Sovereignty’s politics are straightforward: a mix of Czech nationalism, euroscepticism and the anti-elite, outsider rhetoric that many people like to call populism. It is, its website makes clear, a party ‘…defending the interests of citizens of the Czech Republic…’ with the conservatve-nationalist strap-line “Law, Labour, Order”
Note: Thanks to The Monkey Cage for allowing me to reprint the posting below. I’ve added several graphs that might help to clarify the narrative.
One month after its June 12 elections, Slovakia has a new government. On Friday of last week Iveta Radicova of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union became the prime minister of a coalition government consisting of four parties with pro-market orientations and relatively moderate views on intra-ethnic cooperation between Slovaks and Hungarians, replacing a coalition of three economically statist parties oriented around the Slovak nation. The new government, and the elections that brought it about, mark two significant “firsts” and a number of other changes that will be important for the region.
The first “first” for Slovakia is a female prime minister, a particularly noteworthy development because Slovakia has never had a particularly strong representation of women in positions of power. Slovakia differs little from its neighbors in this regard: the Visegrad Four—a regional grouping consisting of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary—has had only one other female prime minister in the last 20 years (Poland’s Hanna Suchocka in the early 1990’s) and although several of the other countries in the region have had female presidents (Latvia) or Prime Ministers (Lithuania and Bulgaria) women still remain the exception in postcommunist European politics. Indeed the incoming government of the Czech Republic may have no women at all, and despite Radicova’s control of the premiership, her own government will have only one other woman, and Slovakia’s new parliament actually has fewer female deputies than it did four years ago.
The other “first” is more subtle and involves the comparatively brief tenure of the outgoing Prime Minister, Robert Fico. In Slovakia’s first eight years of postcommunism the premiership was dominated by Vladimir Meciar, twice removed by parliament but twice returned by voters; in the next eight years, the seat was occupied without a break by Mikulas Dzurinda. By this standard, Fico is the first elected prime minister in Slovakia whom voters did not immediately reward with a second chance at government. There are several reasons why this might be so. One reason, largely outside the political realm,involves the economic difficulties faced by Slovakia’s export-dependent economy in 2009, an effect exacerbated by the tendencies of voters in postcommunist countries to punish incumbents for whatever might go wrong, a phenomenon that Andrew Roberts of Northwestern describes in terms of hyperaccountability . A more “political” explanation attributes the fall of Fico’s government to voter distaste for a long series of scandals involving government ministers. Both explanations have some purchase, but they need to be understood in the context of intra-party dynamics which I discuss in the next section. Those readers who would prefer dental surgery to a tedious discussion of Slovakia’s intra-party dynamics may skip down to the section “Why should we care” below.
A Tedious Discussion of Slovakia’s Intra-Party Dynamics
How we understand Slovakia’s political shift over the last four years depends heavily on what we are looking for. Analysis tends to settle at one of three levels, all of which have some claim to the truth, provided that we understand the context.
Level one: Right coalition wins, left coalition loses
The most superficial (but not unimportant) level of analysis looks at coalitions and oppositions and involves a one-dimensional space. In this space, the 2010 elections represent the handover of power from “left” to “right” and involve a swing of 7 seats in Slovakia’s 150 seat parliament from Fico’s coalition to Radicova’s. (Fico’s coalition dropped from 85 seats in 2006 to 71 in 2010) . For the purposes of governing, this makes all the difference. But it helps to go deeper.
Level two: Left and right parties gain, Slovak national parties lose
The second level of analysis looks at parties and involves a two dimensional space. In addition to the left-right axis of competition that has dominated Slovakia’s governments in the last 10 years, there is a clear competitive axis related to national questions, and two additional blocs of parties that I have labeled “Slovak national” and “Hungarian national.” According to this framework, Fico’s government represented a coalition between “anti-market left” and “Slovak national” whereas the Radicova government (like the Dzurinda government that preceded Fico before 2006) is a coalition between “pro-market right” and “Hungarian national.”
