Browsing the archives for the European Politics category.

Hungary: polling update and by-election preview

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

The Hungarian pollsters have been disagreeing about how much the grip which Viktor Orban’s governing party Fidesz has on the Hungarian electorate has been slipping. Things surely aren’t looking as favourable for them as, say, half a year ago, for a number of reasons. One has to keep in mind, however, that Fidesz enjoyed quite a boost after its national election victory last April, when it went on to win big in European and municipal elections later in the year as well. So to some extent we’re merely seeing a return to the already impressive level of support it enjoyed in those April elections.

Chart: Hungarian polls, late January/early February 2015

Chart: Hungarian polls, late January/early February 2015 (click to enlarge)

Chart: Hungarian polls, late January/early February 2015

Chart: Hungarian polls; grouping together the left-liberal parties that ran a joint "Unity" list in last year's national elections (click to enlarge)

Fidesz’s current two-thirds parliamentary majority is in question with by-elections taking place in Veszprém two days from now. The district includes both Veszprém itself, a relatively prosperous town in Western Hungary, and some surrounding countryside, and outgoing MP Tibor Navracsics (now European Commissioner) won the seat easily last year, so it’s not the easiest place for the opposition to launch a challenge. If it does win the seat, however, Fidesz could theoretically be prevented from adopting further, hard-to-overturn “cardinal laws,” which require a two-thirds majority – though that presumes that the MPs from the center-left parties and the far-right Jobbik are able of voting in unison against the government. Even if Fidesz will hold on in Veszprém (and it’s still favoured to do so), it will face the same challenge all over again in parliamentary by-elections in a district centred on nearby Tapolca in April.

In its infinite wisdom, the left-liberal opposition parties are supporting a “free-market evangelist” as their joint candidate, Zoltán Kész. The hard-right Hír TV station has dug up not all that old blog posts and social media comments in which Kész advocated privatizing health care and primary education and even making voting rights conditional on tax payments. That’s the Hungarian “left” — the same left which hurried to distance itself from Alexis Tsipras in the aftermath of Syriza’s election victory in Greece — proving once again that it is anything but. It did, after all, also eventually embrace Lajos Bokros, known best for the 1990s “Bokros package” of massive budget cuts, in the Budapest mayoral elections. The Green LMP is the only party on the left which is refusing to support Kész, whom András Schiffer called the candidate of the “pseudo-Left”.

Having said that, the government does seem somewhat worried, jumping in late last year to quickly direct a special, 2.5 million Euro grant toward Veszprém. Although Fidesz easily dispatched all opposition forces in last October’s local elections, at least outside Budapest, it hasn’t been lucky in local by-elections since. Eva S. Balogh summarizes the story on those, with left-liberal opposition voters apparently even showing some readiness to swing behind candidates of the far-right Jobbik if that’s what it took to oust a Fidesz councillor. The seemingly only opinion poll to be held in the Veszprém district saw a close race, with Fidesz candidate Lajos Némedi only narrowly leading Kész by 43% to 37%, and even that only thanks to the rural parts of the district, while Kész led in the city itself.

Despite his libertarian views, I hope Kész wins, and Veszprém might be a liberal enough town for him to stand a chance. This is no way for the opposition to rebuild a national election-winning force though. Hungarians have arguably voted out the parties most associated with budget cuts, privatizations and market-friendly reforms almost every single time since 1994, ever again believing the then-opposition’s (deceptive) promises that they would govern more socially. They brought back the socialists from the dead in 1994, then voted in Fidesz in 1998 when those socialists turned out to be more neoliberal than even the previous conservative government. They kicked Fidesz out again in 2002 in favour of the newly-populist Socialists, and reelected those in 2006 after they’d gone on a rather irresponsible spending spree. In 2010, after four years of Gyurcsany and Bajnai pursuing austerity, they dealt the Socialists a massive defeat in favour of Fidesz, and last year they reaffirmed their support for Fidesz and its national-populist rhetoric of resistance against the EU’s and IMF’s economic prescriptions. And yet the left-liberal parties that aim to bring Fidesz down now seem to be going out of their way to look like the local representative of Brussels, business and banks. In the process, they are leaving the far-right Jobbik to sweep up the votes of the increasing numbers of disgruntled middle- and lower-income voters who are disappointed with the arrogance and corruption of Orban-ocracy but poor enough to have faced the wrong end of the free market.

The center-left opposition should perhaps instead take heed of a recent poll which revealed that Jobbik is now the largest party among those younger than 30. That’s scary. To fight that trend, it’s time for the left, such as it is, to show that its primary concern is with the struggle many poor, working class and lower-middle class Hungarians are waging to get by. I’m not sure that identifying itself with the likes of Kész and Bokros is going to help with that.

Update: Opposition candidate Zoltán Kész won, and with a surprisingly comfortable margin, 42,6% against the Fidesz candidate’s 33.8%, the Jobbik candidate’s 14.1%, and the LMP’s 4.6% (the remainder went mostly to independent candidates). That’s a striking contrast with last year’s results, when Navracsics got 47.2%, the center-left’s joint candidate 27.6%, the Jobbik candidate 16.5% and the LMP candidate 6.2%. Turnout was 45%, which is lower than last year’s 64% but high for a by-election. Christopher Adam at Hungarian Free Press has more info. Worth noting: somebody on Twitter mentioned that the 8 o’clock news broadcast on national public TV mentioned nothing about the election result, even though some 80% of the votes had by then already been counted, and it was clear that Fidesz was losing.

