Slovakia Voter’s Guide, Part II

2010 Slovakia Voter’s Guide.

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

Poland Voter's Guide, Ben Stanley 2014

Poland Voter’s Guide, Ben Stanley 2014

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

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

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

slovakia voting flowchart 2014 portrait_sm


Slovakia’s Presidential Election: What the numbers say.

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

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

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

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

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

Source for all tables and charts:, and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship between candidate vote in the first and second rounds

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

Relationship between candidate vote and gain in the second round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Moving Picture:
Old patterns filtered by new choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia: The Building Blocs of Success

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

Keeping a careful eye on Slovakia's elections. Photo courtesy of Reuters (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Volby 2012: FOCUS poll actually does show what Slovak press says it does… but context matters more

According to press reports in SME and Pravda, the most recent FOCUS poll shows the party Smer-SD with a commanding lead and the capacity to gain a majority of seats in parliament.  And for once those press reports are correct.  This does not mean that Smer will win the majority, but this FOCUS poll is a fairly strong sign of the party’s raw level of support.

Three quick points:

  • First, this is the first time I have seen a convincing suggestion of the possibility of a one-party government for Smer, because here Smer manages to go above 75 even without have all other factors in its favor.  In many scenarios, Smer is able to get into power on its own only if all of the small parties (including SNS) should fail.  In this case, however, Smer’s gains its majority at the same time that SNS narrowly beats the threshold.  I would still put the odds well against this outcome, but I am now at least willing to take it seriously.
  • Second, it points to the relative role of the two factors that will affect Smer’s success: it’s own level of support and the support of those around it, particularly those near the threshold.  Smer’s 45.1% in November translated into 79 seats while its only slightly lower performance in previous FOCUS poll in October–43.1%–translated into only 70 seats.  Why the 9-seat difference?  The 2% rise in Smer’s preference actually contributed only 2 or 3 seats and would not alone have given the party a clear majority.   What is crucial here is that in the November poll 13.8% of the population supported parties that did not exceed the 5% threshold, whereas in October the share was only 7.4%.  That, plus a few small differences in the way the opposition vote is distributed explains 5-6 of Smer’s seat total.  In a rather literal sense here, it is not the size of the Smer vote, but the motion of the small waves around it that make a difference.  
  • Third, it is worth noting that if Smer becomes convinced that it can achieve a consistently high level of support at this level, it may begin take a different approach toward SNS.  In 2010 Smer’s failure to form a goverment had quite a bit to do with the significant drops of both SNS and HZDS–drops that Smer helped to encourage–and its inability to find other partners.  According to that thinking, Smer has clearly set out to make sure that other parties might consider it (particularly Most-Hid and perhaps KDH or even SDKU), but it has always kept SNS in its pocket as well, if only as a bargaining chip.  According to the current FOCUS scenario, however, at any level of Smer support above 35%, the failure of SNS to pass the 5% threshold actually help Smer, because half of the 8 seats that would have gone to SNS go to Smer and raise it to majority status.  It might be a bit too early for Smer to gamble on undercutting its closest political partner, however, because as the previous point suggests, relatively minor changes in circumstances have a big effect on the level at which SNS goes from hindrance to help.  Even having both Hungarian parties exceed the 5% threshold would give Smer pause, since in that case Smer would need over 41% to be able to regard SNS as a hindrance.   But don’t take my word for it: try your own scenarios in the online calculator: online results calculator.

Slovakia Polling Update, November 2: MVK and Polis

In the wake of the fall of the government, we’ve now gotten a few new polls from firms that are less frequent to offer them, particularly Polis (last week) and MVK (t0day).  Despite the headlines which regard these as items of “news,” both of these are interesting in the ways that they show very little shift.  Full results are on the dashboard, but a few thoughts without the fanciness of including party logos.

First, it is notable that in the last two elections Polis has produced results closer to the actual outcome than any other firm.  MVK has done rather worse, with some quite significant problems.  This does not undercut MVK a priori, but it does suggest caution regarding any trends that appear only in MVK data.

