Polls, Politics and Parties, Part 9: How Experts (and Bookmakers) Second Guess the Polls

In the eight previous posts in this series (and in this blog in general) I’ve used public opinion as the basic raw-material, but pollsters in Central Europe are quick to note that public opinion only talks about the “current” state of affairs and does not predict what people do once they enter the voting booth.  They walk a fine line on this point, between irrelevance on one hand (if pollsters admit that polls do not predict elections, why should we pay attention to them?) and embarrassment on the other (when the “normal” 24% gap between polls and actual results causes people to notice that polls do not do a very good job of predicting elections).  But the world is full of people who, like myself, who are uncomfortable with waiting for news and need some early indicators, at least, of how things will turn out (my wife has learned from my uncomfortable fidgeting when she says “I have news…” to include a spoiler like “and it’s not bad news, or at least not very bad news.”  This inability to deal with uncertainty in the political world drives me (and perhaps a few other people) to use whatever resources are available to look for the best way to predict the future.

If polls aren’t it, then what is?  In a previous post, I’ve looked at alternative quantitative measures for second-guessing the polls–committed voters, committed turnout, past trends–of which only the last seems to have much value (hence my rather cautious use of it).  But the human brain is a marvelous thing, and the answers may not be easily found in the aggregation of statistics, however interesting they are in their own right.  The secret is to find the right brain, or perhaps better said, to know which brain is the right one.  In this we are limited to those who are willing to share the Slovak-election-related contents of their respective brains.  Ideally we would have a significant number of people who have looked carefully at the available information and made an educated guess.  How do we know if they have done so?  Well without close attention to their study habits, the best way is to see whether they have something to gain if they are right (or something to lose if they are wrong).   The discussion boards of SME, Pravda, HN and other news outlets are full of people willing to hazard a guess, but with few consequences for failure (especially since so many are anonymous).  I am left, therefore with two main sources:  those who stand to lose their reputations and those who stand to lose their money.  Among those with reputations at stake, I do not include politicians, whose prognostications are never expected to be true (Pal Csaky predicts 10% for SMK) and so we are left with a small cadre of political scientists and pollsters who are willing to make their guesses public, and I will reference them here.  In particular, I am grateful to Martin Slosiarik (this is only one of the many realms in which I owe him gratitude) for being willing to make his predictions public, and to make them narrow enough to be useful (though he cleverly shies away from one of the hardest questions).

Among those with money at stake, there is the growing field of those who bet on politics (actually has been extremely common in certain past eras) and a whole discourse has arisen about the predictivness of odds markets.  In my own experience, these markets have done quite well in predicting obscure (to me) local races in the US.  They are subject to manipulation, of course, but the more people become involved, the more difficult this becomes.  Slovakia lacks a true odds market for politics.    SME‘s “crystal ball” at http://zajtrajsie.sme.sk/ is a great first step, but the gains, as far as I can tell, are not particularly valuable (the S€ used in the betting cannot yet be used to buy beer) and so participants may make guesses without much genuine forethought, and since this is the first attempt, we won’t be able to tell until the results are in and the markets close (though this is something I will follow closely).  The only other source we have are the people who make their money by encouraging others to bet.  Bookmakers have a strong vested interest in setting the odds right and they can only do that if they make the right kind of predictions.  So in addition to the political scientists and pollsters, it is interesting to look at what the bookies say.

What I have therefore done is to create charts for each party that show the range predicted by Martin Slosiarik, a rough guess based on current poll average projected out two months based on current trends (my own rather superficial method, though one that did not work badly in the recent Czech election) and then the four bookmakers I have been able to find.  In each case a dark bar represents the baseline: in Slosiarik’s case it is the center point of his predicted range, in my case it is the current poll average, and in the case of the bookmakers it is the inflection point of the bet itself (“Will SaS exceed 10% or fall short”).  The small vertical line leading from it shows direction: in Slosiarik’s case the lines show his full range; in the case of the average poll results it shows the what the “two-month-out” method would predict; in the case of the bookmakers, it is a rough assessment of which side the odds favor.  The longer the line, the more the odds favor a result in that direction (it is not a direct measure of what result the party will actually achieve).

What do we learn from these?  For lack of a better method, let me go party by party as I usually do with poll results:

Smer.  I will begin the analysis of Smer numbers in reverse order on the graph below, beginning with the four wagering firms (British firm bwin.com, and firms operating in Slovakia, Doxx, Fortuna and VictoryTip [unlike last election, Nike.sk and Tipos.sk do not appear to be participating].

Betting odds can be hard to compare because the bets of this type are intrinsically binary and must begin from a particular baseline.  In the case of Smer, each of the four begins from a different baseline, though these are relatively close together, spanning a narrow range between 32.0 and 33.5.   These baselines appear in these cases to reflect the odds firm’s baseline guess, and the odds then suggest its subsequent adjustment.  For Bwin and Doxx the odds were even at last check, but both Fortuna and VictoryTip put slightly shorter odds on Smer receiving more than their respective 32.5 and 33 suggesting an outcome slightly above 33.  Average these together and you get an outcome of about 33% predicted by the odds markets as of 8 June.  This is not far from the 34.8 minus 1.4 = 33.4 suggested by the (two-month-out”) poll prediction.  Interestingly, however, it is rather higher than Slosiarik’s 30-33 range or the 30.5/30.6 prediction I derive from two separate but highly consistent SME odds markets (http://zajtrajsie.sme.sk/stavka/pridajstavku/447 and http://zajtrajsie.sme.sk/stavka/pridajstavku/520).  Which of these is more accurate is impossible to say at the moment.  SME readers tend to be somewhat more free market oriented than others and this may represent a bit of wishful thinking.  Slosiarik, on the other hand, knows these numbers inside and out and and seems convinced of the softness of Smer support (he may well be right, but we won’t know for 4 more days).

SNS. For SNS the baseline measures of three of the four betting firms is the same–7.5 while the fourth is lower at 6.5.  All but one suggest a slight downward trend with an implied average of around 7.0.  This is also the median of Slosiarik’s 6-8 range.  It is interesting that for this party–the betting and expert models are most out of sync with the average polling results, which are under 6 or the trend, which would point the party even lower.  This may be because these experts believe in the (not insignificant) effect of recent Hungarian policy decisions and/or believe that some Slovaks may be hiding their vote for a party that says publicly what some people think privately but might not be willing to admit.   It is difficult for me to disagree with the experts in order to engage in some wishful thinking of my own.

