Expert: Party support influenced by the 20+ percent of floating voters

The T-34 Narva tank, being transported to its new home, a military museum. The episode's handling by SDE leader and interior minister Lauri Läänemets has given the party a boost with voters, experts say, at least in the short term.
The T-34 Narva tank, being transported to its new home, a military museum. The episode's handling by SDE leader and interior minister Lauri Läänemets has given the party a boost with voters, experts say, at least in the short term. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A recent sea change in support for political parties in Estonia, primarily relating to the two junior coalition partners – the Social Democrats and Isamaa – relates to the 20-30 percent of the electorate who are floating voters and who tend to make voting decisions on momentary impulses, Aivar Voog, analyst at market research company Kantar Emor, said on Wednesday.

Appearing on ERR webcast "Otse ujustemajast" Wednesday, the same day Kantar Emor presented its most recent party political ratings survey, commissioned by ERR, Voog said: "There are 20-30 percent of voters who exhibit a random preference and who then give their vote to those who are more visible."

This would explain the increase in support this month for the Social Democrats (SDE) and the concomitant fall in support for Isamaa as compared with July; in August Minister of the Interior and SDE chair Lauri Läänemets stood out in sharp relief over his handling of the removal and relocation of the Soviet-era tank monument.

This meant that SDE support rose at the expense of Isamaa, in effect, even as the parties' two worldviews are ostensibly different.

Isamaa's support fell from 11 percent in July to 7 percent in August, SDE's went in the opposite direction, to 11 percent (from 9 percent).

ERR's Indrek Kiisler, also appearing on "Otse uudistemajast", said he agreed that the new SDE chair and interior minister has put himself in the picture quite well, especially in relation to the Narva tank, where he took a firm position, alongside Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform).

Kiisler said: "Clearly, SDE got more momentum there. If their support had stood at 7 percent in May and now is 11 percent, entering government had a good effect."

Show host Urmet Kook, also of ERR, noted that the perceived wisdom was that SDE had not been "supposed" to enter office at this stage in the election cycle (the general election is on March 5 2023 – ed.).

He said: "However, now they did so and are in the picture, and something depends on their vote too. They passed the 'maturity exam' with the Narva tank, although reportedly there was some insecurity within the party before the removal, and a desire to discuss the matter further, internally within the party."

Nonetheless, this new, boosted support for SDE remains on thin ice and is contingent on further developments.

Reiterating comments made earlier, with the publishing of the latest poll, Voog said that SDE is the biggest second-choice party, and agreed the Narva tank episode had helped the party.

Parempoolsed still has to prove itself

Meanwhile, the newest arrival on the political scene, the Parempoolsed, a group made up in part of dissident ex-Isamaa members which recently announced its intention to officially register as a party, has yet to prove itself, the panel found.

Part of the issue is that the pendulum has swung away from right-wing politics in general, at present, Kook said – noting that when the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) entered politics a decade ago, the atmosphere in society at the time and in the following years contributed to its support, but that this was likely no longer the case.

Kiisler agreed on the Parempoolsed, noting that the fledgling party remains abstract for many voters at present and ahead of its platform being firmed up; when EKRE emerged, there were specific topics to be addressed, including the Registered Partnership Act, along with there being a greater desire for single-issue topics to be addressed by a specific party.

Kook said that, since the time of Andrus Ansip's prime ministership (Reform, 2005 to 2014) political parties had gravitated towards the center, as a whole, while the Parempoolsed and other right-wing parties must take a clear stance on issues such as healthcare and education.

Moreover, kiisler found, right-wing rhetoric may not fly at a time when the country and its populace are facing a grave energy crisis and are looking for state support.

While the Parempoolsed, led by a former prosecutor general, Lavly Perling, has not fully formulated its platform yet, Perling said on the announcement of the party's formation that it would be taking on unchecked benefits and support measures.

Voog argued that, however, there is always that 10 percent or more among the electorate who are looking for something new, which could help the Parempoolsed – while this works to the detriment of Eesti 200, not really a newcomer now since the party was founded in 2018, but until now, the significant new party on offer.

Kook said that based on the experience of other new parties, crucial is getting as close as possible to the 5 percent threshold required to obtain seats under Estonia's d'Hondt system of proportional representation. This way, a party will appeal more to those who might fear a wasted vote (Eesti 200 polled at 4.7 percent at the March 2019 general election – ed.).

If the support remains in the 1-2 percent range (which is the case for the Greens and TULE – ed.), they may remain in the doldrums for the foreseeable future, he said.

While Kantar Emor's survey came before the Parempoolsed's official registration as a party, the company's next survey will include options to pick it as a preference.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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