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:

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,  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…

What little they have shall be taken away from them

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

I take two things from this:

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

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

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”

Dashboard News: Polls again, for what it’s worth

It’s probably a bit early to care about polls again–it’s only been a month since the election, but where there’s polling data there’s usually misanalysis to go with it and one of the purposes of this blog is to address the problems.  The poll we have is FOCUS, which did fairly well in the recent election in producing poll numbers that resembled election results (though worse that some, including, most notably, Polis).  The big papers have “horse race” headlines today that Smer shows big gains while the coalition parties have fallen.  That’s only half true and it’s only slightly more than half relevant.  The problem is that the analysis is comparing the poll numbers to the recent election numbers when the election itself demonstrated that polls and elections are not exactly the same thing.  It is no more useful to compare post-election polls to actual results than it is to compare pre-election results because polls and election results do not measure the same thing (of course we try to do that comparison as best we can because we want to know who’s going to win, but it is still an approximation).  The true comparative test  is to compare the post-election polls with the pre-election polls.  Perhaps this is what the papers should have done because it shows an even bigger change, at least for Smer, which rises from below 30 to above 40 in the FOCUS poll numbers.  This is offset somewhat by a three point drop for HZDS–now way under the 5% threshold, a point it may never reach again in reputable polls–and a point-and-a-half drop for SNS, but whatever the calculation, it is a big jump for the current opposition.  Interestingly, looking at polls rather than election results for comparision, the new government actually sees a slight improvement as well: SDKU up two-and-a-half, Most-Hid up half-a-point, and SaS and KDH both stable.  The big losers here are the losers: HZDS and SMK, firmly below the 5% threshold, SDL back down under 2 points and no other party showing a significant result (including KSS which had stayed above 1% for all but one of the polls conducted between 2006 and 2010 but is above that line no more).  This is fairly normal in the post-election period and some of these parties may spring back (I see some possibility for a slight recovery in SMK if it doesn’t do anything ill-advised).   Since the SDKU-led coalition did not suffer in this poll, the Smer gain probably came from the supporters of smaller parties who were lured away in the final weeks of the election campaign or whose voters have finally given up hope.  Given Smer’s rapid recovery, it is tempting to note that the party’s voters appear to have stayed home at just the wrong time, but this may in fact be the nature of many of Smer’s voters, who are willing to settle for that party because there is none better within their ideological framework, but who are easily drawn either to other parties or to staying home on election day. Either way, it’s good to know that reportage on polling results in Slovakia continues to need a watchful eye.

The results are on the dashboard but here’s a quick overview

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.

Post-Game Show 2010: Interview with the Spectator

I have been traveling and working on other projects and so have not had time to post a coherent post-election review, and I may not have time to do that until tomorrow, so in the meantime I will attach here a record of interview I did with the ever-capable Michaela Stankova of the Slovak Spectator.  Sitting here in Detroit writing about Slovakia, I think that I am more properly called a spectator than she,  but here are my answers to her excellent questions:

What were the most surprising moments for you in the election results? Was there anything completely unexpected?

I did not expect how inaccurate the final week of polling numbers, and I was especially surprised by the difference between the exit polls and the final results: 6-7% difference between polls and reality for Smer is quite shocking.  Even exit polls are usually are not particularly good at predicting final results, but for both FOCUS and MVK to be so far off and in the same direction suggests a need to rethink polling and especially exit-polling methods, something that has occurred in a variety of countries including my own.  Fortunately, this particular surprising had little consequence except for those prone to extremes of euphoria or melancholy and by 02:00 we could more or less predict the actual composition of the next coalition.  As for the results themselves, I the only real surprise was in the relative percentages obtained by Most-Hid and MKP-SMK, but since I figured that I had no way of knowing how those would come out, there is no result that would not have surprised me in one way or another.

Beyond the election results themselves, the final days of the campaign produced some remarkable moments:  HZDS giving out flour as an election enticement; Fico so concerned about a minor competitor as to brandish a “Don’t vote SDL” sticker; the moment of 00:42 on election night when the updated election returns put HZDS below 5.0 for the first time ever in its history; and my sudden realization around 02:00 that Slovakia would have its first female prime minister, news which my 6-year old daughter greeted with great enthusiasm.

The election turnout was expected to be very low, about 50 percent, yet the actual number hits 59 percent. What’s the reason for this unexpected interest of voters in the elections, in your opinion?

Well the problem is in the expectations rather than the interest.  In my research for our last interview, I found that voting intentions were not running behind 2006 and that in other elections there had been a slight uptick in turnout from the mid-2000s to the late-2000s and so there was few grounds for expecting a sharp decline.  I think that a small share of turnout increase may be related to the emergence of several new parties which perhaps offered some motivation for turning out:  SaS, Most-Hid and SDL between them attracted more than 20% of the vote; it is not to big a stretch to think that without plausible new parties (a condition that prevailed in 2006) some of these voters might have stayed home.

