Lauri Hussar: Continued rise of Estonia 200 no accident ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Lauri Hussar.
Lauri Hussar. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The rise in popularity for Estonia 200 is based on clear value stances, as well as setbacks delivered to radical populism in Estonia and the world, member of the board of Estonia 200 Lauri Hussar writes.

In 2003, as a young man working in television, I experienced the switch from diary surveys to meter surveys. This meant the creation of a few hundred so-called television families whose TV sets had devices installed in them that recorded everything they watched and for how long. The sample was a statistical cross-section of the Estonian population that provided a highly accurate picture of what and how Estonians watched on television. Earlier diary surveys suffered from a high level of inaccuracy as people kept the diary out of habit and often wrote down well-known and respected programs they hadn't really watched.

Every expert knew that meter surveys would change the field beyond recognition as people would be voting using their remotes. Because meters were few at first, the surveys' statistical error margin was considerable. That is why people learned to observe trends where a show moving up in rankings meant that something was being done right, while a falling rating meant viewers had voted with their remotes.

Political polls in which people are usually asked which party they would vote for if Riigikogu elections were to take place the following day are the most popular in Estonia. Because such polls are maintained by three different companies that use different approaches, the results may vary considerably that often provokes reminders from jokesters that there are small lies and big lies and then there's statistics.

That is why it is sensible to also monitor trends in political polls to get a more accurate picture of the situation. Looking at the weighted average of different pollsters' results is increasingly becoming a common practice in Estonia and elsewhere. The advantage of such an approach is the sample size, while its disadvantage lies in lumping together results produced using different methodologies. However, all of it serves the purpose of gauging what the people think and who they trust.

Over the past few months, surveys by all three pollsters have been exhibiting the same trend. Support for [non-parliamentary] Estonia 200 has been growing, while the ratings of other parties have remained stagnant or fallen sharply. Whereas support for Estonia 200 has been growing evenly in all voter groups, coming to 5-7 percent in all three polls.

The recent poll by Norstat sees Estonia 200 about to take third place form the Conservative People's Party (EKRE). Norstat puts Estonia 200 in second place in several voter groups, including people with higher education and a good income. Emor's monthly poll puts Estonia 200 in second place ahead of the Center Party and EKRE, while it gives the party first place in the 18-34 age group. Therefore, it makes sense support for the party is equally high among Estonians and non-Estonian speakers. It also makes sense as the Center Party's monopoly on non-Estonian speaking voters has run its course and the political system built on old confrontations is no longer working. More and more people are looking for a positive alternative and have found it in Estonia 200.

Seven weeks of one-way traffic in the polls

Such a result is definitely extraordinary for a non-parliamentary party, while it is by no means an accident. The clearest picture of how the rating of Estonia 200 has changed is provided by the weekly Norstat poll that is presented as a weighted average of results from the previous four weeks. The party's seven weeks of steadily climbing the ratings was preceded by its general assembly at which a new and clear program was approved and a smaller but more effective board elected. The new program defined Estonia 200 as an innovative, pro-Estonian and liberal party building a strong state of the future that honors every person's rights, freedoms and self-realization.

Paradoxically, this constitutes the strongest opposition to the current government's policy. The message needs to be populated with substance in which context we can say that Estonia 200 has adopted clear stances on values while offering a long perspective, constantly making proposals for development of education or where to invest mountains of loan money in a way that would ensure Estonia's development and growth potential in the future.

There is another important factor behind the rise of Estonia 200 that has to do with global developments. Radical conservatism has suffered great losses all over the world. The U.S. president still seems unable to accept it. In the UK, Boris Johnson's Conservative Party has lost 15 percent since the start of the year and is close to surrendering first place in the polls to the Labor Party that has not been in power for a decade. The same kind of slumps have hit ultraconservatives in Germany and Austria, showing that the political system built on pitting social groups against one another and all out populism is falling apart. People yearn for change and expect real problems of real life, whether we are talking about ballooning unemployment or the coronavirus crisis, to be addressed instead of dealing with ideological matters imported from the USA, such as the anti-abortion agenda.

Even if nothing else can inspire change, the rating of Estonia 200 alone is a sign of a jammed political system and enough to make current parliamentary parties ponder what has been done wrong in Estonia.

Allow me another important observation. It is completely clear by today that policy is not made only in Stenbock House and Toompea Castle. Policy is given meaning by every person, with their attitudes and positions. To return to the earlier metaphor, you are these so-called television families who hold the remote and have the power to switch from a failed program to a better one. Courage to say it out loud and fight for it can bring about change.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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