Party ratings: Protests likely behind EKRE record support levels

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Bar chart showing EKRE support levels during, from left, the March 2019 general election, December 2020 and April 2021, superimposed over a photo of former party leader Mart Helme (left) and current leader Martin Helme. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR, kollaaž: JJ Oidermaa

Opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has reached record levels of support in the annals of one market research firm's political surveys. A major factor for this is recent protests against legislation amendments which would boost police powers in enforcing coronavirus restrictions, pollsters Turu-uuringute say. EKRE has been active in opposing the amendments.

The coalition Reform Party remains the most popular in the latest Turu-uuringute results, being the party of choice for 27 percent of respondents. EKRE, which was in office with Center and Isamaa until January this year, was second at 23 percent.

EKRE is also second with non-ethnic Estonian voters, meaning in practice predominantly Russian-speaking voters, traditionally a demographic which would have voted Center more than any other party.

EKRE's support also rose the most from the major political parties in Estonia, between March and April, by 4 percentage points, Turu-uuringute says, in so doing overtaking Center, in office with Reform.

Reform's support also rose over the same period, but by 1 percentage point.

Center's support meanwhile also fell, by the same amount over the same time-frame.

Anti-NETS Tallinn protests played into EKRE's hands

Turu-uuringute said that EKRE, as the party most clearly opposing the amendments to the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (known by its Estonian abbreviation of NETS), mopped up this section of society's support more than any other party.

The legislation amendments, which are currently at the Riigikogu for processing, would allow Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel to intervene in cases of non-compliance with COVID-19 restrictions such as social distancing and mask-wearing, though only if other authorities, primarily the Health Board (Terviseamet) applied for help. The PPA is also permitted to decline to intervene in such cases.

In practice, this cooperation between PPA and Health Board already took place last Sunday during protests in Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square), when several people were detained. The Health Board also issued precepts, and one €500 fine.

Sunday's events were the culmination of several days' protesting in the preceding week-and-a-half, largely ignored by the media, and which had centered on Toompea, seat of the Riigikogu. The PPA had moved the protesters, who at their peak reportedly numbered about 100, down the hill to Vabaduse väljak, around a week ago.

The two coalition parties together polled at 46 percent, compared with 35 percent for the three opposition parties – EKRE, Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), figures largely unchanged from March.

Support for non-parliamentary parties, primarily Eesti 200, the Green Party and TULE, fell to 16 percent, from 19 percent in March.

The research found 17 percent of respondents of "other nationalities" would vote for EKRE if an election were held right now. Center is still by far the most popular party within this demographic, on 47 percent, but this figure is substantially down on previous years' levels.

Thirteen percent of non-Estonian respondents said they would vote for Eesti 200, a party which highlighted the issue of social division on linguistic and national lines via a poster campaign ahead of the March 2019 general election.

Among ethnic Estonian respondents, Reform posted 30 percent of support, while EKRE was also second, on 24 percent. Center and Eesti 200 were virtually neck-and-neck at 14 and 13 percent respectively.

The latter's support – early on this year by some measures ahead of EKRE's – has been in freefall recently, usually chalked up to the exit of EKRE from government. It had stood at 15 percent in Turu-uuringute's March ratings.

The two other opposition parties were on even lower figures, and have also seen a decline.

SDE's support was down to 7 percent, from 9 percent in March, while Isamaa's fell from 6 percent to 5 percent over the same period, as is often the case with Isamaa, hovering above the threshold required to obtain seats at any election.

The Green Party and TULE are below this threshold, on 2 percent (down from 3 percent) and 1 percent respectively, Turu-uuringute says.

Regional and age-group breakdown

In Tallinn, Reform is most popular, picking up 26 percent, as it is in north Estonia as a whole (where the level reaches 38 percent of support) and in central Estonia (25 percent).

EKRE's heartland is Pärnu County in southwest Estonia; in western Estonia as a whole, the party was the most popular, with 40 percent.

Center remains most popular in its key area of Ida-Viru County, where it polled 29 percent (again considerably lower than would have been the case in the past).

Tartu city is a Reform stronghold, but South Estonia as a whole is a three-way scrap between it and EKRE, at 27 percent support apiece, Turu-uuringute says.

Reform is most popular with younger voters, polling at 31 percent in the 18.24 age group. With the 25-34 age bracket, the party is slightly behind Eesti 200 (the latter polling 24 percent, Reform 23 percent).

The 35-49 age group is another Reform stronghold, while the 50-64 age bracket was almost equally divided between it and EKRE, on 29 and 28 percent respectively.

Center is most popular with the 65-74-year-olds (28 percent), jointly with EKRE (same rating) which in the oldest demographic, the over 75s, Center retains its long-held position as most popular party, picking up 41 percent.

In short, Center and Isamaa see most of their support among older voters, Eesti 200 and the Greens mostly with the young, EKRE with the middle-aged and Reform with the young and also 30-40 something professionals.

The survey polled 1,010 people over the week April 8-14, with 443 responding over the phone and 567 online. No face-to-face polls were taken. Turu-uuringute claims a +/- 3.1 percent error margin.

The next elections are in October, to local municipalities.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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