The election results of HZDS has encouraged political analysts and opposition politicians to talk about the ‘end of the Meciar era’. What does the fact that they were left outside the parliament mean for the party’s future?

The day after the 2006 election I plotted out trendlines for the various parties’ parliamentary delegations and found that the trendline for HZDS pointed precisely at 0 in 2010.  I turned this into provocative graph for my blog, but Inever ever expected it to be accurate.  Until about two months ago I figured the party would have enough reserve strength to scrape over the barrier.

Now that HZDS is out of parliament, it will be even harder to reverse that trend (though I don’t expect it to achieve -15 seats predicted by the trendline for 2014).  Three forces work strongly against HZDS in the coming four years: history, demographics, organization.

  • History is not a causal factor but something to take a close look at to determine causes.  With parties almost never return to parliament after dropping below the 5% threshold.  Once out of parliament, parties tend to be forgotten and sink even further or disappear altogether as the examples of ZRS, SOP, ANO, and KSS indicate.  In Slovakia the only major exception I can think of is SNS, which re-formed after its split in 2000 and manged to recover its initial electorate.  In the neighboring Czech Republic the Party of Greens also managed to re-enter parliament after a long hiatus but only as a completely reorganized organization with a new leadership.  HZDS lacks similar quick fixes to problems with its electorate and demographics.
  • Demographics plays a major role in the sense that HZDS already had the oldest electorate in Slovakia’s politics and it was aging at about 1 year per year.  Even if all of its voters stayed loyal–something that obviously did not happen between 2006 and the present–it would still have fewer voters than it does now (and despite the picture of Meciar with a laptop, a party that distributes flour on election-day does not show strong signs of being able to reach out to younger voters).  HZDS also has the oldest leader of any of Slovakia’s major parties.  Meciar will be 72 in 2014 and he is already not the active campaigner and public presence that he once was.
  • HZDS organization will also work against the party’s recovery.  A party with 4.4% might be able to recover to 5%–and both the Party of the Hungarian Coalition in Slovakia and the Christian Democrats in the Czech Republic will be trying to demonstrate their resilience–but not with the same leadership–something that the leadership of MKP-SMK and KDU-CSL recognized in their immediate resignations.   The problem for HZDS is that Meciar has systematically created a party that cannot live without him.  Since every HZDS leadership challenge has ended up with the departure or expulsion of the challenger there is really nobody left in the party.   HZDS and Meciar are inseparable and for that very reason both appear to be without a political future.  As an afterthought, I suppose it is theoretically possible to envision HZDS surviving in some weak form as part of an electoral coalition whose members might share 7%, but right now it is not clear what party would willing to join with it in that effort, and if, as I suspect, HZDS’s poll numbers begin to fall consistently below 3% it would not become a particularly appealing partner.

What is behind the very high result of Smer? Why, on the other hand, did the support for SNS drop?

Let me discuss these in reverse order.  For SNS the results were actually highly consistent with the polls (with the occasional exception of FOCUS and the constant exception of the consistently-errant surveys by Median) which showed a long-term drop toward 5%, motivated I suspect (though I can’t at the moment prove) by the party’s ever-lengthening list of scandal and outrageous remarks.  The question on many minds, I’m sure, is “Why didn’t the affairs surrounding the new Hungarian government” cause its preferences to increase.  I cannot be sure without looking into post-election polling numbers, but the answer may be that these simply did not resonate with voters in the way that they resonated in the media.  Corruption appears to be more tangible and distasteful than statements from Budapest which do not have any clear personal impact for most voters.  The other question is “where did the SNS voters go?”  Here the evidence suggests that as many as 1% of them went to Nase Slovensko, with its even more radical solutions, and that nearly all of the rest either left the electorate or went to Smer.  Voter choice is always relative, and for a voter with a national orientation who nevertheless dislikes Slota or the corruption of his party, Smer is the next best national alternative and less touched by scandal.  This, however, raises the further question of “where did the Smer voters go?”

From one perspective, Smer’s results are “high” only by the standards of the final week of polls, which we now know to be (for reasons unknown) in sharp error.  Leaving aside the final week drop (and the polls of the final week proved in both 2006 and 2010 to make worse predictions than those from a month before) Smer lost more than 10 percentage points from its peaks during 2008.  A variety of experts including Martin Slosiarik at Smer argued at the time that many of these were “soft” supporters who chose Smer as the default option which was in government during a period of economic growth.  The work of Andrew Roberts and others shows that incumbent parties in Central Europe do tend to lose support during periods of economic decline, and many of those softer supporters appear have been affected by increasing unemployment and scandals involving those close to Smer.  Where did they go?  Some simply did not vote, others voted for SDL or KSS (though together not many more than voted for KSS in 2006) and a significant number of the remainder appear (at least in pre-election surveys) to have opted for SaS.  From a purely left-right ideological standpoint this shift seems unlikely, but if voter choice is relative and often non-ideological, then those who simply seek economic opportunity (without having a firm idea of how it should be brought about) and/or seek a cleaner alternative (the role that Smer itself played in 2002 and 2006) then SaS may be a reasonable choice.  (More on this using pre-election data here:

