Browsing the archives for the European Politics category.

Regional elections in France and the National Front scare: After the run-off

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

It’s a great relief for any democrat that Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) failed to win any region, after having led in six after the first round, and after Le Pen herself had prognosticated that the FN could win “four or five regions”. That would have been disastrous, not just in terms of policy but as signal of a new stage of far-right penetration, at a time when the politics of xenophobia is on the rise across Europe.

Record number of votes for the Front National

The Front National received a record number of votes in the second round of the regional elections

But the party still booked an all-time record result in this weekend’s second round, in terms of raw votes (see chart to the right, from here). 6.8 million votes went to the National Front’s candidates. That’s not just over 800,000 more than in the first round, but also more than voted for Marine Le Pen in the first round of the 2012 presidential elections. Which is all the more striking considering that there were 36.6 million votes in total in those, and just 26.5 million now. In the PACA region (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), for example, Marion Maréchal Le Pen  led the FN list and received a whopping 45% more votes in this second round than Marine Le Pen had gotten in her presidential bid.

So Le Pen is still very well-placed to improve significantly on her 2012 result, when she received 17.9% of the vote in the first round, in the next presidential elections.  A new opinion poll illustrates this.  If Sarkozy runs for the right, Le Pen would get 27% in the first round, with Sarkozy and incumbent President Hollande both getting 21%, centrist candidate Bayrou 12% and leftist candidate Mélenchon 10%. If, instead, the more moderate Alain Juppé runs for the right (in which case Bayrou would drop out), he would get 29% of the first round vote, Le Pen 27%, and Hollande 22%.

In practical terms, the FN tripled its number of councilors. (See the charts in the right column here for the share of councilors it won in each region.) Due to France’s electoral system, the FN has always had trouble building a good bench of local and regional politicians, and this will help it expand that bench significantly.

Libération, meanwhile, highlighted the ground the FN has won in terms of the political discourse. It pointed to the mainstream right’s winning candidate in the Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne region, Laurent Wauquiez, as example; he recently published a piece which proclaimed “Immigration, Hollande, Brussels: ça suffit” (“that’s enough”). Marion Maréchal Le Pen had already announced before the first round: “we have won the battle of ideas, not that of the parties”.

In her concession speech, Marine Le Pen gave a taste of what her presidential campaign will sound like. She argued that the withdrawal of the Socialist Party candidates in two crucial regions proved that the left-wing and right-wing parties are all the same, and triumphantly announced that there is now a new new kind of “bipartisme” – not between left and right, but between “patriots” and “mondialistes”.

Along similar lines, Marion Maréchal Le Pen denounced “the cynical profiteers” of the traditional parties, against which the Front National likes to contrast itself so much as clean alternative and authentic voice of the people. “Our love of France has never been as exalted,” she told her supporters. The Front National mayor of Hénin-Beaumont, Steeve Briois,  instead engaged in some projection, accusing “the republican front” of having “played on people’s fears and pursued a campaign of hate”.

Why the Front National failed to win any regions in the second round

Front National victories were prevented by a combination of three issues. One was that turnout increased significantly compared with the first round. As a result, the FN may have gained an additional 800,000 votes, but the other parties added a much higher number of 2,7 million voters to their tallies. It proved that there is still, for now, a “republican” majority for whom the FN is beyond the pale. A recent poll showed that 60% of the French think that the FN is “a dangerous party for democracy” and only 31% believes the FN is “capable of governing the country”.

The second reason the FN candidates fell short, surprisingly clearly in the case of Marine Le Pen herself in the Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie (NPDCP) region, was that the Socialist Party withdrew its candidates in crucial regions. In the NPDCP and PACA regions, Marine and Marion Maréchal Le Pen had received over 40% of the vote in the first round, with the candidates for the traditional right-wing lists behind by over 14 points and the left’s candidates in third place. In both regions the left’s candidates retreated in order to block the Le Pens. In the northeastern region Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine, the Socialist Party withdrew its support from the Socialist candidate there who insisted on proceeding to the second round against its advice.

In Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie, Socialist activists went as far as leafleting for the right-wing candidate to help stop Le Pen. While the Socialist withdrawals lead to “an explosion of blank votes” in those two regions, as some left-wingers went to the polls but refused to vote for either candidate, the mobilization of a “republican front” was nevertheless impressive. In the left-wing first ‘arrondissement’ of Marseille, for example, the left’s withdrawal and support boosted the traditional right-wing candidate’s results from 17,7% in the first round to 80,1% in the second round.

France regional elections: vote transfers

France regional elections: vote transfers between the first and second round in the two regions where the socialist candidate withdrew

The chart to the right, showing the pooled voter flows in the PACA and NPDCP regions, shows it nicely as well. The increase in turnout in the second round benefited both the traditional right and the far right, but the former more so than the latter. Most importantly, however, it looks like almost a third of the vote for the victorious traditional right’s candidates came from left-wing voters. The picture was much more straightforward in the other regions, which had three-way run-offs with left-wing, right-wing and far-right candidates, though again it’s noteworthy how the increased turnout benefited the former two much more than the FN.

The Socialists paid a heavy price for this exercise in civic spirit though. Nord-Pas de Calais had been one of the left’s traditional strongholds; the Socialists came first in every regional election there since the region was created in the mid-1980s. Now, the Socialist Party will not have any representatives in the regional assembly, nor in PACA.

Third, the FN leads in the first round were partly deceptive because of the role smaller parties played. The Socialist Party may have received just 23% of the vote in the first round, but various green and leftist candidates received an additional 13%, and those formed a natural reserve of additional second-round votes for Socialists who made the run-off. The traditional right could at least to some extent fall back on voters from the Gaullist, Eurosceptic “Arise France!”. But there are no smaller far-right parties of note which the FN can draw on in run-offs.

For example, the Socialist Party candidate in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté placed third in the first round, with 23% of the vote against 24% for the traditional right’s candidate and 31% for the FN candidate. But in that same first round, 12% voted for other left-wing candidates, who collectively put the left at 35%; and 8.5% of them voted for Arise France! and the center-right MoDem, which would put the traditional right at a total of 32.5%. There were no minor party candidates which provided a pool the FN candidate could draw from. From this perspective, the second round result was no surprise at all, since it almost exactly reflected the proportions of each “camp” (as wide-ranging and eclectic as those are) in the first round: 35% for the left’s candidate, 33% for the traditional right, and 32% for the FN.

The results and challenges for the left and (traditional) right

The end result, in which the left won five regions against seven regions for the right, was a better than expected result for the left. “At the beginning of the campaign,” the conservative Figaro wrote, the socialists “had hoped to hold three regions at most”. But Le Monde published a chart which emphasizes an important distinction: the regions the right won have twice as many inhabitants as the ones the left won. This is in no small measure due to the right winning “Île-de-France” (Greater Paris), which Libération called the country’s “mammoth region of 12 million inhabitants”. The loss of Île-de-France smarts all the more because the left had held it for the past sixteen years.

By ways of symbolic comfort, @Taniel pointed out, the Front National was very weak in the two Paris arrondissements where last month’s terrorist attacks occurred, getting just 5% of the vote there while the left romped home.

Map: results of the run-off, by commune

Regional elections in France: results of the run-off, by commune. Source: Le Monde.

The less-disastrous-than-expected result is still likely to reignite a long-standing fight within the Socialist Party. What should the strategy be, ahead of the next presidential elections? As Le Figaro wrote: “In a landscape where three political parties compete in the first round, with an advantage for the Front National, the crucial objective is to make it into the second round. But how? By achieving, foremost, unity on the left, or by trying to quickly search for voters in the centre? It’s this question the socialists will now struggle to answer, knowing that it divides them deeply.”

