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Political polls change just a bit

TWO recently published polls conducted at the end of June and the beginning of July showed the political situation in Slovakia has not changed much since the March 10 election. Both polls indicated that Smer party enjoys significant popular backing, while support for the opposition parties remains fragmented – though the two polls did differ in some areas.

TWO recently published polls conducted at the end of June and the beginning of July showed the political situation in Slovakia has not changed much since the March 10 election. Both polls indicated that Smer party enjoys significant popular backing, while support for the opposition parties remains fragmented – though the two polls did differ in some areas.

While the polls showed that voter preferences for some opposition parties are about the same as they were in the actual general election held four months ago, other parties are up or down by several percentage points. Moreover, the two polls do not give precisely the same results. For example, one poll indicated the party that led the previous government, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), had returned to the leading position among the opposition parties, while the other poll implied that the party had only just over the threshold of 5 percent necessary to enter parliament. Its actual result in the March 10 election was 6.09 percent.

Political analysts said the results of the two polls are not necessarily accurate and every poll can be affected by statistical quirks.

Moreover, the analysts said that voters’ preferences are not fixed and might change over the next months.

“The best [way to explain it] is to imagine taking a picture from, for example, a 100-metre race,” political scientist Marek Rybář from the school of political sciences at Comenius University told The Slovak Spectator.

He explained that if your photo captures the run after first 20 metres, the runners are at certain positions but it does not mean their positions will not change over the course of the race.

It is similar with a poll which reflects the current moods of people in one specific moment, Rybář said.

“It does not exclude the possibility that, after a week or two, something happens or something, which the voters expected to happen, doesn’t happen and the preferences will change,” the political scientist added.

Support for opposition parties

A poll conducted by the Polis agency for the TA3 news channel among 1,107 respondents indicated that the SDKÚ could have regained some of its lost support, indicating that the party was the second most popular party, after Smer, the TASR newswire wrote. If an election had taken place in late June and the beginning of July, SDKÚ would have received the support of 7.8 percent of the respondents in the Polis poll.

But a poll conducted by the MVK polling agency at the end of June among 1,124 respondents showed that the SDKÚ would have received the support of only 5 percent of those polled, putting it in last position among the six parties that would have made it into parliament, the SITA newswire wrote on July 9.

Analysts Pavel Haulík from MVK and Ján Baránek from Polis stated that the different outcomes for the SDKÚ might just be the result of statistical errors and that changes in voters’ preferences should be based on polls conducted over a longer period of time.

“You cannot assume that it is really a rise [in the preferences] or it is only an accidental result from only one poll,” Baránek told The Slovak Spectator.

Both polls showed a fall in voter preferences for the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). The party had the support of 7.4 percent of the respondents in the Polis poll, a drop of 0.9 percentage points from the party’s result in the poll conducted in May. The MVK poll showed KDH’s support at 7.2 percent compared to the 8.82 percent it actually received in the March parliamentary elections, with Haulík saying this could be only a statistical error.

Both Haulík and Baránek added that the KDH might have lost some support after former interior minister Daniel Lipšic left the party or from the revelation of several so-called golden parachutes given to high-level officials in state-run companies that were under the control of the Transport Ministry when the party’s chairman, Ján Figeľ, was minister from 2010 to March 2012.

Rybář does not believe these two events impacted support for the KDH, stating that “observers as well as politicians often overestimate [the impact] when something happens”. He told The Slovak Spectator that these two events did not automatically affect the results of the polls since “the factors which contribute to preferences rising or falling have to last longer”.

Both Haulík and Baránek added that the KDH might have lost some support after former interior minister Daniel Lipšic left the party or from the revelation of several so-called golden parachutes given to high-level officials in state-run companies that were under the control of the Transport Ministry when the party’s chairman, Ján Figeľ, was minister from 2010 to March 2012.

Rybář does not believe these two events impacted support for the KDH, stating that “observers as well as politicians often overestimate [the impact] when something happens”. He told The Slovak Spectator that these two events did not automatically affect the results of the polls since “the factors which contribute to preferences rising or falling have to last longer”.

The Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) party also recorded different results in the two polls. In the MVK poll it received the second highest result among the parties, at 10.4 percent, and in the Polis poll it had the support of only 7.6 percent of those polled.

But voter preferences for OĽaNO according to the MVK poll rose from the 8.55 percent the party actually received in the March election. Though this increase is not very large, Haulík believes it stems from a visible change “in terms of preferences of the voters among the centre-right parties”.

He went on to say that OĽaNO might have increased it preferences because none of the party’s members were mentioned in the so-called Gorilla file that was published on the internet at the end of last year. The Gorilla file is a document which contains the transcripts of wiretappings made by the Slovak Information Service (SIS) intelligence agency that allegedly show corrupt practices between high-level politicians and business in the period from 2005-2006.

Variations in the polls for the other two centre-right parties currently in parliament were not very significant. The Polis poll reported that Most-Híd would have had the support of 6.5 percent of those polled while the MVK poll reported it would receive support from 7.3 percent of the respondents. Both polls reported that Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) would have captured 5.8 percent of votes from the respondents.

Most-Híd received 6.89 percent of the vote in March and SaS received 5.88 percent.

Smer still far ahead

Smer is still by far the most popular party in Slovakia: in both polls it received enough voter support to continue to govern as a single party, had the results been repeated in an election. The Polis poll indicated the party had the support of 48.8 percent of respondents, equivalent to 87 seats in the 150-member parliament, and the MVK poll showed Smer with support of 42.7 percent of the respondents, or 81 seats in parliament, still a clear majority.

Since being appointed to the government, Smer ministers have presented several austerity measures which will not affect only banks and wealthier people, as they promised during the election campaign, but also Smer supporters. Yet neither of the analysts assumes that these changes have affected Smer’s preferences.

Haulík stated that “the party has suggested more than it has really realised” and that Slovaks still do not know how the new measures will affect their lives.

Nevertheless, the analysts said it is possible that these measures might affect Smer’s preferences in the future.

“At least it is something that members of Smer surely think about,” Rybář told The Slovak Spectator.

He supported his reasoning in two ways. First, a government often suggests several, even opposite, measures, what might seem like “releasing trial balloons” in order to determine what the public reaction will be. Secondly, he said the government’s establishment of several advisory bodies, such as the Solidarity and Development Council, is an “effort to gain support for measures from outside the party’s structures”.

The political scientist added that Smer “may be between two millstones” as it now has the responsibility to reduce the state deficit below 3 percent of GDP in 2013 and also promised its voters that future austerity measures would not impact them.

“This, of course, will not be possible as it is a very large amount that the state has to acquire [to decrease the deficit],” Rybář stated.

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