Analysis of election results according to these blocs produces a rather different set of judgments. Although the total vote share of “right” parties of the incoming government increased by five percentage points from 2006 to 2010, the vote share of the “left” party in the outgoing government—Fico’s “Direction”—increased by even more. Corresponding to the gains by both left and right were major losses in the “Slovak national” bloc: the Slovak National Party under Jan Slota fell catastrophically from 12% to 5%, squeaking over the barrier for parliamentary representation by just two thousand votes out of two-and-a-half million cast, and Vladimir Meciar, once the sun and the moon of Slovakia’s politics, continued a remarkably long gradual slide into obscurity, falling below the barrier and out of parliament altogether. Like Jaroslav Kaczynski in Poland in 2007, Fico can therefore justifiably claim not he, but his partners lost the election (though Meciar has publicly suggested that having undermined his partners to maximize his own party’s gain, Fico deserves his fate). This begs the question, however, of exactly where the “Slovak national” voters went and why.
Level three: Slovak national voters move left, anti-corruption voters move right (for now)
A third level of analysis is necessary to solve the “mystery of the shifting Slovak national party voter.” The third level looks at voters motivations and involves a space with (at least) three dimensions. It also involves speculation on the basis of very little data. What is apparent from two opinion polls conducted before the election is that the exodus of voters from Slovak national parties was not distributed evenly to left and right. In fact, nearly all of it went to the left, mainly to Fico’s “Direction.” For the math to work out, however, this must mean that some of Fico’s voters went elsewhere as well, and the poll evidence suggests that at least some of them went to the new right party Freedom and Solidarity.
These shifts are hard to explain with only two dimensions, particularly the shift from Fico’s statist left party to the and to the most vehemently pro-market right party in the system. At the risk of sounding a bit too much like Rod Serling it is here that our analysis needs a new dimension, one that arrays voters according to their willingness to tolerate corruption and seek ability of established leaders to resolve problems. (I’ve argued elsewhere with Tim Haughton that this dimension is hard to identify because its players change sides: the anti-corruption party of one election may become the corrupt but experienced party of the next election.) By adding this dimension we can make sense of a voter’s jump from “Direction,” which in 2002 and 2006 attracted a significant share of the anti-corruption electorate, to the new and yet-to-be-corrupted Freedom and Solidarity (but which otherwise shares almost no programmatic positions with Fico’s “Direction.”) Corruption sensitivity may also explain much of the shift from the two Slovak national parties to the by-no-means-clean but still less corrupt “Direction,” a shift which is less surprising because Fico had already gone quite far in adopting Slovak national themes. (It also probably explains some of the shift within the Hungarian electorate from the more established of two Hungarian parties to its newcomer alternative.)
Slovakia’s political shift in 2010 thus reflects not a fundamental shift from left and right but only a left-to-right shift in the votes of those most highly sensitive to corruption, a shift that is likely to endure only until the emergence of a new anti-corruption party (perhaps left, perhaps right, perhaps Slovak national) in a future election cycle. Nor does it reflect a fundamental decline in the strength of the Slovak national position but rather a shift of Slovak national voters from the smaller parties with stronger emphasis on national questions to Fico’s larger and more diffuse but sufficiently national alternative. Whether that shift will endure depends on the emergence of a new national alternative, either through the formation of a new party or the reformation of the Slovak National Party.
Why We Should Care
Those who look occasionally at Slovakia can be excused for experiencing a bit of déjà vu. The names of the some parties have changed slightly from the 2002 Dzurinda government, but the names are about the only change. Substitute one Hungarian party for another (“Bridge” for the Party of the Hungarian Coalition), and one new pro-market anti-corruption for another (“Freedom and Solidarity” for the now defunct Alliance of the New Citizen) and the array is pretty much the same. Not only that, but ten of the fifteen cabinet posts are in the hands of the same party that controlled it in 2002 (or its analog) and seven of the fifteen ministers served in the 2002-2006 cabinet (sometimes heading the same ministry). Although the government is the nearly the same, however, the times are different and it will face new challenges.
Economics: Renewed but limited pro-market reform
The 2002-2006 Dzurinda government used its small majority to pass major economic reforms in taxation, health care, education, the labor market and other aspects of the foreign investment climate. The restoration of essentially the same coalition could potentially signal the continuation of major reforms, but by the same token, the magnitude of the shifts between 2002 and 2006 (and the relatively minor rollbacks introduced by the Fico government between 2006 and 2010) may limit the scope for further changes which would push the government’s policy significantly out ahead of the voters’ preferences (especially since I would argue that many of those who supported “Freedom and Solidarity” did so for its novelty and cleanliness rather than its radically pro-market approach.)