Sarkozy’s supporters on the right and center-right face similar, perhaps even more combustive internal arguments, however. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the vice-president of Sarkozy’s party who had already earlier openly dissented from his line, pointedly remarked last night that if the left had applied the same “neither-nor” line which Sarkozy imposed on the right, obliging its candidates to refrain from any kind of alliance with the left against the FN, the right “would have lost”. The right’s candidates in the PACA and NPDCP regions seemed well aware of this, making sure to thank the left’s voters. But Sarkozy’s line has strong allies too, like the above-mentioned Laurent Wauquiez. [Edit: One day after I wrote this post, Sarkozy had Kosciusko-Morizet fired and replaced by noone else but Wauquiez.]

What will complicate this fight is that there will likely be an additional argument over when the right’s presidential primaries should be held. If the right’s contenders, like Sarkozy and Juppé, are waging a bitter fight until shortly before the presidential elections themselves, this could harm them and create opportunities for a Left vs FN run-off. But aspiring contenders who are currently further back in the primary polls, like former PM François Fillon, want the extra time, Le Figaro explained. To add to the complications, Sarkozy seems like the front-runner, but the polls show Juppé doing much better in a run-off against Le Pen.

Education, income and partisan preference, France & Netherlands edition

A French polling outfit called OpinionWay did a survey for Le Point about who voted what in the second round of the regional elections, and the breakdowns by education and income are stark. They also happen to echo findings by Maurice de Hond’s polling outfit this weekend in the Netherlands.

Map: Run-off results by "département”

Another way of visualizing the run-off map: leading party/candidate by “département”. Source: Liberation

Breaking down results by three educational levels, OpinionWay found that a whopping 44% of lower-education voters voted for the Front National, while just 16% of higher-education voters did. Both the left and the traditional right did better among higher-education voters, and both — perhaps surprisingly — by roughly the same margins.

Among professional categories, workers (“ouvriers”) went for the Front National by a stunning 54% to 26% for the traditional right and just 20% (!) for the left. The unemployed, however, spread their votes evenly among the three camps. But another set of data from the survey shows that turnout among them was a bitterly low 36%.

The Front National also easily led among those with the lowest incomes (less than 1,000 euro/month), attracting 43% of them to 34% for the traditional right and just 23% for the left. The left came closest to leading among the upper middle income category of 2,000-3,500 Eu/m, getting 34% of their votes to 38% for the traditional right and 28% for the FN. The traditional right did best among the uppermost income category, getting 47% of its vote.

The Dutch poll had shown the far right with similar, dominant leads among lower-education voters. According to de Hond (also using three education-level categories), Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party are getting 37% of the lower-education vote, and just 14% of the higher-education vote. Almost half (46%) of lower-education voters would consider voting for the Freedom Party, vs just 20% of higher-education voters. The only other party whose support is slanted towards the lower-educated is on the opposite end of the political spectrum: the Socialist Party gets 13% of the lower-education and 7% of the higher-education vote. (“Would consider” voting for the Socialists: 28% vs 17%.)

Conversely, the liberal and conservative center-right parties (VVD, CDA and D66) are pooling a strong 48% of the vote among higher-education voters, but just 22% of the lower-education vote. It’s a serious cleavage, which has shown up in surveys in the Netherlands for years now, and seems much more pronounced than class-based cleavages in earlier decades. It’s a serious cleavage, which has shown up for years now, but seems so much more pronounced than class-based cleavages in earlier decades.

It’s also an arguably much more damaging cleavage. In the post-WW2 era, the Dutch working class disproportionally voted for the Labour Party (though the christian parties also always received a substantive chunk of the working class vote), and the Labour Party regularly got to govern, ensuring that working class interests would at least sometimes be met. As a result, working-class voters had some reason to retain an extent of confidence in the political system. However, neither the Freedom Party nor the Socialists in the Netherlands, nor the Front National in France, are likely to gain entry to government (and in the case of the far right parties wouldn’t do much constructive on behalf of working class voters even if they did). Meanwhile, the Dutch parties that are most amenable to coalition governments, like the VVD, CDA and D66 as well as the Labour Party, have less reason than ever to prioritize working class interests, since that’s not where their electorate lies (anymore). The political cleavage therefore threatens to lock working class voters in an anti-systemic camp, as that’s where the only parties are which appeal to their interests and sentiments, but those parties won’t be able to represent their interests in governmental policy and the other ones will have less reason to do so; all of which in turn will only erode any confidence working class voters have left in the system. It could be a real vicious cycle.

