Expert: Reform Party's support could fall as low as 20 percent

Aivar Voog.
Aivar Voog. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

According to Aivar Voog, head of market research firm Kantar Emor, the Reform Party is likely to suffer more of a reduction in support than its coalition partners as a result of tax increases. Speaking on ERR's ratings show, Voog said, that support for Reform, which dropped to 23 percent in April, could fall as low as 20 percent.

According to Voog, of the three parties forming the new Estonian government coalition, Reform has been blamed most for tax increases, while Eesti 200 and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) have been seen as less central to the issue. "For the others, it has been pointed out, that they did talk about tax increases before the elections," he said. The gap between voters' expectations and reality was also bigger for Reform than the other parties.

"The Reform Party lost the more casual type of supporter, who supports those who are in power or in the spotlight," Voog said.

However, the party's regular voters do not seem to have been influenced by the issue of tax increases. "Support for the Reform Party has been close to or below 20 percent as recently as early last year. If you look at the post-election periods, in April 2015, (Reform's) support dropped below 20 percent, but then it recovered," Voog said.

According to Voog, Reform's ratings depend a lot on the country's economic situation. If people are doing well and their purchasing power is growing, then, when it comes to support, the party is usually in a good position. However, if the economy is doing badly, then support for Reform suffers, as the party is considered to be competent on economic issues and is also held responsible for the economic situation.

Host Urmet Kook said, that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' party is always the one, which takes the biggest hit from these kinds of decisions. The Reform Party has been responsible for lowering the income tax rate in the past, while it was also the party that increased VAT in 2009.

Voog pointed out that support for the party plummeted then too. However, he does not foresee a long-term decline in support for Reform. "(It will last for) a quarter, or six months at the most. It depends on how things go with the economy," Voog said.

Kook added, that the tax changes will not enter into force in the near future and that by the time they do, there may be a second wave of subsidy cuts.

Indrek Kiisler noted, that since the start of this year, political issues related to Russia's war in Ukraine have taken a back seat, with people's attention shifting towards other areas.

Debate shifts from taxes to marriage equality

The new coalition has also said, that it wants to introduce marriage equality as early as this year, which could also have an impact on party ratings. In Kiisler's view, the debate surrounding the issue has the potential divert attention away from tax increases.

According to Voog, young people for whom the issue of marriage equality is less polarizing, are more likely to support the stance of the Social Democrats and Eesti 200. However, the Reform Party is also backed by older people, whose attitudes are much more conservative. "If there are any losses over this, it is more likely to affect the Reform Party's rating among older supporters," he said.

However, for Reform's support to fall below 18 percent, Voog said, something major would have to happen. But a drop to 20 percent is likely. "It depends on what the media focus is. If the tax increase is no longer being talked about and the topic of marriage equality comes up, (Reform's ratings) could also continue to fall."

Kook said, that the proposed car tax, for which no clear formula has yet been outlined may also have an impact on party support.

Voog pointed out, that the Reform Party's support has been weak in rural areas and south Estonia. It is precisely as a result of this, that EKRE can increase its own support. At the same time, the Center Party is clearly in a difficult spot and a lot will depend on how its current stalemate is resolved. "If it continues to create intrigue and the media reflects the controversy, then I don't think they will emerge victorious from it," he said.

The Center Party's Russian-speaking electorate also remains confused, though even a significant increase in support from that particular demographic would add a maximum of four to five percentage points to the party's ratings. Historically, under the leadership of Edgar Savisaar, the party could rely the support of older voters. It is among that particular section of society, rather than Russian-speakers, that support for Center appears most likely to grow.  

Center's main competitor, particularly when it comes to attracting older male voters, is EKRE.

In the latest polls, which were conducted just after the elections, support for Parempoolsed has risen to its highest level so far. According to Voog, voters see Parempoolsed as an alternative to the Reform Party. "If they can keep themselves in the media spotlight, show that they are active and that they exist an if the Reform Party's ratings continue to fall, then those who abandon (Reform) will be looking for an alternative," he said.

Kook pointed out the novelty of Eesti 200, which won seats in the Riigikogu for the first time this year, will have worn off by the next elections and the party's future support will be affected by the fact that they are part of the government.

After its disappointing performance in the elections, Isamaa has not made internal changes nor opted for a new leader, an approach, which usually enables parties to refresh their image, Voog said.

"If Isamaa just continues as it is, (its ratings) will simply depend on others. If the others get stronger, (support) will be taken from them because they are no longer so attractive, and will just be seen as a passive alternative. If the others do badly, then they will be chosen," Voog said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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