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"Hidden" voters expected to balloon HZDS' election tally

Although Premier Vladimír Mečiar's HZDS is currently leading popularity polls by a thin margin over its sworn adversary, the SDK, polling agencies agree that the gap will likely balloon as the September 25-26 national elections approach. Up to 5% of the overall vote has to be added to the HZDS' current tally, they claim, because there are just as many "hidden" voters who lean toward HZDS, but keep it to themselves and declare their support only during the elections.
According to Pavel Haulík, director of the MVK polling agency, almost one-third of all eligible Slovak voters do not openly declare their political orientation. They fall under two basic categories: those who would abstain and those who are undecided.

Although Premier Vladimír Mečiar's HZDS is currently leading popularity polls by a thin margin over its sworn adversary, the SDK, polling agencies agree that the gap will likely balloon as the September 25-26 national elections approach. Up to 5% of the overall vote has to be added to the HZDS' current tally, they claim, because there are just as many "hidden" voters who lean toward HZDS, but keep it to themselves and declare their support only during the elections.

Obscure voters

According to Pavel Haulík, director of the MVK polling agency, almost one-third of all eligible Slovak voters do not openly declare their political orientation. They fall under two basic categories: those who would abstain and those who are undecided.

Haulík explained that it is within this group that most 'hidden' voters dwell, adding that even though they know which party they will vote for, they would never divulge it to an agency researcher. "They see little merit in [polls]," noted Haulík. "They do not believe the polls would better the political situation, and many of them are simply cautious about sharing their opinions."

Grigorij Mesežnikov, a political scientist with the Institute of Public Affairs, said that the HZDS enjoyed the largest potential support among hidden voters. "Although HZDS preferences had peaked at 27% one week before the 1994 elections, they got 35% in the end," Mesežnikov said.

Haulík said there are many factors which play an important role in collecting results, including how a particular agency is perceived by polled voters. "Many of the HZDS voters would not respond to a Focus researcher, just because the agency has a reputation as being of an opposition-related institution," said Haulík, pointing out that the MVK was used to having constantly higher preferences for the HZDS than both Focus and Názory. "It is because our researchers get more in touch with the HZDS voters," he said.

Juraj Scháner, director of the Názory agency, argued that voters could afford to be less responsible while making decisions in polls, "[but] elections are a much more serious matter to them," he added.

Haulík added that a large percentage of HZDS voters include the elderly and less educated people inhabiting small villages that are difficult to reach during a survey. "Therefore, up to 5% should be expected to be added to the HZDS poll results."

Floating voters

Another group worth fighting for over the remaining two months are those who fluctuate between two or three parties with similar policies and tend to change their preferences according to various events, scandals or campaign tactics of parties that attract their interest. Ivan Dianiška, Focus agency director, maintained that the largest percentage of these voters lies within the anti-Mečiar opposition bloc.

Haulík agree Party of Civil Understanding (SOP) last March hurt the SDK," he said, adding that the SDK lost about 7% of its support.

Mesežnikov agreed that the SOP has gained a large number of voters who previously favored SDK or the reformed communists in the SDĽ, but added that many of these voters were likely to return to their old preferences.

Dianiška said that voters of opposition parties were also more sensitive to scandals affecting their parties. "[The result] varies depending on when the survey is conducted, especially when some scandal or similarly influential matter occurs during or before the poll," he explained.

Haulík agreed with Dianiška, adding that the theory was proven by the recent scandal in which the SDK was accused of bribing journalists to write favorable articles about the party. The MVK June poll showed that SDK support dropped to 18.4% from 20.5% in May, while the Focus poll put the drop at less than one percent, from 23.2% in May to 22.4% in June.

On the other hand, Haulík said, HZDS voters seemed to ignore any scandals involving the party, and attempts by opposition parties to expose such scandals only increased Mečiar's popularity. "[HZDS voters] trust Mečiar to such an extent that every attack against his persona is counterproductive," he said. "So instead of harming his reputation, the scandals surrounding Mečiar help promote him."

While conducting opinion polls, all three agencies follow standard methods of research, based primarily on the Slovak voting population demographics with regards to respondents' age, sex, education, nationality and the size of the municipality they inhabit. The final sample represents the overall population structure, but it also reflects specifics of particular regions.

The number of respondents differs depending on the type of research. Ordinary polls contain responses from approximately 1,000 people, but special political analyses, ordered by political parties for instance, include up to 2,400 respondents.

The HZDS is the only party which does not rely on ordinary polls, nor do they risk waiting for the election results. "They know the situation very well and are the only political party that regularly asks for an in-depth analysis of general support of political policies in Slovakia. No other party does this to such an extent."

Perhaps due to this professionalism, all polling directors agree that the HZDS would win the elections again, while predicting that 70% of all eligible voters will participate.

"The HZDS will get the most votes as a single party, but whether that would be enough to form the government together with the Slovak National Party, that is another question," Dianiška said. "But the HZDS knows this well, and that is why it will try to keep its momentum going as a ruling party."

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