An ERR party ratings podcast Monday examined the causes of recent changes in support for political parties, with this summer's legalization of same-sex marriage in Estonia seen as one possible factor.
The two smallest parties by Riigikogu representation, Isamaa, in opposition, and the Social Democrats, in office, are at the moment both enjoying their highest ratings for several years, according to Kantar Emor.
Kantar Emor research expert Aivar Voog was joined by head of news and sport at ERR, Anvar Samost, and head of portals, Urmet Kook, who held differing theories as to why opposition party Isamaa has enjoyed a rise in its rating of late.
Appearing on the show, Kook said he thought one of the reasons for the rise in support for Isamaa could be relative inactivity through the summer on the part of the largest opposition party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).
This summer lull allowed more attention to be placed on Isamaa, which also appointed a new chair at the start of summer – namely former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu, elected to the post on June 10.
Kook questioned how permanent this increase in Isamaa's rating, at the expense of EKRE, might be, adding that with the end of the summer break and the start of the new political season to accompany the arrival of the new actual season, EKRE might see its popularity start to rise again.
Commenting on the results of the latest published survey from Kantar Emor , Voog also noted that the number of respondents pledging for Isamaa has been boosted by more uncertain voters.
"This means that as soon as Isamaa goes more into the background and EKRE becomes active, these voters will tend to return to EKRE," Voog said.
Samost held another hypothesis regarding the reasons for Isamaa's growing popularity, referring to the change on same-sex marriage rights in Estonia.
Following a long period in a legal limbo, this issue was resolved, again at the start of summer – on June 20 – when the bill legalizing same-sex marriage passed at the Riigikogu, though the law itself does not enter into force until 2024.
However, rather than being a party of choice for those who oppose same-sex marriage, it was more a case of people temporarily ditching Isamaa precisely for that opposition, only to return when the issue subsided in the media, through the course of the summer.
Samost said: "In my opinion, the fact that Isamaa was opposed to it scared some of its supporters away. But now this issue has passed, and this allows them to return to Isamaa."
Samost also pointed out that this tide started to ebb and flow began in 2014, when the issue of same-sex marriage first came up on the agenda in the form of the Registered Partnership act, also known as the cohabitation act – a precursor to the legalization of same-sex marriage which in fact never saw the legislation passed needed to enable it.
However, this spring and summer, now the decision has been made at the Riigikogu and has evaporated from the public space, Isamaa's support has started to climb again, Samost said.
"Divisive political topics in society are uncomfortable for people, so they quickly try to get rid of them, to distance themselves from them," Samost found.
However, Kook remained skeptical of this theory, saying that people do not forget so readily.
Eesti 200 loses more casual supporters
Commenting on the fall in the continued decline in support for Eesti 200, which has fallen from 15-17 percent prior to the March Riigikogu election, to 7 according to the latest Emor Kantar survey, Voog said that the decline started soon after the election, when the scandals that were made public put a dent in the party's support.
In addition, Eesti 200 does not have as much to differentiate it from the Reform Party as the third coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SDE) does, Voog added.
According to Voog, among Eesti 200 supporters, there has been seen less of the random mass who tend to remain behind parties with similar views after the elections. "Right now, the residue are their most loyal supporters, who see something in them that makes them their party of preference," he said.
Ending of same-sex marriage topic may have negative effect on EKRE
Commenting on the decline in support for EKRE, Voog noted that their popularity was at its peak during economic problems and soaring electricity prices, and when the coalition came under greater public pressure.
Now this is no longer so acutely on the agenda, this does not allow the opposition to use this topic either, he added.
A smaller part of Estonian society is in the segment of conservative values, the majority are liberal or have centrist views, emphasized Voog.
The section of Estonian society with conservative values makes up the smaller proportion of the total, he said; the majority hold either liberal or centrist views.
However, Samost also cited same-sex marriage as a possible reason for the drop in support for EKRE where it could have helped EKRE to raise its rating.
Once the Riigikogu legalized same-sex marriage at the beginning of the summer, EKRE's support began to steadily fall, he noted.
"Now this issue has disappeared from the public square, and with it around 5 percent of EKRE's support. There exists the possibility that this is a coincidence, but perhaps not," Samost said.
Voog: Taking removing right to vote from Russian citizens could deal a blow to the Center Party
Even the Center Party alone has conservative and liberal wings, Aivar Voog noted.
Responding to Urmet Kook's question as to how could the change of Center Party chair, due to take place next month, affect the rating of this party and of the wider Estonian political landscape, Voog said that were Mihhail Kõlvart to be elected chair, this would be a positive signal in favor of a more conservative direction for the Center Party, while the election of Tanel Kiik would do the same for more liberal route.
However, Voog found that the election of Kiik as chair would not boost Center's rating among Russian-speakers.
Voog also agreed with Kook's conclusion that the election of Kiik as Center leader could be positive news for EKRE and Isamaa, while of Kõlvart, as a victory for SDE, Reform and Eesti 200 – by removing potential competition in either case.
According to Voog, neither Center candidate exudes sufficient freshness to expand Center's support base.
Samost agreed, saying neither figure provides any component that could mobilize and electrify the electorate, while neither Kõlvart nor Kiik has such influence that a large part of the Center Party would form up against them either.
But at the same time, neither of them creates any major spirit of mobilization, he said.
When asked how the planned stripping of Russian and Belarusian citizens' right to vote in local elections - permanent residents of Estonia can vote in the municipal elections – would affect election results, Voog found that in Tallinn this could amount to a loss of control for the Center Party.
"Certainly, it could mean that," Voog said.
"These twenty thousand [voters deprived of the right to vote] is quite a substantial proportion, and it might also affect the participation of their relatives in the elections – it could lead to protests that if they can't vote, I won't either. I think, then, that in the [next local] elections (in 2025-ed.), it could spell the end of [the Center Party's] sole government [in Tallinn]," he went on.
Center is in coalition with SDE in Tallinn, but is still the dominant party.
As for the 4.1 percent support for the newest politcal party on the scene, Parempoolsed, Voog said that they are an alternative to the current economically right-wing parties, for example, if something happens to the Reform Party.
5 percent of the vote is needed in any constituency to win seats.
"But now, they have nothing to do but to wait and tough it out. The European Parliamentary elections [in June 2024] will provide a new opportunity for them to get into the picture," Voog said.
Regarding the Estonian Greens, Voog found that a change in chair has not brought any increase in the rating, as their new leader probably does not really carry their ideology.
EKRE and some other political parties have also included environmental and ecological aspects to their programs, he noted.
Editor: Mait Ots, Andrew Whyte