HZDS. HZDS is even more consistent than Smer or SNS.  Only one betting firm even put HZDS’s baseline above the magical 5% threshold and that one, like all the others, put shorter odds on the party falling below the baseline, which in three out of the four cases means below the threshold for entry into parliament.  Likewise Slosiarik puts HZDS in a 4-6 range that sets its median at 5%, though he carefully does not make any predictions about whether it will be slightly above or slightly below.  The opinion polls here weigh in on the negative, both in terms of absolute numbers and two-months-out trend which puts it closer to 4 than to 5.  (The SME odds markets also give HZDS a less than even chance of returning to parliament: 42.8:57.2.  (http://zajtrajsie.sme.sk/stavka/pridajstavku/87)

SDKU. SDKU has a relatively narrow range of baselines but rather broader range of odds spreads (even though one of the firms, Bwin, does not include the party among its range of bets.  The range hovers between 14.5 and 16.  Public opinion polls put the party at 15 with no discernible trend while Slosiarik puts it higher, on the grounds that it may pick up some voters who at the last moment decide that they are not comfortable voting for SaS (This may be the grounds for Fortuna’s quite short odds on the party receiving more than the baseline).  Still, even this does not change the range particularly.

KDH. KDH produces very consistent results: 9.5 or slightly above.  This is true whether you look at the four betting firms, all of which chose the same baseline, or at Slosiarik’s 8-11 range or at the current polls which put the party at 10%.  This is, not coincidentally also the party’s basic result for nearly every parliamentary election in which it has run independently since 1990, though that itself is rather odd since the party has changed, its voters have changed, its leaders have changed, the country has changed and yet KDH manages the same old 10% every time.

SaS. SaS shows a relatively narrow range of baselines–from 8.5 to 10.0 with odds pointing in opposite directions (the lowest baseline, Doxx giving short odds for a higher score and the highest baseline, Fortuna, giving short odds for a lower score.  They meet somewhere around the middle–around the 9.5 that is in the middle of Slosiarik’s range.  As with SNS, SaS odds and experts differ from the polling average for the party and its trend, perhaps reflecting insider knowledge (or the belief therein) that new parties poll high and then end up lower (as I’ve discussed above, this was true for almost every new party to enter Slovakia’s system: ZRS, SOP, ANO, Smer, HZD, SF) but, interestingly, it was not true for the Czech VV which in many ways is quite similar to SaS or for the rather different but equally new TOP09.  I tend to agree with the experts in pegging SaS down a few points but the Czech case gives me just a bit of pause.

MKP-SMK. MKP has an extremely evenset of baselines–between 5.5 and 6.0 with only the barest hint of a trend in one or two. This is identical to the public opinion average.  Both are lower than Slosiarik’s range of 6 to 8.  The betting firms may just be playing it safe here since there is really no way of telling here.  Slosiarik clearly expects voters to fall back to MKP from Most (just as he seems to expect them to fall back to SDKU from SaS.  As above, there is good reason to agree but past precedent may not always dictate current action.  This is the question I will be most curious to see answered on election day.

Most-Hid. Surprisingly to me, Most-Hid has the most consistent set of baselines–all at 5.5–and odds (nothing shorter than 1.75 or longer than 1.85).  The reason that this is surprising is that Most-Hid has perhaps the most unpredictable electorate.  We really have little basis for judging whether they will switch back to the tried and true MKP at the last minute, as Slosiarik clearly thinks many will.  He says Most-Hid will be “very close to 5%” but if you look at his prediction for MKP-SMK and assume that the total electorate for Hungarian parties is less than 12%, his actual prediction seems to be slightly lower than 50-50 that Most-Hid will make it into parliament, something that he probably avoided saying directly lest it produce the headline “FOCUS expert rules out Most-Hid”

So what happens when we put all of these together?  The table below gives a rough estimate of the median point of the odds-makers. (There is no simple way to calculate these because there is no pure way to factor in what the odds mean for preferences.  Very short odds on a party that has a baseline of 5.0 might mean that the pollster is absolutely certain that the party will finish with 4.9 or that it will finish with 2.0.  Of course all things being equal the shorter or longer odds are likely to be somehow proportional to the distance from the baseline since that distance is the most probable basis for certainty.  If there’s anybody in the odds business who can set me straight, I’d very much appreciate it.)

Party Odds Markets Slosiarik
Percentage Seats Percentage Seats
Model Minus
Model Minus
and HZDS
Smer 33.0 58 62 31.5 52 55 55 59
SNS 7.0 12 13 7.0 12 12 12 13
HZDS 4.8 0 0 5.0 8 9 0 0
SDKU 15.5 27 29 16.5 27 29 29 31
KDH 9.8 16 17 9.5 11 12 12 13
SaS 9.0 10 11 9.5 16 16 17 17
MK 5.5 17 18 7.0 8 0 9 0
Most 5.5 10 5.0 16 17 16 17
Current Coalition 44.8 70 75 43.5 72 76 67 72
Current Opposition 45.3 80 75 47.5 78 74 83 78

The results are not particularly auspicious for the current coalition as it depends on two narrow chances: HZDS in parliament and Most-Hid out.  Without both of these conditions–the odds makers narrowly predict HZDS’s exclusion–the best Smer could hope for (according to the oddsakers, at least) would be for the failure of Most-Hid which in this case would produce a 75-75 split.  Otherwise, Smer will need to reach across the aisle or face the possibility of an opposition coalition.  Slosiarik’s slightly different numbers produce the same conclusion.  Only the presence of HZDS and absence of Most-Hid produces a coalition majority in his model, and then only a very narrow one.

Indeed the striking piece of information here, beyond the importance of thresholds to which I’ve alluded on numerous occasions, is the narrowness of governmental margins.  Slovakia may be entering a period that looks a bit like recent Czech political history with fragile or even minority governments (especially if MKP-SMK were to become untouchable”).

Of course all this depends on whether the odds makers and experts know what they are talking about.

