Sean Hanley waxes eloquent on Sovereignty

Excellent post today by Sean Hanley on the potential of the “new”(ish) Czech Party “Sovereignty” which perfectly corresponds to all that is interesting to me about the region’s politics these day:

Sovereignty’s politics are straightforward:   a mix of Czech nationalism, euroscepticism and the anti-elite, outsider rhetoric that many people like to call populism. It is, its website makes clear, a party ‘…defending the interests of citizens of the Czech Republic…’ with the conservatve-nationalist strap-line “Law, Labour, Order”

Full post is here:

Slovakia Election Post-Game: Guest Blogger Richard Swales on Preference Voting in Slovakia

I’m happy to welcome yet another guest blogger:  Richard Swales, who describes himself as follows:

Richard Swales is from England, but lives in Kosice where he is married and runs Jazykova skola Start (, a school for Slovaks who want to learn English.

Richard and I have never met in person but he been such a consistent source of astute comments that I have asked him here to elaborate on an email he sent to me about preference voting in the most recent election in Slovakia and he was kind enough to do so.

In Slovak elections, the system used is the party list system. This means that each party submits a list of 150 candidates, and the voters choose the party they prefer. All parties which have at least 5 percent of the votes get seats in parliament in proportion to their vote share. For this purpose a number called the REN– republic electoral number–is calculated; this time it was 14,088 and parties got one seat for every 14,088 votes they got.  The question this post looks at is which of the 150 candidates get those seats. In some countries, the order in which the candidates are printed on the list is used, so if a party gets 15 seats, the top 15 candidates are elected (this is called a closed list system). In other countries, the voters also get vote for individual candidates to determine the order (this is called an open list system).

In Slovakia, each voter may choose to vote for the party only, or may choose to circle the names of up to four candidates on the list. Seats are awarded to candidates in order of the number of voters who circled them, but there is a catch. To get a seat in this way, a candidate must be circled by at least 3 percent of his or her party’s voters, otherwise the party-determined ordering of the list takes over. This can be called a semi-open list system.

What I want to look at is to what extent members of parliament for the different parties owe their position in parliament to having a constituency of supporters that circled them, and to what extent do they owe their position to the party placing them high on the list and being favoured internally in their party.

KDH 15 seats: 10 elected through circling, 5 elected based on their list positions.
Of those elected through circling, 1 was not in the top 15 on the original list (and so wouldn’t be in parliament if no circling had taken place) Of those elected based on list positions, none were in the top fifteen on circling (and so all five wouldn’t be in parliament if there were no 3 percent cut-off for circling candidates).

I don’t agree with the standard way of analysing elections of this type, by which the above would be taken to mean that the public were only able to change the KDH list order by one seat. For example Durkovsky (13th on the list, 8th in terms of circing) would not be in parliament if his voters had circled other particular other candidates and got them over the 3 percent mark. An alternative explanation is that only small numbers of voters disagreed with the ordering of the KDH list anyway, which of course featured the best known people at the top. Only seven candidates on the list got more circles than REN so could be said to have pulled their weight by bringing in as many supporters as needed to elect one member, so it’s difficult to say that candidates scoring less than 3 percent (6480 votes, less than half one REN) were unfairly excluded by the 3 percent rule.

Most-Hid, 14 seats
All members were elected by circling, and a further two members had more than 3 percent but were outside parliament, meaning that the list ordering had no effect (uniquely among party leaders, if Bela Bugar had got no circles he would be out of parliament even though he was first on the list). A total of 4 of the members elected were outside the original 14 on the list, including 3 OKS members (Most-Hid gave some spaces on their list to this smaller party, in the hope of pooling votes). The number of circles received by OKS leader Peter Zajac was just over the REN, which suggests that with 4 members of parliament OKS is by far the most over-represented party in parliament, and Most-Hid the most under-represented. Most-Hid voters were the most frequent users of the right to circle candidates (82.88 percent circled at least one candidate). This is consistent with past results for SMK, probably because in parties based on ethnic politics, voters have more need to use the circles to express more traditional right-left or conservative-liberal preferences.

