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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spot the Problematic Poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spot the Ambitious (but Still Problematic) Poll

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

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

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

To Whom From Whom: Slovakia Electoral Shift Roundup

I had intended to post this tomorrow but SME just published an article on ebb and flow for the new parties SaS and Most-Hid based on a presentation by Olga Gyarfasova of IVO and so this is a good time to talk, if briefly, about where Slovakia’s voters are going and where they have come from.

First credit where it is due: thanks to Tim Haughton for finding and bringing to my attention an article in Pravda that presented data from an MVK about the stability of party electorates.  The graph made a decent point about the stability of party electorates (though I’ve argued above that these are not useful in predicting party results based on polls, making the statistic a rather academic one–not that there’s anything wrong with that) but also contained other data about where “non-stable” voters went that is in many ways more interesting because it helps to tell the story of where parties’ ebbs or flows are coming from.  That data, and the scale of the flows, was unfortunately buried in the graph and extremely hard to read.

So, with typical obsessiveness about graphics and a desire to avoid other work, I transformed this chart (more quickly than I thought I could) into something that told the story in a more complete way:

In this graph, I have roughly standardized the sizes of the images so that each pixel represents roughly the same number of voters.  The point is the same–KDH maintained the most loyalty, SNS the least–but from this (admittedly incomplete) data we begin to see the double flow that I have expected for some time: from former HZDS and SNS voters to Smer and from former Smer voters to SaS.  The graph only shows the data we have and so has lots of big residual categories (all other parties instead of individual parties and “undecided” instead of “will not vote” etc.).  It also fails to provide information on the flows to smaller parties or the share that flows from one party represent in the new electorate of the party to which it flows.

Thanks to Olga Gyarfasova, we now have some of that public for the two new parties, Most-Hid and SaS and here the pattern is again more or less what we would expect: SaS gains heavily from SDKU and new voters and disillusioned former voters; Most-Hid gains heavily from SMK-MKP.  There are a few surprises, however: SaS picks up a significant share of voters from Smer, and Most-Hid picks up voters from parties other than SMK-MKP (almost by definition “Slovak” parties) and from non-voters.

This is by no means the last word and all ebb and flow statistics need to pay closer attention to the degree to which flow is caused by people leaving and entering the electorate.  I hope to have more statistics on this in the near future and to improve the graphs above.  Until then, this will probably suffice.

Czech Election Update: The (Slightly) Bigger Picture

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

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

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

Let’s start with the number of parties:

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

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

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

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

What this graph says to me is two things:

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

Slovakia Dashboard News: May Polis Poll Closely Follows Trends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Czech Dashboard News: New parties and the big picture

I will deal with the actual poll results in a few future posts, but I want build on the introduction of the Czech dashboard by talking about broader trends and in particular by assessing the magnitude of “new party eruptions,” the dominant feature of the current Czech campaign.

In my own recent study of populism and new parties, the Czech Republic has become interesting to me for two reasons: first because it is a “dog that didn’t bark”–its “new party cycle” remained confined to a small segment of the political spectrum for over a decade; and second because (as in Hungary, which just saw its highest degree of new party vote since the fall of communism) the Czech “dog” has begun to scratch at the door and looks set to start yapping.

It is useful to start with a graph of the overall picture of party preferences in Czech Republic in the last eight years (a graph presented in dynamic and updated form on the dashboard)

Key: █ ODS █ CSSD █ SZ █ KDU-CSL █ KSCM █ VV █ TOP09 █ SPO █ US █ DS █ Suverenita

Several features stand out. First is the relative stability of the three largest parties. The two larger parties, the orange CSSD and the dark blue ODS swapped positions twice during this period but (with the exception of two dark years for CSSD under Spidla and Gross in the early 2002, remained in competition for the top spot well ahead of the others. The red line which denotes the Communist Party stays remarkably stable between 12% and 20%, almost unchanged from month to month for the last four years. Below them the lighter blue KDU-CSL remained in stable fourth place (usually) but showed a slightly declining trend. Together, these four parties have formed the core of the Czech party system from 1992 until the present. Thus far stability.

The second interesting feature is nearer the bottom of the graph, where parties are born and die. The Czech Republic has regularly seen activity in this zone but it has usually been of a particular type, usually a fifth party with market liberal and cultural libertarian positions.  These parties kept the zone filled because they usually exhibited a limited lifespan: ODA lasted from 1992 until 1998, US from 1998 until 2006, SZ from 2006 until (and perhaps beyond) the present. (In the mid-1990’s the Czech system also included a sixth party, the anti-Roma Republicans, but their demise did not lead to a substantial replacement except for the vocal but small DS and NS). The center-right parties account for a considerable degree of the variability of the system shown above, and the combination of stability among the main four parties and the failure of other new parties to emerge kept the “extra-system” volatility low.

This seems to be changing.  The graph below shows the a smoothed line for the combined share of preferences for the top 1,2,3 and 4 parties. Between the early 2000’s and mid-2009 this remained stable, within around 5 points of 90%. But in the last year something new has emerged.

The stability of the Czech system now faces significant changes, and there are good arguments to be made that these are fundamental changes rather than merely cosmetic ones.