Having said all that, I need to point out that Smer not only got the most votes in the election by more than a 2:1 margin but also that it increased its vote share by a sold 5 percentage points over the previous election (and its number of votes by an even greater margin) despite the fact that new parties in government usually lose significant support or collapse completely.  From an electoral perspective, Smer clearly did many things right: it stayed away from the worst of the corruption scandals (perhaps by putting the “ministries of corruption” in the hands of its coalition partners), it took a relatively popular national position without taking it to extremes (though it started to move in that direction in the last year), and it continued to criticize the wealthy and promote redistributive policies (even if many of those were more symbolic than economic).  My question is what happens to Smer now.  It has always been a party that seeks opponents and it will find this easier to do from opposition, but it will face at least three big challenges:

  • First, it managed its increased result with a significant inflow of voters from SNS and HZDS and with rhetoric designed to attract those voters.  It would not surprise me if the Smer electorate has not now moved significantly told the older and rural side of Slovakia’s demographic spectrum, ending up where HZDS did in about 1994 or 1996.  This will shape the party’s appeals, as will the weakness of SNS, and it would not surprise me to see Smer move even more fully into the ideological space formerly occupied by HZDS in the late 1990’s of “the (not-as-radical-as-Slota) defender of Slovakia’s national sovereignty.”
  • Second, Smer will be going from government to opposition with a very large parliamentary deputation.  It has been in opposition before and stayed very disciplined, but not with such a large group.  It has had a large delegation before but not without the carrots (and sticks) of parliamentary and government offices.  It will be interesting to see whether Smer can avoid splintering if some deputies, perhaps with savvy media advice and outside financial support, see an opportunity for doing better on their own, particularly if the Smer itself inclines more toward the national appeals.
  • Third, Smer’s own leader may be torn about what to do in 2014.  Since 2008 I have heard persistent rumors that Fico would rather be president than prime minister.  Because I work from the presumption that leaders would rather have more power than less, I have always discounted these rumors as either wishful thinking (by Fico’s opponents) or misdirection (by Fico’s supporters) but they have come up so often from so many sides that I sometimes have to wonder.  If it is true that Fico would rather be president than prime minister, he will have his best chance to do so in 2014.  Indeed it is hard to imagine a candidate who could come close to beating him in a one-on-one race, and he will have the advantage of running from opposition without the burden of responsibility for government policies.  My suspicion still is that with those advantages any politician I know would still rather be prime minister than president, but if Fico does opt for the presidency (or even lets his mind wander in that direction), then Smer will need to deal with the tensions among a rather large and diverse group of second-tier politicians–Kalinak, Madaric, Caplovic, Paska, Pociatek, Benova and a few others–who may be looking to step into Fico’s shoes and who may not like it much when one of the others takes the spot.

How do you evaluate the results of the two parties representing the Hungarian minority? Were the results surprising for you?

This one has always been opaque to me, in part because I cannot not read the Hungarian press and because what I read in the Slovak press does not even allow me to pretend to know what is going on in the Hungarian community, and there were no precedents that would have allowed me to build a rough model based on past election data.  In principle I found it highly unlikely that the Hungarian parties would maintain the 55:45 split they needed to both stay viable, but the polls pointed consistently at their near equality.  If we discount OKS, whose preference votes accounted for almost 10% of all Most-Hid’s preference votes, the actual ratio of Most-Hid to MKP-SMK among Hungarians was probably about 7.2 to 4.4, so the final ratio was just a bit above 60:40.  It may be that Bugar’s geniality and moderation were more of an electoral motivator than Csaky’s better organizaiton, but for a better understanding of why 20% more Hungarians favored Bugar’s new party than Csaky’s more established one, I look forward to a thorough and demographically-grounded analysis from Hungarian-speaking experts.

Slovakia Election Update: Deadlocked coalition options at the halfway point.

A quick calculation.  Even at current levels (which include the absence of MKP-SMK, which is looking increasingly likely), a Smer-SNS coalition would have just barely enough to sustain a majority.  If Smer loses even 4 points from its current level (down to 34%) or Smer loses 3% and SDKU gains 1%, then Smer loses its ability to form a government with SNS.  The final result may not be as resounding a victory as the exit polls suggested, but it still bodes fairly well for the current opposition (except, maybe, MKP-SMK).

Slovakia Election Update: End of an era

I have lived my entire professional life with HZDS, frequently visiting its offices, often taking it to task for what I regarded as serious accountability violations.  And with this set of results for the SUSR, I think it is gone.  (I think it is the first time HZDS has ever fallen below 5% in any official count.  I suppose it may come back, but its demographics suggest it won’t).  I can’t say that I weep for Slovakia or for Meciar, but it does feel a bit weird to think that this part of Slovakia’s political life–and my own personal life–is now “history” in both senses of the word.l

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