The Reform Party still lies in first place when respondents are polled on party preferences including named candidates, according to market research firm Kantar Emor, with just over three weeks to go until election day to the Riigikogu.
The Kantar Emor survey, commissioned by ERR for the third consecutive week, also found that, compared with the previous week's results, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) increased its lead over the Center Party, due to the latter losing support, while Isamaa in turn overtook the Social Democrats (SDE).
Kantar Emor presented the respondents with the first three candidates of the political parties' lists, in each electoral district, from which the respondent was required to select one. Kantar Emor research expert Aivar Voog says the first three names on a party's ordered list constitute around 80 percent of the total votes for the party in that district, a sufficient proportion to draw generalizations from.
The ERR-commissioned survey found 32.8 percent pledged for the Reform Party (up from 31.3 percent a week earlier), putting them clearly in the lead. EKRE finished in second place in the poll, with 19 percent (up slightly from 18.6 percent in the preceding week).
The Center Party, in third place, picked up 15 percent of support this week according to Kantar Emor, down from 16.8 percent the previous week.
Eesti 200 also saw a fall in support over the same time period, to 10.5 percent, from 12.2 percent the week before.
Isamaa's support rose by two percentage points, from 6.7 percent to 8.7 percent, over the week, putting them ahead of SDE, whose support remained static at 8.1 percent.
Both parties are thus above the 5 percent threshold required to win seats in a given district, under Estonia's d'Hondt system of proportional representation.
The Estonian Greens (Rohelised), despite seeing a surge in support to 2.2 percent, from 1.9 percent a week earlier, remain below this threshold at this point in time, according to Kantar Emor, as do Parempoolsed, whose support dropped to 1.5 percent, from 2.3 percent a week before.
Theoretical distribution of seats
Based on the above support ratings, Kantar Emor also calculated the distribution of the political parties' Riigkogu mandates. This would lead to six parties entering the XV Riigikogu, one more than the five parties sitting at the XIV Riigikogu since the 2019 election.
If the Kantar Emor ratings above translated to electoral results, Reform would have won 39 seats (up two seats compared to a week ago, and five more than their current 34), EKRE would poll at 21 seats (up one from last week, and compared with 19 a the XIV Riigikogu), and the Center Party would win 15 seats (down three on last week's Kantar Emor results, and compared with the 23 seats the party currently holds).
Meanwhile Eesti 200, which currently holds no Riigikogu seats and is contesting it second ever election to parliament, would have won 10 seats by Kantar Emor's most recent reckoning (down three).
Isamaa would get nine seats (up three from last week, though three fewer than it currently holds), SDE, seven (unchanged on last week, three fewer than the party has at the XIV Riigikogu).
Isamaa thus saw the largest rise on theoretical mandates over the past week, followed by Reform Party and EKRE. The Center Party and Estonia 200 conversely lost mandates, over the past week.
With just over three weeks to go until polling day, the balance of power between parties may experience further shifts - the climax of campaigning season still lies in the future.
At present, however, it is very difficult to envisage a scenario whereby the Reform Party, in office since January 2021, would have to leave office, unless the other two parties on the liberal end of the political spectrum, Eesti 200 and SDE, changed their stated positions radically, and entered a coalition which included the populist, right-wing EKRE.
Aivar Voog told ETV morning show "Terevisioon" that Center's performance will hinge hugely on how it fares in the Ida-Viru County electoral district, traditionally one of its main heartlands.
"It is really hard to say how the result might materialize there. Much depends on voter turnout," Voog said.
This is particularly relevant for Center in that voter turnout among Russian-speaking citizens tends to be significantly lower than that of Estonian-speaking voters, or of the overall turnout (which in 2019 was around 63 percent).
For Center, a low turnout is likely to be harmful and so its electoral success depends on how well it is able to mobilize its potential voters.
In turn, this ability hinges on on-the-ground, face-to-face campaigning, Voog added.
