Public opinion on the issue of Greece’s negotiations with its lenders appears more solid, as social dissatisfaction with the European Union grows
by YIANNIS MAVRIS
The Political Barometer for June captures trends in Greek public opinion, as these have been shaped just a few days prior to the emergency EU summit called to discuss the issue of Greece. (The survey was conducted 11-17/6/15).
In this context, two findings are of particular importance. First, the fact that support within Greek society for the present government and the prime minister remains more or less unchanged. Second, according to several indices, public attitudes towards the issue of the country’s negotiations appear more solid.
Rallying of support continues
1) The government’s handling of the debt negotiation is approved by 58% of citizens (+4% compared with the previous month), while among present SYRIZA voters the corresponding figure is almost 92%.
2) Greek citizens who believe that the government “should not yield” to the pressures of the lenders not only continue to be in the majority, at 62%, but are increasing (+3%, from 59% in May). Some 84% of present SYRIZA voters are aligned with this position, which represents a significant increase relative to the figure of 78% recorded in May.
3) While opinion in favor of negotiating the debt with the country’s lenders remains the main choice among the electorate (at 67%), 1 in 4 citizens (22%) are today in favor of Greece defaulting on its loans. In the space of three months, that is, this percentage has almost doubled (+10%, up from just 12% in March). The “hardening” of public attitudes is striking.
Growing dissatisfaction with the European Union and euro
1) The intensity of attacks against the Greek government and the pressures being exerted against it by the major European powers are resulting in a considerable increase in social discontent with the European Union, whose image is at the lowest point of the past 12 months. In the six months since elections (i.e. since January), Greek public opinion steadily viewed the EU with disapproval, but for the first time since early 2014, negative attitudes towards the EU have reached 57% (6 in 10 respondents).
2) To a lesser degree this dissatisfaction also extends to the euro, though a majority of citizens continue to favor the currency. In the Political Barometer survey, citizens’ attitudes towards the common currency are measured over time by two indices (opinion about the euro, attitude in the event of a referendum). In both indices, negative attitudes towards the euro have grown markedly in the past month, surpassing 30%.
3) The outlook for the Eurozone sharply divides Greek citizens. Only 1 in 2 (49%) are currently of the opinion that the Euro Area “has a future”, with 45% believing the opposite. With respect to this issue, the ideological divide revealed on the basis of party preferences, between the “pro-Memorandum” parties (New Democracy, PASOK, Potami) and their “anti-Memorandum” counterparts (SYRIZA, Independent Greeks, Communist Party of Greece, Golden Dawn) is extremely deep.
4) A characteristic indication of the increase in anti-European sentiment among public opinion is the overwhelming disapproval of the Eurogroup’s president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, as well as of Germany’s Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble (both of whom share the same low level of positive ratings, just 14%), but also the prevalence of negative attitudes towards the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (52%, against 39% positive). In sharp contrast, there has been an impressive improvement – over the past four months – in the popularity of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose image nevertheless continues to be negative (57%, against 39% positive). Other key figures too remain unpopular, including ECB President Mario Draghi (27% positive, 56% negative) and (even more so) the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, whose extremely negative standing has deteriorated further in recent months (71% negative, against 23% positive).
In view of the accelerated pace of political developments and the considerable burdening and polarization of the political climate that has come about, the slight decline in voter support for the two biggest parties (as well as for the Communist Party of Greece), as recorded in June and the strengthening of the other, smaller parties (Potami, Independent Greeks, PASOK, Golden Dawn), cannot be assessed as political changes of any great importance. Put differently, the escalation of the confrontation between the Greek government and the country’s lenders during the negotiation process in the past month has not significantly affected the electoral balance of forces. The pressures being exerted and the scaremongering campaign launched by international and domestic news media have not managed – so far – to weaken the absolute electoral dominance of SYRIZA which has come about since the elections, nor to shatter Alexis Tsipras’ image as a leader. (It is worth noting, incidentally, that the prime minister’s popularity among present SYRIZA voters stands at almost 98%). It would appear that the attacks of the lenders are prolonging and strengthening the rallying of support in the country for the government, rather than the opposite.