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Greece, elections 2015: How did the pollsters fare? Not too shabbily

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

In the aftermath of the momentous Greek elections, this seems worth mentioning: the Greek exit polls were fairly close to the mark, and the last pre-election polls approached the actual election results almost as closely as the exit polls.*

The latter, especially, seems impressive, not least because their performance was hardly a given. Ahead of the May 2012 elections, the pollsters entirely failed to capture the dynamic of the electorate. (Admittedly, it’s not easy to poll a watershed election which all but broke up the entire Greek party system, and they did approach the results of the June 2012 elections much more closely.)

The 2015 elections: how the pollsters did

Chart: Greece 2015 elections: Pollster performance

Click to enlarge: How closely did the last pre-election polls approach the actual election results?

This time, a Pro Rata poll which was in the field 5-6 days before the elections pegged the numbers closely enough to the actual results that it was off by an average of just 0.6% by party. Even the “worst” poll was only off by an average of 1.2% by party.

Interestingly though, to the extent that the polls in the last few days before the elections did miss the mark, there was a distinct pattern. When you calculate the average of each pollster’s final poll, it turns out to have understimated every anti-bailout party, whether on the left or right (Syriza, XA, KKE, ANEL), and overestimated every pro-bailout party on both the left and right (ND, Potami, PASOK, KIDISO). Sometimes the deviations were tiny (like a tenth of a percentage point), but it’s still a striking pattern.

In particular, the average of the final polls had the incumbent government party, New Democracy, 1.8% higher than the share of the vote it eventually received, while it had the Independent Greeks 1.1% lower.

Talking about those averages, there’s also something worth mentioning about them. There is always a fair amount of debate about whether it’s a good idea to just average out the polls from different pollsters, or even to apply more sophisticated aggregations the way Nate Silver does. But in this case it worked: the calculated average of every pollster’s final pre-election poll came closer to the actual result than the numbers of any single individual poll did.

Take a look at the Google spreadsheet with all the data I used about the final pre-election polls (either by awkwardly navigating the scrollbars below or by clicking this link)

The exit polls, meanwhile, were on balance too pessimistic for New Democracy, and a tad too optimistic for Syriza. Here’s the spreadsheet on those:

* To source opinion poll results I relied entirely on the seemingly exhaustive listing that was being maintained by the Wikipedia editors. It’s important to note that they adjusted every pollster’s numbers, using a simple rule of three, to disregard respondents who were undecided or said they would abstain from voting (either physically or by voting blank).

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Polling: The short, sharp election campaign in Greece led to surprisingly small, but significant changes

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

It’s election day in Greece and the campaign will have been one of the shortest Europe’s seen in some while: it’s just 27 days ago, on 29 December, that parliament failed to elect a new president in the last of three votes, which triggered these new elections. Politicians scrambled to launch their campaigns, and former Prime Minister George Papandreou even still quickly founded a new party. “Few election campaigns have been as bitter or polarised as this,” the Guardian reported. And yet, all the sound and fury caused remarkably small changes in political preferences.

In particular, with all eyes trained on two main parties fighting for high stakes, you might expect the electorate to gravitate towards them, abandoning smaller parties that get neglected in the media coverage. This would seem especially likely in Greece because of the quirk in its election system, which awards the largest party a bonus 50 seats, making sure it will at least get close to a parliamentary majority. Some of this trend did indeed play out in Greece, but more so in the months prior to the election campaign. Over the second half of last year, both the governing New Democracy party and main opposition party Syriza steadily won over ever more voters, taking Syriza from 29% to over 33% and New Democracy from 24% to 29%. At some point Syriza’s average lead in the polls stretched out to almost 7%, then it shrank again to just over 4%. But by the time the actual election campaign rolled around, despite polls showing a large share of the population still undecided, their respective positions and those of most of the smaller parties evened out. That’s illustrated in this table, which shows a polling average drawn from the most recent poll from each pollster within the given time period:*


Dec 12-24
(11 polls)
Jan 20-23
(15 polls)
New Democracy 28,9 29,6 0,7
Syriza 33,5 35,9 2,4
Potami 6,8 6,7 -0,1
Golden Dawn 6,2 6,3 0,1
Communists 6,1 5,3 -0,8
PASOK 6,1 5,1 -1
Indep Greeks 3,5 3,7 0,2
Kinima 0 2,6 2,6
Others 8,8 5,1 -3,7

* If a pollster published two polls within the period, only the last one is counted; dates reflect the mid-point of when the polls were being conducted where available, not the day of publication.

Syriza netted another 2.4%, which is a decent achievement in the light of the government’s attempts to instill fear and panic over a possible Syriza take-over, but no sea change. Papandreou’s new party didn’t make much of a dent, stalling at 2.6%. The very smallest parties, those which polled under the system’s three percent electoral threshold, lost a lot of ground, but all the other remained roughly stable, with only the communist KKE and the center-left PASOK party losing a percentage point.

In the interest of polling hygiene, you may want to compare only those polls which were in the field during both time periods, in order to avoid the difference between the two periods reflecting ‘house effects’ of the pollsters rather than actual changes in public opinion. The data are very similar though:


Dec 12-24
(11 polls)
Jan 20-23
(11 polls)
ND 28,9 29,4 0,5
Syriza 33,5 36,1 2,6
Potami 6,8 6,8 0,0
Golden Dawn 6,2 6,3 0,1
KKE 6,1 5,3 -0,8
PASOK 6,1 5,0 -1,1
Indep Greeks 3,5 3,7 0,2
Kinima 0,0 2,6 2,6
Others 8,8 5,1 -3,7

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some interesting dynamics during the campaign though. In fact, it seems to have reached a tipping point about half way through. Here’s the same data as above, including all pollsters, but for three different periods, including a time period mid-way during the campaign:


Dec 12-24
(11 polls)
Jan 6-14
(17 polls)

Jan 20-23
(15 polls)
New Democracy 28,9 30,8 1,9 29,6 -1,2
Syriza 33,5 34,7 1,2 35,9 1,2
Potami 6,8 6,8 0,0 6,7 -0,1
Golden Dawn 6,2 6,1 -0,1 6,3 0,2
Communists 6,1 5,7 -0,4 5,3 -0,4
PASOK 6,1 4,9 -1,2 5,1 0,2
Indep Greeks 3,5 3,0 -0,5 3,7 0,7
Kinima 0 2,7 2,7 2,6 -0,1
Others 8,8 5,6 -3,2 5,1 -0,5

Here’s the chart to that latest set of data – click to enlarge.

