Guest Blogger: Tim Haughton on Slovak Electoral Politics, Part I

More from wide-ranging Tim Haughton, who this time sacrificed dry feet to bring a full report of Tuesday’s political campaigning in Slovakia and showed his political acumen and intrepidity by going not to Bratislava, where everybody goes, but rather to Kosice.

How to Win Votes and Influence People – Some Reflections from Slovakia

Tim Haughton, University of Birmingham

It’s a question which excites and perplexes scholars and practioners alike: what kind of campaigning really works? How best can a political party spend its time and money to attract and hang on to the support of voters?

With the Czech vote behind us, I decide to head to the other half of the federation, where as all readers of this blog know, the Slovaks are gearing up for their elections. Opening the curtains of the sleeper carriage as the train pulls into Kosice station, I am greeted by the beaming smile of Vladimir Meciar, the three-time prime minister of Slovakia. His billboard promises ‘hovorit Pravdu, dat Pracu a urobit Poriadok’ [speak the truth, create jobs and ensure order].

The three Ps are capitalized, reminding me of Public Private Partnerships. Critics of Meciar’s time as prime minister (and indeed his party’s participation in the current government) might suggest that such PPP arrangements are about taking from the state to give to those near and dear to his party. A lucrative and successful partnership for some, but not for the coffers of the Slovak state. As readers of this blog know, Meciar’s People’s Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS), once Slovakia’s most successful electoral machine is in danger of falling below the 5% threshold. Perhaps to counter the widespread view that the party is a group of silver and grey-haired Meciar devotees, another poster at Kosice station depicts a large group of smiling twentysomethings, declaring that ‘And the young vote LS-HZDS’. Somehow I’m not convinced we will see a rush of first time voters racing to the polling stations to cast their votes for Meciar. The major challenge for Meciar’s party is to convince voters that it makes sense to support the party on 12 June. The party may still have brand recognition and one of the iconic figures in Slovak politics, but it looks and feels like a party well beyond its shelf-life which seems to have lost its raison d’etre.

The area around the station is full of billboards. Amongst those of the centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) are several of the Slovak National Party (SNS). SNS’s pitch to voters is to pluck at xenophobic and nationalist heart strings. Whilst one of the billboards declares the party’s desire to ensure ‘that our borders remain our borders’ (a clear criticism of the big neighbour to the south), another wants to ensure ‘we don’t feed those who don’t want to work’ underneath a picture of a large, heavily tattooed Roma. Given Presov’s large Roma minority, this is a poster which sadly might be quite effective.

On arriving at the station I endulge in my usual ritual of buying a range of different newspapers. The leading Slovak paper, Sme, is running a story on the recent TV clash between Prime Minister Robert Fico and the head of the SDKU-DS electoral list, Iveta Radicova. It doesn’t make happy reading for the latter (the majority thought Fico had won), but I wonder how much influence these duels really have. Having watched both British and Czech ‘prime ministerial debates’ in recent weeks, I’m reminded that they can generate plenty of press coverage, can seem to have changed the political landscape, but ultimately – in the British case in particular – may have had little impact. In the Czech case if they had any impact it may have been to persuade some undecided voters not to vote for either Necas or Paroubek.

Elsewhere the papers are full of comments reflecting on the impact of the Czech results on the Slovak elections, most of which miss the key factors. For my money, three points are worth stressing. Firstly, electoral thresholds matter and can consign an evergreen (no not the greens, but KDU-CSL) to life outside parliament. The fact that nothing is sacred and that even long-standing parties with seemingly loyal support bases can fail, is a lesson some Slovak parties will need to take on board. Secondly, CSSD’s disappointing result and Paroubek’s departure must have had a sobering effect on Fico. The combative party leader was Fico’s closest international partner who enthusiastically backed Fico in the 2006 election. He has been more than just a political ally as Fico’s attendance at Paroubek’s wedding (in the role of a witness if memory serves correctly) highlights. Thirdly, it has given a filip to the centre-right. ‘If it possible for the assorted forces of the right to defeat what they like to label “lefist populism” in the Czech Republic, then why not here’ , they proclaim?