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Elections for “Supreme Burgomaster” in Dresden: Ready for round 2

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

Last weekend the citizens of Dresden went to the polls for the first round of elections for Oberbürgermeister, an office which Wikipedia translates as Supreme Burgomaster. That sounds funny. Let’s just say mayor.

The incumbent Helma Orosz, from Angela Merkel’s Christian-Democratic Union (CDU), had resigned in February – she suffers from breast cancer. The liberal FDP’s Dirk Hilbert took over her tasks for the few months since, and he ran in these elections as an independent candidate. His main opponent was (and remains) Eva-Maria Stange, a politician from the social-democratic SPD who is running as independent with the support of the SPD, Left Party and Greens. Hilbert’s bid was complicated by the CDU running its own candidate, and there were also two candidates from the populist (far) right. In comparison, Stange had little competition on the left – nobody but Lars Stosch, alias Lara Liqueur, from the satirical party The PARTY, who promised free beer and equal representation for lazy people.

Although Merkel’s CDU dominates the national party landscape, getting 41.5% of the vote in the 2013 parliamentary elections against the SPD’s 25.7%, Dresden was actually the last German city with over 400,000 inhabitants to still have a CDU mayor. But as capital city of the eastern state of Saxony it was a good place for it, since Saxony is a bit of a Christian-Democratic bulwark. The CDU actually used to get absolute majorities in state elections in the 1990s, and in last year’s state elections got 39% to the Left Party’s 19%.

Dresden itself has in the past been more politically balanced. In the municipal elections of 2014, the Left Party, Greens, SPD and Pirates pooled 52.7% of the vote (and yes, that was their ranking order), while the CDU and FDP pooled just 32.6% and the populist and far right (AfD and NPD) got almost 10%. But in the previous elections, in 2009, the left-of-center parties got just 44%, the CDU, FDP and DSU also pooled 44%, and the extreme right got 4%. Moreover, in the last mayoral elections – which took place all the way back in 2008 (seven-year terms!) – Helma Orosz almost got the 50% of the vote required to be elected in the first round, and eventually defeated the Left Party’s candidate by a massive 64% to 31% margin in the second round.

Orosz remained a popular mayor, but there was confusion on the right after she resigned. Her own party nominated Saxony’s Interior Minister Markus Ulbig, but he proved to be a weak candidate. Dresden was at the center of the mass rallies by the anti-Islam movement Pegida (as illogical as that might seem, considering that the city has very few muslim residents and just one mosque, and 80% of the population is secular), and Ulbig’s vacillating response managed to piss off both Pegida supporters and their left-wing opponents.

Instead, Hilbert became the center-right’s de facto main candidate. But on the far right, Pegida had its own candidate, the independent Tatjana Festerling, who likes to tell her supporters that the “professional politicians”, and especially those of the left, are just “alcoholics, communists and childfuckers,” and that a “flood” of asylum-seekers will increase crime. Festerling is too radical even for the upstart populist right-wing Alliance for Germany party (AfD), which sent its own candidate into the contest: Stefan Vogel.

The polls had foreseen a first round advantage for Stange, with Hilbert right behind and Ulbig merely in third place. That all turned out to be true, and with just 15% of the vote the CDU candidate was even further behind Stange (36%) and Hilbert (32%) than the polls has suggested. This means that, however the second round ends, the CDU will no longer have a mayor in any of Germany’s largest cities.

What the polls got all wrong was the far right’s appeal. Festerling did not merely get 1-3% of the vote, as they had indicated. She got 9.6%. And Vogel got another 4.8%.

Festerling did especially well in the city’s communist-era high-rise suburbs, like Gorbitz, which were partly torn down when they emptied out in the 1990s (Gorbitz itself used to have a population of well over 35,000; now it’s 21,000, though trending up again). Those neighbourhoods generally are a source of strength for the Left Party as well, but in this election the left/right divide mostly ran parallel to the divide between inner Dresden and the suburbs.

Saxony is an odd case in the sense that second round elections are not run-offs. They’re more of a re-run. Nobody gets eliminated after the first run; in principle, all the candidates are allowed to run again. (Baden-Wurtemberg has an even stranger system; there, even new candidates can still enter the race.) In practice though, it doesn’t work like that. Ulbig announced immediately after the first round that he would not stand in the second round and wanted to talk with Hilbert about an agreement. Perhaps more surprisingly, Festerling later withdrew as well and went further, quite stridently appealing to her supporters to vote for Hilbert. The state AfD joined in as well: the party’s primary aim should now be “to prevent a victory for the leftredgreen candidate and former SED member Stange”.

All of this suggests that Hilbert, rather than Stange, has the advantage going into the second round, which will take place on July 5. After all, when you add up the results for all the right-of-center parties, that’s 61.5% of the first round vote. No wonder that Stange has promised to “mobilize non-voters”. And that’s easier said than done too; in fact, the turnout in the first round was already unusually high, at 51% compared to the previous mayoral election’s 42%. Presumably that was thanks in large part to Festerling success in mobilizing protest voters who would normally not bother to show.

Yet things might not be quite as straightforward, as at least one local political scientist argues. Most of Festerling’s voters will probably stay home, he says. There’s certainly no organic link between Hilbert and Festerling’s voters: he did badly or very badly in many of the neighbourhoods she did best in. The supporters attending the rally where she made her endorsement certainly didn’t seem happy about it.

Moreover, Hilbert has so far done his best in his campaign to present himself as a moderate, almost neutral candidate who stands above party politics, and distances himself from both left and right. But now Ulbig and the CDU, and Festerling in her own way, are pushing him to wage more of a “Lagerwahlkampf” – an election campaign between two camps, left and right. How else is he going to rally their voters in a low-turnout election? But he doesn’t seem eager. He’s rejected the concept of a “Lagerwahlkampf” outright; refused to meet with Festerling, even as he also refused to repudiate her support; and surprised the CDU by ruling out a written pre-election agreement with any party.

Is he being smart, or shooting himself in the foot? Maybe Stange still stands a good chance after all.

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Provincial elections in the Netherlands: The left is losing (its) face

European Politics, International Politics, Politics
Election map, the Netherlands, provincial elections 2015

The Netherlands, provincial elections 2015: winning party by municipality

Unprecedented fragmentation, a weakened government that will have to go in search for further allies to keep functioning, and a new record low for the Labour Party. Those were the main features of the outcome of last month’s provincial elections, on March 18, which determined not just the make-up of provincial legislatures but also the Dutch Senate.

Because of the continuing collapse of the Labour Party, the results also constituted the worst performance for the left overall in provincial elections since 1994, while centrist parties — the Democrats ’66, a party for the elderly and various regional lists — did well.

I contributed a rather exhaustive analysis of the election results, with plenty of maps and charts, as guest post to the World Elections blog. Maybe see you there!

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Hungary: the far right Jobbik wins its first ever constituency seat

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

There was a parliamentary by-election today in Hungary, in the seat of Tapolca, which encompasses a swath of the Balaton lakeshore and some of its hinterland, including the towns of Ajka (pop. 29,000), Tapolca (pop. 16,000) and Sümeg (pop. 6,000).

Viktor Orban’s governing, rightwing-populist Fidesz party already lost its two-thirds majority in parliament in February, when it lost a byelection in the neighbouring constituency of Veszprém. That seat was improbably picked up by a libertarian independent with the support of the left-wing opposition parties. A two-thirds majority is important because it allows the government to pass hard-to-repeal, so-called cardinal laws. But if I’ve understood things correctly, it only needs to be two-thirds of present MPs, not two-thirds of the total of elected MPs. So being only one seat short would still leave the government party with some leeway, as long as it’s disciplined enough.