SaS 22 seats: 10 through circling, 12 through list positions.
Of the 10 circled, 4 were not high enough on the list to be elected anyway. These were the Obycajni ludia group who were given the bottom four places on the SaS list. Their leader’s 38000 votes is almost 3 RENs meaning there is a stronger suggestion than in the case of OKS that these were not mainly at the expense of the party hosting them on the list. Of the 12 elected through list positions, 8 had high enough support that they would be elected anyway through circling if the 3 percent rule didn’t exist. SaS voters were the least likely to circle candidates (68.09 percent used this option), possibly reflecting that as a party of newcomers they had fewer famous candidates.

SDKU 28 seats: 10 through circling, 18 through list positions
One circled candidate was not high enough on the original list to be elected without the circles. Of the other 18, 13 candidates were circled by enough people to be in if the three percent rule didn’t exist and only circling was used.

SNS 9 seats: 8 through circling, 1 through list position.
One of the eight circled was outside the top nine on the original list. The one candidate elected through list position would not have had enough circles to be elected if the three percent rule didn’t exist.

Smer 62 seats: 9 through circling, 53 through list position.
The 9 candidates elected through circling were all from the top 62 of the list (in fact all from the top 10). There were 13 people lower down the list who had higher numbers of circles than 13 who got in through list position. It is worth pointing out that without the 3 percent cutoff a candidate would require 1,461 circles, to get into parliament so 0,16 percent of SMER voters or less than a tenth of the REN. I must say that I support the use of the 3 percent rule or a similar rule (possibly based on a fraction of the REN as in the Benelux countries, so it would apply more consistently across parties) as numbers of circles like 1100 or 1300 are just about who has an extra 200 people living in their home village.


61 candidates were elected through circling of whom 11 would not have been high enough on the original list ordering. in addition to those 11, a further ten candidates (the Most ones) are also heavily dependent on circling as the list order didn’t need to be used at any point

89 candidate were elected through list positions, of those 28 would not have had enough circles if the 3 percent rule did not exist.

Conclusion, the circling and the list orders were broadly consistent with each other, but there are a large number of members of parliament who owe their position to the party and its internal politics more than the use of circling.

-Richard Swales

2010 Slovak Parliamentary Elections: Post-Election Report

Note: Thanks to The Monkey Cage for allowing me to reprint the posting below.  I’ve added several graphs that might help to clarify the narrative.

One month after its June 12 elections, Slovakia has a new government. On Friday of last week Iveta Radicova of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union became the prime minister of a coalition government consisting of four parties with pro-market orientations and relatively moderate views on intra-ethnic cooperation between Slovaks and Hungarians, replacing a coalition of three economically statist parties oriented around the Slovak nation. The new government, and the elections that brought it about, mark two significant “firsts” and a number of other changes that will be important for the region.

Two Firsts

Slovakia's incoming premier, Iveta Radicova

The first “first” for Slovakia is a female prime minister, a particularly noteworthy development because Slovakia has never had a particularly strong representation of women in positions of power. Slovakia differs little from its neighbors in this regard: the Visegrad Four—a regional grouping consisting of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary—has had only one other female prime minister in the last 20 years (Poland’s Hanna Suchocka in the early 1990’s) and although several of the other countries in the region have had female presidents (Latvia) or Prime Ministers (Lithuania and Bulgaria) women still remain the exception in postcommunist European politics. Indeed the incoming government of the Czech Republic may have no women at all, and despite Radicova’s control of the premiership, her own government will have only one other woman, and Slovakia’s new parliament actually has fewer female deputies than it did four years ago.