Greece election polls chart

The polling average from three periods: the two weeks before the election campaign started; an eight-day window halfway through the campaign; and the last four days of polling.

In the first week or two of the campaign, we still see a continuation of the trend from the previous half a year: both New Democracy and Syriza gain some additional ground, at the expense of especially the “others” category of smallest parties. In addition, the emergence of Papandreou’s splinter party predictably hurt his old party, PASOK.

But in the last week or two of the campaign, New Democracy suddenly started slipping away, first almost imperceptibly, and with greater urgency the closer the elections came. In the couple of days, four different pollsters have seen ND numbers that are 2-4% lower than they were earlier this month. Syriza, on the other hand, kept on its incremental growth, and now its average lead in the polls is back up to over 6%. The Independent Greeks, a right-wing, anti-bailout party, seemed to benefit as well, rebounding a bit from its perilous position near the threshold line.

Narrowing the selection of polls down to only those pollsters which were in the field during each of these three periods doesn’t change much about the pattern:


Dec 12-24
(11 polls)
Jan 6-14
(11 polls)

Jan 20-23
(11 polls)

ND 28,9 30,8 1,9 29,4 -1,4
Syriza 33,5 34,7 1,2 36,1 1,4
Potami 6,8 6,8 0,0 6,8 0,0
Golden Dawn 6,2 6,1 -0,1 6,3 0,2
KKE 6,1 5,7 -0,4 5,3 -0,4
PASOK 6,1 4,9 -1,2 5,0 0,1
Indep Greeks 3,5 3,0 -0,5 3,7 0,7
Kinima 0 2,7 2,7 2,6 -0,1
Others 8,8 5,6 -3,2 5,1 -0,5

Now, all we can do is wait until the polling stations close and we can see how far off the polls might have been!

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Greece, ten days before the elections: Based on an average of the most recent polls, Syriza would fall just six seats short of a parliamentary majority

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

The polling

  • Wikipedia has a seemingly exhaustive list of opinion polls, which appears to be updated every day or almost every day. The numbers there have been recalculated where necessary to exclude any “undecided” or “would not vote” percentage, so the totals of each poll add up to 100%.
  • As of tonight, there have been a staggering 17 polls by 15 different pollsters in the last week (Alco and Rass both published two). Taking the average of the most recent poll from each pollster (i.e. excluding the older of the two polls by Alco and Rass), Syriza gets an average 34.8% of the vote, New Democracy gets 30.4%; see the spreadsheet linked below.

The system

  • The Greek electoral system, based on proportional representation, is marked by two peculiarities. The first is an electoral threshold of 3%; any party getting less than that gets no seats. The second is that the party with the greatest number of votes gets a bonus 50 seats, with the aim of increasing political stability. (The only other example I can think of that follows this model is how one of Italy’s two houses of parliament was elected in the past decade.) In total the Greek parliament has 300 seats, so for a governing majority you need 151.
  • Right now, according to the average of recent polls, almost 9% of Greeks would vote for parties that are set to miss the 3% threshold. Those includes the newly launched outfit of former Prime Minister George Papandreou, To Kinima, which is polling at an average of 2.7%, and Dimar, which has declined so much it’s usually not listed separately in polling results anymore. This means that the 250 parliamentary seats that are allocated proportionally are divided up based on the votes of about 91% of the electorate.

    For 9% of Greek voters to miss out on parliamentary representation would be a shame, but it would hardly be unprecedented; in the May 2012 elections, an astonishing 18% of them voted for minor parties that got less than 3% each. (They wizened up in the elections two months later though, when just 6% did.)

The spreadsheet

Here it is – or go and see it at a more comfortable size:

Top of the sheet: current average polling for each party; and prospective number of seats for each party, taking into account the 3% threshold and 50-seat bonus.

Underneath: the results from each recent poll, from Wikipedia.

Syriza’s prospects

Just six seats from a majority sounds good for Syriza. But it’s not entirely as good as it may seem:

  • The party would still need to get those six additional seats to get to a parliamentary majority, and there doesn’t seem to be an ample choice of partners.

    Greek politics is divided both between left and right and between those who support and oppose the bailout packages and accompanying austerity policies. As supporters of the bailout packages, long-time former rivals ND and PASOK found each other in the incumbent government, which was already something of an emergency alliance (and all but killed PASOK electorally). For opponents of the bailout policies on the left and right to find each other in a similar way would be even harder, since they are posited on the respective flanks of the political system.

    On the left, there is Syriza and the communists; on the right, the Independent Greeks and the fascists. The fascists are beyond the pale for anyone. The communists, however, if I understand things correctly, aren’t particularly useful either. Stuck in the 1950s, they’re the fully unreconstructed type, best at home in issuing declarative statements in the wooden language of the Soviet era, while waiting for the revolution to come. They might not prove reliable partners in government. An alliance with the populist conservatives of the Independent Greeks seems like a wildcard option, since they do share Syriza’s anti-bailout, anti-austerity stance, but they’re on the brink of failing to meet the 3% threshold.

    The alternative is finding allies among the center-left parties PASOK and To Potami (“The River”). The latter party, a center-left outfit headed by a famous TV personality, has apparently teamed up with the pro-business DRASI party, which doesn’t bode well for collaboration in an anti-bailout program. And PASOK politicians would have to make a complete turn-about from their current collaboration in the ND-led government.

