by YIANNIS MAVRIS
Between 2012 and 2015, voter support for SYRIZA grew markedly, by 9.4% (from 26.9% to 36.3%). In just two years, its electoral base had expanded by almost 600,000 to total over 2.2 million voters. But the variations in the social composition of the vote for SYRIZA, as revealed by the most recent election result, have greater political importance. For, as can be seen empirically, for the first time to such a degree, a broad social alliance has been formed against the policy of austerity.
A social analysis of the vote illustrates that SYRIZA remains the party that primarily represents the strata of salaried workers, who were severely hit by the Memorandum, and of the unemployed, whose ranks were swelled by the economic recession. The party’s relationships of representation with these strata have stabilized. At the same time, in the two-year period 2012-2014, SYRIZA’s social base expanded significantly to include other segments of the population negatively affected by the crisis. This applies not only to the agricultural and traditional segments of the lower middle class, but also to groups within the economically inactive population (pensioners, housewives), which the party had been unable to attract in 2012.
In all the socio-economic (S-E) categories included in Public Issue’s occupation variable, SYRIZA increased its social resonance relative to 2012. This increase, however, is uneven, ranging from 2.9% to 16.8% (Figure 1). Moreover, SYRIZA led New Democracy in 9 of the 11 (S-E) categories.
More specifically, SYRIZA retained its overwhelming electoral strength, which it had already secured since 2012, among public sector (PubS) salaried employees [44.6%], private sector (PriS) salaried employees [39.5%], the unemployed [44.3%] and students [42.3%]. The increase in support for the party is greater among PubS employees (+11.4%), in fact double the corresponding rise among PriS employees (+5.1%) and smaller among the unemployed and students (Figure 1).
Enlargement of the anti-Memorandum social alliance
It also emerges from the analysis of the election result that the social base of the anti-Memorandum alliance, which SYRIZA represents, has grown markedly. Today, its electoral support extends, in addition to the majority of salary earners and the unemployed, to sizeable segments of the country’s productive population, which are being economically and socially devastated by the Memorandum, including: a) employers/entrepreneurs whose focus is on the domestic market, b) self-employed professionals, c) the traditional lower middle class with small-scale ownership in production and commerce (small manufacturers, small traders) and d) the agricultural strata. The highest increase in support for SYRIZA was among farmers (+16.8%), while there was also a rise of >10% among self-employed professionals/small manufacturers (+12.7%).
The growth of voter support for SYRIZA has brought, relative to 2012, a major upset in the social characteristics of its electoral support. On the basis of educational level, the greatest increase in its support (+20.5%) is among primary education graduates, which completely reverses the escalation of the party’s resonance within society (Figure 1). SYRIZA is becoming more of a “people’s” party. Advocates of the theory of “populism” may well be appalled! But the social alliance that has been formed against Greek neoliberalism is extremely broad and this is reflected in the political “mortgages” of the 2015 elections.
Shift in the countryside
SYRIZA’s impressive rise in rural areas (+15.3%), which tallies almost exactly with the increased support among farmers, has resulted in the party’s voter support climbing from just 22.2% in 2012 to 37.5% at present, and indeed slightly exceeding its support in urban centers (35.6%).
It is known and has been confirmed, not only in the pre-dictatorship but also in the post-dictatorship period, that the electoral shift in the countryside always takes place at a later time. As a rule, rural areas tend to follow urban centers with some delay.
The shift within the strata of the countryside took place not only to the detriment of ND (-8.4%) but also to that of PASOK’s remaining support among farmers, which was virtually wiped out. Following a course similar to that of the Democratic Center Union between 1977 and 1981, PASOK’s losses were around 10%, with support shrinking from 15.6% in 2012 to just 5.6%.
Social marginalization of ND
Conversely, the outgoing governing party has found itself desperately entrenched within society following the electoral contest. On account of the policy it followed, as well as its far-right transformation, ND has become deeply alienated during the past five years, not only from the working class and lower middle class props of the post-Civil War right and the supporters of ND under its founder, Constantine Karamanlis, but also from a sizeable segment of the upper-middle and upper classes. It is no coincidence that in the overwhelmingly working class districts of Athens, ND still remains – without any significant change – at the extremely low levels of support (<20%) to which it had fallen since 2012 (Peristeri 19.3%, Aigaleo 18.8%, Keratsini 15.7%, Nikaia 17.5%).
But at the same time ND has lost support in overwhelmingly upper-middle and upper class areas, e.g. Ekali -5.4%, Filothei -4.6%, Psychico -3.3%. The same trend can also be seen on the basis of opinion polls: The biggest decline in ND’s electoral support has been a) in the S/E category of employers/entrepreneurs (-16.5% relative to 2012) and b) among self-employed professionals (-12.1%).
