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Election polls wide of mark

At 17:00 on September 26, a preliminary 'exit' poll forecasting election results gave the opposition SDK party over 30% of votes and the ruling HZDS party of Premier Vladimír Mečiar less than 23%. But the roar of exultation from SDK delegates that greeted this news, and the boisterous celebration that followed it, turned out to have been premature - the final results actually gave the HZDS a narrow margin of victory over the SDK.
"The SDK was a little bit too early with its reaction," agreed Milan Ftáčnik, a deputy with
theformer communist SDĽ party, which also saw its final tally fall 3% below exit poll predictions )


Premier Vladimír Mečiar leaves voting booth refusing to speak to the media.
Vladimír Hák-Profit

At 17:00 on September 26, a preliminary 'exit' poll forecasting election results gave the opposition SDK party over 30% of votes and the ruling HZDS party of Premier Vladimír Mečiar less than 23%. But the roar of exultation from SDK delegates that greeted this news, and the boisterous celebration that followed it, turned out to have been premature - the final results actually gave the HZDS a narrow margin of victory over the SDK.

"The SDK was a little bit too early with its reaction," agreed Milan Ftáčnik, a deputy with the former communist SDĽ party, which also saw its final tally fall 3% below exit poll predictions ) of 18%.

Across town from the Bratislava headquarters of the SDK, deputy Premier Sergej Kozlík and his HZDS colleagues received the results of the 'opposition' poll, conducted by the respected MVK private polling agency, with cool equanimity. "We will win for sure," he maintained.

Kozlík's confident stemmed from the different poll he was watching, one conducted by the state-run National Center for Media Communication (NCMK), that gave his HZDS party a steady lead over its opposition rivals.

What went wrong

In the aftermath of elections, many disappointed SDK supporters demanded to know how the MVK results, broadcast around the country on the private Markíza TV station, could have given such a false impression.

In the end, it turned out that polling strategies and voter patterns had intersected to create the distortion. "The problem was that the results were submitted from MVK agents mostly on Saturday, after the elections, when most of the SDK supporters went to the polling booths," explained Peter Haulík, MVK director.

Haulík explained that after the SDK warned voters of possible tampering with ballots stored overnight in polling stations, the vast majority of opposition supporters decided to cast their ballots on the second day of the election. Coincidentally, that was when the MVK did most of its interviews with voters.

NCMK, on the contrary, did the greater part of its research on the first election day, when most of the ruling coalition supporter came to vote. "Sixty-five percent of our respondents were addressed on Friday, because our experience from the last elections showed that most people would come to vote on Friday [September 25]," said Samuel Brečka, NCMK Institute of Journalism director.

Suspicious minds

Another factor behind the vastly different exit poll results, according to Haulík, was the lack of trust shown by HZDS supporters in MVK agents. "People who voted for the HZDS are reluctant to cooperate with polling agencies in general," Haulík said. Ivan Sečík, NCMK general director, said that his agency had faced the same problems in getting some voters to tell how they cast their ballots.

"Any such preliminary polls are immaterial, because HZDS voters are distrustful and therefore they do not express their opinions openly, so the results are distorted," agreed HZDS deputy Eva Zelenayová.

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