  • A few percent change here and there could change everything.

    Syriza’s lead over ND has eroded from around 7% in October/November to just over 4% now. It seems to have stabilized over the past two weeks, but it’s not a safe lead. Ahead of the May 2012 elections, polls were wildly off, starkly overstating support for the “old” parties ND, PASOK and KKE and equally understating support for the insurgent Syriza and Golden Dawn. In the June 2012 elections, the polls did a lot better, but had ND and Syriza tied going into the elections when ND ended up winning by 3%.

    If To Kinima does pass the 3% threshold, this would take away seats from all the other parties, including Syriza, and make the 251 seats harder to get to. Vice versa, if the Independent Greeks would fail the threshold, this would scatter its seats across the other parties, bringing Syriza 3 seats closer to a majority, but deprive it of a potential ally on certain issues.

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Not so quiet before the storm: Local elections in Budapest, Hungary

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

For the third time in a year, on October 12, Hungary is having elections, this time for mayors and municipal councils. They’re predictably depressing, but I wrote a post about the contexts, data and implications over at Daily Kos Elections.

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SNP voters who rejected Scottish independence? The results of yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence pose a geographic paradox

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

The referendum on Scottish independence last night ended up as the No camp hoped, the Yes camp had been trying not to think about, and almost exactly as I’d predicted, though I was certainly not alone. The result is an anti-climax after such excitement and absolutely unprecedented turnout, and it leaves election obsessives picking through the results.

Here’s one thing that struck me: the Scottish National Party has become the major force in Scottish politics over the last decade or so, in Holyrood at least if not in Westminster. In the 2010 UK elections, the SNP received 19.9% of the Scottish vote, which was a good but hardly dominant result, but in the 2011 Scottish elections, the SNP won no fewer than 53 of the 73 single member constituencies, and 44.0% of the party vote – very close to the YES vote in the referendum (44.7%). The SNP was also, obviously, the major driver behind the referendum. So you’d expect a fairly close relation between the map of the 2011 SNP vote and the referendum vote. But nothing could be further from the truth.

I slightly adjusted the BBC map of the referendum results and the map of the SNP results in 2011 made by Antony Green for Australia’s ABC to make a direct comparison easier – with apologies to Shetland, which fell on the cutting room floor in the process. Click to enlarge:

Map: Scottish independence referendum vs SNP vote in 2011 Scottish elections

Ah, even better: Antony Green also made a map of the 2011 SNP vote by council area, which is the administrative unit by which the referendum results were announced. So that makes for a more direct comparison:

Map: Scottish independence referendum vs SNP vote in 2011 Scottish elections by council area

Keep in mind that dark on the referendum map means NO, whereas dark on the elections map means a high SNP vote – so you’d expect the dark (heavily SNP) regions on one map to match up with the light (low NO-vote) regions on the other map. But there’s no such relationship at all – North-East Scotland’s strong NO vote makes it almost looks like the opposite. If anything, due to the Glasgow-centered nature of the YES vote, there is more of an overlap with the map of the Labour Party’s 2011 results (even though Labour, of course, campaigned against independence).

Part of this is logical: Glasgow, the center of the YES campaign, where it succeeded in mobilizing an impressive number of mostly poor, disaffected people who normally don’t vote, is traditional Labour territory. All the more impressive that the pro-independence activists managed to get the city behind their cause.

But think about it: could the opposite then be true too? For example, the SNP won over 52% of the vote in the Moray, Aberdeenshire and Angus council areas in 2011. But yesterday only 42%, 40% and 44% respectively voted “Yes”, and these council areas made up a sizable 9% of the Scottish electorate. On the Western Isles, the SNP received over 52% of the 2011 vote, and Yes only 46.6%. In Perth & Kinross and Falkirk, the SNP received 48-52% of the vote in 2011, but Yes received just 47% of the vote in Falkirk, and a paltry 39.8% in Perth & Kinross. Especially when you consider that large numbers of Labour voters came out in favour of independence, as Glasgow shows, could this mean that a significant number of SNP voters came out against independence?

Not necessarily: after all, turnout was much lower in the Scottish elections – barely over 50%. For the referendum, it was a whopping 84.6%. So it could mean that in their own strongholds, the SNP voters were more alone than they must have felt: all those neighbours who normally don’t vote turned out to be heavily against independence. That would still make for a geographic anomaly though, because it would mean that the habitual non-voters who did come out to vote now were much more unionist-minded in SNP strongholds than their peers in other council areas. That’s possible, but not intuitive.

For what it’s worth, Lord Ashcroft’s overnight poll of 2,000 Scots found that 14% of those who voted for the SNP in the 2010 British elections voted NO yesterday. That’s 14% of the just 20% of Scottish voters who opted for the SNP in the Westminster elections. One might reasonably speculate that the share of NO voters among the much larger pool of those who voted for the SNP in 2011 was significantly larger still.

Comparing the geographical spread of the Yes vote in the referendum with the SNP result in the UK elections of 2010 is less relevant, considering the much smaller share of the vote the SNP received in those elections. But for the sake of being complete I’ve used a map made by The Economist for a side-by-side comparison on that one too:

Map: Scottish independence referendum vs SNP vote in 2010 UK elections

Completely off-topic, but Reddit turned up an interesting chart about the correlation between disposable income and the “No” vote by region. Not sure if it’s original content by the submitter or credit for the original creator was withheld; Google turns up no alternative sources of the image.

21 September: Helping to solve the mystery

Stephen Fisher did great work explaining what seemed like a paradox in this post at his blog Elections Etc. The TLDR is:

Only after controlling for the effects of socio-economic circumstances is there such a clear relationship between the Yes vote and SNP support. [S]ocio-economic factors seemed to be more important factors than prior nationalist support.

The reader comments by James in the comments section provide more helpful detail.

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Party preference and income levels in the districts of Budapest: Elections 2014

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

Despite its populist image, the governing Fidesz party is still very much a bourgeois party, at least in Budapest. Conversely, electoral support for the far-right Jobbik in Budapest tends to be stronger the poorer a neighbourhood is. On the other side of the political playing field, the five-party socialist/liberal opposition alliance had roughly equally strong (or weak) support in wealthier and poorer districts alike. But when those parties run separately, their support reveals very differing geographic patterns.

All of this is suggested by a series of scatter plots I created, which chart the results of Hungary’s general and European elections earlier this year in Budapest’s 23 districts against gross income per capita levels in those districts. Check out the Infogr.am embedded below – although you might prefer to view it on the Infogr.am website itself, where the charts are square as they are supposed to be rather than rectangular – that’s just the format of this blog distorting them a little.

Two qualifications should be made beforehand, however:

  1. The electoral geography of Budapest, as it relates to income levels, does not necessarily follow the same logic as that of Hungary as a whole. For example, in the European elections at least, the Socialist Party (MSzP) did seem to do better in the poorer, working class districts of Budapest than in the more prosperous ones. But at the same time, the party’s results in Budapest as a whole were the best it received across the country, even though Budapest is also the most prosperous region of the country. The relation between Fidesz and Jobbik votes and income levels in Budapest also appear to be quite different from how they work out in some of the other regions.
  2. The fact that a party does best in the richest (or poorest) areas doesn’t necessarily mean it also does best among the richest (or poorest) voters. The United States is the classic example of this paradox: Democratic presidential candidates tend to do best in the most prosperous states (e.g. the Bos-Wash corridor and the West Coast) and worst in the poorest states (e.g. the Appalachians and the Deep South). But exit poll after exit poll has confirmed that, although the correlation is becoming weaker over time, the party does better among lower-income voters and worse among higher-income ones. However, since we’re dealing with data by city district rather than by whole states here, such a paradox should be less likely to occur.

(One more small-print disclaimer: for income data by district I’ve relied on the Hungarian Central Statistical Office’s data regarding “Gross income serving as basis of the personal income tax per permanent population”. But the comparison between districts works out a little differently if you use its numbers on “Gross income serving as basis of the personal income tax per tax-payer”. I decided not to do that because it doesn’t take the large and varying number of non-tax payers in a district into account, for example the unemployed – and what about pensioners? – and this makes some of the districts with the highest non-active rates, like the 8th, look better-off than they are. But choosing the indicator “per permanent population” has its own effects; if you’re surprised to see Újpest ranking higher on the income axis than Zugló, for example, this is why, because the district has a high percentage of employed, working-age population (whereas Zugló, I assume, has more pensioners). Districts 17, 19 (Kispest) and 21 (Csepel) would also rank noticably lower with the alternative indicator.)

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Last weekend’s elections in Brandenburg and Thüringen: some data

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

The populist right-wing Alliance for Germany (AfD) had a chance to repeat the success it enjoyed in state elections in Saxony two weeks ago in two state elections last Sunday, which both also took place in the former East-Germany. But in both Brandenburg and Thüringen, it went one better and got double-digit percentages. The AfD got 12% of the vote in Brandenburg (sometimes nicknamed “the small GDR”) and 10% in Thüringen.

Just like in Saxony, the AfD took votes from across the political spectrum, pollster Infratest Dimap revealed. In Thüringen, just like in Saxony, the Christian-Democratic CDU, Social-Democratic SPD and (ex-communist) Left Party all saw 5-6% of their 2009 voters switch to the AfD, while the liberal FDP and extreme-right NPD lost significantly larger shares of their electorates to the party.

On the bright side, the SPD in Brandenburg easily maintained their position as the state’s top party, though the Left Party, which had been their junior government coalition partner, lost a lot and booked its worst state elections result there since 1990. Nevertheless, just like last time, Brandenburg’s SPD is free to choose to govern with them or with the CDU; either combination would have a majority.

In Thüringen, weirdly, the SPD has the same luxury of being able to pick its coalition partner, even though they lost heavily and were left with just 12% of the vote. Both the CDU and the Left Party did well, cementing their positions at the top of the state’s party system, and they both want to govern – but neither of them can do it without the Social-Democrats. So it will either be a renewed CDU/SPD government, with a parliamentary majority of 1, or a Left Party/SPD/Green government, also with a parliamentary majority of 1.

The latter would of course be more ground-breaking and exciting, but oddly enough the three parties actually pooled less of the state vote (46.3%) than five years ago (52.1%), and obviously back then the Social-Democrats chickened out, even though they were promised the Prime Ministerial post by the (larger) Left Party. However, their chickening out last time round, and their stubborn refusal to express a preference for one or the other coalition option in this year’s campaign, led to them losing a fair amount of votes to the Left Party in these elections. So maybe they won’t do it again.

I won’t do a fully-fledged blog post, but I tweeted some interesting data I’ll collate them here:

Voter flows

  • The Left Party in Brandenburg lost 19 thousand voters to the AfD, which attracted some attention; in part because of the curiosity of a stridently left-wing party losing voters to a populist right-wing party, and that not being an isolated phenomenon either, with far-left losing votes to far-right parties elsewhere as well; and in part because the AfD seemed to go out of its way to fish for Left Party votes. But to keep this in perspective: the Left Party also lost a whopping 119 thousand voters – six times as many – to the non-voter camp.
  • Vice versa, the CDU in Brandenburg had a good night, overtaking the Left as the state’s second-largest party for the first time since 1999, but nevertheless also lost 19 thousand votes to the AfD, meaning that the CDU lost a larger share of its 2009 voters to the AfD than the Left Party did.
  • The
    Wählerwanderung, AfD: Thüringen

    Voter transfers to the AfD in Thüringen

    AfD in Thuringen also pulled votes from across the political spectrum, as this chart shows. (The “Andere” category here includes 10,000 votes the AfD pulled from the NPD.)
  • What these numbers mean is that the CDU lost 7% of its 2009 vote in Brandenburg, and 5% of its 2009 vote in Thüringen to the AfD; the Left Party lost 5% and 6%, respectively, of its 2009 vote in the two states to the AfD; and the FDP lost 14% and 12% of its vote, respectively, to the AfD. The SPD lost 6% of its 2009 vote in Thüringen to the AfD, but just 3% of its vote in Brandenburg.

