The government crisis caused by the closure of state broadcaster ERT resulted in the withdrawal of Democratic Left (DIMAR) and an inglorious end to the three-party coalition. This development reopens the question concerning the outlook for the ‘Center-Left’. In elections in 2012, this portion of the party spectrum was mainly represented by two party formations, the remnants of PASOK and DIMAR, whose ideological and political positions to a great extent overlap. In aggregate, the two parties polled 18.5% in the June elections, over 1 million (1,141,000) votes. They thus constituted a strong bulwark against the rapid advance of the Left, which today has become destabilized.
Three years of DIMAR
On Sunday 27 June 2010, at a Panhellenic Conference attended by delegates who had walked out of the 6th Congress of the Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) along with small groups of the so-called ‘renewing’ left, in total 520 representatives from all over the country, founded the Democratic Left party. The ideological identity of the new party was summarized by the following four principles: ‘democratic socialism – left Europeanism – reform strategy – environmental awareness’.
In its first 1½ years and up to the moment that George A. Papandreou’s PASOK party collapsed (11/2011), DIMAR remained a minor, even marginal political force, with voter support that did not exceed 3%(figure 1).The ousting of Papandreou turned PASOK’s escalating social and political breakdown into an open crisis of representation, as the electoral support of the then ruling party (as estimated in opinion polls) hit rock bottom (8%, Public Issue survey, February 2012) and, conversely, support for DIMAR soared to previously unimaginable heights, compared to the figures and the abilities of this political formation. The same survey recorded DIMAR’s highest ever level of voter support in the three years of its existence, 18%(figure 1).
DIMAR and PASOK from the outset functioned much like ‘communicating vessels’, but in Spring 2012 DIMAR did not have the political, ideological and organizational capacity to absorb and retain the vast numbers of PASOK voters who were now aggressively abandoning their party. For this reason, DIMAR’s much improved showing in opinion polls lasted just one month. As early as April 2012, the tide began to turn. The departure of George Papandreou and PASOK’s change of leadership swung the momentum, though only temporarily as it turned out, in its favor and against DIMAR. The time had now come for SYRIZA to step forward. Following the typical orbit of a flash party, DIMAR would – one month later, in the May elections – retain and consolidate a considerably lower level of voter support.
Initially, when the SYNASPISMOS leadership broke up, DIMAR’s electoral base was more ‘PASOK-centric’ than SYRIZA’s. In May 2012, 6 in 10 DIMAR voters (60%) came from PASOK (had voted for PASOK in 2009 parliamentary elections) and only 14% (1 in 7) from the former SYRIZA. Among the latter’s voters (in May), 37% were from PASOK (almost 4 in 10) and 20% from the former SYRIZA (2 in 10).
In May, DIMAR polled 6.1% (386,000 votes), retaining this level of support also in June, in fact increasing it slightly on account of the higher rate of abstention (6.3% – 385,000 votes), despite the unprecedented polarization that had developed. In pre-election opinion polls, the party’s strength appeared to be higher, but this was not confirmed at the ballot box. A segment of its potential voters (as in the case of PASOK also) eventually preferred to cast their ballot for New Democracy in order to prevent a SYRIZA victory (‘tactical voting’).
The distribution of votes for DIMAR was highly uniform across geographical space (with the exception of Rhodope), ranging from 5% to 7.9% in roughly two-thirds of the country’s prefectures in June. The breakdown of its support (urban areas 7%, semi-urban 6%, rural 5%) is also characteristic of its high degree of homogeneity. However, a number of particularities were observed. In May, the party achieved its highest vote share in Crete (7.9%), whilst in June, in East Macedonia-Thrace (7.2%) for an entirely different reason. In the repeat elections, it polled 17.4% in Rhodope (against 3.9% in May), due to the massive shift of part of the Muslim minority in that prefecture, which one month earlier had voted en masse for the party of Dora Bakoyannis (DISY, 17.9%). In six predominantly minority municipalities of Rhodope (Fillyra, Arriana, Organi, Sostis, Amaxades and Kechros) it polled between 35% and 42%.
With the exception of Rhodope, the party’s electoral showing may be considered quite poor. It polled over 7% in only 7 prefectures (Heraklio, Chios, Athens B, Cyclades, Thessaloniki B, Athens A, Trikala). Whilst in 19 of the country’s 56 electoral districts DIMAR polled less than 5%, with its lowest vote share in Laconia (3.7%). Overall, in the country’s 1,034 municipalities (as per the ‘Capodistrias’ local government reform) the party polled over 10% (apart from the predominantly Muslim ones) in just 19. These included a fair number of island municipalities in the Cyclades and some travel destinations off the beaten track: Oia (31.4%), Schinoussa (15.4%), Alonnisos (10.5%) and Anafi (10.3%).
The legacy from PASOK
In the four electoral districts of the capital (Athens A, B and Piraeus A, B), where it polled (only) 30% of its voter support (approximately 116,000 votes), the geographical distribution is more revealing (figure 2).In terms of electoral geography, DIMAR exhibited greater similarities to the conservative bloc. Its highest voter support (9-10%) was in the upper and middle strata of the north-east zone. The party fared best in the districts of Vrilissia (10.2%),Pefki (9.8%), Holargos (9.4%), NeaSmyrni (9.4%) and Halandri (9.3%). In contrast, in the western low income and working class suburbs it polled 5-7%, which was lower than its average support in the capital. DIMAR had its worst showing in Perama (4.9%), AgiaVarvara (5.1%), Kamatero (5.3%), Rendi (5.5%) and Drapetsona (5.7%), as well as in the northern suburb of Ekali (4.3%) and the coastal district of Vouliagmeni (5.7%). A similar distribution can be seen in the largest municipality of the capital, Athens, between eastern (lower middle class) and western (low income/working class) districts.
The above observations bring to the surface another issue. Following the collapse of post-dictatorship PASOK, SYRIZA and DIMAR undertook the electoral representation of the largest segment of the social alliance (‘of Change’), which since the restoration of democracy in 1974 had found expression in the socialist party. However, a very deep rift appeared between the two political ‘successors’. While SYRIZA ‘inherited’ the electoral support of the largest segment of low income/working class strata, which after the dictatorship had followed PASOK (and to a lesser extent the Communist Party of Greece), DIMAR in contrast attracted the upper-middle strata of this historic social alliance, which, because of the class polarization caused by the economic crisis, are being drawn toward the ‘powers that be’ and politically have become more conservative.
Between Autumn 2012 and Spring this year, DIMAR had managed, generally speaking, to retain the support it secured in elections (6.3%). In fact in January, benefitting from the general political climate, it reached the highest point of its post-election voter support (7%). But from Autumn 2012, the party’s standing moved into negative territory, whilst at the same time, the standing of FotisKouvelis had also begun to deteriorate. The DIMAR leader’s balance of ratings turned negative in February this year. In the period since elections, the party’s losses, in terms of the age of its voters, have been mainly in the 18-24 age group (-7%) and socially, among public sector salaried employees, where its support has been halved (5%, -5%), to the benefit of SYRIZA (figure 3).
In the last three months, although DIMAR’s standing remained higher than that of the other parties currently represented in parliament, its electoral support constantly declined, to the point in June – just before the government crisis flared up – where it fell to 4.5% (figure 1). At the same time, shortly prior to its withdrawal from the three-party coalition government, the popularity of its leader had dropped to its historically lowest level, 42% (June 2013), although Kouvelis did not lose his leading position. According to the party identification index, DIMAR’s solid core is currently estimated at 3.5% of the electorate.
In conclusion, since last Autumn, DIMAR’s participation in the Samaras government has eroded not only its electoral support but also the standing of its leader, FotisKouvelis, in Greek society. During the last six months, DIMAR has suffered losses in electoral support primarily to SYRIZA (15% of its voters) and secondarily, directly, to ND (5%), at a ratio of 3:1.
So, the question is: what effect will DIMAR’s withdrawal from the government have on the electorate? Will DIMAR be upgraded as an opposition party and thus avert further losses to the left or might it even stage a recovery at the expense of SYRIZA? Or, on the contrary, will its losses to PASOK and ND increase, particularly those of its voters who continue to embrace the ‘ideology’ of ‘responsible governmentalism’? The ideological profile of the party’s current voters may provide the answer. Figure 4 shows the self-placement of present DIMAR and PASOK voters in terms of politico-ideological currents. The overwhelming majority place themselves among ‘Social Democrats’ (34%) and ‘Socialists’ (26%), whilst approximately 10% state that they are ‘Leftists’ (5%), ‘Communists’ (2%) or ‘Anti-Capitalists’ (2%). Only 7% described themselves as ‘Liberals’ and 3% as ‘Conservatives or Christian Democrats’ (in aggregate, 1 in 10). On the other hand, as can clearly be seen in the same figure, the ideological overlapping of the electoral base of DIMAR and PASOK continues to be extensive and the differences small. In ‘communicating vessels’, flows are bidirectional.
Date of publication: 28/06/2013
Publication: Newspaper ” ΕΦΗΜΕΡΙΔΑ ΤΩΝ ΣΥΝΤΑΚΤΩΝ”