P.S. Want to bet on this?  You can figure out from the above where the best odds are.  Here are the oddsmakers:


Bureau of Meaningless Statistics: The (Non)Effect of Undecided Voters

There is an old saying that “figures don’t lie, but liars do figure” (which I’m sure has some equivalent in almost every language) and there is a wonderful book written in 1954 provocatively entitled “How to Lie with Statistics.”  In Slovakia’s election coverage in 2010 the challenge is not so much statistical lies as lazyness.  Figures appear from various polling firms and they are duly published by newspapers that what people to pay attention whether they have solid basis in fact (nobody’s lying, per se, but they also have no way of knowing whether they are telling the truth) or whether they have any impact.  As a case in point take today’s article in SME, “Smer and SaS can score among undecideds.” (HN does the same)  It is, perhaps, interesting that this is the case, but the article makes little effort to deal with the two real underlying questions:

  • First, is this a useful way of adjusting polling numbers? I don’t know, but neither does SME.  I don’t have any evidence imediately at hand, though I will look to see if I have any precedents from 2006.
  • Second, if this were useful in adjusting numbers, would it have any effect on the overall outcome.  Here the calculation is the work of about 5 minutes at a spreadsheet (use focus data to figure out the overall share of undecideds, multiply this by the percentages printed in the article, add this to the original percentage gained by the party, recalculate to equal 100).  The results are in the table below.  And the answer is “not much”
Party May Poll Share Share among undecideds Contribution of undecideds Revised preferences
(sums to more than 100)
Revised total share
Smer 35.3 16.9 2.6 37.9 34.6
SDKU 14.0 6.6 1.0 15.0 13.7
SaS 13.3 12.8 1.9 15.2 13.9
KDH 8.3 5.8 0.9 9.2 8.4
SNS 6.1 3.5 0.5 6.6 6.1
MK 5.9 2.8 0.4 6.3 5.8
Most-Hid 5.6 4.6 0.7 6.3 5.8
HZDS 5.1 3.5 0.5 5.6 5.1
KSS 1.6 1.6 1.5
Unie 0.8 0.8 0.7
SDL 0.8 0.8 0.7
Paliho Kapurkova 0.7 4.0 0.9 1.6 1.4
ND 0.7 0.7 0.6
EDS 0.7 0.7 0.6
ZRS 0.6 0.6 0.5
Nase Slovensko 0.4 0.4 0.4
SRK 0.1 0.1 0.1
Azen 0.0 0.0 0.0
100.0 109.4 100.0
Won’t vote 16.1
Undecided 15.1

No party shifts its share by more than 0.7 percentage points, no party drops below the threshold, and the only shift in relative ranking is that SaS slightly overtakes SDKU (and Most-Hid ties MKP-SMK).  And what effect would this have on overall parliamentary outcomes?  Well almost nothing. As the graph below shows, run these percentages through the seat calculator and you get the following results: Current coalition minus 1, current opposition plus 1.

May Parliamentary Seats Revised Parliamentary Seats Seat Change
Smer 57 56 -1
SDKU 23 22 -1
SaS 21 22 +1
KDH 13 14 +1
SNS 10 10 0
MK 9 9 0
Most-Hid 9 9 0
HZDS 8 8 0
150 150

Buried in these results is actually a strong incentive for papers to do the deeper (which is to say not very deep at all, but at least not utterly superficial) calculation.  The coalition v. opposition numbers for the original FOCUS poll (without undecideds) is 75:75.  Add in the undecideds and we get a new parliamentary balance: Coalition 74, Opposition 76.  Had SME only run the numbers, could have run the equally meaningless but far sexier headline, “Undecideds give opposition majority in parliament.”  Maybe it’s a good thing that the busy reporters at Slovakia’s papers don’t have time to do the extra work.

Slovakia Dashboard News: AZEN and the sound of one poll clapping

Almost a month ago, I reported doubts about the poll produced by the previously unknown pollster AVVM.  Last week, AVVM issued a new poll, but though it only increased my doubts, I decided not to report on it because even too-credulous (or circulation focused) Pravda described the results as “strange” (cudny) and a search of other major news outlets produce other stories worth responding to and trying to correct.  And yesterday an article in SME by Miroslav Kern (“Pre-election juggling with preferences“) dealt nicely with the issue in broader terms.  I try not to do what the Slovak press is already doing well (and despite my occasional criticism, there is a lot that they do well) and so I figured there was nothing to write about here.

And then, in a search for results of another idiosyncratic poll (Presov University, on which more later) I found myself on the website of Novy cas.

I generally do not read Novy cas, as it does not have a particularly serious reputation, but I realize now that I should read it more often, for a variety of reasons.  My first reaction to the Novy cas election website (after getting over my annoyance that it required me to download Microsoft Silverlight to even work) was “Wow.”  Not only does the website look great (waving Slovak flag and all) but it had a “Your Ideal Quiz” (because of Silverlight I can’t actually link to it but the page it is on is here: http://volby.cas.sk/) that actually asked pretty good questions, showed the result of each answer on the suitability of particular parties and, when I tried to make answers point to a certain party, actually increased the score for that party.  So far so good.

Novy cas also has lots of party information all in one place: tagged news stories, party list, party program (with an interesting mini-wordle that shows the most common word in the party’s program), and development of party preferences over time.  This last, however, raised some questions: it listed only one poll per week, but polls in Slovakia are not done on a weekly basis so the polls must come from different sources and so cannot be easily compared. It did not list the sources, so I had to reconstruct it by comparing the data to my own poll database.  The first of the four turned out to be FOCUS, the second Polis and the third and fourth…AVVM (a detail that Kern didn’t know or was too polite to mention).  Let me restate that in stronger terms:

The self-proclaimed “most read daily newspaper on the internet” is (without telling anybody) basing its election infographics on the product of an untested polling firm with polls that are highly problematic.

Spot the Problematic Poll

How do we know that AVVM is problematic.  In my previous post on AVVM’s first poll, I showed that the firm’s results were far from the median polling numbers of other firms or even from the overall range of those results.  The second AVVM poll does not change this assessment in any meaningful way, as the following eight graphs show (AVVM is in yellow; the Presov University poll that I discuss below is in pink):

For the current government parties, AVVM’s second poll is not so out of line.  In its first poll AVVM produced exceptionally low results for Smer (orange), though by the second poll this had moved up (and other polls had moved down) until it lay in a more normal range.  Likewise AVVM is in the normal range for SNS and HZDS.

Among the Slovak opposition parties, AVVM produced fairly average results for SaS and KDH but quite high for SDKU.

It is for smaller parties that AVVM produces the oddest numbers (both in real and especially in percentage terms.  Most-Hid results are fairly average but numbers for SMK are exeptionally low–lower even than the low results produced by Median.

Of course the biggest variation from the norm, and the one that attracted Pravda‘s “strange” headline is the party’s results for AZEN, the new party formed by HZDS defectors Zdenka Kramplova and Milan Urbani.  I have not created a dashboard graph for this party because its numbers are actually so low that most polling firms do not report it.  To compensate for the lack of full data, I’ve created an approximation graph which gives AZEN the benefit of the doubt (assuming that it just barely misses the threshold for reporting).  Even giving it the benefit of the doubt, the results are striking:

AVVM results for AZEN are so far from the norm of the other four major firms (and from the Presov University poll as well) that they simply cannot be taken seriously.  It may be that AVVM is right and the others are wrong, but nothing in my experience would suggest that to be the case.

Furthermore, the explanations for this divergence given to SME by AVVM director Martin Palásek are so bad as to disqualify the firm from any further consideration:

  • The first explanation: “the party is first on the alphabetical list of parties” and may therefore draw additional support (To prove I’m not making this up: “Konateľ AVVM Martin Palásek výsledok AZEN vysvetľuje najmä tým, že sú prví v abecede, a tak ich uvádzali aj na anketových lístkoch”.)  If AVVM hasn’t figured out some way to control for this then either a) its polls do not deserved to be published anywhere or b) I will be able to win a significant share of Slovakia’s vote simply by registering a new party under the name “Aardvark Alliance”
  • The second explanation: Party chair Urbani “is among the most popular HZDS politicians” (“ponúkol tvrdenie, že Urbáni patril k populárnym politikom HZDS“).  This is in some ways even worse as it reveals a willingness to follow conventional wisdom rather than the hard data which is the only currency of pollsters (except of course that they accept money from parties to do polls).   In fact my I cannot find any evidence that Urbani has ever appeared among the lists of “most trusted” politicians conducted regularly by MVK, even though these sometimes contain as many as 30 names.  So much for AVVM.

Spot the Ambitious (but Still Problematic) Poll

In the same general category as AVVM but with important specific differences are the polls conducted by university students at Presov University.  These are fairly consistent with the other polls: just a bit high for Smer and SMK, a bit low for HZDS and SDKU and Most-Hid.  For three parties the Presov numbers are further from the norm: low but moving in the right direction for SaS, high and moving in the wrong direction for SNS and shockingly high for Unia.  For those who have forgotten, Unia is a merger of three economic and cultural liberal parties: Slobodne Forum (SF), which split from SDKU in the 2004, Civic Candidates (OK) which split from SDKU in 2008 (I think), and Liga -Civic Liberal Party (Liga-OLS) founded in 2008 by former officials of SDKU and ANO.  Merging three parties with extremely low preferences into a single party and then adopting an entirely new name seems in retrospect to have been poor tactics as since its formation Unia has regularly polled less than the previous totals for its component parties.  Except in the Presov University polls, as the graph below shows:

As with AVVM on AZEN, it is hard to take the Presov University numbers seriously on Unia since they are so far out of line even giving the party the benefit of the doubt on polls where its results are not reported.

It is hard to be as critical of this effort as it is of AVVM, first because it has not been used by a major newspaper without any effort to mention problems or discriminate among its strengths and weaknesses (though that is more the fault of Novy cas than AVVM itself), and second because from everything I can find out about it, it is a laudible educational effort that is open about its methodological limits, cites the geographical areas in which the poll-takers worked, and openly discusses its choice of question and the rationale for it.  I am still not sure that I understand how they actually went about the questioning or whether their decision to use party leader names rather than party names is a good way to measure preferences, but at least they are trying something new and explaining why they are trying it.  For that I give them great credit, even if I don’t feel like I can include their poll results in my overall average.

Czech Election Update: The (Slightly) Bigger Picture

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

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

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

Let’s start with the number of parties:

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

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

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

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

What this graph says to me is two things:

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

Slovakia Dashboard News: May Polis Poll Closely Follows Trends

Today’s Czech election (and tomorrow’s Eurovision song contest) are the big news (except that Slovakia and the Czech Republic failed to make it into the final yet again) but there’s actually no actual news just yet, so there’s time for a brief comment on reports of today’s Polis poll in Slovakia.  I still wonder about the viability of telephone polls like that of Polis, but to the extent that the firm did fairly well last time in its prediction and tends to follow the same trends as all of the other pollsters (except Median), I am willing to give it a certain amount of credit and build it into my averages.  Polis just released a poll conducted between May 15 and May 20 with a fairly large sample.  Here’s what we see:

Polis’s 34% for Smer is the lowest score the party has received in any major poll in the last two years, but Polis tends to under-poll for Smer, at least compared to the others.  The patterns, however, are extremely consistent:  Polis, MVK and FOCUS all show nearly identical seven point drops for FOCUS since January and all, including Median, show approximately ten point drops since a year ago.  Why this should be is open to question:  the emergence of SaS (I accidentally wrote VV; Freudian slip) and perhaps a few points to the new SDL and perhaps some last minute hesitation by Smer’s many soft supporters who, as election nears, are now forced actually to consider their vote.    It is important to remember that in the 2006 election Smer actually outperformed final polls, but these are never a good indicator (or more precisely they are sometimes a good indicator but it is difficult to predict when).

Polis also tends to underpoll for SNS–by quite a significant margin–but its trends tend to follow, and it is interesting that after a rise in April in both FOCUS and Polis (large in FOCUS, small in Polis) SNS is in both polls back to levels below its March result, suggesting that the Fidesz boost was short lived.  Of course since the Polis and FOCUS polls were taken, we have a new, and perhaps more significant dual-citizenship question which may help SNS, but Smer is also hitting this hard and may pick up much of that reservoir.

Polis also underpolls HZDS–interesting that it underpolls all three coalition parties, and strong reason never to consider its numbers alone, especially for predicting government composotion–but as with the other parties, Polis numbers do follow basic trends and here they show the same slow slide as all of the others except Median (about which I have commented frequently elsewhere).  There’s not much to see here, but Slovakia’s next goverment may depend on whether its shrinking voting base turns out to vote more than others’.

Overall the current coalition dropped two points in this month’s Polis poll, a smaller amount than in FOCUS (4) or Median (3) but this is perhaps to be expected since Polis starts with a lower baseline for the coalition parties (and so they have less to lose).

Even discounting SDKU’s jump in recent Median polls, both FOCUS and Polis show increases for Polis in April-May, though Polis’s is much larger and to levels not normally seen for this party.  I have some doubts about the magnitude, but (like Smer above) SDKU also tends to perform better than polls in the final election (though this time they have SaS to contend with)

Every single poll shows KDH dropping from a March peak to a lower (but still relatively high) level in May.  The question is not the trend but the magnitude.  Polis, MVK (and Median) show the party between 11 and 12.  FOCUS, by contrast, shows it between 8 and 9.  No data that I have tells me which side of this range the party’s scores actually fall.