Minority and foreign policy: Back to the West, but not without reservation
Although economic questions are the ones that most clearly unite Slovakia’s new coalition, the parties also share a common pro-Western outlook and (relatively) accommodating views on ethnic co-existence and national identity. And since such questions are arguably more sensitive to tone and manner than economic policy, it may be in this realm that the new coalition has its greatest impact on Slovakia and the region. But even this will not be easy. There is still a wide gap between the Hungarian party, “Bridge,” and the its Slovak partners in government on what constitutes appropriate support for minority culture, and the Slovak parties in the coalition cannot risk appearing weak when dealing with the assertively national government in neighboring Hungary. Nor will relations with the rest of the EU be easy, especially since the parties of the current coalition, in an reversal that had more to do with domestic electoral politics than programmatic position, campaigned on a platform of rejecting the EU bailout of Greece and must now figure out how to back down gracefully without appearing to have caved in.
Coalition longevity: Sensitive issues, numerous factions but few alternatives
In addition to “Freedom and Solidarity’s” outlying position on economic issues, and “Bridge’s” outlying position on minority policy, the coalition will also need to deal with the outlying cultural policy preferences of the Christian Democrats (who have already introduced questions about an agreement with the Vatican and who differ sharply from “Freedom and Solidarity” on questions such as gay marriage and drug legalization.) And all of the major coalition partners will need to deal with two smaller groups that entered parliament on the basis of preference voting on the electoral lists of the two new parties: a civic movement called “Ordinary People” which gained election on the list of “Freedom and Direction” (preference votes elevating its representative from the last four places on the list to near the top), and the Civic Conservative Party which gained election on the list of Bridge.
These complications together raise questions about the longevity of what is in effect a six-entity coalition that cannot afford to lose even four of its seventy-nine deputies without also losing its majority. Slovaks are themselves quite divided over the coalition’s prospects, though the opinions tend to reflect partisan hopes rather than measured assessments. The survival of the 2002-2006 Dzurinda government for nearly four years bodes well, but that coalition could rely on Meciar’s relatively weak party to offer tacit support. The Radicova’s coalition, by contrast, has fewer potential reservoirs in the opposition and correspondingly less ability to deal with defections. That said, the coalition’s members also have correspondingly fewer options and may stay in a coalition because it is the only alternative. (Since no female prime minister in postcommunist Europe has ever served out a full parliamentary term, Radicova has the chance to achieve yet another first, though Jadranka Kosor in Croatia has the chance to outlast her in terms of pure longevity)
Opposition prospects: Fico’s burden
Given the large number of potential stumbling blocks for the governing coalition, the next several years in opposition may bring “Direction” strong poll support. The prospects for the Fico’s return to government, however, depend on his ability to open up new coalition possibilities while maintaining the integrity of his party. Whether Fico undermined his coalition partners or not, it is fair to say that he did not do a good job of preparing for the weakness of those parties. Fico’s use of good vs. evil rhetoric to characterize the opposition may have helped at the polls, but it significantly weakened his leverage in prying apart the opposition parties and finding a coalition partner or two among their ranks. Unable to count on the return of Meciar or the resurgence of the Slovak National Party, Fico will need to figure out how to fight a good fight in opposition while at the same time preparing for a potential alliance with some of the coalition partners. And he will have to do so while satisfying the diverse constituencies within his own party—which range from nationalist to cultural liberal, from statist to entrepreneurial—and do so without the perks of government. He managed this well between 2002 and 2006, but it may be harder to do so with a parliamentary delegation that is both larger and more reliant on the resources of the executive.
The big picture: Right and new
Slovakia, like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, has elected a “right” wing government (fulfilling Joshua Tucker’s June 9 prediction in the Monkey Cage ), but the meaning of “right” varies considerably from nationalism and cultural conservatism in Hungary (combined with some remarkably statist efforts in economic policy) to its pro-market meaning in the Czech Republic (along with some cultural conservatism) to the pro-market and culturally (relatively) liberal combination that has emerged in Poland (where both the major alternatives claim the “right” label) and in Slovakia. In the long run, Slovakia is likely to see the alteration of the two main streams—statist and national against pro-market and ethnically accommodating—but the nature of the balance will be continually subject to readjustment brought about by the birth of new parties and the death of others. The “new” rather than the “right” may be the real story of recent elections throughout the region, and come the next election cycle, the “new” is more likely to be left or national.
