Public support for the Center Party continues to decline, according to a recent poll. Support for Center's coalition partner, Reform, remains stable, as does that of the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).
Issues facing Center in the past week include vaccine skepticism expressed by its culture minister, Anneli Ott, and tumult at the social affairs ministry in the wake of criticisms of health minister Tanel Kiik's handling of the coronavirus vaccination program.
Support for Center's coalition partner, Reform, surpassed the 30 percent-mark last week, according to Norstat.
A total of 46.9 percent of respondents to the recent survey, conducted on a weekly basis by pollsters Norstat on behalf of conservative think-tank Institute for Social Research (MTÜ Ühiskonnauuringute Instituut) , backed the two coalition parties, Reform and Center, while 37.7 pledged their support for the opposition parties: EKRE, Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party (SDE).
By party, Reform picked up 30.1 percent (down slightly from 30.4 percent a week ago), EKRE 24.5 percent (23.7 percent last week) and Center 16.8 percent (17.4 percent last week) of the total.
While Reform's was largely unchanged on the previous week, support for EKRE and Center continue to move in opposite directions.
Norstat says that EKRE is at an all-time high in support since the current surveys began, in early 2019, whereas Center is at its lowest point in support during that time.
The gap between EKRE and Center (7.7 percentage points) is also its highest since Norstat started its polls, the company says.
The top three are followed by the non-parliamentary Eesti 200 (12.8 percent), and the other two opposition parties, SDE (7.8 percent, up from 7.1 percent the previous week) and Isamaa (6 percent, no change).
University of Tartu researcher Martin Mölder, commenting on the survey results, noted that EKRE rising in support while Center falls is a trend which has been going on some weeks now.
Of reasons for this, Mölder said: "EKRE has successfully turned the government's perceived failure on the coronavirus front into support for itself, as for many voters, it is probably the only party able to offer a real alternative to the ruling partners," adding that Eesti 200 may also be cutting into support for Reform, even as the latter remains most supported.
Reform and Eesti 200 have plenty of common ground on social and other issues, while their core demographics – metropolitan younger professionals – overlap or are practically the same.
Speaking of demographics, Mölder highlighted that among the youngest (18-24) age group, traditionally a Reform stronghold, support for it has leveled off, as it has with support for EKRE, Eesti 200 and SDE.
Among lower income voters, the main battleground is between Center, which has lost ground with this segment of society, EKRE and Reform, he said.
Other than in terms of ethnic background (Center traditionally being most popular among Russian-speaking voters – ed.), Center does not dominate in any demographic, he added
At the same time, Reform's core support seems pretty well entrenched come what may from the pandemic, he said.
"If you are an early middle-aged Estonian with higher education, earning above the average salary, and living in Tartu or the suburbs of Tallinn, then you, and most of your peers, are most likely supporters of the Reform Party. [Reform] will not suffer, even if the position of the prime minister's party poses even greater challenges," Mölder said.
The local elections take place on October 17, with an advance voting period over the six days before that. Not only citizens, but also all residents of Estonia may vote in the local elections.
The presidential election process starts between now and then – on August 30 in fact – and while these are not direct elections, taking place instead in the Riigikogu in their initial rounds, the two elections and parties' strategies leading up to them impact on one another.
Editor: Andrew Whyte