Slovakia's outgoing premier, Robert Fico

The other “first” is more subtle and involves the comparatively brief tenure of the outgoing Prime Minister, Robert Fico. In Slovakia’s first eight years of postcommunism the premiership was dominated by Vladimir Meciar, twice removed by parliament but twice returned by voters; in the next eight years, the seat was occupied without a break by Mikulas Dzurinda. By this standard, Fico is the first elected prime minister in Slovakia whom voters did not immediately reward with a second chance at government. There are several reasons why this might be so. One reason, largely outside the political realm,involves the economic difficulties faced by Slovakia’s export-dependent economy in 2009, an effect exacerbated by the tendencies of voters in postcommunist countries to punish incumbents for whatever might go wrong, a phenomenon that Andrew Roberts of Northwestern describes in terms of hyperaccountability . A more “political” explanation attributes the fall of Fico’s government to voter distaste for a long series of scandals involving government ministers. Both explanations have some purchase, but they need to be understood in the context of intra-party dynamics which I discuss in the next section. Those readers who would prefer dental surgery to a tedious discussion of Slovakia’s intra-party dynamics may skip down to the section “Why should we care” below.

A Tedious Discussion of Slovakia’s Intra-Party Dynamics

How we understand Slovakia’s political shift over the last four years depends heavily on what we are looking for. Analysis tends to settle at one of three levels, all of which have some claim to the truth, provided that we understand the context.

Level one: Right coalition wins, left coalition loses

The most superficial (but not unimportant) level of analysis looks at coalitions and oppositions and involves a one-dimensional space. In this space, the 2010 elections represent the handover of power from “left” to “right” and involve a swing of 7 seats in Slovakia’s 150 seat parliament from Fico’s coalition to Radicova’s. (Fico’s coalition dropped from 85 seats in 2006 to 71 in 2010) . For the purposes of governing, this makes all the difference. But it helps to go deeper.

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

Level two: Left and right parties gain, Slovak national parties lose

The second level of analysis looks at parties and involves a two dimensional space. In addition to the left-right axis of competition that has dominated Slovakia’s governments in the last 10 years, there is a clear competitive axis related to national questions, and two additional blocs of parties that I have labeled “Slovak national” and “Hungarian national.” According to this framework, Fico’s government represented a coalition between “anti-market left” and “Slovak national” whereas the Radicova government (like the Dzurinda government that preceded Fico before 2006) is a coalition between “pro-market right” and “Hungarian national.”

Analysis of election results according to these blocs produces a rather different set of judgments. Although the total vote share of “right” parties of the incoming government increased by five percentage points from 2006 to 2010, the vote share of the “left” party in the outgoing government—Fico’s “Direction”—increased by even more. Corresponding to the gains by both left and right were major losses in the “Slovak national” bloc: the Slovak National Party under Jan Slota fell catastrophically from 12% to 5%, squeaking over the barrier for parliamentary representation by just two thousand votes out of two-and-a-half million cast, and Vladimir Meciar, once the sun and the moon of Slovakia’s politics, continued a remarkably long gradual slide into obscurity, falling below the barrier and out of parliament altogether. Like Jaroslav Kaczynski in Poland in 2007, Fico can therefore justifiably claim not he, but his partners lost the election (though Meciar has publicly suggested that having undermined his partners to maximize his own party’s gain, Fico deserves his fate). This begs the question, however, of exactly where the “Slovak national” voters went and why.

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

Level three: Slovak national voters move left, anti-corruption voters move right (for now)

A third level of analysis is necessary to solve the “mystery of the shifting Slovak national party voter.” The third level looks at voters motivations and involves a space with (at least) three dimensions. It also involves speculation on the basis of very little data. What is apparent from two opinion polls conducted before the election is that the exodus of voters from Slovak national parties was not distributed evenly to left and right. In fact, nearly all of it went to the left, mainly to Fico’s “Direction.” For the math to work out, however, this must mean that some of Fico’s voters went elsewhere as well, and the poll evidence suggests that at least some of them went to the new right party Freedom and Solidarity.

These shifts are hard to explain with only two dimensions, particularly the shift from Fico’s statist left party to the and to the most vehemently pro-market right party in the system. At the risk of sounding a bit too much like Rod Serling it is here that our analysis needs a new dimension, one that arrays voters according to their willingness to tolerate corruption and seek ability of established leaders to resolve problems. (I’ve argued elsewhere with Tim Haughton that this dimension is hard to identify because its players change sides: the anti-corruption party of one election may become the corrupt but experienced party of the next election.) By adding this dimension we can make sense of a voter’s jump from “Direction,” which in 2002 and 2006 attracted a significant share of the anti-corruption electorate, to the new and yet-to-be-corrupted Freedom and Solidarity (but which otherwise shares almost no programmatic positions with Fico’s “Direction.”) Corruption sensitivity may also explain much of the shift from the two Slovak national parties to the by-no-means-clean but still less corrupt “Direction,” a shift which is less surprising because Fico had already gone quite far in adopting Slovak national themes. (It also probably explains some of the shift within the Hungarian electorate from the more established of two Hungarian parties to its newcomer alternative.)

