Ratings: September brings significant changes in party support ratings

Ratings of the major political parties in Estonia for September 2023, per Kantar Emor.
Ratings of the major political parties in Estonia for September 2023, per Kantar Emor. Source: Collage: J.J. Oidermaa

While the recent controversy which hit the prime minister along with the difficult birthing of the 2024 state budget have eroded support for the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition government as a whole, this has not particularly eroded support for Reform itself, according to a recent survey.

The poll, commissioned by ERR and conducted by Kantar Emor, also revealed that the election of Mihhail Kõvart new Center Party leader has cost it support from Estonian voters, but has attracted more Russian-speaking voters. 

Isamaa meanwhile is enjoying an eight-year high in support, Kantar Emor finds.

The controversy which engulfed the prime minister after revelations about her husband's business activities – dubbed in Estonian the "eastern transport scandal" (Idavedude skandaal) – still has yet to significantly affect Reform's rating, a month after the story broke, Kantar Emor says.

Reform polled at 24 percent in September, just one percentage point lower than its rating in August. In July, Reform had polled at 26 percent in Kantar's understanding.

This should not, Kantar Emor research expert Aivar Voog says, be taken to mean that the episode will not make its effects known later on.

Voog said: "The experience from previous years has demonstrated that scandals tend to exert a more serious effect if only after three-to-six months, if they are prolonged."

Compared with the summer months, support for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), has also risen. Whereas support for the largest opposition party, and second-largest party overall, stood at 20 percent in July and 18 percent in August, in September, the figure was 21 percent, according to Kantar Emor, meaning the gap between it and Reform has shrunk to three percentage points.

This is in part the result of the Riigikogu reconvening for the fall sitting, Voog said.

"The start of the active period at the Riigikogu has brought EKRE greater media attention, and apparently this guarantees them a more stable, and over 20 percent, rating, in the coming months as well."

Center lost Estonian, gained Russian voters

Support for the opposition Center Party, which obtained a new leader on September 10, came to 16 percent in Kantar's September survey, compared with 17 percent a month earlier. However, the greater change has come in the makeup of the party's supporters, Kantar says.

Aivar Voog noted that: "The Center Party's rating changed, as expected, after Kõlvart became the party's chair. Among Estonians it dropped somewhat, but among Russian speakers it rose again, to over 50 percent, while among all citizens, the Center Party's rating remained at more-or-less the same level."

More specifically, among Estonian-speaking respondents, support for the Center Party dropped from 9 percent in August, to 7 percent in September. On the other hand, it rose from 46 percent to 52 percent, among respondents of other nationalities (meaning predominantly native Russian speakers). 

This may be behind Center's overtaking of Reform in Tallinn alone (see below).

Isamaa's rating highest for best part of a decade

In line with polls from the other major research companies, opposition party Isamaa's rating continues to grow under its new leader, former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu. 

September's rating of 13 percent was last matched, according to Kantar Emor, in early 2015, when the party was known as IRL.

The result means Isamaa has overtaken the Social Democrats (SDE) and is now in fourth place. Some months ago, Isamaa was languishing in sixth place according to most surveys.

As for SDE, it, too, recently enjoyed a peak – in August, when the party rated at 14 percent. This rating has fallen to 12 percent for September, the level it had been in June and July also.

SDE has been the most vocal critic of the Reform Party's taxation and state budget strategy from within the coalition itself, but these developments are too recent and probably too minor to have impacted its rating one way or another.

Among the parliamentary parties, Estonia 200 has the least support, with seven percent support in September, similar to August.

The third coalition partner, Eesti 200, continues to be the least-supported of the six Riigikogu parties, at 7 percent – similar to its figure in August.

The party had ridden a wave in the lead-up to the Riigikogu election, but the realities of both being elected for the first time and being in office have not been very kind to Eesti 200, which has also suffered from more than one controversy involving its MPs, and the resignation or expulsion of critical, sometimes fairly prominent founding members.

'Eastern transport scandal' hit overall support for the coalition

Whereas in August this year, the combined support of the three coalition parties was slightly higher than that of the three opposition parties together (47 versus 45 percent), according to Kantar Emor, in September, the total support for the coalition at 43 percent had clearly fallen below the opposition's level, at 50 percent.

Aivar Voog put this down to the controversy over the spouse of Kaja Kallas having had a stake in a firm which had continued to transport items made by a related company into the Russian Federation.

The saga began before the current Kantar Emor survey period started, but continued through it. In the latter part of this period, the difficulty the coalition seemed to have in assembling the 2024 state budget bill, and media criticism both of that difficult and of the content of the bill itself, also had its effect, Voog said.

"The aforementioned has affected the combined rating of the coalition parties, which has fallen to 43 percent,14 percentage points lower than the rating just after the [March] election," Voog said.

The Kantar Emor survey for March found the total support of the coalition to be 57 percent, and for the opposition, 37 percent.