Now on to the party-by-party:

  • Smer shows stable preferences in both of the new polls but the difference is quite significant: high 30’s in MVK and mid-40’s in Polis, a difference of about 20 percentage points.  FOCUS and Median have tended to side with Polis in this, suggesting that the actual share of  preferences may not be as low as MVK finds, though how this plays out in terms of turnout could be a different story.
  • SNS is also stable for both, with a slight decline for both MVK and Polis.  But since SNS was already below the threshold for both, its absence from parliament according to these predictions is relatively old news.  FOCUS and Median, however, tend to put SNS above the threshold, allowing it a strong claim to the status of “most uncertain.”
  • HZDS is also stable in both.  Stable here, however, is extremely bad news for the party which appears to have flatlined around 3%.  Jumpstarting the heart here looks unlikely.
  • SDKU shows a big post-Euroval drop, probably not due here to the news about Radicova’s departure from the party (which hadn’t yet become public when the polls were taken) but due to its inability to master the difficulties of a difficult coalition (and perhaps, though I can’t say) because of the return to prominence of Miklos and Dzurinda…  It is fascinating to me that one of the questions in SME’s betting pool is “will SaS get more votes than SDKU” and that at present a significant number of bettors say “yes.”
  • Toward that end, SaS does show a big leap in both polls (as it did in last month’s FOCUS poll.  The party may really have figured this one out in the short run, finding an issue to resurrect its long slow slide to obscurity (a la ZRS, SOP, ANO, VV).  Whether it pays in the long run depends on who gets to form the next coalition, but even there it is hard to expect that a right wing coalition would rather go with Fico than SaS, however unreliable it may seem.
  • KDH maintains its stable 9% with no clear patterns.  This one seems simply to depend on the polling and who’s at home on a given day.  I wonder, though, if the party will be able to maintain that stability if it goes into coalition with Smer, something party leaders are not now ruling out.
  • With the Hungarian parties there is a drop for Most-Hid and a bit of a drop for MKP-SMK as well.  The real question here, however, is the relative strength and ability to cross 5%.  On this Most-Hid still seems to have the upper hand, but there will be a lot of strategic voters on election day who could tolerate either one and will be voting to get the other one in.  The problem comes if too many do that and the leader then falls short (as may have happened with last-minute shifts from SKM to underdog Most-Hid in 2010) .  For the moment the two parties have rejected coalition so they may be willing to risk defeat for the possible chance of a significant gain.

None of these results provide much new information.   Except for the recovery by SaS (which may fade) not much has changed from previous months.  That in itself may be news.  And so (to a lesser degree) is the fact that this blog is going ot have to change to offier placements and lines in the graph for the new parties Ordinary People (OL) and Nation and Justice (NAS) which are going to need their own lines and pages.  Both appear in the new MVK poll (MVK had included them even before their formal registry and while neither would make it into parliament, both appear to have a dampening effect on related parties: OL gets nearly 4%, while NAS gets 1%.  More on that in another post.

Slovakia, what comes next? Scenarios and results generator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What all of this means

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

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

Slovakia and the Euro Bailout: What happened? What next? (Part II, Making a short story long)

Work in progress here, but I wanted to get out the first half while anybody was still interested.  Before I get to that, however, a bit of news:

Slovak media is reporting an agreement: Smer will support the EFSF package in a vote to be held Friday at the latest in return for early elections on March 10, 2012.

Those with no interest in Slovakia are now free to go.

If you’re still interested, know that Slovakia’s upcoming electoral environment is not far distant from its environment five months before the 2010 election (one that seems just months ago). The parties of the current opposition, the left-national Smer and far-national SNS (along with their ever-shrinking ally, Meciar’s HZDS) are together polling at a level that would secure them 82-84 seats, about 8 more than half. On one hand, this is actually /lower/ than level that the same parties polled at the same time distance ahead of the 2010 election. On the other hand at that time those parties were in government and liable for any and all scandals that emerged. This time the “incumbents” will be the parties that are now behind. Once again the key to the Slovak election results will be the performance of small parties. There are five parties hovering within 2 points of the 5% threshold: the Slovak National Party, the SaS (which just voted against the EFSF), Most-Hid (the Hungarian party in government), SMK-MKP (Most-Hid’s rival currently out of government but making up ground) and, probably out of contention but still hanging around, Meciar’s HZDS. There is also the spectre of at least two new parties: Igor Matovic’s Ordinary People (OL) (which emerged when OL delegates unexpectedly gained parliamentary seats on the SaS through extensive use of preference votes) and Anna Belousovova’s Nation and Justice (NaS), a splinter of SNS. Both of these just might have a chance of picking off disaffected voters.

Any combination of SNS, NAS or HZDS in parliament probably means a Fico government. The absence of all three would make a Fico government very difficult, but a non-Fico government that includes the members of the current coalition and SaS and/or SMK-MKP would require a lot of willingness to forgive recent, raw wounds.