SaS follows the same trend in every poll: continued rise in May.  Polis’ jump here is slightly smaller than that of FOCUS (which shows a correspondingly smaller jump for SDKU, so the difference may lie in different measures of supporters of those two parties, or it may not).  The party continues to rise and is not facing the sort of “switcher’s remorse” that we saw for SOP in 1998, for ANO, Smer and HZD in 2002 and for SF in 2006.  At least not yet.

Overall the right shows a point and a half gain in this most recent Polis poll, more or less the same that we saw in FOCUS a week ago and slightly smaller than that of Median.  This trend, too, continues.

Amazingly both Hungarian parties cross the threshold in this poll even though the total Hungarian electorate as measured by this poll is only 10.4.  The actual electorate is probably somewhat larger, so this is good news for Hungarians in Slovakia.  It is amazing that these two parties continue in their head-t0-head duel which maximizes both the potential gain–if both do well–and the potential risk–if one drops only slightly below the threshold.  I frankly never expected the parties to maintain this kind of parity, and whether they can keep it up is the thing that most intrigues me about the upcoming election results.

Polls, Parties and Politics, Part 8: Coalition Math, now with Thresholds!

Having just spent quite a bit of time thinking about Czech politics (and expecting to do so again once we get Saturday’s election results) I am struck by how different much of it is from Slovakia–and how much is quite (perhaps increasingly) similar.  Unlike Slovakia’s politics, Czech politics still revolves around a left-right axis on economic issues, but the two parties that anchor that axis have weakened and the emergence of new parties clearly suggests the underlying role of at least one or two additional dimensions (corruption is the most obvious).  The flux of party death and party birth also seems likely to be similar this year, if not greater on the Czech side.  And as in the Czech Republic, the composition of government looks to depend on the ability of parties to cross the 5% threshold of electibilty (see yesterday’s post).  But this points back to another difference, extremely narrow but highly consequential for thinking about elections and government formation: in the Czech Republic there is only one party that is hovering around the 5% threshold.  In Slovakia, there are four.  This is a big deal because those parties are on opposite sides of the spectrum, and every one of the 16 (4^2) permutations has a significant potential impact on who will govern Slovakia.

Before we can look intelligently at the effects of the thresholds, however, we need to look at the broader issue of viable coalitions.  As I’ve discussed before, coalitions are a combination of math (are there enough seats) and “chemistry” (can they get along).  In a post in mid-February, I made certain guesses about both math and chemistry that I summarized in this image:

Since then several things have changed.  First, we have much more recent polling data (showing a trend away from the current coalition) and second we have both new statements by parties about potential coalition partners (a delicious.com feed of relevant articles is here), and new data from FOCUS/IVO about what party supporters think of other parties (the original report is here).  From this data I can create a new version of the graph on a slightly sounder but still quite imperfect basis.

The first imperfection is that I will foolishly make utterly unwarranted guesses about what I think the data now suggests about the final election results, based on the one prediction tool that seemed to work in 2006: pre-existing trendlines.  This is, of course, mindbogglingly stupid, when in 2006 I made predictions based on one prediction tool they were in many cases far off.  But without a prediction, I can’t go any further.  So here I … jump:

Party Terribly fraught guess
about election outcome
(trendline projection adjusted
by common sense)
of seats
based on
fraught guesses
Smer 35.0% 57
HZDS 5.0% (see below for nuance) 8
SNS 6.0% 10
MKP-SMK 5.8% 9
Most-Hid 5.2% (see below for nuance) 9
SaS 9.0% 15
KDH 11.0% 18
SDKU 15.0% 24

For the moment, we do not need to worry about the threshold (and in any case the recent averages show all eight parties above the threshold, though in some cases just barely).  This will come later.  From the percentages above, I calculate a raw number of seats for each party (that can later be nuanced based on threshold questions.)

The second imperfection relates to some way to quantify the “chemistry” (or usually the lack thereof) in a coalition.  To do this I have simply taken IVO’s measurement for the overall level of antipathy that supporters of each party has toward each of the other parties.  This is imperfect at best but it actually worked quite well as an indicator of most likely coalitions in both 2002 and 2006 (where I ignored it to my peril).  That doesn’t mean it will work this time, but it is also fairly consistent with the kinds of statements that parties make about one another, so it is adequate as an initial proxy.

Putting the number of seats on the vertical axes and the level of chemistry (inverse of antipathy) on the horizontal axis yields this lovely graph showing the position of each coalition.

But since neither of these indicators is perfect, it is less misleading about the specificity of the data (and more interesting and attractive) to recast the graph like this:

Here the orange dots represent Smer-based coalitions while orange and dark green/brown represent the Slovak national members of the current coalition.  Blues represent parties of the Slovak “Right” while light green and gold represent Hungarian national parties.  The quick conclusions:

  • No combination achieves the grail of significant size and positive internal chemistry.
  • The closest aspirants are the current coalition and the current opposition, which by this estimation each have exactly the same number of seats–a deadlocked 75.  In a parliament in which all eight parties enter, a comfortable margin above 75 seats requires broadening the coalition to include somebody from the “other side” either Smer including a Hungarian party or two, or the current opposition including HZDS.  More coherent coalitions, by contrast, have almost no chance for electoral success (and, given Slovakia’s complicated 2+ dimensional political landscape, almost never have).

BUT…  This assumes that all parties will make it over the threshold.  By my estimation, this is actually fairly unlikely

Party Terribly fraught
guess about chance
of passing
5% threshold
Smer 100%
HZDS 50%
SNS 75%
Most-Hid 55%
Both Hungarians* 60%
SaS 99%
KDH 99.9%
SDKU 99.9%
* More than the product of the two Hungarian parties individually because if one falls short of the threshold, it is probably because the other has gained some of its votes

As the asterisk above, suggests, however, it is not enough simply to run an analysis of these parties individually above and below the threshold because there are reciprocal relationships among parties that affect shifts in voters. Although this is certainly true for SDKU, KDH, and SaS, shifts among those three do not have much effect on overall outcomes since they are all above the threshold. The same is not true for the pairing of SNS and HZDS, and especially of Most-Hid and MKP-SMK, whose reciprocity is almost perfect to the extent that it is difficult for MKP-SMK to gain except at the expense of Most-Hid, and (almost) vice-versa. If MKP-SMK falls below the threshold, Most-Hid will almost certainly rise above by about the same margin. The same is true to a lesser extent for SNS and HZDS. As a result, I have built these parings into the overall equation (realizing, but for the moment not caring, that some lost HZDS or SNS vote may go instead to Smer).