Slovakia’s political shift in 2010 thus reflects not a fundamental shift from left and right but only a left-to-right shift in the votes of those most highly sensitive to corruption, a shift that is likely to endure only until the emergence of a new anti-corruption party (perhaps left, perhaps right, perhaps Slovak national) in a future election cycle. Nor does it reflect a fundamental decline in the strength of the Slovak national position but rather a shift of Slovak national voters from the smaller parties with stronger emphasis on national questions to Fico’s larger and more diffuse but sufficiently national alternative. Whether that shift will endure depends on the emergence of a new national alternative, either through the formation of a new party or the reformation of the Slovak National Party.

Dimension 3: Shift of most "corruption intolerant" from SNS and HZDS to Smer (brown arrow) and Smer to SaS (orange arrow). Shifts also occurred within the "right" (from SDKU to SaS) and within the Hungarian national (from MKP-SMK to Most-Hid) but for simplicity's sake those are not shown here.

Why We Should Care

Those who look occasionally at Slovakia can be excused for experiencing a bit of déjà vu. The names of the some parties have changed slightly from the 2002 Dzurinda government, but the names are about the only change. Substitute one Hungarian party for another (“Bridge” for the Party of the Hungarian Coalition), and one new pro-market anti-corruption for another (“Freedom and Solidarity” for the now defunct Alliance of the New Citizen) and the array is pretty much the same. Not only that, but ten of the fifteen cabinet posts are in the hands of the same party that controlled it in 2002 (or its analog) and seven of the fifteen ministers served in the 2002-2006 cabinet (sometimes heading the same ministry). Although the government is the nearly the same, however, the times are different and it will face new challenges.

Economics: Renewed but limited pro-market reform

The 2002-2006 Dzurinda government used its small majority to pass major economic reforms in taxation, health care, education, the labor market and other aspects of the foreign investment climate. The restoration of essentially the same coalition could potentially signal the continuation of major reforms, but by the same token, the magnitude of the shifts between 2002 and 2006 (and the relatively minor rollbacks introduced by the Fico government between 2006 and 2010) may limit the scope for further changes which would push the government’s policy significantly out ahead of the voters’ preferences (especially since I would argue that many of those who supported “Freedom and Solidarity” did so for its novelty and cleanliness rather than its radically pro-market approach.)

Minority and foreign policy: Back to the West, but not without reservation

Although economic questions are the ones that most clearly unite Slovakia’s new coalition, the parties also share a common pro-Western outlook and (relatively) accommodating views on ethnic co-existence and national identity. And since such questions are arguably more sensitive to tone and manner than economic policy, it may be in this realm that the new coalition has its greatest impact on Slovakia and the region. But even this will not be easy. There is still a wide gap between the Hungarian party, “Bridge,” and the its Slovak partners in government on what constitutes appropriate support for minority culture, and the Slovak parties in the coalition cannot risk appearing weak when dealing with the assertively national government in neighboring Hungary. Nor will relations with the rest of the EU be easy, especially since the parties of the current coalition, in an reversal that had more to do with domestic electoral politics than programmatic position, campaigned on a platform of rejecting the EU bailout of Greece and must now figure out how to back down gracefully without appearing to have caved in.

