Tag Archives: Austrian Liberals

Are NEOS voters Left or Right leaning?


In yesterdays Austrian General Election Neos, the new Centrist Liberal grouping, caused a sensation by securing seats in parliament at the first attempt and making history by being the first new party to achieve such a feat in the history of the Second Republic.

Neos newspaper article 2

Polling research, here, suggests that NEOS have attracted voters in close to equal numbers from the Centre-Left and Centre-Right. The majority of NEOS voters had at the 2008 General Election voted for either the Centre-Right OVP or the Centre-Left Greens. Comparing the two sets of voters gives a split 52% to 48%.

Looking at all NEOS supporters voting behaviour at the 2008 General Election the figures are:

OVP (Centre-Right) – 38%

Greens (Centre-Left) – 35%

SPO (Centre-Left)/FPO & BZO (Right) – 12%

Non-voters – 15%

That only 15% had not voted at the previous General Elections suggests that NEOS is not a ‘party of protest’ but one that is starting to providing a new home to Liberals and Centrists who have historically been scattered across the political establishment.

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The groupings voter base seems to reflect the range of activists found in NEOS – Economic Liberals, Christian Democrats, Centrists, realist Greens, Social Liberals.

The question, as the Party moves on from its first triumph, is can it take advantage of its appeal across the centre and build a powerful broad church or will it follow modern political patterns which tend towards Parties increasingly representing a narrow sectional interest?

To date it’s looking good for a new broad, strong, Austrian Liberal Centre.

Neos newspaper article 1

 

Quick guide to the Parties:

Neos: new Centrist Liberal party. They have a joint electoral platform with the Liberal Forum (LIF). Building party structure across the country, growing membership/supporters network, innovative in campaigning and public engagement. Strongest General Election results in Vienna and Vorarlberg.

SPÖ: Social Democrats – Broad left-centre party. National party structure with Vienna State as their traditional key stronghold.

ÖVP: conservative in the Christian Democrat mould. National party structure with strong rural base but increasingly weak in the Cities. Lower Austria State key stronghold.

FPÖ: Far-Right – Traditional beneficiary of the anti-establishment and populist vote. National structure but weak in most States. Former stronghold of Kärnten lost in State election and now only real stronghold in Vienna State.

Greens: Left-centre party. Traditionally weak national structure bolstered by recent election successes – now part of government in five States.  Vienna State remains most significant stronghold. Party in Vienna more Left in comparison to centrist leanings in other States.

Team Stronach: Populist-Right. New party still building its structures but well funded by its founder/leader, billionaire Austro-Canadian, Frank Stronach. Seems to be a very centralised party dependent upon leader who has to spend significant time in Canada to maintain residency status.

BZÖ:  ‘Moderate’ Far-Right or Right-Wing Conservatives or Right-Wing Liberals. Originally, a breakaway from the FPÖ lead by Haider, the party has failed to find an identity or purpose since his death. No strongholds.

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A year from now a new coalition government will begin to form


Now the final lap beginnings, a year from now the leaders of the Parties will have line-up on TV to hear the formal declaration of the Austrian general election result. A few days later the votes of citizens living overseas will have been added and the final tally of seats confirmed for the new Parliament. (Unless of course the governing coalition decides to divorce, a course of action which is in neither parties interest as they have potential more to gain by sticking it out).

I expect to be blogging this time next year about how the election campaign went for each of the parties and anticipating the final outcome of the on-going negotiations to form a new governing coalition. With a few exceptions the election result in Austria, since the war, has been about determining the relative strength of the two main parties within a Grand Coalition government. So set is this pattern that certain ministries are effectively Black (ÖVP – conservative) or Red (SPÖ – Social Democrats), whilst the post of Chancellor (equivalent of British Prime Minister) and control of some ministries is determined by the election result.

As we go into this election campaign year it looks increasingly likely that the next government will be formed by at least three parties. My running average of the last five polls (see table 1) has the SPÖ/ ÖVP governing coalition with just 50% of the vote between them and both parties share of the vote down since January 2012. The picture is just as bad for the two Far-Right parties FPÖ and BZÖ which have both seen their poll rating drop over the same period. The big winners have been ‘Others’ with, in particular, ‘Team Stronach’ (who formally launch later this week) attracting voters (see table 2).