As for parties not represented at the Riigikogu, Parempoolsed garnered the most support, at 4 percent, unchanged on the preceding month and one percentage point below the level required to win seats at any of Estonia's three types of direct election.

Support for the Estonian Greens (Rohelised) stood at 2 percent in August, and for the EÜVP, a pro-Kremlin party going by its statements, support was 1 percent.

Both the Greens and the EÜVP polled a percentage point lower than they had done in August, by Kantar Emor's reckoning.

Support with "Can't say" responses included

With the start of the active political season, ie. the end of the summer recess and the return to work of the Riigikogu, the number of respondents without a preference has fallen. Whereas in August, 25 percent of Kantar Emor respondents could not state their preference, in September the proportion had fallen to 21 percent.

If these "can't say" respondents are also factored in to the total results, the Reform Party was supported by 19 percent in September (compared with 20 percent in August) and EKRE by 16 percent (compared with 13 percent in August).

The support for the Center Party stood at 12 percent (unchanged from August), and Isamaa's at 10 percent (up from 9 percent in August), if the "don't knows" are included in the mix.

Support for SDE when including undecided respondents was 9 percent in the Kantar Emor survey in September (down from 11 percent in August's poll); for Eesti 200 the revised figure was 6 percent (unchanged on August's result).

Parempoolsed poll at 3 percent, the Greens below 2 percent, and EÜVP below 1 percent, on this basis.

Since a "can't say" option is not included on ballot papers, the results of surveys with the undecided respondents stripped out are seen as more reflective of what would happen were an election to take place at the time.

Center surpasses Reform in the capital

Notwithstanding its slight fall in support nationwide, the Center Party is the most-supported party in Tallinn, having overtaken Reform in the latest Kantar Emor poll.

The margin is narrow, however: Center picked up 27 percent to Reform's 26 percent, in Tallinn.

Center's new leader, Mihhail Kõlvart, is mayor of Tallinn.

A fairly even left-right split in the capital sees EKRE and SDE both poll at 11 percent according to Kantar Emor, with Isamaa and Eesti 200 close behind on 9 percent each.

Parempoolsed polled at 5 percent in Tallinn in the latest survey, as noted a significant level in that it is also the threshold required to win seats.

In the preferences of the capital's voters, EKRE followed fairly equally with 11 percent and SDE with 11 percent, and Isamaa and Eesti 200 both with nine percent. 

Elsewhere in Estonia, Center performed stronger than the other parties at 44 percent in Ida-Viru County. This region is a traditional stronghold for Center, but in recent years it had seen its support falling away there. On the other hand, the new party leader may arrest and turnaround this trend.

Eesti 200, which has also performed well in Ida-Viru County, picked up 14 percent of support, EKRE, just behind on 13 percent. Isamaa polled at 10 percent in Estonia's easternmost county.

In the most populous, largely affluent Harju and Rapla counties, Reform placed first, as it did in Tartu County (the City of Tartu is a traditional Reform stronghold) and in neighboring Jõgeva County.

EKRE continued to be the most popular party in its own heartlands, namely Western Estonia (Lääne and Pärnu counties) and on the islands, as well as in Southeastern Estonia.

The breakdown by ethnicity sees 29 percent of Estonian-speaking respondents backing Reform in September, down fro 30 percent in August.

EKRE's support moved in the opposite direction with this demographic, from 19 percent in August, to 23 percent in September, according to Kantar Emor.

Isamaa's support rose from 13 percent to 16 percent among native Estonian-speaking respondents; SDE's dropped among this group, from 14 percent to 12 percent, between August and September, as did Center's (from 9 percent to 7 percent) and Eesti 200's (from 8 percent to 7 percent).

Among voters of "other nationalities," as noted overwhelmingly Russian-speaking citizens of Estonia, Center remains most popular, at 52 percent, and its support grew by 6 percentage points between August and September also, according to the poll.

EKRE finished second with this demographic at 12 percent, down from 14 percent in August; again, a left-right split can be observed among Estonia's Russian minority, since SDE polled third, at 10 percent (down from 13 percent in August).

Eesti 200 picked up 9 percent of support, Reform 8 percent, and Isamaa just 2 percent, from respondents of other nationalities.

Estonia 200 was supported by nine percent of voters of other ethnicities, and the Reform Party by eight percent. The support of the fatherland in this group of respondents was only two percent.

ERR commissioned Kantar Emor to conduct the poll, which it does on a monthly basis. The previous month's results in full are here.

Kantar Emor conducted its survey in the week September 14-20, polling 1,491 Estonian citizens aged 18-84, a third by phone, two-thirds online.

Kantar Emor claims a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percent.

Aivar Voog will be appearing alongside ERR's Anvar Samost and Urmet Kook on Friday's ratings special, to be broadcast at 11 a.m. on ERR's Estonian news page, in order to analyze and contextualize further the above survey's results.


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Editor: Urmet Kook, Andrew Whyte

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