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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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Reenacting their parents’ revolutions as farce?

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, History, Politics
May Day march of the Greek communists (KKE and allies) in 2008. Image used under CC license by xamogelo.

May Day march of the Greek communists in 2008. (Image shared under CC license by Flickr user xamogelo.)

“You can only imagine the bitterness this must have left in families [with] Republican, anarchist or socialist traditions,” I wrapped up my previous post about the lost children of Franco’s Spain. This might be something to keep in mind when eyeing the still vibrant leftist countercultures in the Mediterranean.

In Germany and Holland, countercultural hotbeds in the eighties, even the parties furthest to the left have long embraced classic social-democratic programmes that are more redolent of Willy Brandt than Karl Liebknecht. But in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal there are still significant constituencies waving the red or black flags of revolutionary communism or anarchism. Maybe stories like those of Spain’s lost children are part of the explanation: the political emotions go deeper, are rooted in more personal stories.

This is what an IPS report on the Greek riots last month posited. Explaining the sheer intensity of anti-police violence, Apostolis Fotiadis reported:

Many [of the young people who joined the demonstrations] were joined by their parents, who experienced military dictatorship between 1967 and 1973. “I came because I felt responsible for the stalemate we left to these children to deal with [..],” said Tania Liberopoulos, a middle-aged accountant.

The protests were fed by the political memory of a history of social and political struggle. Almost by instinctive conscience, many people in Greece distrust the state. The latent Greek dislike of the police, which erupted so volcanically, has its roots in the old dictatorship when the police functioned as the colonels’ enforcers against the citizens.

Constant misuse of the police for anti-social purposes has led to its dehumanisation; officers are met with hate and contempt, and they hate back.

I’m not sure I buy into this – or at least, I’m not sure whether it works as much of a defense.

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