Coalition longevity: Sensitive issues, numerous factions but few alternatives

In addition to “Freedom and Solidarity’s” outlying position on economic issues, and “Bridge’s” outlying position on minority policy, the coalition will also need to deal with the outlying cultural policy preferences of the Christian Democrats (who have already introduced questions about an agreement with the Vatican and who differ sharply from “Freedom and Solidarity” on questions such as gay marriage and drug legalization.) And all of the major coalition partners will need to deal with two smaller groups that entered parliament on the basis of preference voting on the electoral lists of the two new parties: a civic movement called “Ordinary People” which gained election on the list of “Freedom and Direction” (preference votes elevating its representative from the last four places on the list to near the top), and the Civic Conservative Party which gained election on the list of Bridge.
These complications together raise questions about the longevity of what is in effect a six-entity coalition that cannot afford to lose even four of its seventy-nine deputies without also losing its majority. Slovaks are themselves quite divided over the coalition’s prospects, though the opinions tend to reflect partisan hopes rather than measured assessments. The survival of the 2002-2006 Dzurinda government for nearly four years bodes well, but that coalition could rely on Meciar’s relatively weak party to offer tacit support. The Radicova’s coalition, by contrast, has fewer potential reservoirs in the opposition and correspondingly less ability to deal with defections. That said, the coalition’s members also have correspondingly fewer options and may stay in a coalition because it is the only alternative. (Since no female prime minister in postcommunist Europe has ever served out a full parliamentary term, Radicova has the chance to achieve yet another first, though Jadranka Kosor in Croatia has the chance to outlast her in terms of pure longevity)

Opposition prospects: Fico’s burden

Given the large number of potential stumbling blocks for the governing coalition, the next several years in opposition may bring “Direction” strong poll support. The prospects for the Fico’s return to government, however, depend on his ability to open up new coalition possibilities while maintaining the integrity of his party. Whether Fico undermined his coalition partners or not, it is fair to say that he did not do a good job of preparing for the weakness of those parties. Fico’s use of good vs. evil rhetoric to characterize the opposition may have helped at the polls, but it significantly weakened his leverage in prying apart the opposition parties and finding a coalition partner or two among their ranks. Unable to count on the return of Meciar or the resurgence of the Slovak National Party, Fico will need to figure out how to fight a good fight in opposition while at the same time preparing for a potential alliance with some of the coalition partners. And he will have to do so while satisfying the diverse constituencies within his own party—which range from nationalist to cultural liberal, from statist to entrepreneurial—and do so without the perks of government. He managed this well between 2002 and 2006, but it may be harder to do so with a parliamentary delegation that is both larger and more reliant on the resources of the executive.

The big picture: Right and new

Slovakia, like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, has elected a “right” wing government (fulfilling Joshua Tucker’s June 9 prediction in the Monkey Cage ), but the meaning of “right” varies considerably from nationalism and cultural conservatism in Hungary (combined with some remarkably statist efforts in economic policy) to its pro-market meaning in the Czech Republic (along with some cultural conservatism) to the pro-market and culturally (relatively) liberal combination that has emerged in Poland (where both the major alternatives claim the “right” label) and in Slovakia. In the long run, Slovakia is likely to see the alteration of the two main streams—statist and national against pro-market and ethnically accommodating—but the nature of the balance will be continually subject to readjustment brought about by the birth of new parties and the death of others. The “new” rather than the “right” may be the real story of recent elections throughout the region, and come the next election cycle, the “new” is more likely to be left or national.

Slovakia Dashboard News: At The Last Minute (or Catch a Falling Smer)

This is, I think, the last “dashboard” post for quite some time.  The next time you see me post on this kind of thing, it will be an “election” post, but for the moment we have the kind of unusual situation we usually only see just before elections: three major polls appearing on the same day.  Let me follow my usual pattern and deal with these party-by-party with a few words about coalition v. opposition.

Smer took a huge hit this month, with its lowest results in years: since May 2005 in FOCUS, since June 2006 in Polis, and October 2006 in MVK, an average drop of 4.5 (slightly more in FOCUS and Polis, somewhat less in MVK).  Why the drop should be so large is a bit of a mystery to me.  some journalists attribute it to party financing scandals, but I have a hard time believing that that news was particularly surprising or likely to pry voters away from the party.  I’m more inclined to think that it’s a bit of frustration by soft Smer supporters forced finally to think about making their choice (and it’s notable that SDL has risen significantly in the polls for which we have information, suggesting voters looking for the next best alternative, particularly those with more culturally liberal values).  It’s important to remember that in 2006 the final-week drop in Smer did not play out in the actual election and that the more accurate poll was one taken two weeks before the election, so some of this may be ephemeral.  But nobody in Smer can be happy today.  And for a party which has embodied the slogan “nothing succeeds like succcess,” some must be thinking of how to avoid failing like failure.   I reprint the graphic from the dashboard here only because it is so dramatic:

SNS gets a reprieve this month, probably thanks in part to the assistance of Hungary’s Fidesz, with a 1.5 point gain in FOCUS, a .7 point gain in Polis and no gain at all in MVK (which, however, showed a 1.2 point gain in its previous poll).  National issues may count more than clientelism for some voters and the SNS campaign on this question (which some see as quite effective) may have helped here.  It is hard to say whether the party will lose more from time in opposition (lost clientelist revenues, but time re-purify its image and play the outsider) or another stint in government (posts and money but ever more chances for people to find out how those were obtained).

HZDS also gets a small reprieve losing slightly in FOCUS but recovering to some degree in MVK and Polis, for an overall average of 5.2, far too close for anyone’s comfort.  This recovery may actually help it a bit as those who were on the fence for the party feel comfortable voting for it one last time, but its overall negative momentum and air of decline may be to hard to overcome.  This one is very tough to call

Overall the current coalition dropped three full points in June, to an overall average of 42.0, a remarkable drop for a coaltion that in less than two years ago polled 69.8.  Smer alone had poll averages of 41.0 as recently as January of this year.  The drop is so quick that it is hard to fully accept it and I suspect the overall election final will be a bit more, but we need not wait long now.

Polls of SDKU usually lack a clear monthly pattern and this month is no exception: stable at a high level in Polis, dropping from a middle level in FOCUS, rising from a low level in MVK.  The median stays around 14 where it has been for quite some time.  For SDKU it is especially hard to say whether poll numbers are related to final numbers as for the past 4 elections the party has outperformed its poll, though Martin Slosiarik and others note that the emergence of SaS may diminish that undercounting based on last minute shifts.

KDH has some of the same low-level chaos as SDKU.  No big trends like Smer or HZDS, but lots of movement and poll shifts ultimately adding up to 10% (as it has more or less for almost two decades).  This month the pattern is converging: Polis and MVK dropping from high levels to just over 10%; FOCUS rising from low levels to just under 10%.

SaS finally falls back into the earth’s gravitational pull this month, still rising but by a lower margin (.60) than in all but one month since October 2009.  Both FOCUS and MVK show it stabilizing at around 12 points and while Polis still shows a rise it is to that same 12 point level.  How much of this the party will sustain in the election is an open question: past new parties in Slovakia have lost in the voting booth, but as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, TOPo9 and VV in the recent Czech election managed to mobilize voters.  Could this have something to do with their mastery of social networks and other technological turnout mechanisms?  Hard to say, but if it does, then SaS might manage the same trick.

It is interesting that despite the significant drop in the current coalition, the Slovak right did not see corresponding gains this month.  In fact it dropped slightly from 36.7 to 36.1 (suggesting that supporters of the current coalitions are going elsewhere, either from Smer back to HZDS and SNS or to “new” parties like SDL).  This probably is not bad news, as it suggests a certain solidity to the overall vote total of SDKU, KDH and SaS (and indeed the core vote of this population has been quite solid at about this level from one election to the next and its relative success in seats has been affected more by the distribution of the vote between parties over and under 5%.  This year despite lots of expectations to the contrary even a year ago, the right is relatively coherent and, thanks to the small/new party vacuum effect of SaS, should lose little to small parties and so has a good chance of getting seats in proportion to its base).

Both Hungarian parties continue to pass the threshold in all major polls, if only by a hair.  This continues to astound me: if you take two parties whose total support averages 10.6 for the last year and divide the 10.6 at random the chance of getting two parties above the 5% threshold is itself only about 5%, and yet these two parties continue to manage that 1 in 20 shot at not undercutting Hungarian parliamentary representation in exchange for a small chance at maximum gain (though this of course is not what the two party leaders themselves are thinking).  We will see very soon whether their luck will hold out.