I have now finished the unfinished analysis of 12 October and moved it here:

Slovakia Dashboard News, May 2011: In the Direction of a Majority?

Big poll yesterday from FOCUS and I’m trying to get back into the habit of updating these posts when big polls come out, so here goes a try at a quick review of recent public opinion polling events.

The big picture is, as it has been in the past 12 months, a shift away from the government coalition toward the opposition, a shift that has cost the coalition 10 percentage points over the last year and benefited the parliamentary opposition–especially Smer–by about the same amount.  The pattern is an almost mirror image of the last months of the 2006-2010 Fico government, though (as the graph below shows) slightly shallower.  With this month’s polling results, put the current coalition and opposition and opposition almost exactly where they were in January 2010, just six months before the election.

As I noted previously, this can’t be good news for the Radicova government or bad news for the opposition–especially Fico’s Smer–but it is interesting to think how pleased the then-opposition was in January 2010 about its gains in the previous year.  Of course now it’s in the same numerical position and sliding.

As before, the other noteworthy point is the internal composition of the coalition and opposition according to these polls.  Compared to January 2010, Smer has strengthened at the expense of SNS and HZDS.  Within the current coalition, the party strengths have remained surprisingly stable, and the drop has come largely from the ebb in support for SaS, which is not unpredictable but a bit worrisome for the coalition since its current majority would have been impossible without a new party to woo to the polls those secular pro-market voters who were disillusioned with Dzurinda’s SDKU.

Since I am moving now into individual parties, it is relevant to talk about some significant points in the month’s new data:

Parties Below the Threshold:
So one month after describing HZDS and MKP-SMK as “perennials in decline” both parties demonstrate a recovery.  Neither is back above the threshold, and neither is likely to be (except in coalition with somebody else) but they are not in free fall.  For both parties it is notable that two very different polls show parallel patterns of stabilization (for MKP) and slight rise (for HZDS), but also that the absolute levels are very different.  For HZDS, the Median polls have been consistently about a point higher than those of FOCUS, whereas for MKP it is the FOCUS polls that show results a stable 2+ points higher.  The firm Polis has only issued results of one poll this year, in early May, so we do not have a closer trendline, but the overall results are in line with the other polls: for MKP-SMK Polis has tended over time to find a middle level and does so again (an almost perfect mathematical mean of FOCUS and Median); for HZDS, Polis tends to find lower results than other polls (and in this proved the most accurate in the 2010 election) and it does so again in May with a result of 2.5.  A few more Polis polls would help the trendline, but it does not seem to be in their current plan.

The New Parties:
As may perhaps be expected of new parties with less stable electorates (though in retrospect that is simply conjecture and not something I know to be true from any research), Most-Hid and SaS have shown considerable change over time and almost random differences among polls.

All three recent polls put Most-Hid between 5 and 7 percentage points, but the range and patterns vary: FOCUS polls show a sharp decline from last month which was a sharp rise from the month before (suggesting a certain amount of noise around the 6% mark); Median polls show a drop and recovery.  Polis shows stabilization around 7% but with few monthly polls to show any recent pattern.

The decline of SaS has begun to look more serious.  A high result from Median in April contrasted with a low result from FOCUS so it was hard to tell.  This month all three polls show a drop, extremely sharp in FOCUS and (especially) Median and significant for Polis (which had shown the significant drop already late last year).  Given its current level and trajectory, the party will need significant positive news not to fall below the electoral threshold in one of the next two or three polls and produce the headline “SaS falls from parliament” which can itself encourage further out-migration.  Will its voters go to SDKU or to yet another new party?

The Small Perennials

Among the small but enduring parliamentary parties there is often not much to say.  This month is not much of an exception.

KDH tends to float between 8 and 10.  It is coming off a recent bulge last year when it moved above 10 for awhile, but now it is back down below 10.  There has been a bit of noise here: FOCUS put it below 7 last month but now has it back near 10.  Median has shown it consistently around 10.  Polis, showed a sharp drop last year and has it below 7.  The real answer is probably around 8 or 9, but that’s been the best guess for KDH for about the last 17 years whether one reads polls or not.

The overall trajectory of SNS is flat (which is good news for SNS since its trajectory has been one of consistent decline over the last 2 years and since it does not have too far to go before it falls below the 5% threshold).   Polls seem to take turns being the outlier.  This month the outlier is FOCUS with 8% (last month FOCUS put SNS at 6%).  Median has maintained a more consistent level of around 6% in recent months.  Polis, which consistently polls low for SNS (though as with HZDS was most accurate in predicting election results) puts it below 5%.  The party may gain as voters forget its corruption scandals, but it is not at present built to sustain much more than 5% of relatively extreme voters for whom “the nation” is everything.

