Support for the coalition Reform Party, as well as for the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has risen this week, according to a recent opinion poll, while support for the Center Party, also in office, as well as for most other political parties, has fallen. The gap in support between Center and EKRE is now less than one percentage point, Norstat says.
The research, conducted by pollsters Norstat on behalf of NGO the Institute for Social Research (MTÜ Ühiskonnauuringute Instituut), found that the two coalition parties together – Center and Reform – picked up 52.6 percent of support, while for the three opposition parties combined – EKRE, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) and Isamaa, the figure was 30.2 percent.
Reform was the preferred choice among 33.3 percent of respondents to the poll, representing a 1.4-percentage point rise over the week, and following a 4.9 percent rise in support over five weeks – a period during which the party moved from opposition to office.
For EKRE, the growth in support was more modest, though it still rose by 5 percent over the last eight weeks, to 18.6 percent, Norstat says.
Center's support fell by 1.2 percent over the past week, to 19.3 percent, just 0.7 percentage points ahead of EKRE – the lowest gap in the past two years by Norstat's reckoning.
Non-parliamentary party Eesti 200, which for several weeks had eclipsed EKRE (but not Center) was next on 14 percent, while SDE posted 6.3 percent – its lowest level in over two years – while for Isamaa the figure was 5.3 percent, just above the 5-percent threshold required to win seats under Estonia's modified d'Hondt electoral system.
Commenting on the results, researcher Martin Mölder said that Center's loss of ground to EKRE was the result of the change in government – which saw Center retain its position in office despite being implicated in the real estate scandal which led to Jüri Ratas' resignation as prime minister last month – as well as the scandal itself.
Mölder said: "When in office, the leader of the Center Party and former Prime Minister Jüri Ratas was the most preferred potential prime minister, but together with his government, his image and reputation fell away in the media, and with it probably also an important component of support for the Center Party, which was first and foremost his persona."
"When the government collapsed amid a corruption scandal, distant memories of Edgar Savisaar-era Center Party, in which corruption overshadowed statesmanship, apparently reemerged from time to time," Mölder added, referring to Center's co-founder and former long-term Tallinn mayor (where Center is in office alone), whose political career was dogged with corruption allegations and saw a long-running, multi-faceted trial wrapped up last year due to Savisaar's health issues.
Nonetheless, Mölder said, support for Center has not matched lows of recent years – last summer, support for Center was even lower and the gap between it and Reform, in opposition at the time, was close to 20 percent, he said.
At the same time, Center's relative position is weaker now than before, and EKRE was picking up the pieces in its wake, Mölder went on, adding the party needs to do a lot to regroup.
The fall is also related to low levels of support among its traditional stronghold in Ida-Viru County, where the party had long been first choice for many voters in the region's Russian-speaking populace.
This is related to developments in transitioning away from the traditional shale oil industry in Ida-Viru County in pursuit of EU climate change goals, and uncertainty about what the future will bring.
Another core demographic to have been leaving Center in droves is older (meaning retirement age and over – ed.) voters, Mölder said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte