Strong electoral surge in favor of main opposition party

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Analysis

by YIANNIS MAVRIS

 

Four months after European elections, a strong electoral surge can be seen building in favor of the main opposition party as a consequence of: 1) the momentum of the election result, 2) widespread disapproval of the taxation policy being implemented and 3) the repeated failures of government propaganda. The significant electoral rise of SYRIZA, +5% compared to July, has elevated the main opposition party to voter support levels of around 36%, which would correspond to 146 seats in parliament (with a lower estimate of 142 and upper estimate of 150 seats).

 Momentum of the Euro election result

In summer 2009, the decision of then prime minister Kostas Karamanlis not to hold parliamentary elections at the same time as European elections proved to be, in retrospect, a serious political mistake. His New Democracy party lost the Euro elections in June with a difference of only 4.35%. Just four months later, in October 2009, anti-government sentiment had turned into an electoral avalanche, which handed PASOK a tremendous victory at the polls and inflicted a crushing defeat on the incumbent party. The small difference in the European elections shot up to 10.5% (43.9%-33.5%) in national elections.

                Last spring, with the manipulation (switch) of the election date, i.e. the simultaneous holding of local and European elections, but also the numerous measures that curtailed and obstructed voters’ right to vote, which effectively increased the abstention rate, the government managed to “filter” the electorate and partially temper the social discontent that in normal circumstances would have been manifested more vehemently.

                However, in the recent European elections, ND and its ruling partner PASOK were eventually unable to avoid the strong social backlash (together losing a total of 828,000 votes). And this made SYRIZA the leading party, with a difference of 3.85%. The main opposition party, due also to the phenomenon at the time of ‘tactical voting’ (“Irrespective of ideological preferences, I vote for the party that can harm my main opponent the most”), also won in the Attica region, where one-third of the country’s population lives.

 Similarities with 2009

The electorate knew – on the basis of reality itself rather than opinion polls (which clearly exercise greater influence on politicians and journalists) – that the main opposition party was winning and the government was losing. This phenomenon is a familiar one in the study of election history and entirely compatible with circumstances in Greece. A spectacular shift in the balance of voter support for the parties, which is confirmed in some intervening electoral contest, then creates a bandwagon effect in favor of the winner. It is therefore no surprise, as was the case also in 2009, to see the momentum from the Euro election result working in SYRIZA’s favor and the difference (the “gap”) increasing, indeed to the double-digit figure of 11% recorded in the September survey.

                Nevertheless, it should yet again be stressed that while the lead enjoyed by the first party may be important in terms of political one-upmanship, it is of no importance whatsoever in terms of the number of seats it holds in parliament. This is because, on account of the electoral law in force, the first party receives a 50-seat “bonus”, even if it won by only a single vote. The only thing that matters is the percentage of the vote received by the first party, in combination with the percentage gained by “other parties”, i.e. by those parties that fail to cross the 3% threshold for parliamentary representation. As is clear from Table 1, the percentage needed by the first party to form a majority government is directly dependent on the degree of party fragmentation.

Table 1: Percentage needed by 1st party to form a majority government, according to the aggregate percentage of parties that win no seats in parliament.

 

Total per-centage of parties <3% 5 5.5 6 6.5 7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10 10.5 11 11.5 12 12.5 13 13.5 14 14.5 15
Per-centage of 1st party 38.5 38.5 38 38 38 37.5 37.5 37 37 37 36.5 36.5 36 36 36 35.5 35.5 35 35 35 34.5

Characteristics of the surge

The present strong electoral surge in favor of the main opposition party appears to be broadly diverse.

1) SYRIZA has succeeded in rallying and is now absorbing a large segment of the anti-Memorandum vote, which in 2012 had cast ballots for other party formations. Some of these voters had gone over to SYRIZA after the first national election in May 2012, only to move away in the repeat election the following month, because of the massive pressure to which they were exposed and the propaganda against the main opposition party. At the same time, voters who in the post-electoral period 2012-2014 and up to the European elections continued to have reservations about SYRIZA’s ability to govern, now appear to have overcome them.

                SYRIZA’s rallying of the anti-Memorandum vote has been possible on the one hand due to the entrenchment of Independent Greeks, which ND failed to break up in the Euro elections and, on the other, to the “decapitation” of Golden Dawn. Current voter support for Independent Greeks, which is estimated at 4% (compared to 3.5% in European elections 2014 and 7.5% in Parliamentary elections 2012[June]) may have shrunk but is showing signs of stabilization, while the reduced electoral support for Golden Dawn remains at 7.5% (against 9.4% in European elections 2014 and 6.9% in Parliamentary elections 2012[June]). On the basis of the cumulative record of Public Issue’s post-election surveys (which on account of size provides more reliable indications), it emerges that Independent Greeks voters switching to SYRIZA account for almost 26% of the former’s electoral support, i.e. about 2% of the electorate, and in the case of Golden Dawn nearly 12%, i.e. less than 1%.

                2) Due to the manifest crisis facing the country’s center-left party formations (PASOK, Democratic Left), a not insignificant segment of the electoral base of the two parties has also turned to SYRIZA. They are voters whose anti-right sentiment outweighs any ‘conservatization’ or bowing to neoliberal ideological constructs. These voters, who are also not moved by the centrist “depoliticisation” proposal, as expressed by the RIVER party, accounted for 28% of Democratic Left’s support in 2012 and 27% of PASOK’s strength (in total, approximately 5% of the electorate).

                3) The mass anti-government vote now being observed is due, for the first time to such an extent, also to a shift between camps. ND voters switching to SYRIZA account for almost 14% of the former’s electoral support in 2012, i.e. approximately 4% of the electorate. 

                It goes without saying that the number of SYRIZA’s incoming voters is reduced by those of its supporters switching to other parties, e.g. to the RIVER and the Communist Party of Greece (in total, 5% of its voters in 2012).

 Enfiapolis… or ND’s social isolation  

In order to properly assess the current political outlook, the momentum from the Euro election result, which explains SYRIZA’s post-electoral rise, should be considered in conjunction with the persistence of the extremely deep cracks created in ND’s support within Greek society during the past four years of Memorandum policies and the social isolation in which the party has found itself.

                The redistribution of assets and the centralization of property, which are being advanced through the Memorandum taxation policy, have brought the coalition government partners into conflict not only with the working and lower-middle classes, but also with segments of the middle and even upper classes. The muted protest of the right, which openly manifested itself in the European elections and had not been detected in opinion polls in all its magnitude, is due precisely to this. In the wake of the new single property tax (ENFIA), it is highly likely that the rupture in relations of representation has reached the point of no return. The social and electoral break-up of the Right and of ND, which has been caused by the Memorandum, continues to be strategic in nature. In the Euro elections, the political formations to the right of ND (Golden Dawn, Independent Greeks, Popular Orthodox Rally, etc.) received 17% of the vote. The fragmentation was thus maintained, while ND’s social isolation appears to be very real. It is characteristic that, at the present time, 51% of ND’s electoral base is comprised of pensioners and 11% of housewives.

The resorting to Nazi ideology, to post-civil war anti-communism and to nationalism has not succeeded in neutralizing the anti-Memorandum ideology that grew among half the traditional electoral base of the conservative camp. The reformulation of a new right-wing ideology, based on religion and the emerging anti-Islamic axis, along the lines of a “21st century Christian Democracy” is an undertaking that can only be evaluated in the long term and does nothing to solve the problems of the coming six months. Forty years after its founding, it appears that ND is today following, with a two-year delay, in the footsteps of PASOK

 

Date of publication: 29/09/2014

Publication: Newspaper “ΕΦΗΜΕΡΙΔΑ ΤΩΝ ΣΥΝΤΑΚΤΩΝ”