by YIANNIS MAVRIS
The pre-election period is entering its final and most crucial week. During the past 10 days, New Democracy managed to shift the election agenda, assisted by the terrorist attack in Paris. The momentum generated by this development is recorded in a series of changes in the estimated voter support for the political forces.
On the basis of the second weekly wave of Public Issue’s pre-election survey (the poll was conducted in the period 10-15 January), the most important changes seen in the past week may be summarized as follows: a) an increase in support for the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) (+2%), New Democracy (ND) (+0.5%), Golden Dawn (+1%), Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) (0.5%), the newly formed Movement of Democratic Socialists (KIDISO) of George Papandreou (0.5%), Democratic Left (DIMAR) (+0.5%), b) a drop in support for SYRIZA (-2.5%) and PASOK (-0.5%) and c) no change for The River (To Potami) and Independent Greeks (ANEL) (Figure 1).
These week-on-week changes have had two direct consequences: 1) the narrowing of the gap between the first two parties (from 8 to 5 percentage points), though with SYRIZA at the same time retaining a significant lead and 2) a decrease, relative to the previous week, in the likelihood of SYRIZA being able to form a majority government. According to the current estimate, SYRIZA would win 144 seats if ANEL is represented in parliament, or 147 if not. In this respect it is worth pointing out an interesting, consistent finding of the survey: The vast majority of public opinion (78%, i.e. 8 in 10 respondents) appears to be convinced that the forthcoming elections will not result in a parliamentary majority for any one party.
Shift in the election agenda and rise of ND
Spreading economic and social insecurity among the electorate has emerged (once again) as the main axis of the incumbent party’s election campaign. The unfolding new campaign to intimidate the electorate does not appear to be having the same effect as it did in 2012. However, it has certainly had some impact on sizeable segments of the population which are vulnerable to propaganda, such as pensioners or housewives.
Moreover, ND’s pre-existing turn to the right, the party’s opting for the “security” agenda and the cultivation of anti-Muslim sentiment received an unhoped-for boost from an unexpected event, namely the terrorist attack in Paris (7/1/15). An event which the country’s media hastened to fully exploit. The events in France allowed ND to shift, at least to some extent, the political agenda from the issue of Memorandum policy and debt negotiation, to the more “favorable” (for ND) domain of “Law and Order” and immigration policy, which is also considered to be the weak point of the main opposition party’s discourse.
New Democracy HQ estimated that the growing fear throughout the EU, in the wake of the bloodshed in the French capital, could also have a direct impact on the pre-election climate in Greece. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras immediately linked the threat of fanatic Islamic fundamentalists with the immigration problem and will persist in this direction, since it has now become the main tack within the ranks of conservative leaders in the EU who are (also) in electoral difficulties.
Possible side-effects of ND’s ideological shift
With its campaign of intimidation and the impact of the terrorist attack in France, ND did indeed succeed in rallying its supporters in just one week, with the relevant index rising from 61.5% to 65.5% (+4%). Whether this rallying of support is maintained or not will become clear in the coming week. However, ND’s election campaign is once again playing with fire. The adoption and legitimization of the far right agenda, the attempt to exploit xenophobic tendencies and the effort to link immigration to the terrorist attack in France may well have a boomerang effect.
By cultivating xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment, pandering to the (real) anti-immigration reflexes of the Greek electorate (PM’s visit to the Evros River barbed-wire fence), speaking about the threat of “illegal immigration” and scaremongering about the “disarming of the police”, it is by no means certain that Samaras will succeed in rallying the electoral support of his party’s right wing.
As has been demonstrated, historically, more often than not such a shift in the political agenda ultimately strengthens the far right rather than the formal party groupings of the Right. It is highly characteristic that the current weekly wave of the survey records, apart from the rise of ND, an even greater – in aggregate – rise also of the “headless” and communication-deprived Golden Dawn, as well as of LAOS. Parties which, one should not forget, were seriously underestimated in opinion polls prior to recent European elections.
Furthermore, the fact that The River is holding its electoral support, especially among the upper social strata, shows that ND’s populist transformation is not rallying supporters but on the contrary continues to repel a sizeable segment of liberal and center-right voters.
SYRIZA’s loss of voters to KKE – A return to the fold
The shift in the political agenda of the elections, as seen in the past week, favored ND to some extent and gave a kiss of life to the formations of the far right. However, it does not explain and is unrelated to the decline in SYRIZA’s estimated electoral support during the course of the week (-2.5%). Indeed, SYRIZA’s losses are not due to a shift between different camps but exclusively to a shift within its own (left) camp.
Although the aggregate electoral support for the two main groupings of the Left (SYRIZA, KKE) remains constant, there has nevertheless been a significant change in the balance between them. The increase in support that has been seen for KKE (Greek Communist Party) is due to a return to the fold of a large segment of its voters who in 2012 had gone over to SYRIZA. Compared to the previous week, the rallying of KKE supporters reached 71%, up from 58%, and this explains the significant rise in electoral support for the party which was recorded during the past week (7%, +2%).
The fact that “party loyalty” is returning is also confirmed by the increase in popularity of KKE’s General Secretary, Dimitris Koutsoumpas (+3%). It is worth recalling at this point that in May 2012, KKE’s electoral support stood at 8.5% (536,000 votes). On account of the polarization and tactical voting in favor of SYRIZA, this figure fell to 4.5% (277,000) in June, while in recent European elections (May 2014) it rose slightly (6.1% or 349,000 votes). Consequently, if the current trend consolidates and turns out to be more than a conjunctural fluctuation, then the quantitative target set for the first time by KKE’s general secretary, to secure third place for the party, may prove to be “realistic”.
But what is the cause of this “repatriation”, the return of KKE communist voters who had voted for SYRIZA? The fact that SYRIZA has taken a massive opinion poll lead as the expected election winner (70%, compared to 66% the previous week) and the widespread belief that the party will win the election, which has become prevalent among the electorate, is strongly encouraging complacency and “freeing” that segment of KKE’s electoral base from its “eternal dilemma”. It is clear that these voters, if they feel certain that the Left will emerge victorious at the polls, will prefer to strengthen their own party, indeed to the extent also that the shift in SYRIZA’s discourse perhaps reinforces their political reservations.