The result of these various calculations is the chart below which identifies eight possible arrays of parties in parliament along the top and eleven possible governing coalitions down the side, identifying the probability of the arrays based on the electoral guesses above, the likelihood that all potential coalition members pass the 5% threshold, and the approximate number of seats gained by each coalition given the parliamentary arrays. Red boxes indicate that a coalition should fall well short of a majority; green boxes indicate a safe likelihood of a majority; yellow boxes indicate something in-between.  (The task at hand has so many data points attached to it [and my attempt to squeeze it onto a single page is so obsessive] that it is difficult to compress into something that will fit into this blog column, so it is probably necessary to click on the image to see the full graph.)

So here is all the data in one place, but what does it mean.  We can cut the data in two ways: by coalition type and by parliament type.

Category Party Competition Likelihood of parties crossing threshold Possibilities and Constraints
Left + Slovak National (current coalition) Smer +
38% If all parties in this coalition make it into parliament, it will likely have a majority. But there is a less than even chance (by my estimation) that both HZDS and SNS will make it.
Left Smer 100% Smer will make it into parliament but there is no scenario according to current preferences that would allow it to govern alone (except as a minority government)
Left + Slovak National Smer +
50% These two coalitions depend both on the ability of Smer’s coalition partner to get into parliament and on the absence of at least one (or more than one) other party to provide the necessary seats for a majority. It appears that these coalitions are not viable if both Hungarian parties make it into parliament.
Smer +
Left + Slovak National + Hungarian National Smer +
HZDS + (MKP-SMK or Most-Hid)
50% It would theoretically be possible to add one one Hungarian party to a Smer and HZDS (but not Smer and SNS) coalition, though worsening relations make this increasingly unlikely. Fico would have to be desparate to chose this option, but if trends continue he may indeed face relatively few options.
Left + Hungarian National Smer +
MKP-SMK or Most-Hid
100% The members of such a coalition are almost certain to get into parliament (it is highly unlikely that both Hungarian parties will fail), but it only becomes really viable if the other Hungarian party does not make or if both SNS or HZDS fail. Fico may, however, have a hard time forming a coalition with a party (MKP-SMK) that has become the most recent direct target of his campaign.
Smer +
MKP-SMK + Most-Hid
60% This coalition would have a clear majority but it is only as likely as the weakest of the Hungarian parties getting into parliament. It is also highly unlikely that Smer would opt for two feuding Hungarian parties (a recipe for disaster) if he could manage any other coalition.
Left + Right Smer +
100% This coalition–which is almost certain to have both members in parliament at levels that produce a majority–actually stands in for any coalition between Smer and one of the current “right wing” Slovak parties. But it is almost impossible to imagine either of the members of this coalition wanting to do this, since both would not suffer with their supporters and especially since KDH unconditionally excluded the possibility and Smer excoriated KDH in response.
Right + Hungarian National SDKU + KDH + SaS +
MKP-SMK + Most-Hid
60% This coalition would probably have enough votes for a majority (though if both Slovak national parties enter parliament that is in question) but it is dependent on both Hungarian parties entering parliament which is far from a sure bet. Several months ago this coalition did not seem likely to have a majority. Today with declines in the Smer and increases in SaS it has become plausible. The recent citizenship-law issue, however, raises questions about the acceptability of MKP-SMK for the Right that are difficult to answer at present.
SDKU + KDH + SaS +
(MKP-SMK or Most-Hid) + HZDS
100% If one Hungarian parties does not make it into parliament, there is still a chance for it to come close to a majority but only two of three of the parties currently on the line fail. Interestingly a failure by one of the Hungarian parties actually helps magnify the chances of a coalition including the other, making the current sharp competition between the two Hungarian parties more rational than it might seem. If we see a continuation of the emerging differentiation between MKP-SMK and Most-Hid related to Hungary’s dual citizenship law, then only the variant involving Most-Hid becomes viable, but this, of course, would depend on Most-Hid actually making it into parliament.
Right + Hungarian National + Slovak National SDKU + KDH + SaS +
(MKP-SMK or Most-Hid) + HZDS
50% If both Hungarian parties do not make it into parliament, the current opposition could theoretically top it off with HZDS but this is unlikely since SaS and KDH have expressed reluctance to join with HZDS and it is in any case dependent on HZDS making it into parliament (at best 50-50). This unlikely option is probably Meciar’s last chance to play kingmaker before the end of his political career: if both SNS and HZDS enter parliament, then HZDS’s choice matters; if SNS does not make it, then the likely coalition combinations to not offer much hope for Meciar to play any role. This is the way the [party] may end, not with a bang but with a whimper. (If, however, the current right parties continue to distance themselves from SMK, Meciar’s bargaining power increases slightly as he could offer his party as an alternative to SMK in a coalition with Most-Hid)
SDKU + KDH + SaS +
MKP-SMK + Most-Hid + HZDS
30% There is a slight chance if all of the current major parties succeed that this coalition of all current opposition parties and HZDS would be theoretically possible alternative, but its likely that some other smaller combination would still gain a majority.

Or we can look at it another way: What are the consequences for coalition and government formation depending on who crosses the threshold and who doesn’t:

Who’s missing from parliament: Likelihood of scenario: Possibilities: Most likely government
No one 23% If all of the major parties make it over the threshold, these numbers give roughly equal numbers of seats to the current coalition and the current opposition (plus the two new opposition parties). One of these might just get enough seats to govern. If there is a perfect deadlock, a government would require one party to switch slides. This is becoming increasingly unlikely and could lead to a Czech Republic scenario of weak, bare majority or minority governments until the disintegration of one of the parliamentary parties (not impossible in current circumstances) allows for a new configuration or new elections. Current coalition or current opposition
HZDS 23% If either HZDS or SNS fail to make it into parliament, then the current opposition actually has a chance at a majority coalition given the current estimates. Alternatively Smer could try and pry either KDH or one Hungarian partys away from the current opposition but it is hard to imagine the magnitude of promises this would take to get them to leave a more ideologically consistent, if far more ungainly coalition of opposition parties. The dynamic chances if MKP-SMK becomes anathema to both sides, in which case there is no clear majority for either side. Current opposition
SNS 8%
One Hungarian Party 15% If one of the two Hungarian parties is the only one not to make it into parliament then the stage is set for a continuation of the current coalition or force some sort of cross-the-lines coalition such as the (now ruled out) Smer-KDH coalition or the ungainly coalition of the current opposition plus HZDS. The latter might be possible if the it is MKP-SMK that falls below the threshold, but the numbers make the slightly less likely of the two scenarios. Current coalition
HZDS & one Hungarian 15% If one Hungarian party fails and one of the Slovak national parties fails, there are a variety of possibilities very close to a majority: Smer+SNS, Smer+the Hungarian Party, or the current opposition. Current Coalition, current opposition, or Smer plus a Hungarian party
SNS & one


HZDS & SNS & one Hungarian 5% If a Hungarian party fails and both Slovak national parties fail, then it will again come down to who–if anyone–can (and is willing to) draw the remaining Hungarian party. The current opposition would have the upper hand here, but would they take it? Current opposition

Any way we slice it, it looks as if the thresholds will be key. More than half of the coalition possibilities rely directly on parties that are just on the threshold of survival and those that do not are still dependent on threshold effects to determine whether they will muster a majority and whether there are coalition possibilities that may be more attractive to some potential members. We will not have a very good idea of what is even possible until we the results are in. The announcement of KDH’s exclusion of Smer at the beginning of the week led me to think that there may not be quite as much coalition speculation as in the past because of the hardening of opposition-coalition lines, but the increasingly sharp reaction of both Smer and SDKU to MKP-SMK’s position on the Hungarian citizenship law may bring us back to a position of active coalition jockeying but as the case of the Czech Republic shows, government coalition-making gets much harder if one major party is not coalitionable.

Czech Dashboard News: Final Factum Poll and Coalition Math

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dashboard News: May FOCUS confirms April Trend, shows SNS at March levels

FOCUS has put out new numbers for early May (though we still only have results for the bigger parties since they appear now to have an agreement with TA3 that embargoes the full press release until later).  I do not have time to do a full post here but I’ve posted the graphs on the dashboard.  The results are not particularly surprising and we cannot say much until we see the other parties, but there are a few points worth mentioning:

  • First, with one exception these results are highly consistent with last month and they are generally consistent with the previous months of FOCUS polls, both in terms of levels and trends.  We do not yet know how these will translate into final results (their validity for predicting the outcome is uncertain) but they seem to be measuring the same thing consistently over time (their reliability appears to be high).
  • The one exception I mention above is SNS which leapt up by 2.3 points in the April poll and has now dropped by 2.5 to 6.1, the second lowest result for the party in a FOCUS poll since 2004.  I had a feeling that the April number was much too high, though the Fidesz victory in Hungary and the smaller rises in other polls offered reasons for thinking there could also be some substance to the increase.  Just as journalists attributed the rise to the Hungarian election, they are now attributing the fall to the SNS billboard scandal.  My impression is that neither of these had a major effect and that much, though not all, of the shift was an artifact of the poll itself.  In any case, this newest result is far closer to the overall trend and puts SNS quite close to the deadly 5% line.  I’m still inclined to think they will cross it, but I have less reason to believe that today than I did yesterday.
  • Otherwise, the trends continue:
    • Smer drops a point a month, a loss it can afford in electoral terms but perhaps not in terms of government formation
    • HZDS drops a third of point a month, a loss it cannot afford. The HZDS score for this month is the lowest in almost a year and since November 2009 the party has yet to see a month that did not bring stasis or decline.  Of course HZDS has recovered in the past, but this is its absolute last chance.  If HZDS cannot make it over the threshold in a month’s time, it is dead.  (Even if it does, I suspect it will be dead as an electoral organization by winter of this year)
    • SDKU stays remarkably stable around 14
    • SaS rises yet again, probably well above its final results but enough (as Pavol Haulik noted this week in HN) to bring it safely into parliament.   Where these voters are coming from is a question to me.  Some are coming from outside last election’s voting pool (especially new voters, I suspect) and some from the SDKU/KDH field (see below) but it does seem that some are coming from Smer, which seems improbable given the two parties’ economic positions but is not as strange as it might seem to the extent that some Smer support has always come from those who sought “clean” and “new.”
    • KDH falls slightly.  With SDKU staying stable, there does seem to be a slight reciprocal relationship between KDH and SaS.  This is not because the core voting bases are interchangeable–they are in fact quite different–but I think because KDH has often gained as the second choice of voters who shared SDKU’s positions but did not like SDKU.  Those voters now have another home in SaS.
    • The Hungarian parties continue to duel around 5.5% each.  In FOCUS polls the parties have varied, with Most-Hid overtaking SMK-MKP in March, then falling back, and then recovering to within .3.  Had one or the other of the Hungarian parties shown a commanding lead, I think we would have seen the other die or try to merge.  As it is they neither party (and neither party’s voters) has any motive to do so.  This is a high-risk game:  if it works, there will be more Hungarian representation in Slovakia’s parliament than ever before (and very probably in government as well); if it doesn’t, the representation will be at its lowest level since the early 1990’s.

There will be more to say on this when we see the full FOCUS numbers later this week.

UPDATE:  The full FOCUS numbers are in and do not show much new.  FOCUS is the only firm to look closely at smaller parties but these do not get much attention from voters: the KSS and the renewed SDL together and even the residual ZRS attract only 3%, less than KSS regularly attracted only a year ago, suggesting that the Smer is losing its support not to other “left” parties but to somewhere else.  It is also worth noting that despite considerable attention, and thought that it might compete with SNS, the radical anti-Roma party Our Slovakia (NS) attracts only 0.4%.  (Of course people may be unwilling to admit it but I tend to doubt that NS will do much better than this.)  It is also interesting to note that among the splinters of HZDS, Mikus’s New Democracy (ND) attracts 0.7% while Urbani’s AZEN, again despite a rather prominent media profile, did not receive a single preference from among the 1000 people surveyed!

Self-Promotion Theatre Presents: My interview on polls with the Slovak Spectator

Thanks to Michaela Stankova of the Slovak Spectator for asking good questions about changes in public opinion in Slovakia.  Her questions, in fact, serve as prompts for some of my future blog posts, but in the meantime you can read the interview here:


Dashboard News [Update]: April MVK [and Polis] follows FOCUS on coalition drop and opposition rise.

[A quick note.  Rather than write a new post, I have simply updated Wednesday’s post with results from Polis.  This was easy to do because the Polis results were largely consistent with the others.  Unfortunately this doesn’t mean we have the answers to the key questions:  how do poll numbers translate into votes, and, in particular, what will happen with will the parties around the 5% threshold.  But if it weren’t for these there would be too little suspense.]

When two [three] different polls agree on shifts in most parties it is time to pay attention. The April poll for FOCUS came out last week and this week MVK [and Polis] revealed [their] own (always, to my regret and frustration, with less information than that provided by FOCUS). The movements in both of these polls correspond quite closely, even if they begin from different baselines: Smer, HZDS and KDH down, SaS up, others moving in different directions but not by much. The overall movement of coalition and opposition also agrees fairly closely, with the coalition dropping to some of its lowest levels since the coalition took office almost four years ago, though still likely ahead (despite headlines that “the opposition has caught up to Fico,” it is probably not that simple and it is the small details and narrow margins that will make the difference in what kinds of governments are viable after the election.

As always the numbers are on the Dashboard. The analysis is below:

Both MVK and FOCUS [and Polis] show an almost identical drop for Smer of about 2.5 points from February to April (and with FOCUS the March numbers are not far out of line with that trend). Because MVK begins with a lower baseline, it shows a lower result—35.1–which is in line with MVK’s overall lower result for Smer.  [Polis is between the two at  36.2].  Nevertheless the number is still striking because it is the lowest preference that Smer has received on an MVK poll since the just before the 2006 election (The FOCUS numbers from last week are low by FOCUS averages as well—the third lowest since 2007) [For Polis we do not have such a long baseline of results.].  Why so low? Probably a certain amount of fatigue, accumulation of scandals and problems and, I suspect, a bit of defection to SaS and, this month, to SNS.

FOCUS showed a big jump for SNS in April. MVK also shows a jump, though smaller in magnitude and from a smaller baseline [Polis shows no jump at all and a figure just at the threshold of viability.  SNS has usually polled low in Polis polls, however, so this needs to be taken with some caution]. [The FOCUS and MVK results] puts SNS more safely above the threshold in both of these major polls. How safe is anyone’s guess. It is hard to know how to think about this party’s chances. It’s past levels suggest that it has a decent level of residual support (if not strong organization) and I have been slightly surprised by its low but the years of scandal and extreme behavior by the party leader certainly have pushed it toward the low edge of viablility.

For HZDS the last two months show a drop in both FOCUS and MVK to just above the threshold of viability. [In the Polis poll, the party’s results are stable, but from an already quite low baseline, well below 4%.]  Of course it has been at that level on and off for the last year, and the overall trend has been quite consistently downward. The question is whether that downward trend will overcome the party’s fairly loyal voter base. This one will be close.  [News about Polis polls, whether or not they are accurate, certainly cannot help the party’s chances for persuading voters to choose it over another alternative].

The current coalition shows slightly different patterns in FOCUS and MVK: in MVK the pattern is one of clear decline from the mid-50’s to the mid-40’s.  In FOCUS polls, the drop is much smaller: from mid-50’s to the low 50’s [and Polis shows a result somewhere in-between, from low-50’s to mid-40’s] . It is still unlikely that the coalition seat would drop below 50% off this estimate, unless one of the two smaller coalition parties falls below the 5% threshold.

For SDKU the most recent polls of FOCUS and MVK show a more mixed pattern: in MVK, SDKU dropped a point from February to April but is two points up on its results from January. FOCUS shows the identical pattern but off by a month: in FOCUS polls SDKU dropped a point from March to April but up two points from February. [Polis actually shows SDKU up, suggesting the same sort of random fluctuation within a quite narrow range.] This kind of mapping is probably pointless however. What is clear is that SDKU is fluctuating quite a bit within its normal range and voters themselves are probably fluctuating as well. What is striking is that SDKU has lost so little in the face of a huge rise in SaS which should, in theory, compete for the same voters.

KDH shows almost the identical slow slide in both MVK and FOCUS, dropping about a point over the last two months (and slightly more from earlier polls) to a level around 9%. [Polis shows a slight drop but from a higher initial point.  For KDH it is the range that is unclear–the 9% of FOCUS, the 11% of MVK or the 13% of Polis–while the pattern of slight decline in the most recent months is common to all polls].  Like SDKU, KDH is probably seeing some effects from the rise of SaS: there was always a small cadre of voters who would opt for KDH as an alternative to SDKU. Now they have another alternative.

SaS shows virtually the same jump in both FOCUS and MVK [and only slightly smaller in Polis] and to virtually the same level—around 11.5% [and 9% in Polis, but SaS has tended to lag in Polis polls]. I suspect that some of these voters will, in the final equation, fall back to SDKU or KDH, but for the moment SaS has done well in exciting voters and does not seem to have made any major mistakes.

Hungarian parties. Here is really the only place where the [three] sets of major polls show differences in trend and even then it is only to place them in the same positions. The MVK poll in April is virtually identical to that of February, with MKP-SMK around 6% and Most-Hid around 5%, a result also reached by FOCUS.  [In the Polis poll the numbers for the two parties are stable as in MVK but the percentages are almost precisely are reversed, as in last month’s FOCUS poll, with Most-Hid a point ahead of MKP-SMK, with both ahead of the 5% threshold.]  For a party with weaker organizational basis and history, Most-Hid’s decline to near the threshold [in FOCUS and MVK polls] must be rather worrisome for the party’s leaders, but what will happen here, however, remains extremely difficult to assess.

The current opposition, particularly the right has done well lately. The parliamentary right has dropped somewhat, but not much, and the rise of SaS recently is more than double the combined losses of SDKU and KDH. In fact both FOCUS and MVK show an overall rise for the three parties combined by a significant amount: about [4 points in Polis in the last six months] 6 points in FOCUS and about 8 points in MVK. This was a fairly predictable outcome, I think, as the campaign and the emergence of new parties gave the right a stronger focus and pushed at the relatively soft electoral support for the current government (exemplified by Radicova’s ability to reach near parity with Gasparovic in 2009). The ability of these parties to form a government is still a longshot, but these numbers probably better reflect the overall composition of opinion in Slovakia’s society (keeping in mind that some of the SaS support, I suspect, is not from the ideologically “right” but from dissatisfied “new party” support which had previously gone to Smer.

But the threshold will still be the key determinant.