The Large Perennials

There’s no unifying story for the poll results of the two largest parties, so I won’t try to tell one.  Polls disagree this month about how much SDKU has dropped, while they all agree that Smer has risen.

SDKU has dropped in all three polls but beyond that there is no consensus.  Polis shows a small drop from a high level, keeping the party above 18%.  Median shows a slightly larger drop from a slightly lower level, putting the party just below 16%.  FOCUS shows a huge drop from about the same level, dropping it to just above 12%.  Quite frankly for a party leading an rather fractious coalition this is less of a drop than I would have expected, though they do appear to have solid economic results on their side.

The big story, of course, would seem to be Smer so it is rather unfair of me to leave it to the end.  Smer has made quite a show of raising May poles in recent years and so it is perhaps fitting (if bad punsmanship) to note that in this case the May polls raise Smer, and by significant margins: two points in FOCUS, to 47% four points in Median, also to 47%, and five points (over 6 months) in Polis to 45%.  Even more significant, perhaps, is that for once this improvement does not come at the expense of similar parties such as SNS and HZDS, both of which also rose or stabilized this month.  Of course Smer is the natural recipient of those discontented with the current government. It has been relentless and extremely effective in its pressure on the government in a whole variety of realms, with multiple and fairly significant social policy critiques each week, constant pressure on the national issue and with battles over the general prosecutor and an impressive ability to join forces with dissenting coalition deputies on particular votes. Smer’s work over the last year demonstrates the potentially of a disciplined, leader-driven party better than almost anything I’ve seen, and poll results in the 40% range should help it to keep that discipline by allowing it to promise the rewards of office after the next election.

And at present Smer can at least promise the rewards of a solo-government, which must sweeten the deal even more, reducing the worries of some (in the more cosmopolitan/international wing of Smer) about the need for a coalition with SNS.  The question, though, is whether Smer will act on the assumption of a solo government and go after the voting base of HZDS and SNS, perhaps only to find itself achingly close to forming its own government but lacking a few crucial votes and no easy partners, or whether it will try something new: either bolstering (or at least not undercutting) SNS to make sure that it returns to parliament, or cultivating potential allies among existing parties such as Most-Hid or KDH, or perhaps cultivating (even covertly seeding) a new party that could fill the gap potentially left by SaS in the next election.

New life for party systems (and blogs): Annuals and Perennials in Slovak Public Opinion

The beginning of a semester often means the end of active posting, and such was the case during the winter and spring of 2011–though indeed I took the absence of activity to rather absurd lengths–but the semester is now over and so I can again begin to post from time to time.  Although much happened in Slovakia and the Czech Republic in the last 4 months: coalition crises and fear of government collapse in both countries, not that much has happened in terms of public opinion (which—since others are much better positioned to handle the day-to-day political dynamic—is the main focus of my posts).

New season, same garden

Almost one year after the election, the polls suggest that elections would return a parliament relatively similar to the one Slovakia has now.  There are some shifts in relative proportions, and though these are not overwhelming, they deserve attention.  I will begin with the newly “locked-out” cases, then address the newly “locked-in” and finally take a brief look at the long-standing parties in the system (my colleague Tim-Haughton and I have taken to calling these “perennials” to describe their ability to withstand difficulties, as opposed to annuals that die each year and whose “type” survives only by reseeding).

The graphs are in the dashboard:

As often happens in Slovakia, electoral periods lock in an equilibrium for a period of time, particularly with reference to the 5% electoral threshold.  Parties that fall below the 5% threshold in elections tend to stay below (no party has returned to parliament without a coalition once it has fallen short of the threshold, and KSS is the only example of a party that has entered parliament after previously campaigning and falling short.  Indeed with the exception of KSS, SZS in the early 1990’s and HZD for 4 months in the summer of 2004, I can find no party that has even broken received 5% in opinion polls after previously having fallen short).  The same phenomenon works in the opposite direction—parties, once elected, tend to stay above the 5% threshold for a time—though the floor is far less stable than the ceiling.

Perennials in decline.

Two parties fell below the threshold in 2010 and show no sighs of being able to return at any time in the near future:

HZDS has maintained its steady decline after the election.  In some polls it now is no longer even listed.  This is remarkable feat for a party that once won a near majority of parliamentary seats—sustained, gradual decline over 7 election periods.  It is a testament both to the ability of its party leader to hold the party together and to what happens when there is only a party leader to hold a party together.

