Two national opinion polls in recent days have shown that the steady decline of the (Far-Right) FPÖ continues, with the Party now dropping below the 20% mark. Comparing the average figure from the most recent 5 polls with those at the beginning of January the FPÖ has lost 1.4 percentage points. Look back 15 months and support dropped by -7.2. Both these figures are a higher loss than any other party. Polls for the forthcoming State elections in Tirol and Salzburg do not suggest that any significant boost will come in either State as the FPÖ appears to be flat-lining.
SPÖ: 26%, ÖVP: 24%, FPÖ: 19%, Greens: 14%, TS: 10%, BZÖ 4%, Others: 3%
Austria Trends poll:
SPÖ: 26%, ÖVP: 23%, FPÖ: 18%, TS: 15%, Greens: 13%, BZÖ 2%, Others: 3%
Current average based upon last five polls:
SPÖ: 27.0%, ÖVP: 24.0%, FPÖ 19.4%, Greens 13.4%, Team Stronach: 10.6%, BZÖ 2.2%, Others 3.4%
Percentage variation across last five polls:
SPÖ: 26%-28%, ÖVP: 23%-25%, FPÖ 18%-20%, Greens 13%-14%, Team Stronach: 9%-15%, BZÖ 1%-4%
Not yet the Stronach affect
State elections in Lower Austria and Kärnten, combined with polling data, indicate that Team Stronach (TS) has supplanted the FPÖ as the ‘party of protest’. This places a significant hurdle in the way of an FPÖ recovery but the full threat of TS may yet to be fully felt. When the Austro-Canadian, billionaire businessman, Frank Stronach founded his party back in September 2012 its initial average ratings were slightly higher than they are now at 11%. The TS poll ratings are currently the most volatile of all the Parties but their higher ratings are moving up and they have the potential to damage the declining FPÖ move than other Parties.
Will the next government be a Kenyan coalition?
The current governing Grand Coalition of SPÖ (Social Democrats) and ÖVP (conservatives) is presently securing an average polling rating of 51% (down -4.3 points on the last General Election). While enough to form the next government (general election at the end of September 2013) a stable administration would suggest they will need to look for a third partner.
Following the Sate election in Kärnten the country now has its first three party coalition. The new ‘Kenyan’ administration (Red, Black, and Green) has been formed by the SPÖ, ÖVP, and the Greens. Commentators are suggesting that this State governing coalition may be the forerunner of Austria’s national government. Publicly the SPÖ and ÖVP both talk about wanting to maintain two party government – either with each other or another partner.
The Greens too are talking of two party government after September, in their mind a Red/Green administration – an outcome favoured by some in the SPÖ based upon the experience of the ruling SPÖ/Green administration in the State of Vienna. Unfortunately for those in favour of this the arithmetic just does not currently work. The polls show combined SPÖ/Green vote averaging 40.4% currently, that’s 0.7 points higher than at the last election. The SPÖ average of 27% is the same as January 2013, down 1.6% points since January 2012, and -2.3% when compared to the last General Election in 2008. Meanwhile the Greens are -0.6% points since January, that’s a further 0.4% average drop compared to January 2012. However, their current rating is 3% higher than their election result of 10.4% in 2008. In short, with six month to go before the general election, a SPÖ/Green government looks a remote option.
Green hopes and threats
The Greens hopes may rest on their performances in the two forthcoming State elections – Tirol & Salzburg. Polls suggest that while in Tirol the Party might nudge its vote up a little, while in Salzburg it may be able to achieve a significant advance. Given their recent success in Kärnten, further success in Salzburg could give the Party momentum going into the general election campaign.
Even this success may not be enough to allow the Greens breakthrough the 15% barrier and reach the promised land of +20%. Internal struggles and organisational weaknesses outside of Vienna pose real difficulties. Should they shift Left to try and take support from the SPÖ (as many activists seem to want) or try to widen their base by appealing across the centre left and right? These questions appear to remain unresolved in election year.
The Greens also face the possibility of seeing their share of the vote decline if one or both of two of Austria’s new parties make an impact at the General Election:
Austrian Pirates – The Pirates have been unable to make an impact in the recent State elections and they are polling 1% in polls in which they are specifically named. However, the Pirates have three hopes for success. Firstly, the Germany General Election is also taking place next September, if their sister Party can generate positive headlines this could help raise the Austrian Pirates profile. Secondly, a ‘Pirate’ issue (internet freedom etc) could once again make the headlines and in so doing make their message more relevant to voters. Thirdly, the Party appears to have resolved its internal difficulties of last year and will go into the campaign as a united force.
Were the Pirates to revive their fortunes they would draw at least part of their support from the Greens vote. I wonder if the Greens remain sufficiently concerned about the Pirates. I’m reliably informed that Greens regularly attended open Pirate meetings last year in order to keep an eye on them.
NEOS – Potentially the bigger threat to the Greens comes from NEOS the new Liberal Centrist Party which has now formed a joint election platform with the Liberal Forum (LIF). NEOS has already score a success with the defection from the Greens of four leading members of Green Economy (business wing of the Greens). The Party represents a major threat to the Greens whose voter base contains a significant proportion of Social Liberals and centrists, as well as the potential to attract liberal voters currently supporting the ÖVP and to a lesser degree the SPÖ. With an activist base drawn from former Greens, ÖVP, Liberals and others, the Party has a broad Centrist appeal and in the longer run may have the potential to eventually reach the 20% mark that escapes the Greens – for now the NEOS target of 10% would see the Greens drop back below their 2008 level.