Pensioners: ND’s electoral life raft
An equally significant increase in support for SYRIZA is also seen among the economically inactive population, namely pensioners (+13.9%) and housewives (+12.4%), with the result that in these categories too, the party was close to its nationwide average.
PubS and PriS pensioners are nevertheless the only two S/E categories in which ND was ahead of SYRIZA, although here too the former suffered losses: Among PubS pensioners, ND received 38.6% (-2.4% compared to June 2012) and in the category of PrivS pensioners 34.7% (-7.3%). Indeed, among public sector pensioners ND had a comfortable lead of 9.5% (compared to just 1.7% among PrivS pensioners).
The numerical importance and political significance of pensioners’ votes has increased markedly. As a result of the economic fallout on employment from the ravages of the Memorandum, the number of pensioners in Greece has surged during the past five years, rising – according to the most recent available data – to 2,654,000 (Helios program, E-Government Center for Social Security, report no. 20, January 2015, p. 4). That is, pensioners currently account for 31.5% of the electorate and – in reality – if the new wave of Greek emigration is taken into account, over one-third.
Intensification of the social/class polarization of the vote
The polarization within Greek society caused by the Memorandum has been clearly reflected in the vote, from as early as the June 2012 elections. There are strong indications that the class characteristics of this polarization have become even stronger.
1) On the basis of subjective self-placement in a social class (Figure 2), SYRIZA’s greatest increase in support was recorded in the “lower social class” (+15.7%), which was double the corresponding increase in the “middle” (+8.1%) or “lower-middle” (+7.1%) classes.
2) Correspondingly, on the basis of subjective assessment of household income, the increase among those voters who are “facing difficulties” (+11.3%) is double that of those reporting that they are “getting by” financially (+5.9% – Figure 2).
3) A further empirical indicator emerges from an analysis of the electoral geography of the Athens Metropolitan Area and the social stratification of its various districts. In “upper-middle” and “upper class” areas, SYRIZA’s vote share was less than 15% (Ekali 10%, Filothei 14.3%, Psychico 14.9%) and ND’s was over 55%. Conversely, in “working class” areas SYRIZA received 43-45% (Drapetsona 45.2%, Peristeri 43.4%, Nikaia 43.2%, Aigaleo 43.1%) and ND less than 20%. If, in 1981, the ratio of PASOK’s electoral support in “working class” areas to that in “upper-middle”+”upper class” areas was, figuratively speaking, 1.8:1, rising in the polarized electoral contest of 1985 to 2.2:1, the corresponding ratio for SYRIZA stands today at 3.3:1. Class voting appears to be making a comeback.
Voting by gender and age
In the vote for SYRIZA, while the “gender gap” in favor of women is retained (+5%, against +4% in 2012 parliamentary elections), the age “center of gravity” of the party’s electoral base shifted upward. In 2012, young people aged 18-24 (with 36.5%) constituted SYRIZA’s best age group. Now, this group has been replaced, with a clear difference, by the most productive and dynamic 45-54 age group. Among this group, SYRIZA received 43.7% (almost 1 in 2 voters). Generally speaking, the party’s electoral support in the different age groups followed an uneven course.
1) Among voters under the age of 35, the variation was minimal. In the 18-24 group, where the party received 38.7%, there was a slight increase (+2.2%), while the next group (25-34) was the only one that registered a decline (-1.7% – Figure 1).
Young people aged 18-24 make up the best age group for The River party, which received 10.3% and took 3rd place comfortably, while Golden Dawn and Independent Greeks each polled 8%.
In the 25-34 age group, SYRIZA received its second lowest vote percentage, 31.7%, while ND fared abysmally, polling just 19.1%. This particular age group, which has been severely hit by unemployment, shows the highest degree of party fragmentation: The two major parties received very low percentages, while the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) its highest (9.7%), roughly the same as Golden Dawn (9.5%). The manifest anti-partyism of this age group is also evidenced by the striking percentage received by the Union of Centrists party of Vassilis Leventis (6.9%).
2) Among voters in the middle age group (35-54), SYRIZA’s increase in support did not exceed 10%; in other words it stood at the levels of the party’s nationwide average. However, in the 45-54 group, its predominance was almost total.
3) Lastly, among voters aged 55 and over, the increase surpassed 12%. Indeed, in the 65+ group the party’s support rose by 15.6% (the highest), resulting in SYRIZA’s percentage soaring from 12.6% in 2012 to reach 28.2% at present. Nevertheless, its percentage of support in this category still remains the lowest among the six age groups.