He said: "This type of voter is also not reachable via traditional media, hence why the campaign on the streets is vital."
One development in electoral law since the last Riigikogu elections in 2019 which may help in this regard is a lifting of the ban on outdoor electoral advertising and campaigning, around six weeks before polling day. Had the much-panned regulation still been in place, outdoor advertising would have been forbidden by this stage in the race, whereas now it can even take place on polling day.
Voog also said that the prospects of the Right Party, which is aspiring to the parliament as a newcomer, a few weeks before the elections, are relatively poor.
Traditional branding survey results
Kantar Emor supplemented the named-candidates survey with a more traditional methodology of quizzing respondents about party preference only.
The Rigiikogu elections in particular tend to be more party-based, than those to the local municipalities or to the European Parliament.
On this basis, Reform polled at 31.8 percent, EKRE at 18.6 percent, Center at 15.8 percent and Eesti 200, 12.1 percent.
Isamaa's rating was 8.8 percent and SDE's 8.0 percent.
The Greens and Parempoolsed polled at 2.7 percent and 1.8 percent respectively.
The three current coalition partners, Reform, Isamaa and SDE, together polled at close to 50 percent (up from 46 percent a week earlier). The two opposition parties, Center and EKRE, combined saw a one percentage-point drop in support, to 34 percent.
Eesti 200, the Greens and Parempoolsed do not have Riigikogu seats as won in their own right at an election (Parempoolsed are contesting their first ever election).
The liberal end of the political spectrum, as noted occupied by Reform, Eesti 200 and SDE, picked up 51 percent of support (down from 52 percent week ago) while the more conservative and/or populist end of the range, namely EKRE, Isamaa and Center, saw a slight rise to 43 percent, from 42 percent a week ago.
Ratings based on demographics
Among Estonian-speaking respondents, the Reform Party finished top with 37 percent (cf 35 percent last week). EKRE came in second place with 21 percent (down from 22 percent), while Eesti 200 came third, with 12 percent (down from 13 percent).
Isamaa polled at 10 percent among Estonian respondents; Center at 8 percent and SDE at 7 percent. Three percent of Estonian voters supported the Greens; and 2 percent, Parempoolsed.
Among voters of other ethnicities, meaning in practice Russian-speaking voters overwhelmingly, the Center Party was in first place at 45 percent (down from 48 percent the week before). Eesti 200 collected 14 percent of the Russian-speaking vote, Reform 12 percent, and EKRE and SDE 11 percent each.
By gender, EKRE (23 percent of male respondents) and Isamaa (11 percent) attract more men voters, according to Kantar Emor. Conversely, for women respondents, the Center Party (20 percent) and SDE (10 percent) are more appealing than they are with men respondents.
Gender differences do not show significantly in support for Reform, Eesti 200, the Greens and Parempoolsed, Kantar Emor says.
Support figures with 'can't say' respondents included
Finally, Kantar Emor also calculated its survey results with the unpledged respondents removed, the rationale being that this would make the results more comparable with those of a Riigikogu election.
The overall proportion answering "can't say" has been steadily dwindling as election day approaches, from 28 percent two weeks ago, to 26 percent last week, and 23 percent in the latest survey.
The proportion of "don't knows" was much higher among Russian-speaking respondents (35 percent) than Estonian-speaking respondents (19 percent).
If this component is included, however, Reform's support stands at 25 percent (up from 22 percent a week ago), EKRE's at 15 percent and Center's at 12 percent (both unchanged).
With unpledged respondents incorporated, Eesti 200 polled at 9 percent, Isamaa at 7 percent and SDE at 6 percent.
Kantar Emor organized its latest survey on behalf of the ERR newsroom, between February 6 and February 9, 2023, polling 1,493 Estonian citizens aged 18-84. One third of respondents were interviewed over the phone; two thirds online. Kantar Emor claims a maximum margin of error of +/- 2.4 percent on this basis.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook