SOME of the Slovaks who cast their vote for the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party in June and pushed the party into parliament for the first time may have changed their mind since then. But the steep, 4-percentage-point drop in support for SaS revealed by a recent poll seems to be the only significant change in voters’ preferences for the six parties that currently sit in parliament.
The public opinion poll carried out by the Focus agency between August 31 and September 7 among a representative sample of 1,040 citizens shows that the largest group would have voted for the Smer party if the election had been held in September.
Smer’s support has oscillated around the psychologically significant level of 40 percent for several years and in this most recent poll 39.7 percent of respondents chose Smer as their favourite.
The only other opposition party in parliament, the Slovak National Party (SNS), had the support of 6.1 percent of those polled – a percentage that was unchanged since July.
Except for SaS, the other three parties of the ruling coalition did not experience much movement in their popularity based on this most recent poll. The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party of Prime Minister Iveta Radičová polled 16 percent and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) garnered 10.6 percent – besting SaS, which had the support of only 8.3 percent of those polled, significantly less than the 12.3 percent level it enjoyed in the July poll.
The last of the four ruling parties, Most-Híd, maintained the same level of support as in July – slightly over 7 percent of voters.
No other party would have reached parliament if the election had been held at the time of the Focus poll. The newest poll will not help to dry the tears of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) or the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), both of which were left outside the doors of parliament following the June election in which they failed to cross the 5-percent threshold. Three months later these two parties polled only 3.3 and 3.0 percent, respectively.
The one party that made a somewhat significant jump up the ladder of public opinion was the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) which moved from 0.6 percent support in July to 2.5 percent in early September. The socialist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) logged support from 1.1 percent of those polled.
Are broken promises to blame?
Martin Slosiarik from the Focus polling agency told The Slovak Spectator that newcomers on the political scene always experience a similar problem because they have a weaker bond with their voters. He added that this disadvantage was not as significant for Most-Híd because their electorate is to a large extent characterised as being ethnic Hungarian. But he said it does apply to SaS, which managed in June to mobilise a significant number of first-time voters and others who had not regularly voted before.
“It’s quite possible that these people were mobilised ad hoc; but if these voters are not taken care of afterwards they tend to retreat back to the group of hesitant voters or non-voters relatively shortly after the elections,” Slosiarik told The Slovak Spectator.
According to Slosiarik that may not be the only reason for the decline in SaS support, saying that among other factors, unfulfilled expectations on the part of SaS voters could be a key cause. Slosiarik noted that several points from the party’s pre-election programme, that could have been perceived as critical by some who voted for SaS, did not make it into the government’s programme statement.
Appearances of non-transparency or political misconduct that have surfaced since SaS has been part of the ruling coalition may have also influenced those polled, Slosiarik said, mentioning the party’s plans to build an office building called Liberal House that would have collected government-paid rent from party and government officials, as well as occasions when party chairman Richard Sulík was criticised for failing to dress appropriately, and his absence from some meetings of the four-party Coalition Council.
Slosiarik said there is a question mark over how voters’ preferences for SaS will develop, noting that the controversy surrounding a contract signed by a SaS-nominated ministry official with the Hayek Consulting firm has resonated only since late September and could not have been reflected in the Focus poll. He said that how and what SaS communicates with its voters will be crucial for its future.
“SaS has probably lost a portion of its voters, and there are voices from within SaS that are saying it needs to re-evaluate its style of communication with voters,” Slosiarik said. “[Its leaders] do realise there is a problem, [and] that they need to work with voters continuously to deepen the bond between voters and the party.”
4. Oct 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani