Browsing the archives for the political parties tag.

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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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. Below the fold, I accompany the Infogr.am charts with a few observations about what they show.

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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

.

Jobbik

18-24

.

Together 2014

55-64

.

Fidesz

35-44 / 55-64

.

Two-Tailed Dog Party

18-24

.

Socialist Party

55-64

.

Democratic Coalition

55-64

.

JESZ

18-24

.

PM

55-64

.

LMP

25-34

.

4K!

18-24

.

Modern Hungary Movement

55-64

.

Independent Smallholders

35-44 / 55-64

.

Liberals

55-64

.

SZEMA

55-64

.

KTI

18-24
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Take my country. No, really – take it.

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, Funny, Politics

Did Roman Abramovich, the world’s 15th richest man (and Russia’s second wealthiest), get an offer he can’t refuse?

An unknown Latvian called Andris posted a letter on petitonline.com which reads:

Dear Roman Abramovich. As you may already know our homeland Latvia went bankrupt and is currently holding talks with the International Monetary Fund on the sale of our country for 7.5 billion euros ($10.7 billion). [..]

I would like you to consider the possibility of purchasing Latvia: the population are hard working and pleasant, environmentally clean area and plenty of space to dock your yacht.

A prank, right? But one that got signed by 1,025 people (and counting).

It’s mostly Russian names – and since anyone can sign (I know; I tried), this is of course the perfect foil for a latest dig in the ongoing flamewar between Latvia and Russia. Then again, since the 40% or so Russian-speaking residents of Latvia have been largely and vocally dissatisfied ever since independence, there shouldn’t be a lack of signatories from Latvia either.

Not, moreover, that this is a first. As the bloggers at Eternal Remont point out:

Apparently this is not the first time Latvians have joined together to petition a foreign individual or state takeover. Also this year, over 2000 Latvians petitioned for Swedish occupation.

And this particular Baltic tradition goes back further than that, in one of my favourite bits of party political history. When the Estonians held their first national elections after independence in 1992, those were understandably won by conservative nationalists. But coming in sixth in a fragmented landscape was the Estonian Royalist Party.

The Royalists proposed establishing Estonia as an absolute monarchy. Of course there was the slight dilemma of Estonia never having had a royal family, so instead the party suggested the Swedish Crown Prince Carl Philip could become King of Estonia.*

The Royalists won no less than 7.1% of the vote, and 8 of the 101 seats in parliament.

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Yearning for a “none of the above” ballot option

European Politics, Politics
(Image used under CC license from Flickr user Neil101)

(Image used under CC license from Flickr user Neil101)

In Russia, until a few years ago when Putin’s acolytes decided the option was creating altogether too many headaches, voters had the option of foregoing all the available choices and instead checking a box on the ballot marked “none of the above”. The option had some actual teeth as well: in case more voters opted for “none of the above” than for any individual candidate, the elections had to be done over. (That’s what let the government to eventually shut down the option, after a couple of embarassing reruns in regional governor’s elections.)

Judging on some recent opinion polls, there’s plenty of Europeans who would love the option. Take Britain and Hungary.

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