Parties, Polls and Politics in Slovakia: Part 1 of a multi-part series.

p0Lots of news from Slovakia in the past two weeks, some obvious and some not. In addition to changes in Slovakia’s leading opposition party SDKU-DS, the reports of recent days have also included a series of other minor revelations and lots and lots of polling data including some new sources.  I’ll try to address some of the quick and ephemeral issues in the next blog entry and then on to something more systematic.

It is my hope over the next several weeks to look at Slovakia’s party system in some detail as summary of the year past and preparation for the busy electoral season ahead (though the campaign’s been in full swing since Christmas). In particular I want to look at long term polling data for each of the major parties, looking at trends in support, the relationship of poll numbers to internal party politics and the relationship of polls to election results.  I’ll be posting those as “Parties, Polls and Politics” and tagging them as “ppp” and they’ll serve as the basis of better analysis come election time.

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.

June 2009 FOCUS Results

FOCUS Monthly Report, June 2009

[Citajte post aj po slovensky]

With no more results from UVVM to kick around anymore and only irregular announcements from MVK, we’re left with FOCUS (quite a good poll but it was always better to have a comparison set) though “Median” appears for better or worse to be filling some of the void (more on this in a future post).  As a result, I’ve temporarily adapted my monthly tracking graphs from UVVM to FOCUS and will use those until I can shift to a new visualization system this fall (with any luck).

UVVM+poll+data+ for +all+parties+ for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia
This overall long-term graph of poll results for FOCUS shows, amid the overall stability, several minor shifts, most notably a drop in Smer, fairly consistent over the last months (and also suggested in the final, unpublished UVVM numbers) from its highs at the beginning of the year. Given past disastrous guesses, I’ve withheld judgment on this, but, I’d now guess that January 2009 might prove to be Smer’s all time record high point (more on that in a later post).  Also obvious is SDKU again separating itself from the pack in the middle, both because SDKU is doing better and because its closest competitor, SNS is doing worse.  That middle “Gang of 5” parties all around 9% has largely disappeared now that SDKU is doing so much better and because HZDS is doing so much worse (though it has picked up slightly this month and moved back above the 5% threshold).  In fact HZDS is now closer in preferences to KSS and SF than to any of the current parliamentary parties (Median’s numbers for HZDS are higher).  The gang of 5 is likely to disappear altogether next month if Most-Hid manages to pick up a significant number of SMK voters.  Over the coming months I will be reworking the system to include the many smaller parties that have emerged of late and about which FOCUS now asks explicitly.  For the moment it is worth noting that the Greens (SZ) and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) now accompany KSS and SF in the 1-3% range whereas the Conservative Democrats (KDS), Civic Conservatives (OKS) and Civic Liberals (Liga) languish with ANO and HZD under 1%.
UVVM+poll+data+ for +all+parties+except+Smer+ for the most recent +4+months+ in Slovakia

As a result of these shifts the long-term graph of poll results for coalition and non-coalition parties shows something of a narrowing, though not one that should give too much joy to the current parliamentary opposition, because a large and increasing of those “non-coalition” votes are actually votes for parties that are either not ideologically in sync with the current opposition (KSS) or parties that probably won’t make it into parliament unless there is some consolidation of small parties on the right (SaS, SF, Liga, ANO, KDS, OKS).

UVVM+poll+data+ for +coalition+support for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

The long-term graph of poll results for (loosely defined) party “blocs” parties shows a steady drop over time for the more explicitly national parties (though recovering a bit in the last three months from record lows, with many of those voters apparently shifting over to Smer while the “right” remains relatively stable (this graph does not include the non-parliamentary parties on the right).

UVVM+poll+data+ for +party+'blocs'+ for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

For all these slow shifts, Smer is in no danger yet of needing two coalition partners.  One will do.  Though speculation has involved the possibility that the “one” in question might be SDKU, I suspect that if things stay as they are, Fico’s partner will be whichever party is weakest and least likely to threaten Smer’s control.

Multiple-poll+average+ for +estimated+party+seat+distribution for the most recent +1+month+ in Slovakia

Multiple-poll+average+ for +estimated+party+seat+distribution for the most recent +24+months+ in Slovakia

Sorry, but I won’t be posting of full poll numbers this month or any time soon until I get the new system worked out.  More soon on the polls by “Median”.