In this post I take a look at the trends in the opinion polls and suggest that the Greens are the unnoticed story of Austrian politics in 2011. I also make some guesses about which parties are most threaten by other players in the political landscape. See if you agree. If not start writing.
The IMAS poll in yesterday’s der Standard had a figure of only 20% satisfied with the performance of the Coalition whilst 49% and 30% are unhappy or undecided respectively. The article highlights that these are the third worst figures for a government since April 1987 and it also notes that a majority of those supporting each of the Coalition parties are dissatisfied with their performance.
Since late 2010 the opinion poll rating for neither of the Coalition parties (SPÖ and ÖVP) has managed to secure a percentage share of 30% or more. In the above article the IMAS poll has the current party standings as:
SPÖ 27%; ÖVP 24%; FPÖ 24%; the Greens 14%; BZÖ 6%
The big headline winner in 2011 has been Austria’s traditional third party, the far right, FPÖ. This year it has been polling between 29% and 23% compared with a general election result in 2008 of 17.5%. However, the 2008 election also saw the ‘more moderate’ far right party, BZÖ, poll 10.7%, thus giving the combined ‘far right’ a total share of the vote of 28.2%. If you look at the trend in the polls this year (see links below) the movement up or down in the FPÖ vote generally mirrors the opposite movement in the BZÖ share of the vote.
The BZÖ seems to be able to damage the FPÖ but also sees it vote switch to other parties. This suggests that they may be benefiting when voters are reminded of the more extreme views of the FPÖ but they themselves are not gathering new votes from the coalition parties directly.
As the SPÖ vote has been stable at around the 28% mark this year, it would seem that the FPÖ may have reached the limit of its appeal to these voters. Whilst the more fluctuating fortunes of the ÖVP do not seem to be influencing (anymore) the FPÖ share of the vote. If this analysis is close to the mark and this trend continues, the FPÖ looks stuck and vulnerable to successful attacks on its ‘alternative image’ and reminders to voters of its more ‘extreme views’.
The good news is that the FPÖ’s opponents do seem to be able to mount successful challenges to the simplistic, popularist views of the FPÖ, whose own internal fighting (whenever they try to project a more moderate image) also helps. However, their opponents continually fail to sustain these attacks and the FPÖ (for now) does not appear to be heading for one of its traditional splits.
The more significant bad news is not the headline figure for the FPÖ, it’s that the combined ‘far right’ vote is around 4% points higher than the last time both the SPÖ and ÖVP were below 30% in the polls (2008). The question remains how soft is this predominantly protest vote?
The real ‘big headline story’, or more accurately speaking the interesting gradualist story, is the growth of the Green vote. Polling this year between 15% and 12%, compared to a general election result of 10.4%, their performance has gone mostly unnoticed (or understated when they are compared to recent results for the Greens in Germany). Since winning the battle in 1999 with the Liberals for fourth party status, the Greens have polled in general elections 7.4% (1999), 9.5% (2002), 11% (2006), and 10.4% (2008).
There is always voter movements between the parties which headline figures don’t show but the Greens seem to have gathered up the remaining Liberal vote and now seem to be benefiting from the decline in support for the conservative ÖVP. Again take a look at the polling trends this year, it’s the Green vote that primarily rises and fall in line with the opposite movements of the ÖVP.
So who can hurt who? My guesses:
||BZÖ, SPÖ, and to a lesser extent the ÖVP (has problems in urban areas but still strong in rural strongholds)
||Also the FPÖ own internal divides are a potential threat
||FPÖ, the Greens and less likely a revived ÖVP
||The FPÖ making new inroads into its working class strongholds. The Greens attracting a new wave of disappointed middle class left/centrist voters. A revived ‘more liberal’ ÖVP would potential attract centrist who have been supporting SPÖ (who have been replacing SPÖ voters lost to the FPÖ & the Greens).
||The Greens, SPÖ, BZÖ, the Liberals successfully re-entering the electoral
|FPÖ already has taken it chunk of ÖVP vote. Others will fight over the ‘moderate/liberal’ element of remaining ÖVP vote.The ÖVPs attempts to ‘modernise’ could very well create further divisions and see the party split.
||SPÖ, a revived ÖVP, the Liberals successfully re-entering the electoral fray.
||A more overtly ‘left’ SPÖ could attract voters away especially if Greens try to build on appeal to ÖVP vote. ÖVP could recapture ‘moderate/liberal’ element of its vote. Even a moderate Liberal revival would predominantly draw votes away from the Greens.
||FPÖ, a revived ÖVP, the Liberals successfully re-entering the electoral fray.
The other factor that could significantly change the above relationships would be the talked about emergence of a new party. Given the unpopularity of the coalition and what appears to be a large protest element to the FPÖ vote, a new credible party could be bad news for all the current players.