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

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

Coalition (im)possibilities: What can we exclude?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Coalition possibilities: What’s left:

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

coalition matrix

The coalitions in terms of likelihood are, therefore:

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

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

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 (http://www.pozorblog.com/?p=110), 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.

European Parliament Elections, Slovakia 2009

A few initial thoughts (perhaps my only thoughts) on Slovakia’s Europarliament Elections.
In general there are few surprises here:  Smer wins, SDKU follows at at a great distance, along with SMK and KDH.  Perhaps the only superficial surprise is the apparent reversal of numbers for SNS and HZDS, but even this is not particularly surprising in light of other characteristics of these parties.  As usual, it helps to look at the results against the background of polls and the previous Euroelection.  Full election results with comparisons to 2004 and to various polls are here and in a table at the end.

First, how does this look in comparison to the last (i.e. first) Euroelections in Slovakia, held in 2004.  Turnout appears to be slightly up, but slightly up from the lowest in Europe is still just the lowest in Europe.  In terms of party results, I’ve created a series of charts that array the parties on the Y (vertical) axis in terms of past performance, according to a variety of markers and the X (horizontal) axis in terms of present performance in elections.  Do that for the 2004 and 2009 results and here’s what you get:


As is obvious, Smer does far better than before (over 30% compared with its disappointing under 20% in 2004), picking up 5 seats instead of its previous 3 and far outpacing the rest.  SDKU is next with results almost identical to those of 2004. Following a bit behind in a tight cluster are MK, KDH and HZDS, all performing worse than in 2004, by various margins and for various reasons (but more on that later) and then just above the 5% threshold, SNS.  All parties currently with seats in Slovakia’s parliament get Europarliament seats and no non-parliamentary parties make it across the threshold).

Clearly, by this standard 0f 2004 we have a major victory for Smer.  But there are other metrics.  A second way to look at this is to compare it to the most recent poll, does it beat expectations?  By that standard, this is what we get:


Smer and SNS do worse than expected, SNS by a slightly smaller raw percentage but a much higher relative share.  SMK does slightly worse than expected while KDH, HZDS and SAS do better.  What explains these differences?  Two of the three parties that did worse than expected also have the reputation (backed up by some research I’ve done) for weaker than average organizations.  In a low turnout election, organization makes a difference.  KDH and HZDS both have better than average organizations and and relatively stable, older than average electorates who dutifully turn out to vote.  SMK is also fairly well organized, but the party is currently in the midst of major turmoil (more here and more from me later).  The interesting addition to this list is SaS–Sulik’s Freedom and Solidarity.  New parties in Slovakia have rarely developed organizations that could push turnout in this kind of election, but Sulik appears to have made effective use of online social networks and other similar structures to mobilize young, educated voters who might otherwise stay home.  The bad news for SaS is that they just barely missed the chance to shake things up by getting a seat that would gain them some visibility and the same techniques will not have the same impact in higher turnout parliamentary elections in 2010.  Still, SaS will comes out of this strengthened vis-a-vis other small social-liberal parties (SF and Liga with quite bad performances, and the Greens not moving beyond their very small base) and has an opportunity to pick up the “disaffected SDKU” vote.  OKS-KDS did better than the previous year: Palko’s presence helped, no doubt, as the only party leader on the ballot of any party, but the party’s inability to push much beyond 2% in this election does not bode well for 2010.  KSS continues to hover around 1.5%, as it does in the polls, without much immediate hope of revival.

Finally, we can look at these results against the general recent performance of parties at the national level, averaging scores from FOCUS polls (now the only major one left that reports results fully and regularly) since the beginning of the year:


The results here are not wildly different from the previous graph, but it does suggest some cause for concern by Smer.  A 32% result in the Euroelections is great if it is double that of your next largest competitor, but slightly worrisome if it is 14% lower than the party’s average for the year to date.  Of course this is a low turnout election (this happened to Smer before in 2004, and even worse) but 2010 may not be particularly high either.  As with the presidential election, the results suggest that even with rather poor political play, the right wing manages to do better in elections than in the opinion polls (which show SDKU, SMK and KDH hovering around 30%-35%.  For now Smer is so far ahead that this makes little difference, but the party cannot afford to be complacent, especially, unlike its predecessor HZDS which once found itself in a similar position, Smer does not have such a strong organizational base to fall back upon.

The actual 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).

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The main points are above, but in the process of making them, I made a few others that I don’t want to waste.  First, the polls v. results that parallels the one above.


Here we see Smer’s slightly worse-than-expected performance and the dramatically better-than-expected performance of SDKU and KDH in 2004.  This is even more apparent in the poll average graph:


By this standard, 2004 really was a negative shock for Smer and a hugely unexpected bonus for KDH and SDKU and even to some extent for MK.  Here we see the “party organization” factor in full effect.

Finally, a graph that has nothing to do with the Euroelections but was calculated incidentally.  Still, it’s striking in what it shows:


This blog has been talking about shifts in public opinion for some time, but this provides a great time-lapse image.  Smer is way up.  SDKU is up (though up over its polling numbers while in government rather than its actual election figures) as is SNS (though in 2004 it was coming off a disastrous couple of years after the PSNS split.  Its historical figures are actually around this level).  KDH is remarkably stable over time and has been since the mid-1990’s.  The losers are the small parties: KSS and ANO falling from electoral viability to near-death and HZDS falling from near-front runner to barely viable.  Amid all of this perhaps the most striking thing to me is the negative movement of MK.  This is a party which, except for actuarial reasons, should not move at all and yet it has fallen by several points.  Some of this may be the loss of a few Slovak voters who in 2004 still saw it as a clean alternative to the other members of Dzurinda’s then-coalition, but the party’s drop over the last 2 years suggests that it is due to poor politics.  Now we shall see what happens when there is an alternative party, but that is a topic for the next post.