SMK is a fascinating case.  The party that dominated the Hungarian electorate for 10 years (and 10 years previously as an electoral coalition) has fallen to extremely low levels, suggesting an overall shift to Most-Hid.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that Most-Hid is run by the leader who led SMK during its dominant period and so in many ways this is merely a reshuffling of the same cards.

Annuals in bloom, but for how long?

The long-term exclusion of sagging older parties is far more likely than the long-term success of at least some new ones.  The asymmetry appears to affect SaS more than Most-Hid.

Most-Hid has the advantage of a relatively captive audience.  Hungarians in Slovakia have not typically voted for non-Hungarian parties, and so the decline of SMK and the rise of Most-Hid are nearly isometric.  Recovery by SMK might simply reverse the fortunes of these two parties or it might—if not too much blood has been shed or if enough time has passed since the bloodshed—lead to an electoral coalition of the sort that Hungarian parties in Slovakia used profitably for several election cycles in the 1990’s.  It would appear that Slovakia’s Hungarian population may be just a bit too big for only one party but too small for two fairly (but not perfectly) matched competitive parties).  The attached, rather ad hoc table helps to define the dilemma.

In countries where the population of a particularly captive (political scientists would use the world “encapsulated”) group is the leaders in the system have relatively little freedom to split without endangering the representation of the entire population:  if the encapsulated population is, for example, 7%, then even a gain of 30% of the population by an upstart party will push both old and new parties below a 5% parliamentary threshold.  If, on the other hand, the encapsulated population is more than twice the threshold, then even a nearly equal split will at worst reduce the representation of the group in half but will not eliminate it entirely.  If the encapsulated population is relatively large, say 17%, then even a 70%-30% split will allow both parties over the 5% threshold and there is little cost to the split.  Slovakia is right in the middle of these cases.  It’s 11% Hungarian population made a split within the SMK thinkable—it would likely not result in the elimination of both parties from parliament—but not safe, since anything less than a near perfect split would (and did) knock one party from parliament.  What happens with SMK and Most-Hid will likely depend on two factors: 1) the degree to which Most-Hid can capture the remaining share of the Hungarian vote (if it captures all of it, there is no incentive to change), and 2) the degree to which Hungarian leaders seek partisan advantage (one party triumphing over another even at the expense of a smaller Hungarian delegation) or ethnic advantage (one party accepting the other as a partner to maximize overall votes at the expense of party dominance).

SaS has seen a slight post-election decline after a rapid pre-election rise.  We have seen this pattern before in many similar parties—ZRS, SOP, ANO and Smer—but we have also seen two different endings.  In the case of SOP and to a lesser extent ZRS and ANO, party support followed an almost pure parabola (y=100-(x-10)^2), but in one other party—Smer—we saw the beginnings of decline followed by a subsequent rise.  Of course Smer ended up out of government after its first election and became a reservoir for disaffected voters and those who left HZDS.  SaS, by contrast, is saddled with governing responsibilities, few resources for party-building activities, and three deputies (until recently four) who were never part of the party to begin with and who have one foot out the door.  SaS has so far at least stayed out of the kind of internal trouble that will likely kill Veci Verejne in the Czech Republic (more on this in the next post) but its preference trajectory is not all that different from VV.  The matter is serious: as the graph shows, only one major new party has survived infancy and SaS does not possess the same favorable characteristics or the same preference trajectory.

The Small Perennials

There are only four parties in Slovakia that have managed a consistent level of preference and parliamentary representation, and even these are not exactly the sort of “stable, long term” party that is often extolled in the political science literature.  Two of these parties are relatively small but otherwise quite different: the Slovak National Party and the Christian Democratic movement:

About KDH there is little to say.  The party continues to demonstrate a noteworthy stability.  It ebbs and flows, largely in response to the attractiveness of adjacent parties such as SDKU and the success of its own political initiatives, but it stays between 8% and 10% in almost every poll.  While there is no clear proof of the proposition, KDH lends weight to inverse relationship between party stability and party leadership:  whereas other leader-centered parties have fluctuated wildly in the past (based in part on the decisions and reputation of the leader), KDH has changed its leader 3 times in regular cycles while remaining relatively consistent in terms of its policies, its electorate and, perhaps as a result, the size of that electorate.

About SNS there is more room for speculation.  SNS has, at least in some polls, halted the sharp decline in support that began in the 2008s, but the party’s support remains extremely close to the 5% threshold despite the continuation of sharp action by Hungary’s government (of the sort that conventional wisdom has linked to increases in SNS support). It is unlikely that former SNS president Anna Belousovova’s proposed new party will draw away too many of the faithful but SNS does not need to lose much to eliminate its parliamnentary representation.  The losses to Smer and the LS-NS in 2010 brought it within 2000 votes of the threshold.  A few additional losses to Belousovova could eliminate it entirely from parliament (as happened in 2002).

The Large Perennials

The two larger parties—Smer and SDKU—have engaged in sustained battle for the last 9 years, each vying for leadership, though the nature of “leadership” is different: Smer’s outsized lead over all parties, foe and friend alike, has allowed it to dominate its side of the political spectrum since 2004 or so, whereas SDKU must operate as a first among equals among its potential partners.  Ironically, the election of 2010 left Smer with a larger parliamentary delegation but pushed it out of government while allowing an electorally weaker SDKU lead the next government.

SDKU benefited from its “victory” with an increase in the share of its preferences to the highest sustained levels in the party’s history.  That this high-level should hover around 16% is an indication of the party’s lack of overall strength, but at least gives it a 2:1 lead over its next nearest coalition partner.  It is hard for me to judge why SDKU should be relatively successful while it leads a government that has been notable for its internal weaknesses and difficulty in achieving relatively clear-cut goals (such as the election of a general prosecutor), but it while it has had its share of minor scandal, it has at least stayed clear of deep level corruption (or at least the publicization thereof) and has addressed many of the more difficult allegations head on.

Smer has also risen in the last 10 months and by a relatively significant amount.  After receiving nearly 35% percent in the 2010 elections, it has increased its preferences until they nearly approach the party’s previous highs in early 2007 and early 2009.  The growth is impressive and Smer has done everything it could to remain actively part of the news cycle, with almost daily press releases, allegations and proposals and a party leader who is more accessible to (and less outraged by) the press.  But there are several reasons to view’s Smer’s resurgence with a bit of skepticism.

The first of these is that the party consistently does worse than its polling.  For several years this exhibited itself as a surprise in the elections.  Since 2006 it has been more a case of voters shifting their opinion (or their decision to vote at all) during the election campaign, so that Smer has not necessarily done worse than its election week polling but it has done considerably worse than its polling in 3-6 months before the election.  Of course in each case this could be the result of circumstantial changes (perception of a worsening economy likely had some effect on Smer support in 2010) but the pattern is fairly consistent and suggests a softness in the support for Smer that may remain: the party tends to attract the disgruntled but does not necessarily keep them on election day.

Even if Smer does keep all of its preferences, there is a second reason for caution about the share of Smer supporters.  As in the two previous elections, the big question for Smer is not its own success but that of its partners.  The collapse of HZDS and near collapse of SNS left Smer without any options for a governing coalition in 2010 even though it won by far the largest share of the vote.  The situation has, if anything, gotten worse.

In March of 2009, the ruling coalition of Smer-SNS-HZDS had 61.9% of the vote and could expect to win 110 of the 150 seats in parliament.  Of those, Smer alone had 45.2% of the vote and 73 seats, while its partners together had 16.7% of the vote and could expect 27 seats.  Exactly two years later, after a decline in 2010 and recovery through 2011, Smer again has 44% and which would give it 73 seats in parliament.  But its former coalition partners can now expect only 9.2% of the vote and only 10 seats.  And those 10 seats hang by a less-than-1% margin.  The graph below offers a clear picture of how the “national” and “extreme left” portion—the parties at the bottom—of the political spectrum have weakened over time.  Smer has likely absorbed much of the decline, but the segment has diminished even when Smer is added into the totals.  Its absorption of the nationally oriented segment of the electorate has come at some cost, apparently (or if not, then it has lost other voters for other reasons).  Smer is thus bigger but not so big that it can govern without others.  Smer still needs partners if it hopes to gain a parliamentary majority, but it has not yet figured out how to keep old friends (or at least keep them alive) or cultivate new ones.


One final note that will prove to be of great importance to this blog: I owe a debt for the collection and analysis of public opinion data over the last six months to Jozef Janovský, student of political science and international relations in the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Brno.  Over the coming months I hope to work woth Jozef and several other colleagues to broaden the kinds of resources that are available in this blog.  I’m thankful to Jozef for reaching out and offering his extremely capable assistance and I look forward to our collaboration.