Demographics:

  • More data on who voted for whom: In both Thüringen and Brandenburg, the AfD’s best professional groups were workers and the self-employed. And in both states, the Left Party did best among the unemployed and pensioners.
  • Here’s a worrying data point: for both the SPD and the Left Party, in both Brandenburg and Thüringen, the best age group was those over 60+. The fact that it’s true for both parties makes it all the more worrying about their long-term future in these East-German states. Meanwhile, the best age group for the AfD in both states was those between 25 and 34.

History:

  • A historical perspective: the Left Party booked its best ever result in Thüringen … and its worst result since 1990 in Brandenburg. The SPD booked its worst result in the postcommunist era in Thüringen, and ex aequo (with 2004) the worst in Brandenburg. The Greens got their best result in Brandenburg since 1990, and the FDP its worst result there ever. Surprisingly, the FDP in Thüringen has seen worse times still (1.1% in 1999). The Spiegel has a couple of interactive charts to explore some of those historical trajectories, and here are screenshots for two of them:
  • Strong in Thüringen, weak in Brandenburg - Left Party state election results since 1990

    Strong in Thüringen, weak in Brandenburg - Left Party state election results since 1990

    Strong in Brandenburg, weak in Thüringen - SPD state election results since 1990

    Strong in Brandenburg, weak in Thüringen - SPD state election results since 1990

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Charts! Last weekend’s elections in Saxony: Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz vs. the rest of the state

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

Last Sunday’s state elections in Saxony were marked by a low turnout, an only slightly eroded dominant position of the Christian-Democrats, and an imposing result for the right-wing, anti-system Alliance for Germany (AfD) party. The AfD was helped by the fact that these elections, the first state elections it ever took part in, took place in the very state where the party had already done best in the federal and European elections. Nevertheless, its 9.7% of the vote was remarkable and well beyond what the polls had foreseen.

Election night had its share of suspense as the extreme-right NPD hovered right around the 5% electoral threshold. It ended up missing it by a hair and getting 4.95%, which means it’ll be cast out of state parliament after ten years in its stronghold state.

There are several interesting geographic dimensions to the results, and I created an infographic at Infogr.am to share them:

A few observations about what these charts show:

  • In Leipzig the left-wing parties got a total of 55%, and in Dresden close to 50%. But outside those cities and Chemnitz, the left-of-center parties pooled a paltry 35%of the vote.
  • The NPD was kept under the 5% threshold thanks to Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz. It got 5.7% in the rest of the state.
  • Over half of the vote for the Greens and Die PARTEI came from Dresden and Leipzig. Conversely, only about a fifth of the vote for the AfD and NPD came from those cities.
  • The progression of the vote for the Linke shows an interesting urban/rural divide: Dresden +1.6%; Leipzig -0.4%; Chemnitz -2.2%; Rest of the state -2.5%. Speculation: is that a slight reflection of it becoming a younger, more urban party, and less of a pensioner + working class “ostalgic” party? The party must also have suffered more from defections to the AfD outside the two main cities.
  • The CDU’s modest losses in the elections were entirely due to Dresden (-3%) and Leipzig (-1.4%). Elsewhere in the state its vote was totally stable. Another ever so slight sign of an increasing urban/rural divide.

Meanwhile, an Infratest Dimap poll showed where the AfD got its votes in Saxony (Further charts for voter exchange data by party are here). Almost a quarter of them came from the CDU, and about a tenth each from the FDP, Linke, NPD and non-voters.

Weirdly, Infratest Dimap’s chart also indicates that some 40,000 of the AfD’s voters (or over a quarter of them) came from “Other parties” (Sonstige). That seems hard to believe considering those only pooled some 120,000 votes in 2009, and the main ones were the Animal Protection Party and the Pirates. Maybe some voters prefer to say they voted “Sonstige” rather than confessing their true vote, or that they didn’t vote at all?

Doing a quick calculation on the basis of the chart’s absolute numbers and the 2009 results reveals that:

  • The CDU, Linke & SPD each lost 5% of their 2009 voters to the AfD. That’s pretty striking.
  • The NPD lost no less than 16% of its 2009 voters to the AfD. The FDP lost (only?) 10% of its voters to the party. The Greens were unaffected.

This is also a good occasion to link back to a couple of (mostly fairly exhaustive) infographics I made after the federal German elections last year:

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Of sideshows, curiosities and structural changes: Everything you ever wanted to know about this year’s local elections in the Netherlands (and probably quite a bit more)

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

It’s not easy for local elections in a country the size of The Netherlands to make the international news. But if there’s anyone who can make it happen, it’s the peroxide-blonde leader of the Dutch far right Freedom Party, Geert Wilders. And that’s what he did, on March 19, when the municipal election results were being tallied.

2014 Municipal election results, the Netherlands

Click to enlarge: 2014 municipal election results

Orating to a Freedom Party rally in The Hague, Wilders asked his supporters to give “a clear answer” to three questions that he was going to ask them; three questions that “defined our party”. “Do you want more or less European Union?”, he started off. Less, less, his supporters chanted enthusiastically. Second question: “Do you want more or less Labour Party?” Again, the crowd clapped and chanted: “less, less!”. So Wilders moved on to the third question. “I’m really not allowed to say this,” he started, but “freedom of expression is a great value … so I ask you, do you want more or fewer Moroccans, in this city and in the Netherlands?” The crowd, elated, chanted back: “Fewer, fewer, fewer!”, and with a sly little smile Wilders remarked, “then we’ll go and arrange that”.

Which got the Dutch election night headline space from the BBC to The Guardian, from the Times of Israel to Al-Jazeera, and from Fox News to the Huffington Post.

All of which was pretty unfair, considering that Wilders’ Freedom Party (or the PVV, as the Dutch call it) had been something of a non-entity in the whole local elections campaign. The party had refrained from taking part in the elections altogether in all but two municipalities: The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government, and Almere, a large town in Amsterdam’s commuter belt. Moreover, as was mentioned in almost none of these stories, it actually lost votes in both cities.

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If Facebook ‘likes’ were votes, the far-right Jobbik would be the largest Hungarian party

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

Which Hungarian political parties use Facebook most successfully to create and engage with a significant online following? A comprehensive effort to find out reveals two things: the balance of forces between the Hungarian parties on Facebook is very different from what the actual results of the elections in April will be like – and despite what is basically a three-party system in real terms, there are a lot of Hungarian political parties with a Facebook presence.

Facebook likes vs current polling for Hungarian parties

Facebook likes vs current polling for Hungarian parties

The chart on the right (click to enlarge etc., and yes, it’s a pie chart – but if that makes you twitch, there’s a bar chart further down this post) specifies the 22 parties with the largest numbers of fans. For comparison’s sake there’s a chart representing current opinion polling data underneath.

I’ve taken the concept of  ”parties” in a light spirit and included the satirical Two-Tailed Dog Party (which once again has been denied registration, so it can’t take part in the elections this year), and it happens to blow many of the regular parties out of the water. (On that note, the Fourth Republic party 4K! probably also enjoys an unfair advantage, since it might now be seriously campaigning as an alternative left-wing party, but it used to be better known on Facebook for organizing things like an annual pillow-fight event.)

So who wins the Facebook races?

That would be the populist, far-right Jobbik party, best known for its rhetorics against “Gypsy crime” and recurrent bouts of anti-semitism. It is ‘liked’ by a whopping 188 thousand people on Facebook. Jobbik is especially strong among young voters, so its prominent showing on Facebook is no surprise, though the fact that it beats out all the other parties may be more of a shock. In the 2010 elections, Jobbik received 17% of the vote, and right now it’s polling at about 13%, so it’s a significant force in the real elections as well, but will remain deep in the shadows of the governing Fidesz-KDNP alliance in the elections.

Right behind Jobbik is Together 2014, the movement launched around former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, which for some time from late 2012 on roused the hopes of a center-left, liberal, pro-EU electorate for a strong new opposition force. The movement largely fizzled out though, and is now taking part as the largest junior partner in the five-party, left-of-center “Unity” opposition alliance under the leadership of the Socialist Party’s Attila Mesterházy. Together 2014 does almost as well as Jobbik on Facebook, which surprised me – but only in quantity of likes, not in actual engagement, as I’ll show below.

Third place is for Fidesz. All-powerful as it may be in the Hungarian state, government and, dare one say, economy (as well as current election polling), it doesn’t even get to play second fiddle on Facebook. Or does it? Fidesz may have ‘only’ 116 thousand or so likes, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has 219 thousand. Bajnai, in comparison, only has 103 thousand, and Jobbik’s Gábor Vona 155 thousand.

Coming in fourth is … no, still not the Socialist Party. It’s the Two-Tailed Dog Party, which promised such goodies as free beer, eternal life and “more of everything, less of nothing” in its previous abortive attempt at joining electoral politics. The Socialists only have 89 thousand likes – an unsurprisingly weak performance for a party best known for its legacy support among stubborn pensioners. Though Mesterházy himself does significantly better, with 152 thousand likes.

Chart: All Hungarian parties with more than 250 likes on Facebook

All Hungarian parties with more than 250 likes on Facebook

The rest of the parties follow at a respectful distance. The most popular of the lot include former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition, with 34 thousand likes (though his own page does much better, clocking in at almost 89 thousand) and the green party Politics Can Be Different (LMP), with 24 thousand.

The latter is outdone by two others though. The LMP broke up acrimoniously last year, and the break-away fraction formed “Dialogue for Hungary” (PM), which swiftly joined Together 2014 and, now, Unity. And on Facebook, PM easily surpasses LMP with 31 thousand likes. Even more surprisingly, both have fewer Facebook likes than the Welfare and Freedom Democratic Community (JESZ), which was founded upon the ashes of the once-important Hungarian Democratic Forum.

Honourable mentions go, not just to Fourth Republic, but also Lajos Bokros’s Modern Hungary Movement (16 thousand likes) and … the Independent Smallholders Party. They still exist! “Újra erősek vagyunk!”, We Are Strong Again, their posters exclaim somewhat optimistically, and hey – they do have more likes than any of the three liberal parties that emerged from the wreckage of the Alliance of Free Democrats. (Which reminds me: does Hungary really need six different green parties?)

The largest party, on Facebook at least, that I had never heard of is the Elégedetlenek Pártja, i.e. the Party of the Discontented. Which seems fitting. And if you think that the parties at the bottom of this second chart, which are mostly of the far-right, far-left, ecological and Romani varieties, are doing rather pathetically with just a couple of hundred likes, trust me – it can be much worse. After doing Facebook searches for every party I came across trawling through the Hungarian Wikipedia’s list of parties, the list of parties that registered a willingness to take part in the last elections and, last but not least, the decisions handed down by the National Elections Commission so far this year, I’ve found a total of 60, and the smallest one has just 13 likes. There are actually 15 different parties with fewer than 100 likes – don’t these people have friends and families to rope in? Here’s the full list – with URLs.

UPDATE: Active followers vs. disengagement and ‘fake’ likes

There are of course a lot of ways to artificially boost the numbers of likes for your page. Paying Facebook for ads is the simplest way. If you want to break the rules, you can also pay clickfarms for thousands of extra likes, though many of them might then come from South- or East-Asia. A friend pointed me to some evidence that a couple of Jobbik politicians took a more convoluted road. At least that’s what a blogger appeared to find out, when he followed a link to some clickbait story on a Hungarian site called DailyStory, was asked to ‘like’ the site to see the content, clicked ‘like’, and afterwards went back to his Facebook profile to erase the ‘like’ again. Turned out he hadn’t just liked anything from DailyStory, but instead the Facebook page of a Jobbik MP. A look at the page source of the DailyStory item confirmed that they’d actually pointed the ‘like’ to Mr. Lajos Kepli’s page, and some further digging revealed that the owners of DailyStory also own a site called “LikeMarket”. Looks like Mr. Kepli, and at least one other Jobbik politician, used that site’s services …

Does that mean that none of the numbers in this blog post can be trusted? Or that the Jobbik page’s numbers are probably bogus? I don’t think so, and not just because the revelations were only about a couple of individual politicians.

Of course it’s always good to be skeptical about page likes as stand-alone metric.  If you want to review an entity’s success in engaging supporters on Facebook more properly, you should look beyond those, for example at how many likes, shares and comments individual posts get, or how many people click on the links on the page. Since people who were tricked in liking a page or got paid for it by a clickfarm aren’t likely to start actively commenting on it, that also helps to weed out the fake “likes”. Of course all of that goes far beyond the scope of a blog post, but Facebook does provide a straightforward alternative metric: “Talking about this”.

Likes versus 'Talking about it': engagement of Facebook followers

Likes versus 'Talking about it': how engaged are the FB followers of the different parties?

This metric measures how many people have, in the past week, commented on, shared or liked a post, joined an event, mentioned or checked in at a page, etc. Since it still includes new page likes too, it doesn’t wholly do away with the problem, but it helps. So how do the Hungarian political parties do when comparing total page likes and “people talking about this”? The chart’s on the right!

Turns out, Jobbik still rules the roost. Both in page likes and people ‘talking’ about their page. Their conversion rate of likes into actual engagement is actually better than most of the other parties are doing – suggesting no evidence of massive numbers of ‘fake’ likes distorting their top line number.

Instead, it’s Together 2014 which has a very low conversion rate, which is why it’s drooping towards the bottom right of the chart. Evidence that Together 2014 has fake likes? Not hardly, because many other things can explain such disengagement on the part of the ‘likers’ too. A feeling of resignation, for example, or disappointment. Together 2014 roused a fair bit of hope among center-left and liberal opposition supporters when it was launched – but a lot of those people are presumably not particularly enthusiastic by the new ”Unity” alliance which Together 2014 has joined, led as it is by the Socialist Party and burdened by its inclusion of the very divisive politician Ferenc Gyurcsany and his Democratic Coalition.

Wholly anecdotically, I can say that 17 of my friends turn out to ‘like’ the Together 2014 page, more than any other party except the Two-Tailed Dog Party (which I guess tells you something about my friends) – and I know that many of them don’t trust Gyurcsany and/or the Socialists (who have a solid base but are perceived as corrupt, inept ex-communists even by many liberals and greens). There really doesn’t seem to be any enthusiasm about these elections – it’s all resignation about the inevitability of a Fidesz victory and the unattractiveness of the opposition.

It’s therefore interesting to see which other parties are showing higher or lower engagement rates among their Facebook followers. Higher than most? The Democratic Coalition and, to a lesser extent (roughly at a par with Jobbik), the Socialist Party. A sign that the old-fashioned polarization of the election campaign is rallying the base of the traditional left, at the same time (and for the same reasons) as it is depressing engagement among those who feel alienated from the old politics? Just like Together 2014, the green Politics Can Be Different party is doing weakly as well, burdened by last year’s split and its gloomy prospects of making it back into parliament.

Among the small parties, followers of Fodor’s Liberálisok do seem very engaged, and to some extent those of the KTI are too. Those of 4K!, many of whom probably came for pillow fights rather than politics, are not. The center-right JESZ, belying its relatively high number of page likes, is getting hardly any interaction at all – over 33 thousand likes, but just 205 people ‘talking about it’, that’s a horrible engagement rate. Then again I don’t think they’re taking part in the elections. Among the tiny parties, two itty-bitty green parties, the Zöldek Pártja and Élőlánc Magyarországért, have proportionally high ‘Talking About This’ numbers.

Age appeal

Finally, one thing is true for most of the political parties: people who ‘like’ a party are old, especially in the context of Facebook. As in: between 55 and 65 years of age. The notable exceptions are Jobbik, LMP, 4K! and, surprisingly, the KTI and Jesz. (Really? In combination with the horrible engagement rate, you’d almost think it’s JESZ which bought some likes …). Here are the numbers, according to Facebook, right now:

.

Party Most pop. age group

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Jobbik 18-24

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Together 2014 55-64

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Fidesz 35-44 / 55-64

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Two-Tailed Dog Party 18-24

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Socialist Party 55-64

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Democratic Coalition 55-64

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JESZ 18-24

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PM 55-64

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LMP 25-34

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4K! 18-24

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Modern Hungary Movement 55-64

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Independent Smallholders 35-44 / 55-64

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Liberals 55-64

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SZEMA 55-64

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KTI 18-24
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