ERR ratings special: Russian-speaking voters reconnecting with Center

ERR ratings special, with Aivar Voog, Urmet Kook and Indrek Kiisler.
ERR ratings special, with Aivar Voog, Urmet Kook and Indrek Kiisler. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Support for the Center Party among Estonia's Russian-speaking voters, which had reached a historic low last summer, is on the rise and recovering, Kantar Emor expert Aivar Voog and ERR journalists Indrek Kiisler and Urmet Kook discussed on a live ERR ratings special on Friday.

Voog, Kiisler and Kook highlighted that Center's support among Russian-speaking voters has reached 51 percent according to the results of the latest party ratings.

Kiisler suggested that the relocation and removal of Soviet monuments has started to fade from memory. "But Russian voters see that the Center Party is standing up for them by being critical, for example, of the transition to Estonian-language education," he added.

Voog acknowledged that wavering Russian voters had partially gotten over their doubts and gone back to the Center Party.

Kiisler nonetheless thinks that in their case, there is a risk in whether Russian voters will turn out on Election Day or not.

Kook stressed that this is a key question for the Center Party.

Discussing the Reform Party's two percentage point drop in support in the latest ratings, Voog attributed this to random variation within the margin of error.

Kook, meanwhile, noted that Reform's main concern, high energy prices, has largely dissipated. "The risk of people getting hit with huge power bills right before the elections is more limited," he said.

Kiisler considered it significant that the market price of electricity has fallen, and that people aren't losing their jobs. Kook added that the compensation measures implemented to help bring down energy bills are working as well.

Kook believes the currently nonparliamentary Eesti 200 is facing the most uncertainty. "Will their support be realized in the elections?" he asked.

"We don't know that," Voog replied. "We'll find out Sunday, when they hold their elections congress."

The Kantar Emor expert added that unknown candidates don't tend to bring in votes, and that Eesti 200's support may fall even further beyond 11 percent.

Kiisler noted that if Eesti 200 doesn't come up with well-known names, they can't fall back on pulling an "EKRE," referring to the Conservative People's Party of Estonia. "EKRE is capable of contrasting itself so sharply with the others that Eesti 200 can't manage to do the same," he said.

Kook added that it isn't just a matter of a party's top candidate in a given electoral district; the party's number two and three picks are important as well. "The Center Party, for example, has well known names in these spots that will bring in several hundreds of votes and cement the party's overall yield," he pointed out.

Kiisler highlighted that this has been Isamaa's key to success as well.

Voog said that Isamaa has a dutiful voter base who will very likely turn out to vote in March, also noting that Isamaa is understandable to its traditional voters. Kook added that the party will surely also conduct a massive election campaign that will mobilize its voters.

The Kantar Emor expert noted that the only chance newcomer Parempoolsed has to exceed the 5-percent election threshold in the upcoming Riigikogu elections is by winning over wavering Reform and Eesti 200 voters.

"If you look at the percentage of those wavering, it fluctuates between 6-7 percent," Voog said. "Theoretically, the opportunity exists that they'll come in over the threshold."

He said that Parempoolsed's closest voter bases would be those of Reform and Eesti 200, meaning how things play out will depend on how the latter two parties manage to mobilize their own potential voters.

Kiisler thinks that the newcomer party could end up suffering the same fate that Eesti 200 did in the previous Riigikogu elections in 2019 ⁠— in which people were afraid that the new party wouldn't exceed the election threshold and thus a vote for them would be a wasted vote, causing people to vote for someone else instead.

At the same time, Voog pointed out, a lot of people may vote precisely for smaller parties because they know that the major ones will end up elected regardless.

He predicted that six parties will most likely end up elected to the Riigikogu this spring.

The 2023 Riigikogu elections, in which all of the Estonian parliament's 101 seats are up for election, will be held on Sunday, March 5.

MPs are elected to the Riigikogu for a five-year term.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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