January 2009 Poll Averages
Overall Monthly Report
Numbers for January are in and while there is not too much to report, there are a few striking findings. Smer had an excellent month, tying its previous high score in UVVM and achieving a new high in FOCUS (by more than 2 percentage points over its previous high in October 2008). As the graphs below show, this means that for the first time the poll /average/ gives it a straightforward parliamentary majority of 76 seats. The big open question is whether a sinking economy will pull these numbers down, but every time it seems that the party has now hit its peak, it sags a bit and goes on to a new peak, so this is truly an open question.
This short-term graph of poll results for averages of major parties other than Smer shows a sharp–two percentage point–drop in KDH not quite compensated for by a rise in SDKU, while within the coalition, SNS’s loss was HZDS’s gain (perhaps literally). And SMK continues its slow slide to places well below its demographic base. In general the nationali parties have remained stable while the major opposition parties have all dropped by small margins over the past few months. Among the smaller parties, KSS stayed stable and the 4% result for Slobodne Forum in last month’s FOCUS poll is even more clearly apparent as an outlier. HZD (not shown here) has been on a very slight upward trend, perhaps related to the Gasparovic presidential campaign, but shows nothing like the bounce that it saw in Gasparovic’s previous campaign.
Not pictured here–because they are mere single data points, is new polling data for other small parties, many themselves new. FOCUS has apparently begun to follow the lead of MVK and include these parties on their response sheet, making it easier for voters to choose them. The psychological effect of this choice is immediately apparent, increasing by a factor of 10 the number of people specifying a party other than those above (albeit from 0.1% to 1.0%). The Party of Greens (SZ) netted 0.4% from this choice while the KDH-splinter Conservative Democratic Party (KDS) emerged at 0.3% and the liberal LIGA emerged at 0.3% as well. The 0.3% for KDS may have some bearing on the drop in KDH, but the 0.3% represents only one seventh of the KDH decline.
It is notable that FOCUS numbers for these small parties are much lower than those of MVK which regularly reports SZ figures above 2% and in September reported KDS at 0.8% (but has not reported KDS numbers since). Interestingly MVK in December put the numbers of yet another new party, the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SAS) at 2.0%. FOCUS did not include this party in its list.
Now back to results for bigger parties. Even with weakness in SNS, the Smer increase (and small HZDS increase as well) still pulls the coalition to a new high of 66%: two out of three voters in Slovakia.
This long-term graph of poll results for (loosely defined) party “blocs” parties shows the coalition’s increase coming from Smer while SNS and HZDS continue to split their 20%, each month differing only in who gets how much of it. The drop in KDH hurts the opposition significantly.
This month’s distribution of parliamentary seats shows the first “poll average” Smer majority. It’s coalition partners bring an additional 29 seats. The opposition by this standard would muster 45, which is not that much more than the current coalition without the Smer majority.
As always, the actual polling numbers are available online at Google Docs:
And the most recent three months are below in tabular format (using “iframe” which may not work on all browsers).
The always unpredictable MVK has come in with new numbers for mid-December and so it is briefly worth revisiting the graphs. The most interesting news from this survey, however, are the results for small parties that I do not cover here and will try to address in the next post.
As we knew from the other polls, the big November drop for Smer was more likely a sampling artifact rather than a genuine drop. This month Smer returns to 39% where it usually polls with MVK. This is lower than averages for other pollsters for 2008–2 points lower than the FOCUS average of 41 and 6 points lower than the UVVM average of 45% for the year. One reason for that may be MVK’s inclusion of a larger number of smaller parties on its questionaire and the resulting loss 2-4% of Smer support to those who might otherwise pick Smer but who, when presented with an option such as “Green Party,” opt for that one. As UVVM and FOCUS results suggest, almost nobody in Slovakia actively mentions the Green Party when asked an open question, but when given the option, a few percent move in that direction which, coupled with lower numbers for Smer on such polls, suggests a limited softness in the party’s support (which is no surprise anyway).