Finally, I think it is necessary to say a word about SDL about which I have said nothing for the entire campaign, largely because until this month it averaged less than 2% and never exceeded more than 2.8%.  Suddenly, the party has jumped by a significant margin in every poll and stands at 3.8% and is staring closely at the 5% threshold.  Only two other non-parliamentary parties have exceeded even 3.3% in the past four years and both of them–SaS and Most-Hid–have a good chance of getting into parliament.  It is doubtful that SDL will be able to cross that remaining 1.2% in the final week (SPOZ in the Czech Republic could not manage it, though that’s not much of a guide here) and it is likely that its preferences reflect frustration that will translate into staying home or reluctant Smer voting, but its emergence is a sign of weakness that Smer does not wish to have revealed:

Slovakia Election Update: Pictures worth at least 300 words

I love polling results and I am always surprised and unhappy when they are abused.  Recent articles in SME and Pravda put needless stress on these results by, on the one hand, treating them as unique and absolute indicators of a party’s success or failure (at least until the next one comes out) and, on the other hand, lumping them together into time series regardless of their origin or methodology.  Toward this end, I propose that we fix this by, on the one hand, treating each poll as a unique series which is to be compared to other series, and, on the other hand, when we do lump them together into time series, we smooth them out and look less at individual polls and more at overall trends.  I’ve tried to do both of those things here with some overall coalition/opposition graphs that, I think, speak for themselves in various ways (though that probably won’t stop me from trying to speak for them at some future point.

Coalition, Slovak Right and Hungarian total support according to various polling agencies (and averaged), 2008-2010

Monthly averages of public opinion preferences, smoothed with LOESS, in Slovakia 2002-2010

Monthly averages of public opinion preferences for all major parties in Slovakia, 2002-2010, smoothed with LOESS

Opposition party support, smoothed

Czech Dashboard News: New parties and the big picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Players: A full list of all 18 parties campaigning for parliament in Slovakia

Today’s Pravda has a useful listing of the 18 political parties that will be contesting the 2010 parliamentary election.  The list is incomplete and bit hard to use, though, so I reformat it here.  See Pravda’s story for a bit more information including a summary (in Slovak) of parties’ origins.  As one thing leads to another, so this chart has led to a more detailed analysis of the more recent comings and goings among Slovakia’s parties which will appear here as soon as I have finished a separate project.

Party Name Acronym Leader Web
New Parties
AZEN – Aliancia za Európu národov AZEN Milan Urbáni
Európska demokratická strana EDD Antonio Parziale
Ľudová strana Naše Slovensko LS-NS Marián Kotleba
Most-Híd Most-Hid Béla Bugár
Nová demokracia ND Tibor Mikuš
Paliho Kapurková, veselá politická strana PK Pali Vass
Sloboda a Solidarita SaS Richard Sulík
Strana rómskej koalície SRK Gejza Adam
Established Parties
Smer-sociálna demokracia Smer-SD Robert Fico
Slovenská demokratická a kresťanská únia-Demokratická strana SDKU Mikuláš Dzurinda
Slovenská národná strana SNS Ján Slota
Strana maďarskej koalície – Magyar Koalíció Pártja MKP-SMK Pál Csáky
Ľudová strana-Hnutie za demokratické Slovensko LS-HZDS Vladimír Mečiar
Kresťanskodemokratické hnutie KDH Ján Figeľ
Komunistická strana Slovenska (KSS) KSS Jozef Hrdlička
Únia – Strana pre Slovensko Unia Branislav Záhradník
Združenie robotníkov Slovenska ZRS Ján Ľupták
Strana demokratickej ľavice SDL Marek Blaha
Dead (or Hibernating) Parties
Aliancia nového občana ANO
Hnutie za demokraciu HZD
Lavicový blok LB
Občianska konzervatívna strana OKS
Slovenská národná koalícia – Slovenská vzájomnosť SLNKO
Slovenská ľudová strana SLS
Agrárna strana vidieka ASV
Prosperita Slovenska PS
Misia 21 – Nová kresťanská demokracia MISIA 21
Strana občianskej solidarity SOS