Table 1: Average of last five polls & change since January 2012

Polls Av Now Jan-12 Change
SPO 27.60% 28.60% -1.00%
OVP 22.40% 23.80% -1.40%
FPO 21.00% 26.60% -5.60%
Greens 13.60% 13.60% 0.00%
BZO 2.40% 4.80% -2.40%
Others 13.00% 2.60% 10.40%
Sources: Gallup/oe24 23-09-12
Karmasin/profil 22-09-12
OMG/Kurier 16-09-12
Gallup 09-09-12
Gallup 01-09-12

 

Table 2: Average ratings across five recent opinion polls including ‘Team Stronach’ Party

Polls GE 2008 Change
SPO 28.00% 29.3% -1.30%
OVP 22.20% 26% -3.80%
FPO 20.60% 17.5% 3.10%
Greens 14.20% 10.4% 3.80%
BZO 2.20% 10.7% -8.50%
Stronach 8.80% 0.0% 8.80%
Others 4.00% 6.1% -2.10%

In the last year the story of the polls has changed. We’ve had the challenge of the FPÖ and the decline/collapse of the ÖVP – linked in particular to historical issues of corruption. We’ve had the FPÖ, extremism, corruption and the softness of their vote. We’ve had the potential for new parties (20% want new party when asked). Now we have the arrival of new parties and the corruption questions facing the old parties (excluding the Greens – current slogan ‘100% Bio, 0% Corrupt’).

When politics here is not dominated by events in the parliamentary committee investigating corruption, the other game for politicians is who will be my partner(s) in a future coalition. Here are the mostly likely combinations and their problems:

SPÖ/ ÖVP

Potential: Despite being a coalition of left & right this is also the ‘traditional’ combination which knows how to function together and can balance the demands of urban (SPÖ) & rural voters (ÖVP) respectively.

Negatives: Falling out of love with each other. Majority of voters want to see them work more effectively together but a feeling exists that they can’t move the country forward together. Their core vested interests make tackling some of the big issues difficult if not impossible.

SPÖ/Green

Potential: Although a lot of dislike between party activists, the experience of working together in the governing Vienna State coalition has been seen by many as a success that could be repeated at national level. Talk of such a coalition seems to have contributed to the Greens maintaining/improving their poll ratings.

Negatives: Most importantly the polls show no evidence of this alliance gaining a majority in the next parliament. Potential advance of the Greens would be at the expense of SPÖ/ÖVP votes which makes them a threat as well as a potential partner. While both SPÖ & Greens are ‘left of centre’ there are real political and cultural differences that could undermine a potential/actual coalition.

SPÖ/ ÖVP/Green

Potential: This formation is not as odd as it first looks. ÖVP and Greens have worked together at State level and there is potential for achieving a working agreement between the three parties. This would also represent a coalition of three pro-European parties in the current parliament.

Negatives: Potential advance of the Greens would be at the expense of SPÖ/ÖVP votes which makes them a threat as well as a potential partner. ÖVP strategy currently is to aggressively attack the Greens who themselves are keen to highlight their differences with the ÖVP, all of which will complicate potential future discussions.

SPÖ/ ÖVP/Team Stronach

Potential: If ‘Team Stronach’ actually are economically more liberal there could be enough common ground between the three parties to agree a programme of reforms that many in the current government would argue are necessary. Stronach’s current statements about wanting a reformed Europe and out of/changed Euro seem to be sufficiently vague at present not to create an anti-European obstacle.

Negatives: Stronach himself has said that he wants to be the next Chancellor. The Austro-Canadian billionaire businessman has something of a reputation amongst opponents for wanting to ‘lead’ and not being much of a ‘team player. It’s difficult to see the other two parties being willing to concede this demand even if he had the largest faction. Stronach appears to favour a more North American approach to economic issues and this may not sit well even with the more ‘liberal’ wing of the conservative ÖVP.

ÖVP/Team Stronach/FPÖ

Potential: Right of centre coalition would on paper have more in common than the current grand coalition. They’d probably be able to build a working programme with an odd mix of ‘liberal’ and protectionist economic policy combined with a more conservative social policy than the current government.

Negatives: This would be a pro/lukewarm/anti European coalition. A liberal/conservative/protectionist alliance in the economic field. The respective party leaders of Team Stronach and the FPÖ would find it difficult (I suspect) to accept the other as Chancellor and the leader of the ÖVP would find leading a government with the other two in the wings tricky (if they can’t lead I would not be surprised to see Stronach and Strache avoiding government posts and heckling from the sidelines).

ÖVP/FPÖ

Potential: Right of centre coalition would have enough common ground to form a working programme which would include privatisation and a more nationalistic, conservative approach to social/economic issues. Talk of such an alliance strengthens the ability of the ÖVP to keep hold of it more right leaning support and lends respectability to the Far-Right FPÖ. The threat of a deal with the FPÖ is one of the key negotiating cards the ÖVP has in dealing with the SPÖ if they find themselves in Grand Coalition talks again, so keeping the option open has a value in itself.

Negatives: The regular reminders of the FPÖ’s more unacceptable views strengthen the hand of those in the ÖVP who believe such a coalition is a step too far. We’ve been here before with an ÖVP/ FPÖ coalition government. The corruption scandals from that time still dominate the political landscape and are/have damaged each party (but particularly the ÖVP). Talk of such a renewed alliance is ammunition to their opponents. The additional problem for the ÖVP is that such talk stops it drawing centrist and liberal votes back into its camp and runs risk of driving those still remaining into the arms of other parties. The final problem with this scenario is that with the FPÖ’s vote having declined from its opinion poll highs and vulnerable to further loss of support ‘Team Stronach’, the two parties may not be able to muster sufficient numbers for governing together to be an option.

Note on others

The above scenarios could further be complicated if the Pirate Party, one of the Liberal groupings or another minor/new faction can reach the 4% level needed to enter parliament. The only other party in the current parliament, the BZÖ, looks likely to drop out at the next elections as it now consistently only commands around 2%-3% support in the polls.

Table 3: Average ratings across five recent opinion polls

Polls GE 2008 Change
SPO 27.60% 29.3% -1.70%
OVP 22.40% 26% -3.60%
FPO 21.00% 17.5% 3.50%
Greens 13.60% 10.4% 3.20%
BZO 2.40% 10.7% -8.30%
Others 13.00% 6.1% 6.90%
Note 1: Pirates only appeared separately in Gallup polls
Note 2: Stronach only apears in Gallup, Karmasin & OMG polls
Note 3: Pirates/Stronach incorporated into Others in above table until they appear in all polls
Pirates 3.00% 0.0% 3.00%
Stronach 8.80% 0.0% 8.80%

 

Charge in support across the political spectrum since last election:

Polls GE 2008 Change
Far-Right FPO/BZO 23.40% 28.20% -4.80%
Right FPO/BZO/OVP 45.80% 54.20% -8.40%
Coalition SPO/OVP 50.00% 55.30% -5.30%
Centre-Left SPO/Green 41.20% 39.70% 1.50%

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How many Liberal Parties can you have?


A liberal faction has split from the Austrian Pirates Party and formed a new party the Real Democrats Austria (RDO) . The split comes at a time when the Pirates have fallen in the polls from the low teens at the beginning of summer down to 2% in the latest (Gallup) poll out this week.

This latest addition to the growing number of new parties joining the Austrian political scene – I count at least five this year – describes themselves as:

  • Our policy direction is clearly socially liberal, liberal civic and sustainable. Liberal, in the very word form.

Later this month the Österreich Spricht  (Austria Speaks) citizens’ initiative will be launching a political party which will:

  •  Target ‘homeless Liberals’
  • Be a ‘liberal political party’
  • New party drawing in support from those with formerly ‘green, black, red and Liberal‘ backgrounds.
  • Believes it can secure 10% of the popular vote at next general election in 2013

Austria ready has a Liberal party, Liberal Forum (LIF) who are members of the ELDR. Not currently represented in the national parliament the Party:

  •  Will stand in the 2013 election either as a single party or part of a likeminded platform
  • Their party leader in answer to the question, during an interview with neuwal.com, of where the LIF stands on the political spectrum where 0 (right) and 10 (left) replied that people probably see them as 7 (left) but they’d like to be seen as more 5 (middle).

On the Obama v Romney question (see my blog post) the response was Obama.

We also have a fourth Liberal party, JuLis. This group of Young Liberals broke away from LIF back in 2009. They are:

  •  An independent political party and faction Austrian Students Union
  • They concentrate their efforts on Student politics
  • Although their core principles are a broad Liberal statement their emphasis on the free market would probably align them more within the ‘Orange Book’ wing of the Lib Dem’s in the UK.

So that’s at least four overtly ‘Liberal’ groupings, of various shades, competing for Liberal and progressive votes and none of them in the current national parliament of Austria. Within that parliament ‘Liberal’ voters have primarily given their support and/or lent their vote to the Greens (social Liberals) & the conservative ÖVP (economic Liberals) and to a lesser extent the Social Democrats – SPÖ (social Liberals) & right-wing BZÖ (economic Liberals). Polling suggests many of these voters might be willing to switch but it’s going to be a noisy, crowded market place.

Finally there is of course one other potentially ‘liberal vote’ seeking party about to be launched, the yet to be named party of Austro-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach. He will have the money and the platform. The question remains is his Party to be a Liberal or Conservative learning grouping?

The neuwal.com site is running a series of summer interviews with representatives of many of Austria’s smaller parties. Interesting further reading here.

 

 

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Reviving Liberals, bouncing Greens and austerity conservatives


The Liberal Forum (LIF) has announced their intention to stand in the Austrian General Election due in 2013. Their attempt to re-enter the national parliament will be an uphill battle undertaken with few resources. In the last General Election LIF secured only 2.1%, well short of the 4% needed to gain seats in the national assembly.

The LIF are hoping that the current mood of dissatisfaction amongst voters, highlighted in opinion polls, will help them surpass the 4% hurdle. They appear to be focusing upon three areas that have been high on the wider political agenda: educational reform, administrative reform and comprehensive tax reform. Like others thay are also calling for changes to the democratic system.

At the begining of the last election campaign I found myself in seperate discussions with 3 potential LIF voters. Given the Party’s poll rating I was surprised to encounter this many potential supporters given the limits of my own social network. In each case they indicated that they were dissatisfied with the Parties in Parliament and attracted by their perceptions of LIF‘s social liberal message. After the election, in which LIF’s key message was centred on the economic agenda, I asked each how they has voted. None had supported LIF due in part to some negative publicity and in each case disappointment that the Party had not made more of an arguement for its social agenda. One voted Green, another ÖVP, and the third SPÖ.

A sample of the approach to isssues taken by LIF can be seen in the resolutions discussed at their recent  Convention which focused on three issues: the free market; European integration;  migration and asylum.

If the LIF were to make an impact in the next election then they, on past performance, are likely to draw a higher proportion of voter’s way from the Greens than from the other Parties.

Greens

The last two polls of February provided very different pictures as to the current standing of the Austrian Greens. In the first they saw their ratings jump 3 points to 16%. Although they have reached such a figure in the past, to be as high a 16% is a rarity for the Greens. But just as excitement was stirring in the environmental Party’s ranks a second poll was published suggesting that they were in fact back at the 13% mark and rather than advancing had fallen back one point in comparison to the previous survey.

The real news for the Greens was in additional polling data which showed voters giving them net positive scores in regard to issues of fairness and trust. The former being of particular importance in respect of the government’s new austerity package and the high number of voters who do not feel it shares the burden fairly. The latter issue of trust is high on the political agenda given the ongoing parliamentary investigations into political corruption.

ÖVP

The same polls also had mixed messages for the conservative ÖVP. In the first survey they were seen, by those polled, has having ‘won’ the arguments within the ruling Coalition regarding the contents of the austerity package. Their reward, however, was no change in their support and third place behind the far-Right FPÖ. But in the second poll they were up to 26% and sharing second spot with the FPÖ.

Rolling average of the polls

Below is my updated poll summary based upon the last five polls I’ve seen:

Polls

GE 2008

Change

SPO

28.80%

29.3%

-0.50%

OVP

24.60%

26%

-1.40%

FPO

25.60%

17.5%

8.10%

Greens

16.60%

10.4%

6.20%

BZO

4.00%

10.7%

-6.70%

Others

3.20%

6.1%

-2.90%

Source Gallup, 25-2-12
Market/Der Standard 21-2-12
Karmasin/Profil11-2-12
Gallup, 04-2-2012
Gallup, 28-1-2012
 

 

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Call to replace Liberal Forum with Social-Liberal party


Here’s an interesting recent interview, in the Die Presse newspaper,  with Friedhelm Frischenschlager, a co-founder of LIF (Austrian Liberal Party). It’s in German but Google translate works quiet well on this one.

In the article Frischenschlager suggests replacing the LIF with a new Social-Liberal party, drawing together supporters from beyond the existing very small liberal grouping. He makes reference to such a new Party securing between 10% and 20% support, which is the sort of level opinion polls have been suggesting for the last year or so.

Why ‘Social-Liberal’? One of the reasons Frischenschlager highlights is the problem Liberals in Austria have in being equated with neo-liberals, hence the use of the word social. Oddly I always refer to myself in Austrian terms as a ‘social Liberal’ whilst in England tending to use the term ‘radical Liberal’ – but that’s a discussion for another time.  As to whether I would retain my neutrality or find myself supporting such a new grouping will have to wait until (and if) such a Party was formed and what it actually stood for – social, radical, liberal, progressive, traditionalist, socialist, conservative can have interestingly different meanings around the world or even amongst people in the same Party. One thing about living in another country is that you are constantly reminded that politics defined in simple left-right terms or on today’s political headlines is a very limited guide to what political movements (and the coalitions that form them) are really all about.

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Liberal comeback?


LIF, the Austrian Liberal Forum, is planning to try and make a comeback in the national elections scheduled for 2013. Interesting interview in today’s der Standard (for English readers, Google translate in reasonably helpful on this occasion:

http://derstandard.at/1308680943919/Liberales-Forum-Wir-sind-praktisch-schon-im-Wahlkampf

Curious about the dispute, mentioned in the article, with Julis during the EU 2009 election campaign.

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