

It seems fairly clear that leaders now make parties.  Not only do most parties in Slovakia and the Czech Republic have relatively few mechanisms for dislodging their respective leaders (SNS, Smer, HZDS, VV, SaS, TOP 09), but those that do may find their dislodged leaders coming back with parties of their own: First Meciar from VPN and Fico from SDL, now Bugar from SMK-MKP, Zeman from CSSD, Paroubek from CSSD, and potentially (in the right circumstances) Radicova from SDKU (and from ODS, some say post-presidency Vaclav Klaus).  Why be the exiled leader of a big party when you can be the leader of your own, somewhat smaller party?
And a postscript:  Has Paroubek really named his party the “National Socialists”?  I find it hard to believe that the nostalgia for the mild interwar Czech National Socialists has triumphed over the stigma that  given to the combination of the words “national” and “socialist”  by the once-prominent German party of the same name?  (Will Czech parents again feel comfortable naming their baby boys “Adolf”?).  It is at least helpful that Paroubek has given his party the subtitle “21st Century Left” to distinguish it from the eponymous party of the “20th Century Right”

Party Personal-ism

I didn’t think that I would need to be the one to do this, but somebody needs to do make a visual comment on what passes for party building on the Czech left.  So I guess it’s up to me and Adobe Photoshop.

We saw this kind of love story in 2010, the two partners coming ever so close to the threshold:

In the same election we saw also saw the similar, if more convoluted story of Jana Bobosikova, late of the Independent Democrats, then Politics 21, then presidential candidate of the Communist Party, then, in partnership with the Party of Common Sense, “Sovereignty-the Bloc of Jana Bobosikova, Party of Common Sense”, and finally “Sovereignty-The Bloc of Jana Bobosikova”

Now it’s 2011 and time for another sequel, whose plot is nicely laid out in MF Dnes:
Paroubek vzdal kandidaturu na Hrad. Blíží se politický přestup roku.

But this effort needs a logo.  Once again through the power of Photoshop, I offer:

Yes, it’s Zemovci II: Paroubkovci.  If that’s not quite clear enough,
there is room in the logo for some helpful supplementary imagery.

4.32% here we come!