Support for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) rose in the first month of 2023, ending two months' decline, according to a recent survey, while the Center Party has also seen a rise in support following a nadir in autumn, in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The survey also suggests a relative rise in favor of more conservative parties as against more liberal ones, six full weeks left before the Riigikogu election, though the prime minister's party, Reform, remains most-supported, after nearly 11 months of dealing with the changed security situation and soaring inflation and energy prices.
The survey, conducted by Kantar Emor and commissioned by public broadcaster ERR, found that the combined total support for the three coalition parties, Reform, the Social Democrats (SDE) and Isamaa, stood at 45 percent in January this year, compared with 47 percent a month earlier.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents pledged for the two opposition parties together: The Center Party and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), Kantar Emor found, up from 34 percent in December.
ERR identifies the liberal end of the party political spectrum in Estonia as consisting of the Reform Party, Eesti 200, which currently has no seats in parliament, and SDE. Support for these three was 49 percent in January, down four percentage points since the last month of 2022.
Conversely the more conservative-populist side of the spectrum, EKRE, Isamaa and Center, conversely saw a rise, from 42 percent to 46 percent, between December and January.
By party, Reform, the prime minister's party, remains most-supported, at 28 percent, though this was down on the 30 percent posted in December, Kantar Emor says.
EKRE came second on 21 percent, up three percentage points in December, though still below the high for 2022 of 25 percent, which was recorded in October.
Center's rating of 18 percent was the party's best result since March 2022, and nearing the pre-war support level of 20 percent. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine starting late February last year, reported support for Center started to ebb, reaching a low point of 14 percent in September-October. Center is traditionally identified with Estonia's Russian-speaking electorate, from which it has derived a significant part of its support, meaning the reported decline in support may have come from its Estonian-speaking component.
Center's leader, Jüri Ratas, is also Riigikogu speaker.
Party support ratings per Kantar Emor are in the bar chart below (from left, Reform, EKRE, Center, Eesti 200, SDE, Isamaa, Greens, Parempoolsed).
Next in the ratings came Eesti 200 and SDE, who polled at 11 percent and 10 percent respectively.
While Eesti 200's support had fallen, from 14 percent in December, SDE had seen a slight rise, of one percentage point, over the same time-frame.
While Isamaa polled the lowest of the represented parties, at 7 percent (down from 8 percent in December), this is still above the 5 percent threshold required to win seats in a given constituency, under Estonia's modified d'Hondt system of proportional representation.
Below that threshold, the Estonian Greens polled at 3 percent; Parempoolsed at 1 percent, in January 2023, Kantar Emor said. These ratings were unchanged on the previous month.
Voog: Oscillations reflect the arbitrary mood of some voters
Kantar Emor expert Aivar Voog says the couple of percentage-point fluctuations experienced by Reform, EKRE and Center since the end of last year may be of an incidental nature, and reflects the erratic choices of those voters who have somewhat arbitrary political preferences, in a period shortly before an election.
At the same time, the arrest of the slump in support for EKRE is likely more substantive, and may reflect the greater campaign spend that party pursued in the last month of 2022.
Voog said: "It could also be concluded from the results that EKRE's downward trend, which was characteristic of November-December, has ended. EKRE's rating then recovered somewhat, due to the significantly higher advertising spending than other political parties in December of last year – EKRE was practically the only party advertising. The Center Party, at its 18 percent level, is closer again to the level seen the beginning of last year."
The changes in party support over November 2022 (light blue), December (royal blule) and January 2023 (navy blue) are in the bar chart below.
One significant change on Estonian electoral law since the 2019 Riigikogu elections is that there is no longer any blackout on election advertising outdoors. This can continue right down to polling day now, whereas in the past this was barred from around six weeks before polling day (ie. around this time of year in the case of a general election, which is always held in early March).
By demographic, Reform placed highest among native Estonian-speakers, at 33 percent in this sector of society, followed by EKRE (24 percent) and Eesti 200 (11 percent).
SDE polled at 9 percent; Center and Isamaa at 8 percent each. Isamaa, literally "fatherland", is a national-conservative party which may also get a lift from the independence day (February 24) celebrations, nine days before polling day this year, to a greater extent than many other parties.
