Interesting poll here in Die Presse suggests that around 18% of Austrians would vote for a new Party if one was formed. Given the current corruption scandals, engulfing most of the main political parties, it’s a little surprising that this figure isn’t higher. Previous survey’s have indicated that the level of support would be highest for a new centre party at about 20% but that either a ‘business party’ or ‘left party’ might attract up to 15%.
The headline figures put the far-right FPÖ back down to 25%, neck and neck with the conservative ÖVP on 24%. The centre-left SPÖ has a clear 5 point lead on 30%.
The article highlights that most Austrians would prefer to see the existing parties sort themselves out. This in itself suggests an opportunity for one or more to grab a dominant position if they could successfully refresh their policies and image. To date none have had much success in doing so.
The re-launched ÖVP’s attempts to project a more modern liberal image have been hampered by some sections of the party talking about forming a government coalition with the far-right FPÖ after the next election, as well as appearing at times to be only interested defending the interests of the top earning 5%. Their biggest problem, however, remains that they are the party that is being most damaged by the scandals of the past. On this last point, the one glimmer of light comes in some survey’s I’ve seen that indicate that the party leader has improving trust ratings. However, after appointing a new leader and re-launching earlier this year the ÖVP remains stuck in the opinion polls, draws in support mainly from only a few of the Austrian states and primarily from rural areas.
Attempts by the far-right FPÖ to present itself as a party capable of governing continue to be derailed, partly by its inherent nature and also as a result of various of its members being allegedly involved in a number of the headline hitting scandals. The BZÖ (the more ‘moderate’ of the two far right parties) has been even more engulfed in the scandals of the last government and its attempt to project itself as a economically liberal/socially conservative party has not stopped more than half its support switching to the FPÖ since the last election.
Austria’s Greens have not had any bounce from the events in Japan but instead their poll ratings have, since the last election, made a moderate but steady improvement with the party scoring between 13% and 15% (up from a little over 10% at the last general election). The party appears to have most appeal amongst middle class liberal and left voters. Arguably, given the disenchantment with the ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and conservatives (ÖVP) it should be doing better. As yet it doesn’t appear to have found a formula for reaching more of the liberal supporters of these parties, without facing difficulties with its core Green support and activists.
The SPÖ have been scoring 27% to 30% for much of the year in the polls, this puts them at around the same level of support as they achieved in the last general election (a little over 29%). In State elections over the last few years however their vote has generally been down and in Vienna (where they lost their majority in the parliament) they noticeably lost votes to the FPÖ in traditional SPÖ strongholds, but did take control of districts previously lead by other parties. The SPÖ strategy for some years seems to have been to defend its core vote and no longer seek to build a coalition of voters that would take it back up into the high 30’s/low 40’s. This approach could continue to give it first or second place in Austrian politics but also relies on the FPÖ (main threat to its core vote) continuing to defeat itself and the Greens or a new party not finding a way to take a big chunk of its progressive vote.
So there we have it, Austrian politics. A big prize potentially awaiting the brave but with all the players stuck in their ghettoes, defending what they have and trying to clean-up the mess that comes from stagnating politics. Of course these are not just the conditions from which the brave can rise (or be dragged down) but alas they are also fertile grounds for a charismatic
popularist – though luckily these days’ Austrian politics doesn’t have a Haider.