First, as the graph shows, the position of the top four parties have dropped considerably to the point that the share obtained by the top party is now smaller than the share obtained by parties outside the top four. Despite similarly high past levels of dissatisfaction with the major parties, this same trend did not emerge before the 2002 or 2006 elections.

Second, the opinion shifts are poised to have a significant shift on the actual composition of the Czech party system. In the past four elections the Czech system has worked like clockwork: the four stable parties gained seats in parliament and the fifth faced a birth-death cycle every two elections (ODA elected in 1992 and 1996, dead in 1998; US elected in 1998 and 2002, dead in 2006) but the cycle has intensified and spread. According to the most recent poll results (available in the Dashboard) SZ does not look likely to follow ODA and US by retaining seats in parliament. Furthermore, there is a not insignificant chance (though also no guarantee) that 2010 will exclude two parliamentary parties–not only SZ but also KDU-CSL is at significant risk–and the birth of two others–both TOP09 and Veci Verejne (VV).

The third shift, a bit smaller, is paradoxically signified by the stability of the Communist Party. In past election campaigns, voters on the left have signaled dissatisfaction with the Social Democrats by opting for the Communists. This year, despite significant dissatisfaction and declining CSSD preferences, the Communists have seen no gains at all. Instead, voters from CSSD have left for Zeman’s SPO and probably (though I don’t have the data) for VV. It is unlikely that SPO will be elected to parliament (its rise has stalled according to the most recent polls), but its ability to attract a a measurable share of the vote suggests that the Communists are no longer the only (or indeed the main) reservoir for the newly dissatisfied (or that if they are, SPO is attracting some of those dissatisfied in turn with KSCM).

The graph below offers a very loose, schematic hypothesis about the ebb and flow of voters within the Czech system. It suggests that the current situation is characterized by the potential for new alternatives on the left and by the emergence of alternatives on the right that draw not only from ODS–there has always been a significant share of voters that agreed with ODS’s positions but did not like the party itself–but also from KDU-CSL.

This would be a significant change even if TOP09 were simply a replacement for KDU-CSL and VV simply replaced the Czech Greens, but we are not talking one-for-one replacement here. KDU-CSL has had a substantial membership base and a strong internal organization and a fairly broad intra-party elite; SZ has seen significant internal change but with fairly significant internal competition. By contrast both TOP09 and VV seem to be largely top-down creations without strong membership bases or independent elites outside the top figures. In our research on Slovakia, Marek Rybar and I have found a strong correlation between the date of party establishment one one hand and the degree of party organization and intra-party democracy on the other. Lack of organization in turn weakens the ability of parties to survive the ordinary ups and downs of party fortunes; centralization makes it difficult for parties to cope with the weaknesses of individual leaders (ODS and CSSD have shown a strong ability to recover from crises by changing leaders; in leader-driven projects, voters and intra-party rivals are more likely to turn elsewhere, usually to other new parties. If Slovakia (or almost any other country in the region) is any guide, new parties are shorter lived. Replacement of KDU-CSL by TOP09, therefore, strongly implies the subsequent replacement of TOP09 by some other party. The Czech Republic could therefore come to resemble its neighbors in the region with a churn of new parties that extends beyond the narrow realm of volatility in the Czech center-right.  As Czech dogs say, “haf haf.”

Introducing the CZECH Dashboard

There’s a new button on this blog that leads to a new page with graphs of all major Czech political parties in all major polls.  This took longer than I had hoped, but I introduce it today with delight because it allows me to return to something I have always loved.

I started my life in Eastern Europe in Bohemia (in Plzen) and the Czech Republic was central to my dissertation and book research.  My interest waned a bit in the early 2000’s, however, as the country’s politics seemed to be settling into a rather dull alternation between left and right governments.  But the emergence of the Greens in 2006 sparked my curiosity and the developments in the last several years have brought me back to the Czech Republic with great interest.  This is not necessarily good news for the Czech Republic: “May you live in interesting times” is not really a Chinese curse, but there should still be some sort of travel advisory for countries frequented by political scientists.

So what is new about the Czech dashboard.  Those who read this blog’s posts on Slovakia may already have seen the Slovakia dashboard.  The Czech version is both more and less functional.  Here’s what you get:

First, the long term view showing the development of party preferences over the last eight years:

The second feature of the dashboard is a shorter term view for each party showing the level and trend of each public opinion poll as well as an overall monthly average.  The use of multiple polls is a far better approach than approaching each poll tabula rasa and drawing conclusions that change dramatically from day to day.  Several sites including Lidove Noviny and MFDnes and the idiosyncratic but excellent Volebni Preference have begun to aggregate surveys, but they do only for individual polls or, at best, trends found by individual polling firms over time.  The following graph, for example, shows development of preferences for the last 18 months for ODS for all major firms.

This dashboard is not the final word–it lacks an estimate of the overall number of seats (more complicated in the multiple-district Czech Republic than in single-district Slovakia) and a more contextual analysis.  The first of these tasks will have to wait until the coming election provides me with a baseline.  The second is much easier and in coming days I will provide much more detailed analysis of Czech public opinion dynamics and, with a bit of luck, more extensive election-eve coverage.

One last note: unfortunately these graphs don’t work on older versions of Internet Explorer (and for all I know, new ones too).  I hate it when websites say “best viewed with…” but in this case there simply is no analog that I can use for these graphs that works with IE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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