This graph of recent polling results for SDKU show strong agreement and again suggest that November’s MVK poll had some sampling problems. All December polls show SDKU between 11% and 12%.
December results for SNS produced an unexpectedly wide range of results, especially for a party that had produced near consensus in previous month. MVK results suggest that this was a sampling issue, with results that bisect the FOCUS low and the UVVM high and keep the party’s average almost unchanged from the previous month. Ethnic controversy, by this standard, does not seem to be a major electoral boost for the party.
This graph of recent results for MK shows much the same, with an extremely narrow distribution at 8%. This is low for a party with a demographic base of over 10% and for one facing the sort of political challenges that usually rally ethnic populations ’round the party.
This graph of recent results for HZDS showsthe continuing slow slide. The party is at near record low levels in 2 of 3 major surveys and at its second lowest overall average in its history.
This graph of recent results for KDH shows a rise in December and MVK exactly bisects the two other polls, as it often does.
This graph of recent results for KSS shows now real change, but MVK numbers for Decembers show a slight drop from their periodic high in November.
This graph of recent results for SF shows suggest caution about notions of an SF boomlet found by FOCUS. I cannot find SF numbers for the November but the party’s numbers have not changed measurably from the most recent poll number I have for September. This, combined with unchanged numbers from UVVM offer reasons for skepticism. It may be, however, that what might otherwise have been an SF rise in December was affected negatively by the inclusion of yet another new party–Sloboda a solidarita–designed to appeal to the same demographic. But about SAS more in the next post.
In a previous post I noted a growing gap between parties above the threshold of electability and those below, one that was unusual by Slovakia’s standards. Thanks to the generosity of UVVM, FOCUS and IVO, which opened various archives to me during my time in Slovakia, I can now show a much longer time series (though numbers before 1999 are sketchier than those after because of a relative dearth of polls and less systematic methods of reporting.
Here is the development of the gap over time between the smallest “viable” party (i.e. one with more than 5%) and the largest “non-viable” party (i.e. one with less than 5%):
Something is clearly changing. With the exception of a few surveys in 1999 (like the result of the temporary consolidation of small parties into the Slovak Democratic Coalition) there were very few gaps larger than 5% from Slovakia’s first election in 1990 until its most recent in 2006 (in fact only one in twenty polls during that period showed such a large gap) whereas since 2006 there are almost no gaps smaller than 5% (only about one in ten). In fact the band around the threshold of viability now utterly empty: since the 2006 election not a single party has had a monthly polling average in the range between 3.3% and 7.2%. Not one.
As might be expected, the gap has meant a sharp reduction in the overall share of preferences received by small parties. The graph below shows the same trend.
Small parties used to collect about 10%-20% but this is no longer the case. The total number of preferences for parties below the 5% threshold in August 2008 was 4.2%. Put in other words, even if all the supporters for obscure parties banded together (not very likely), they would not together have enough to cross the threshold. Between the 1990 and 2006 elections only 17 of the 161 months with surveys showed a sum below 5%; since the 2006 elections only 1 of the 26 months shows a sum above 5%.
There is no single clear explanation for this change but there are several reasons that might make sense:
- Smer and SDKU have “mopped up” several of the smaller parties (and the re-unification of SNS helped in this direction as well).
- Voters have finally decided that they do not want to “waste” their votes on small parties (though of course “waste” is a contentious term in itself since there are reasons to vote for parties that have nothing to do with those parties’ chances for election to parliament). Evidence from recent IVO surveys shows that voters think consciously about the support received by the party they intend to vote for and are less likely to vote for a party that might not get elected (preferring to give their votes to an electable second choice). Unfortunately we do not have older data on this and cannot easily perform a time series.
- Media and financial structures have come to play such a strong role in party choice that small parties which cannot get media attention or financial sponsorship cannot attract meaningful support and drop from the public radar screen.
The current “all-or-nothing” pattern of party support does not mean that there is no chance for new parties, but it does suggest that it is even more difficult for a party to to climb its way up from below as KSS did in 2002. As before, new parties will need to drop in from above as big splinters of even bigger parties with dissatisfied electorates (DU, and to some extent ZRS and Smer) or as saviors (Smer, ANO, SOP).