The Social Democratic Party (SDE) saw the most gains in support as a result of the potential government crisis to emerge earlier this month, putting the smaller of the two opposition parties on par with the ruling coalition's senior member, the Centre Party, it appears from the results of the latest survey commissioned by Postimees and BNS and conducted by Kantar Emor.
The last time the SDE saw such a high rating was in October 2017; its rating improved among Tallinn residents, non-Estonian speakers and younger people alike.
The results of November's survey reflected significant changes on month for other parties as well.
If elections were held tomorrow, the opposition Reform Party would win with 27.7 percent of the vote, followed by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) with 18.5 percent support. Centre and SDE tied, meanwhile, at 16.2 percent support, indicating that the quiet rise in the popularity of the prime minister's party has come to a halt.
According to Kantar Emor survey manager Aivar Voog, the ratings of Estonian parties were set in motion due to the fact that the survey period, Nov. 7-13, fell exactly on the peak of the scandal surrounding Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE). More specifically, EKRE, but also the Centre Party, were implicated in the scandal.
"It's quite likely that the rating of the party perceived to be the loser or the yielding side in a conflict may decline substantially," Voog added.
The Social Democrats, meanwhile, saw a robust rise of 3.8 percent in November, catching up with Centre. It's been two year since SDE's rating last exceeded 15 percent, he noted.
According to Voog, the rise in the popularity of SDE was not so much a result of the actions of the party itself, but rather of the votes of opponents of the ruling coalition increasingly dispersing and the Reform Party clearly losing out on media coverage.
"Hence, the rise of the Social Democrats came primarily at the expense of Reform's rating, especially among the under-35 group," he added.
Voog observed that young voters' preferences are more unstable in general, and noted that the popular MP Raimond Kaljulaid, who quit the Centre Party this spring, also joined SDE during the survey period.
The Reform Party, which continues to occupy the top spot int he rankings, has seen its popularity decline since August, and registered a drop of 4.8 percent on month. Their November rating of 27.7 percent puts the biggest of the opposition parties at the same point it occupied prior to the establishment of the Centre-EKRE-Isamaa coalition. Reform's rating among Russian-speakers, meanwhile, is in free fall, dropping from 21 percent in October to 9.4 percent, daily Postimees writes.
The Kaja Kallas-led party has also lost significant support among the ethnic Estonian segment, dropping from 41.1 percent in August to 31.7 percent in November.
Meanwhile, the drop in support for the Centre Party, from 17.6 percent in October to 16.2 percent in November, falls within the margin of error.
The rating of the prime minister's party has remained generally stable since the March 3 general election, but has failed by far to match the party's pre-election rating, when Centre governed in a coalition with Isamaa and SDE. Thus, when comparing the ratings of Estonia's two biggest parties over a longer term, Centre is worse off than Reform, despite the latter's recent steep fall.
The only of the three coalition parties that has managed to increase its rating amid the Järvik scandal is EKRE itself, which earned 18.5 percent support in November.
Isamaa's rating remained steady on month at 6.2 percent.
In the non-Estonian speaking segment, Centre continues to dominate with 43.9 percent support, despite a steep drop form nearly 70 percent prior to the March general election. SDE holds second place in the segment with 19.7 percent of the vote.
Can Centre regain votes of other ethnicities?
According to Voog, one of the big questions for next year is whether Centre will manage to restore its previous position among voters of other ethnic backgrounds, or a significant chunk of that vote will go to other parties, primarily the non-parliamentary Estonia 200 and SDE.
Although the 2021 local government elections still seem far away, it's worth keeping an eye on developments in Tallinn, the paper said, where, just like in the national vote, there is a close race between Centre and Reform.
The situation is made particularly exciting by the fact that both parties' ratings continue to decline. For example, while 40.8 percent of those polled in Tallinn would have voted for Reform in August, this figure dropped to just 26.2 percent. As Centre had the support of 23.7 percent of voters, this means that the gap between the two major rivals has narrowed to no more than the margin of error.
Just as in nationwide support for SDE, support for the smaller opposition party saw a leap in Tallinn in November — from 11.5 percent to 19.5 percent.
Editor: Aili Vahtla