Less than eighteen months ago the obituaries were being written for the ÖVP but it’s the conservatives who are winning the early rounds in Austria’s ‘super election year’*. Come the General Election in September the Party could be in first place if the current trend was to hold – assuming they don’t break from the governing coalition, force an early election and make a dash for first place while the going is good.
Current average based upon last five polls:
SPÖ: 26.6%, ÖVP: 24.8%, FPÖ 21.2%, Greens 12.8%, Team Stronach: 8.4%, BZÖ 2%, Others 4.2%
Percentage variation across last five polls:
SPÖ: 24%-28%, ÖVP: 23%-26%, FPÖ 21%-22%, Greens 11%-14%, Team Stronach: 7%-10%, BZÖ 1%-4%
Change since 1st January:
SPÖ: -0.4%, ÖVP: +2%, FPÖ +0.4%, Greens -1.2%, Team Stronach -2.2%, BZÖ +0.4%, Others +1%
On an upward trajectory
The ÖVP were seen as clear winners of January’s Conscription referendum, which has galvanised their electoral machine and left the SPÖ internally finger pointing about their preparedness and poor tactics.
The news from Lower Austria, where the Party has an absolute majority in the State parliament, is looking positive with the most recent poll giving the Party 49% support (down from 54.4% at the last election). While an absolute majority may slip away by polling day on the 3rd March, it doesn’t look as though the new competitor, Team Stronach, is having the impact some commentators expected (currently 8%) and you won’t want to put serious money on Governor Pröll and the ÖVP machine failing to maintain their majority.
In the current debate about how good or bad the EU budget negotiations were for Austria, the ÖVP’s attacks on its senior coalition partners performance seems to sit on the same side of the fence as many voters – 44% say EU budget negotiations bad for Austria. Noticeably 49% of SPÖ believe the country is paying too much and 55% of ÖVP take the same view. However, Austrian votes remain strongly in favour of the EU and the move by the traditionally very pro-EU ÖVP to a mildly sceptical (though still pro) position, at a time when the SPÖ has shifted to a stronger pro-EU line, may have longer term disadvantages.
On the same day as the largest of Austria’s States delivers it verdict on the ÖVP’s absolute majority, the party is likely to record a poor result in the southern State of Kärnten. Here if the polls are correct, the ÖVP may slip from third to fifth place.
The Party’s hopes of improved results in the State elections in Salzburg and Tyrol are by no means guaranteed and they are likely to gain little from the results of the Vienna referendum questions.
The SPÖ remain in first place despite the setbacks of the last few weeks. They have a real possibility of securing first place in the Kärnten State election – breaking the control of the state by the FPÖ’s sister party the FPK. The SPÖ has been polling most strongly in recent months when they have pushed clear positive agenda for instance the pro-EU stance, taking on the FPÖ head on, and their immediate poll ratings didn’t actually yo-yo after the conscription debate. In short, if the SPÖ can stay united and retain a centre-left position (despite the desire of some to shift further left) they are the party mostly likely to secure first place at the General Election.
Additionally, while Team Stronach is primarily in a battle for voters with the FPÖ, any significant improvement in its support is likely to cost the ÖVP a few percentage points. Moreover, as this article in Profil highlights, the ÖVP will also face the threat of losing support to Austria’s new liberal Centrist party NEOS. (The new party, along with the Pirates, could also pose a threat to the Green Party’s chances).
Winning the election?
My guess is that the ÖVP won’t come out first at the General Election in September. They are, however, most likely to be one of the winners in forming the next coalition government:
Realistic coalition options based on current average polls:
ÖVP/Greens/SPÖ – 64.2%
TeamStronach/ÖVP/SPÖ – 59.8%
FPÖ/ TeamStronach/ÖVP – 54.4%
ÖVP/SPÖ – 51.4%
(*Super election year – National conscription referendum; State elections in Lower Austria, Kärnten, Salzburg, and Tyrol; Vienna referendum; Federal General Election).