After checking into my Kosice hotel I head back to the station to take the train to Presov. After having bought my ticket to Presov and a ticket for the sleeper back to Prague, I notice on the back of the ticket to Presov an SNS advert replete with a picture of the old-new party leader Jan Slota and his one-time successor and now predecessor as party leader Anna Belousovova. Moreover, on the back of the ticket sleeve for my ticket and sleeper reservation is an advert for Bela Bugar’s Most-HID party. These both strike me as clever strategies on the part of the parties. Unlike other campaigning materials voters are given, a train ticket is not heading straight for the rubbish bin and perhaps will be looked at more than one during the journey. Smer-SD activists have also been at work. The slow train from Kosice to Presov may not be a glamourous place to campaign, but a party supporter has clearly been hard at work and has left campaign literature material on each of the little tables next to the windows.

The desire to visit Presov is dictated not by a desire to leave Kosice, but to attend an SDKU-DS political meeting where all the party’s stars and wannbe bigwigs are scheduled to attend. Thanks to the inclement weather the outdoor meeting doesn’t begin as planned at 16:00, nonetheless, campaigning doesn’t stop. Decked out in blue waterproofs young activists distribute party material and in a clever touch reminding Slovaks that their team will play in the World Cup starting in a few days time, they give out a red card like the one used by football referees reminding voters to give Fico a ‘red card’ at the election. It is also fascinating to observe how the different politicians behave. Many of the less well-known politicians use the opportunity to circulate and give the waiting crowd their own electoral material. Thanks to the open lists, the possibility of preference voting means that it is important for these candidates not just to encourage citizens to vote for the party, but they need to plug themselves as well, especially if they are well down on the party list. Whatever the merits of such big rallies for the parties as a whole, they are valuable opportunities for wannabe parliamentarians.

Once the meeting starts it follows a clear script designed to build-up to a climax, blending music and speeches. The best speech of the night is given by former PM Mikulas Dzurinda. If a party funding scandal hadn’t forced him to step down as leader of the party list, he would be the most likely alternative to Fico as PM. Dzurinda delivers his five minute speech with gusto, reminding the audience of his governments’ successes, berating Fico for his mistakes, pointing to the success of the centre-right in the Czech Republic and imploring the good citizens of Presov to get out and vote on 12 June.

Tony Blair’s press guru Alistair Campbell and the spinmeister supreme Peter Mandelson were always keen on making sure all the details are correct, acutely aware of the importance of image and symbols. The SDKU-DS leadership, however, have clearly not studied the New Labour handbook. Indeed, I’m surprised by the little slip-ups in SDKU-DS’s otherwise well-presented (and apart from the late start) slick rally. Two of the slips are made by the two bands providing the music. One plays the riff from Bowie and Queen’s ‘Under pressure’ as they warm up. Well, maybe only I noticed that, but during the performance one band plays Bryan Adams’ ‘the summer of 69’. I’m not sure how many of the audience were paying that much attention, but surely a song which describes 1969 as the ‘best days of my life’ isn’t really an appropriate one in the former Czechslovakia. It might have been the ‘best days of my life’ if one’s name was Gustav Husak, but post-68 Czechoslovakia under normalization wasn’t for most Slovaks.

The other attention to detail seemingly missed by the organizers was the exact location of the stand. Whilst it is opposite one of the busiest bus stops in the city and a Tesco supermarket, it is right in front of the town’s main theatre where they are showing a performance of ‘Marie Antoinette’. As I see former finance minister Ivan Miklos and social affairs minister Ludovit Kanik (who introduced the tough neo-liberal welfare reforms during the last SDKU-DS-led government) standing next to the stage all I can think of is the former French Queen’s infamous line to the masses of Paris ‘Let them eat cake’. Perhaps I am reading to much into these observations, but anyone with a good camera and video recorder could at least use the images to poke some fun at SDKU-DS.

By the time Iveta Radicova speaks it is already over two and a half hours since the event was supposed to start and the rain has been almost unceasing. The water has seeped through the fabric of my shoes and has made my feet all wet. After a few words from the woman who could be prime minister in a few weeks time, all of the party candidates assemble on stage for the grand finale> a rousing rendition of the campaign song ‘Modra je dobra’ (‘Blue is Good’). It’s a great song, originally recorded by the Czech band ‘Zluty pes’, but after so long standing in the rain with soaking socks all I think about is that maybe ‘Modra je dobra, ale mokra nie je’.

Polls, Politics and Parties, Part 5: Who with Whom? Doing the coalition math

coal allWith 8 parties potentially entering Slovakia’s parliament there are 255 different coalition possibilities.  Fortunately, not withstanding Bismark’s aphorism that “Politics is the art of the possible,” there are quite a few coalition possibilities that we can exclude and in the end we can narrow down the possibilities to a relatively small number.  In the paragraphs below, I do this as systematically as I can by excluding (with great care) individual relationships that simply will not work and ranking others by probability, and then with guesses about which of the remainder will manage to muster a sufficient number of seats.  Those who don’t want to read the whole process by which I reached the answer can jump down to the bottom and look at the pretty graph:

Coalition (im)possibilities: What can we exclude?

I heartily accept Charles Dudley Warner’s conclusion that “Politics makes strange bedfellows” and I am no longer surprised when lifelong enemies join forces against a new opponent, so it is a dangerous business to say that “Party A” will not form a coalition with “Party B.”   In fact, as I learned the hard way, it is still a dangerous business even when the leader of “Party A” has said it himself.  For example:

(HZDS leader Vladimir) Meciar only ruled out post-election cooperation with the Slovak National Party (SNS). “This is because of its low political culture, vulgarism, and inclination toward unethical behavior, and I cannot cooperate with Jan Slota (SNS leader).” Sme, Tuesday, April 11, 2006 T08:49:17Z:

Since this statement led me to discount the combination that emerged 3 months later and that has governed in Slovakia during the past four years, I now think it wise to seek out other standards.  What leaders say can be helpful but only if backed up by something else.  Unfortunately, that something else is the rather insubstantial notion that barring alien invasion, some parties very reasons for being exclude coalitions with other parties and whose electoral existence would be threatened by the combination.  There are only a few of these:

  • Slovak National and Hungarian National:  It is hard to envision a coalition between the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Hungarian parties, Most-Hid and MKP-SMK.  It would be very hard for the Slovak National Party to accept partnership with parties it tried to ban, even if the Hungarian parties were willing to accept.
  • Left and Right:  It is hard to envision a coalition between Smer and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) or the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU).  This one’s a bit less certain because the economic dimension is not quite as bitter as the national one, but from its beginning SaS pointed to Smer as its chief opponent and differentiated itself from other parties on its same side of the political spectrum (especially SDKU) precisely on its unwillingness to form a coalition with Smer.  For an older, more established party, it might be possible to go back on the promise, but SaS doesn’t have too much else to offer.

coal1This reduces the range of party relationships a bit and drops the total number of coalition permutations to 119:

The next step is to eliminate combinations that are highly unlikely, on the basis of leader statements backed by some fundamental opposition that would cost a party major support if it joined with another.  Here I would suggest several candidates:

  • Right and Slovak National: KDH, SDKU and SaS are highly unlikely to form a coalition with SNS.  It is not impossible that right-wing parties might join with SNS, but it is hard to imagine the circumstances.  SNS has used such strong national rhetoric and has faced so many corruption allegations that even Smer has found the combination difficult.  For the right wing parties, whose voters are less nationally oriented and who are likely more sensitive than Smer to the opinions of international partners, the combination would be even more difficult.  Furthermore, any seats that SNS would bring to a right-wing coalition would be more than offset by the loss of any possibility of Hungarian seats.
  • Let and Right: It is also hard to envision a coalition between Smer and SDKU.  At one time the combination seemed utterly impossible given Fico’s hatred for Dzurinda; now that Dzurinda will no longer be the electoral leader of SDKU, it might be a bit easier, but Fico has just as much disdain for one of the leading candidates for SDKU leader–Miklos–and the other leading candidate, Radicova has recently sharpened her rejection of this kind of coalition.

coal2Since coalitions can occur only if all parties are willing to pair with all others, this drops the number of permuations to a (slightly) more reasonable 83.

In addition to these, there are a number of hard relationships, those which would be made difficult either by personal animosity or by potential loss of support.  This category—where I should have placed HZDS-SNS in 2006—is a bit larger but doesn’t help us much as it merely raises the cost of coalitions rather than preventing them altogether.  Still, these combinations are worth noting as “expensive”

  • Right and Slovak national.  It is not impossible to exclude a coalition between HZDS and KDH, SaS, MKP-SMK and Most-Hid, but past conflicts between HZDS and the right and Hungarian national parties are still vivid enough that such a coalition, while possible, would not be easy.  KDH in particular has resisted any connection with HZDS but the Hungarian parties are also disinclined.  SaS leader Sulik has moved from a statement that a coalition with HZDS would be a lesser evil, to a statment that HZDS leader Meciar should be “behind bars.”
  • Left and Right.  The only left-right coalition not excluded above is Smer with KDH.   This is the one that is merely unlikely rather than hard to imagine.  The coalition would be hard to accept for Smer voters and especially hard for KDH voters.  Recent comments by KDH chair Figel about Smer are sharper than in the past and a coalition would likely hurt KDH with its supporters, but it can’t be excluded entirely.
  • Left and Hungarian national.  Both Hungarian parties, for their part, seem desirious enough of entering government that they would probably be able to overlook Smer’s past rhetoric on national questions but Smer has put a lot of energy into criticizing Hungarians and so would find it difficulty (though probably not impossible) to choose a Hungarian partner as it would lose a relatively strong electoral appeal.  Since, as below, Most-Hid and MKP-SMK are not getting along well at the moment a coalition between Smer and only one of the Hungarian parties would be slightly less fraught, but might be no more desirable to Smer and would have a lower chance of gaining a majority.
  • Hungarian and Hungarians.  Ultimately a conclusion may well include MKP-SMK with Most-Hid but doing so will take some work as the leaders of the two parties dislike each other intensely and the rhetoric has becoming sharper.


We can also do a preliminary assessment of the mathematical possibilities of coalitions, using a maximalist version of current party support.  A coalition of SDKU and SaS might work nicely but the party has no practical chance of a parliamentary majority.  We can exclude electorally impossible coalitions by taking current poll results and (for safety’s sake) giving each party a 30% bonus (assuming maximal poll error in a party’s favor).  This brings the number of even barely viable coalitions down to “only” 27.

From this, furthermore, we can remove 7 coalitions as containing redundant members (eliminating the smallest still leaves more than 80 seats by current estimates).  This brings us down to 19.

Coalition possibilities: What’s left:

For simplicity we can further categorize these coalitions by similarities among members.  The graph below tries to makes sense of these many options by comparing them along two axes:  from left to right a internal compatibility of coalitions (related to the “expensiveness” of coalition pairings discussed above but based on my own highly-arguable judgment rather than any quantitative measure) and from bottom to top an expected number of seats based on current month polls.  Least likely coalitions are in the lower left; most likely in the upper right.

coalition matrix

The coalitions in terms of likelihood are, therefore:

  • coal lsnSmer + Slovak National:  From an electoral perspective, the current coalition has a strong chance of return, and is not utterly unpalatable for the coalition members.  Slightly more internally compatible would be a subset of the current coalition—Smer with either HZDS or SNS—but this has a somewhat lower chance of sufficient electoral success.
  • coal lhnSmer + Hungarian National: A coalition between Smer and both Hungarian parties is electorally possible but less mutually desirable by its member.
    • Smer + Hungarian National + Slovak National: Adding HZDS to this mix is theoretically possible but probably would not be necessary in electoral terms and would add consideral internal incompatibility
  • coal lrSmer + Right: It is hard to imagine a coalition between Smer and a “right” party except KDH and even this would be unappetizing for Smer (though perhaps moreso than a coalition with Hungarian parties) and even less so for KDH.
  • Right + Hungarian National: A coalition resembling the 2002-2006 Dzurinda government is coal rhncertainly a possibility in terms of internal compatibility (these parties conflicted with one another when in government but seem willing to tolerate one another rather than see another Fico government).  From an electoral perspective, however, these are highly unlikely.
    • Right + Hungarian National + Slovak National: Adding HZDS to this coalition could perhaps coal rhnsnpush this coalition into a parliamentary majority but only by adding so much internal incoherence as to make it highly unlikely.  It is hard to imagine what incentives could inspire HZDS to chose this coalition rather than one with Smer but the party is certainly relying on having more bargaining potential than SNS, for whom Smer is the only coalition choice.

Both of these are only very rough indicators of the actual factors (coalitionability and electoral strength) but they are the best I can come up with at the moment.  I will try to nuance these as the election nears.  One nuance, worth thinking about now, however, is the fact that Slovaka’s electoral system does not make a smooth equivalence between seats and votes but rather imposes (as most countries do) a 5% threshold.  Since 5 of Slovakia’s 8 major parties have support near 5%, a small change in support can have major impact on the composition of parliament and these deserve consideration in the next post.

Wanted: Effective journalism in Slovakia

Median logoI know Slovakia’s journalists are overtaxed with all that is required of them, but there are things they could do to make things better without too much extra work.  Case in point: today all major Slovak news sources today report, almost word for word, a press release from the firm Median reporting poll results from July:

The reports differ a bit, of course: SME and TA3 have a graph, Pravda has a table with past results from Median, HN relates the results (with no actual evidence) to the effect of recent scandals.

What none of them does is to answer the important question about Most-Hid.  Median, for reasons that are not clear, does not report on parties that do not cross the 5% threshold, and all the papers report that fact.  What they do not do is to say just how well Most-Hid actually did.  Here’s where journalism comes into play.  If the role of journalist goes beyond simply typing (or in this case probably pasting what others send to you) then it may be to try to find answers to important questions.

So here’s my suggestion: call Median and ask them 

If Median won’t answer, ask them why.  Focus reports its polling results with an extremely detailed and effective one-page report.  UVVM used to do the same.  There is no reason the papers should print Median’s results unless they are willing to rise to the same (bare minimum) standards. If Median won’t play that way, write a story about the fact that Median won’t provide necessary information):

If Median won’t answer and you still want to figure out something about Most-Hid’s initial support (a quite important detail), here’s my second suggestion: do some math.

If you add up the total support for the parties listed by Median in past polls, you get a consistent result of about 97% for May and June.  That means other parties are getting about 3% (specifically 3.1% in May and 3.3% in June).  If you add up the total support for July you get 92.3%.  That means other parties got 7.7%.  Of course this doesn’t tell you how well particular parties did, but it’s worth reporting that the “Other” number rose by 4.4% and citing the FOCUS numbers which show that support for below-threshold parties actually did not change systematically during the same period (9.0% in May, 12.5% in June, 10.2% in August), meaning that a large share, of not all of the 4.4% probably went to Most-Hid.

Total cost of these important details: one phone call and/or 2 minute 3o seconds of addition and subtraction.

If this lack of effort applies in this specific area, it’s probably also true in areas where I do not read.  It’s time for Slovaks to demand better journalism.

August 2009 Poll Results: Bending The Mold

Poll results, last 12 monthsThe pattern looks familiar and the lines haven’t changed much, but there are a few ways that this month’s results by FOCUS change our understanding of the current political competition.

I have actually been fearing this change for a long time–not because of the actual politics involved but because of the emergence of a new party.  The graphs in this blog are the product of a long and complex process of fighting with Excel to produce results that can be read by Google’s chart API (about which I understand little, but which is quite remarkable).  That process has produced an elaborate set of calculations which are, unfortunately, based on the presumption of a certain set of parties (and only those parties) gaining election to parliament.  This month holds quite a few big changes in public opinion and one of those–the emergence of Most-Hid with just over 5% of the vote–means that my old systems won’t work anymore.  This is good news, in a sense, because it gives me the impetus to find a solution that will not require as much work (calculating in Excel, creating the google charts, posting separately to Google Docs), but for the moment it makes things more difficult.  I will therefore resort to Excel charts for awhile.  And now, after that pointlessly detailed introduction (I buried the lead again), the graphs and then some thoughts on anybody should care:

Poll results, last 12 months

And the same graph without the distorting scale effects of Smer:

Poll results, last 12 months minus Smer

1. Most-Hid might make it into parliament
This may not be a surprise (Bugar is quite popular among Hungarians) but it is important, and the way the numbers fell is important in several ways:

  • Most-Hid v. SMK is not exactly a zero-sum game.  This month’s 5.3 score for Most-Hid came at relatively little cost to SMK which has dropped only about 1 percentage point in the last 4 months.  Of course SMK has dropped quite a few percentage points since Csaky became party chairman (and even before while Bugar was still chair) but it would appear that the party has brought disaffected Hungarians back into the political system rather than stealing directly from SMK.  As a result, Hungarian parties combined scored the best public opinion result that Hungarian parties have received in almost 5 years (since January 2005).  All of the opposition’s gains this month can be traced to that single re-mobilization.
  • Both can get into parliament.  There has been some discussion about whether the two parties might split the vote down the middle (as SNS and PSNS did in 2002) and lose representation altogether.  The results from today suggest that a 50-50 split is actually an ideal result for the Hungarian population in Slovakia.  More worrisome would be a 60-40 split, cutting the Hungarian representation nearly in half.  Of course there are some who suggest that infighting among Hungarian parties could disaffect enough to push Hungarian turnout so low that a 50-50 split would deny representation to both, but this month’s good results come after bitter conflict, so it is hard to imagine how bitter the conflict would need to become to provoke the worst case scenerio.
  • Things are far from over.  It may be that these two parties split the Hungarian vote.  It is more likely that one will tend to prevail over the other, either Most-Hid because of more dynamic leadership or SMK because of stronger organization and tradition.  This is one of the keys to the outcome of the next election so it bears considerable watching.

2. SaS has a (small) chance
This is something of a stretch because the party is only at 3.4%, but unlike the other small parties on the “right” it shows a positive trajectory.  KDS has stalled below 0.5%, and Liga appears stillborn (in eight months of polls the party has racked up a total–not average, total–of 1.4%).  OKS and ANO are effectively dead and DS and Misia21 exist only on paper (and barely there).  The big loser in this is probably Slobodne Forum which looked to be doing well in late spring, but SaS’s much better performance in the Europarlament elections appears to have given it the edge.  We have too little data to tell if it is a meaningful pattern, but SaS’s growth so far has been almost perfectly proportional to SF’s decline.

3. Smer’s recent decline continues
There is no real cause for gloom in the party (it is still almost three times the size of the next largest alternative) but it has dropped by nearly 10 percentage points from its (admittedly unrealistic) peak of early this year (when it was four times the size of the next largest alternative).  Since the 2006 election the party has peaked and waned five times, so the variability is nothing new, but this is the first time that the party has dropped sharply from a plateau rather than from a peak.  Of course it is safe never to rule out the possibility of recovery to new heights, but it is more likely that the weight of a poor economy and a large number of corruption scandals, some perhaps not so minor, have begun to take away some of the luster.  This may not be a huge loss for the party as many of those shifting away are likely the supporters who wouldn’t bother to turn out to vote for it (as they didn’t in the Europarliament elections).

