Expert: Isamaa and Center Party support on par due to leadership changes

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

According to Aivar Voog, head of market research firm Kantar Emor, support for Isamaa has been brought up to the same level as that of the Center Party due in no small part to both having recently changed leaders. The fact that Isamaa chair Urmas Reinsalu was in the limelight more over the summer has also had an impact.

Even a decade ago, when Isamaa's ratings climbed to above 20 percent, support for the Center Party was still at around 30 percent. Voog said he could not recall a previous time when both parties existed in their current forms and Isamaa's level of support was higher than the Center Party's.

Voog also stressed that Isamaa has not overtaken the Center Party in popularity. However, with  15.8 percent of voters supporting Isamaa and 15.3 percent backing the Center Party, their support has reached an even keel, as the 0.5 percent separating them is within the margin of statistical error.

"The strength of the Center Party during Savisaar's time was that it was not in the best position during the Riigikogu elections, but it was strong in local elections," said Voog.

The popularity of the two parties has been affected by the fact that both have recently made leadership changes . Isamaa Chair Urmas Reinsalu has been very active and consistent in his messages, Voog said.

"This activity is what distinguishes him from both the previous leader and other leaders. In the summer months, when there was less political information in the media, [Reinsalu] was clearly in the foreground and managed to become a discussion partner for the Reform Party. Reform Party representatives quoted Isamaa and opposed Isamaa," Voog said, adding that prior to the Riigikogu elections this role had generally been performed by EKRE and before that by the Center Party.

According to Voog, the party's position would have been weakened even if Tanel Kiik had been elected as chair rather than Mihhail Kõlvart. "The Center Party is polarized. Both options showed that regardless of who won, the overall situation would not change much, it is the structure that changes, from which support will grow," he said.

Two prominent members of the Center Party have left to join Isamaa. According to Voog, this also contributed somewhat to Isamaa's rising ratings. "At the moment, it is impossible to say that one party is ahead or the other behind, because there is such a small difference. It is statistically irrelevant. They are more or less on par, but it is remarkable that Isamaa has reached the same level as the Center Party now, in the new century," he said.

Voog additionally puts the rise in support for Isamaa down to more casual voters, who may not vote on the basis of holding broader worldview.

Political Scientist: This is a symbolic change

According to political scientist Martin Mölder, the levelling out of support for the political parties' contributions can be seen as a symbolic change. "We'll have to wait and see where these trends end up going," said Mölder. "The fact is that the Center Party is on the brink of change. The change of leadership and image change accompanying  it will inevitably bring us a different party in the near future," he said.

According to Mölder, the change of image change could lead to the party succeed in rebuilding its support.

"As far as Isamaa is concerned, there is a bit of a question mark over the increase in their support. Obviously, this can also be partly explained by the change of leadership. Reinsalu has certainly added more dynamism to the party's image and is a more acceptable leader to a lot of new voters," said Mölder.

Isamaa is also, according to Mölder, the only opposition party that large number of voters could support. "Only time will tell whether this growth will be sustained, whether it will last and whether Isamaa will remain at a higher level."

If the positions of both parties were to remain as they are now, this would constitute a fundamental change to the Estonian political landscape.

"It would mean that the Center Party has fallen back to the level it was at in the mid-1990s and Isamaa has risen back to a level it has not been in for a very, very long time," Mölder said.

Support for the Center Party among Estonian voters has fallen below 10 percent, and if it stays that way, then the party is unlikely to see strong support in the future, the political scientist added.

Both Isamaa and the Center Party have backed down from the recent obstruction tactics employed in the Riigikogu, however EKRE has promised to continue. According to Mölder, this has not had much impact on the parties' support, however, he added, EKRE is no longer able to attract new voters in this way.

"In a way, this has created an opportunity for Isamaa," Mölder said. "It seems most likely that Isamaa has gained supporters from three different sources. On the one hand, nationalist-minded Estonian voters have moved away from the Center Party, (then) Eesti 200 is continuing to lose supporters in absolute terms, and in recent weeks we have also seen that the Reform Party lose some of its supporters. The number of EKRE supporters has stagnated as has the proportion of voters who have no preference," he said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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