Respondents of "other nationalities", in practice meaning Russian-language native speakers – only Estonian citizens may vote in Riigikogu elections – Center is still largest by far, at 51 percent, compared with 11 percent apiece for Reform, EKRE, Eesti 200 and SDE, and just 3 percent for Isamaa. EKRE's relatively high support in this demographic, despite also being a nationalist party, is likely mostly due to its conservative stance on social issues.
By region, in the capital, Reform and Center were almost neck-and-neck, with the prime minister's party slightly ahead on 27 percent; the Mayor of Tallinn's party (ie. Center) polled at 25 percent. Center has long been the sole, or now, majority, governmental party in Tallinn. The party's flamboyant co-founder, Edgar Savisaar, recently passed away.
Meanwhile SDE, also in coalition in Tallinn with Center, polled at 13 percent, closely followed by Eesti 200 (12 percent), EKRE (11 percent), while Isamaa picked up 6 percent of support in Tallinn.
In Ida-Viru County, another traditionally Center-leaning region, that party came first, with 33 percent of support, followed by Reform (23 percent), EKRE (21 percent) and Eesti 200 (15 percent).
In Harju County as a whole, the most populous county in Estonia, together with Rapla County just to the south, Reform finished in top place with 30 percent. Reform tends to do well with voters in the more affluent commuter belt just outside Tallinn and extending into Rapla County also.
A traditional strong region for EKRE, western Estonia, saw that party pick up 29 percent, just ahead of Reform (28 percent). EKRE tends to do well in Pärnu County, while western Estonia also includes the islands, where Reform (on Saaremaa) also find support, as do SDE on Hiiumaa.
EKRE also polled highly in South Estonia (37 percent), which means the area to the southeast of Tartu city and another region EKRE performs well.
Tartu city itself is traditionally a Reform stronghold; the party picked up 38 percent of support in Tartu County and Jõgeva County, Kantar Emor says.
Please note that the 101 Riigikogu seats are distributed in proportion to the population sizes of each of the 12 electoral districts.
Kantar Emor also notes that the "can't say" respondents to its survey were taken out of the equation, to make the results more comparable with a real Rigiikogu election, where such an option is of course not available on polling slips.
Results if 'can't say' responses are included
That said, the share of "don't knows" fell from 30 percent in December, to 26 percent in January, suggesting the impending elections are concentrating minds.
This fall was particularly marked among "other nationality" respondents; whereas 53 percent from this demographic pledged "can't say" in December, by January this proportion had fallen to 39 percent.
The ratings adjusted to take in the unpledged respondents are below ("can't say" in gray).
Among native speakers of Estonian, the proportion fell only be one percentage point, over the same period, to 22 percent.
If one factors in the "can't say" respondents, support for Reform stands at 22 percent (21 percent a month earlier), EKRE at 16 percent (up from 13 percent a month earlier) and the Center Party, 12 percent (slightly up from the 11 percent Kantar Emor reported in December).
Eesti 200 polled at 8 percent, SDE at 7 percent and Isamaa right on the threshold at 5 percent, once the undecided respondents were taken into account.
Kantar Emor conducted its study between January 5 and January 11 inclusive, commissioned by ERR.
A total of 1,639 citizens of voting age, with a maximum age of 84, were polled, one third by the phone and two-thirds online. Kantar Emor claims a mximum margin of error of +/- 2.52 percent in this case.
Please also see ERR News' 2023 elections sub-page here.
The relative changes in party support together with seat numbers, over the past year, are in the line graph below (Key: Yellow = Reform, dark blue = EKRE, dark green = Center, turquoise = Eesti 200, red = SDE, royal blue = Isamaa, light green = Estonian Greens, orange = Parempoolsed (founded autumn 2022-ed.), mid-green = TULE (formed from a merger of the former Free Party, which had several seats in the XIII Riigikogu, with Richness of Life, the party has not been publicly active in the run up to polling day so far-ed.).
Kantar Emor's Aivar Voog is due to appear on an election special ERR webcast at 11 a.m. Friday, joining ERR journalists Urmet Kook (web) and Indrek Kiisler (radio).
Polling day is March 5, preceded by several days' advance voting (during which voters can re-cast their vote). The main issues as things stand are defense and security at home and in conjunction with international organizations, energy security, prices and policy, and inflation, as well as education, language policy, family support benefits and the removal of Soviet-era monuments and other edifices, from the public space.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook
Source: Kantar Emor