How it adds up (Smer’s threshold for success)
The big question is the intersection of the points above:  the emergence of Most-Hid creates two parties that may or may not pass the 5% threshold.  SaS adds a third.  HZDS is the fourth (the party got a slight reprieve this month but even with that the 6-month, 12-month and 48 month trendlines show it dropping below the 5% threshold by spring and only the 24 month trendline puts above by about 0.5 percentage points, though the party’s loyal base also makes it necessary to adjust the numbers upward a bit in its favor).  Since each of these parties could dispose of between 3% and 6% of the overall vote and since the magical 5% makes or breaks the party’s parliamentary representation, a lot will be riding on the results.  My preliminary calculations suggest that in a worst case scenario for Fico–if SaS, Most-Hid, SMK and HZDS all made it into parliament–Smer would need 41% to be able to form  a two-party government with SNS (assuming that SNS’s preferences do not also continue to decline), though it could also settle for a three-party coalition identical to the current one (and it could sustain that coalition even if its own preferences dropped as low as 31%).  If HZDS failed to pass the threshold, Smer would gain some seats from the redistribution but not enough to overcome the loss of a potential coalition partner:  if HZDS falls and both Hungarian parties and SaS survive, Smer would need all of its current 38% to form a two party coalition with SNS.  Of course it is unlikely that all three of the smaller opposition parties would succeed.  If one of them fails, Smer could get by with 33% and if two of them fail, the Smer could form a majority two-party coalition even if it got only 28%.

This all deserves more thought and calcluation.  With any luck I will have opportunity to do just that.

Less than perfect public opinion coverage in Slovakia

 [Citajte post aj po slovensky]

“Less than perfect” could be the title of nearly post on polling coverage in Slovakia (hence, in many ways, this blog), and I shouldn’t be too critical but today both major papers went out of their way to mangle polling data.

In SME: “New party Most already clearly drawing Csaky voters” cites a Polis poll showing SMK at 5.7%.  Not only does the paper fail to assess whether Polis does good polls (they use telephone surveys which are problematic and they haven’t released a party poll for a long time so we just don’t know for sure–but more on that in a later post) but it suggests a trend–and a causal relationship even–on the basis of one data point.  We simply don’t know how SMK polled in previous Polis polls this year because there haven’t been any (at least I haven’t seen any and the paper certainly doesn’t provide them, using the 2006 elections as a frame of reference, as if that told us about polling trends).  Other polls did show SMK higher in previous months, but all polls do not sample populations the same way, and even UVVM had trouble with even samples of the Hungarian population (, and showed a result for SMK as low as 6.7% in September of 2008.  I’m not saying that Most-Hid is not pulling away SMK voters–in fact I suspect it is–but there’s no way of knowing it from the information we’ve got here.

In some ways worse, both SME and Pravda use the same data set to talk about the woes of HZDS.  SME simply makes the same mistake as above, suggesting that “HZDS continues to decline” on the basis of only the one Polis poll, without attending to the fact that different polls show different levels for parties and ignoring the fact that this month’s FOCUS poll show’s HZDS rising by more than a point, from 4.2 to 5.3.  Pravda’s story, “Meciar not bothered by polls does something rather worse, citing not only the Polis poll but also the numbers from FOCUS for April (4.8) and May (4.2) without feeling obliged to report the big increase reported in June.  It is clear to me that HZDS is in trouble, (and these microtrends usually don’t add up to anything, so I wouldn’t argue that HZDS support is actually increasing), but citing the first two numbers of a sequence of three seems a bit beyond the pale when the third number tells the opposite story.