This new by-election provided another chance to make that harder, so it was hard fought. The good news: Fidesz lost the seat. The bad news: it was won by the far-right Jobbik party instead.

Despite cumulative efforts to soften the party’s image, which have sped up recently, Jobbik remains on the hardcore end of European far-right parties, to the point where France’s Marine Le Pen and the Dutch firebrand Geert Wilders refuse to collaborate with them. But with the Fidesz government hemorrhaging support and the left/liberal opposition in perpetual disarray, it’s Jobbik that’s picking up floating voters.

In last year’s general elections, Jobbik won 20.3% of the vote, an even stronger result than the 17% it had won in 2010, when it came from zero. Over the last month or so, three pollsters have pegged its support at 24%; a third one put it at 30%. Meanwhile, they had Fidesz at 35-45%, the left/liberal opposition parties at 11-20%, and the greens at 5-8%.

In that light, the Tapolca result isn’t entirely unexpected, though the party had still been in third place in the constituency in last year’s general elections. This is how the results compare:

Party Result 2015 Gain/loss
Jobbik 35.3% +11.8%
Fidesz 34.4% -8.7%
Socialists/Democratic Coalition 26.3% -1.0%
LMP (Greens) 2.1% -0.9%
Others 2.0% -1.2%

Turnout was some 42%, which is brisk for a by-election, especially in a traditionally low-turnout country like this; in last year’s general elections turnout in this constituency had only been 60%.

The left/liberal candidate only came first in Ajka; the rest of the constituency went for Jobbik (especially Tapolca and surroundings) or Fidesz.

Jobbik leader Gabor Vona called the result a defeat of “arrogance and corruption” and “a historic victory”. He’s right with the historic victory part. Hungary has a mixed electoral system: over half the MPs are elected in districts, through a winner-takes-all system (and Fidesz won 96 of the 106 such seats last year), and under half the seats are elected through a national party list vote. While Jobbik won 23 of the latter kind of seats last year, this is the first time it’s ever won a constituency seat. And it’s not even in the party’s north-eastern heartlands, but in the west of the country. It’s sure to scare Fidesz (which might move even further right in response) and leave the left feeling ambivalent at best.

Vona will presumably continue to try to “de-demonize” Jobbik, following Marine Le Pen’s electorally successful example. He’ll have a hard slog at it, because many Jobbik politicians are more Golden Dawn material. When he punishes a Jobbik MP who photographed himself spitting into a Holocaust monument by forcing him to lay a flower there, or punishes a local Jobbik councillor who posted on Facebook about buying guns to execute Roma by forcing him to live with a Roma member of the party for three days, it doesn’t exactly distract attention from the extremism of the party’s rank and file.

That holds true even if he does more Facebook contests asking his fans to send pictures of themselves posing with their pets; even if he’s suddenly talking about a “Western opening,” after the party steered a Russia (and Iran!)-friendly course for years; even if he now talks about the need of “sharing the sorrow of everybody, including the Jews.” And the Fidesz machine will do its part; it’s perhaps not a coincidence that the public prosecutor just started an investigation into a Jobbik MP describing the Holocaust as a fraud.

The question is whether voters will care. The Jobbik candidate in Tapolca won despite apparently having posted, and then deleted, a Facebook post calling the Roma a “biological weapon of the Jews”. But the Fidesz government really is arrogant and corrupt (and worse things, too). If voters want to punish Orban, and Jobbik’s the only opposition party that seems capable both of getting its act together, organizationally, and addressing rural, small-town and working class voters in a way they can relate to, that’s where ever more voters will go. Especially if, on the one hand, Jobbik keeps pushing out a “softer” image and, on the other hand, anti-semitic and xenophobic notions keep becoming more normalized in public discourse.

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Hungary: polling update and by-election preview (updated with results)

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.

For more data and information, read on below the fold.

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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 the fold – 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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