Expert: Reform Party could win as many as 40 seats in new parliament
Since support for Estonia's major political parties has remained fairly stable in recent weeks, preliminary calculations would suggest that the Reform Party can win as many as just under 40 seats on election day, March 5, one expert says.
Aivar Voog, head of research at pollsters Kantar Emor, put the figure for Reform at 38-39 seats at the XV Riigikogu, compared with 34 the party currently has, while Eesti 200 is likely to win its first Riigikogu seats this time around – and these many number a dozen, he said.
Appearing on ERR's own election special webcast Friday, Voog said: "According to preliminary calculations, I would say that EKRE could get 20 seats, the Center Party 18 to 19, Eesti 200, 12 seats, and SDE and Isamaa five or six each."
"The two smaller parties, SDE and Isamaa, how large a vote will they get? When the largest party gets more seats, the smaller ones have fewer seats to share out," he went on.
Voog concurred with election ratings special co-host Anvar Samost's statement that this represented a move toward a more liberal bloc within the Riigikogu makeup, precisely because in the case of hesitant voters, the liberal voice is heard more within the media.
Publishing candidates' names had not seemed to lead to any particular changes in the preference of political parties among voters.
Voog said: "The data shows a difference of less than one percentage point [between overall party support compared with support when candidates are named]. This was not expected. It reflects a preference more towards party, than candidate. Whereas 30 years ago, candidate personalities were more important, nowadays the public accepts that the party has put that candidate in number one position [on the list], so I will choose them for that reason instead."
These ordered electoral lists brought no major surprises this time around, Samost added. "SDE have changed the most, compared with previous elections, but otherwise the lists are much the same," he said.
"For instance, Eesti 200 ran with the same names, four years ago [at the 2019 Riigikogu election]. While the announcement that [security expert] Kalev Stoicescu was running this time may have seemed newsworthy, he actually ran last time too," Samost said.
One party which, Voog said, has seen a slight boost in support after announcing its candidate names is Parempoolsed, the newest party on the scene and contesting its first election.
"They have made themselves more aware to the voters," Voog added.
Co-host Urmet Kook pointed out that Isamaa's support, on the other hand, fell a little, once the candidate names were added to the ratings.
The reason for this, Voog said, was that whereas last time there were Isamaa players who bagged a surprise result, this time around, they can bring neither freshness nor new faces.
In terms of personal results, Voog argued that current prime minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) would likely do better in the electoral district she is running in, namely Harju County, than she did in 2019, largely because the other parties will do worse there.
On parliamentary parties which may not get a seat at the new Riigikogu, Voog noted that the opportunity here was more Isamaa's than anyone else's. "Their rating has been worse, although it is also the case that they can carry out a massive advertising campaign right before the elections," Voog went on (Parempoolsed was formed around a cluster of ex-Isamaa members-ed.).
Kook noted that personality-based campaigns did not really go live until as late as this week. "The maximum impact campaign [for all political parties] is one week ahead – via all channels, even the least valuable ones, regardless of time of day or night. This will be particularly intense this time, meaning then again it will be harder for candidates to stand out," Voog commented.
One change on the last election in 2019 sees pre-election outdoor advertising permissible right up to, and including, polling day, whereas previously this was barred from around six weeks before polling day (ie. we would have been in that "dark" phase by the time of writing). This did not affect online or TV and radio ad spots in any case, however.
While the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) got an early start on their campaigning, via party chair Martin Helme, it is not clear, Kook said, how successful this has been.
EKRE was in fact the only party that promoted itself in the month of December, Voog noted.
He said: "And now, the Reform Party is dominating the advertising sphere. If all political parties publicize themselves all at the same time, this can cause confusion in the minds of voters, which in turn can explain any volatility in pre-election polls to come, since campaigning somehow still makes its effects known."
Hesitant voters do not pick candidates or parties based on worldview issues, he added, but rather for the candidate who is more visible.
Voog also noted that electoral promises have become more and more similar to one another.
"Everyone is pledging support measures," he said.
The war in Ukraine and the current security situation has caused confusion among Russian-speaking voters in particular, Voog said. This demographic has traditionally been a bedrock of support for Center. "Nowadays, the Center Party has managed to get a 53 percent support rating, which is far behind its historical level of 80 percent," he said.
Samost said that this figure would nonetheless continue to grow, as Russian voters will eventually fall behind the Center Party on the day.
According to Voog, it may happen that if a Russian voter votes for a Russian-sounding name, the United Left Party of Estonia may cause a little confusion here. At the same time, Voog thinks that the probability of Mihhail Stalnuhhin getting 5,000 votes in Ida-Virumaa and getting into the National Assembly as an individual candidate is small. "But if a choice is made only on the basis of nationality, it can still happen," he stated.
According to Samost, Narva and Kohtla-Järve stand out in Ida-Viru County, which is one electoral district, as a whole. "Stalnuhhin is well-known in Narva, but he is not popular in other local towns. This would be a difficult district for an individual candidate, even with a local profile," Samost said, referring to an ex-Center Party MP expelled last September after branding the sitting government "nazis", for removing a Soviet-era tank on display just outside Narva.
Aivar Voog of Kantar Emor was talking to ERR's Anvar Samost and Urmet Kook.
Kantar Emor's latest party support survey, commissioned by ERR, is reported on here. ERR News' election page is here.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel