Support for opposition party Isamaa has risen to 25 percent in the month of November in a survey by pollsters Kantar Emor and commissioned by ERR, putting the party firmly in first place.
Whereas in the past the supporters of Isamaa were primarily older men, now the party's support is equally high among both women and men, and has also expanded its support among younger age groups, Kantar says.
As early as last month, Isamaa had risen to be the second most popular party in the land according to Kantar, with a rating of 19 percent, just one percentage point behind the ruling Reform Party.
As of this month, as noted Isamaa's support percentage had risen to 25 percent.
For comparison, at the Riigikogu elections in March this year, Isamaa polled at 8.2 percent, and won nine seats.
Kantar Emor research expert Aivar Voog pointed out that Isamaa's rating has risen almost three-fold over six months.
Voog said: "Isamaa's rapid rally has been unusual, but such a phoenix-like rise from the ashes also characterized SDE's rating in the years 2010-2011, after [current MEP] Sven Mikser became the chairman of the party in October 2010.
Whereas in September 2010, SDE support stood at 8 percent, in July 2011 it was already at 24 percent."
Isamaa, too, changed its leader recently – with former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu taking the helm in June.
On voter demographic changes, Voog said: "The number of potential supporters of Isamaa, i.e. those at least considering picking this party, has increased by more than 40 percent."
At the same time, caution should be exercised over this growth potential, given the next scheduled Riigikogu election is three-and-a-half years away.
Coalition party Eesti 200, too, once enjoyed a rating as high as or higher than Isamaa's, but this was not fully realized at the March elections (when the party still won 14 seats) and still less in the present, when Eesti 200's rating is only just above the 5 percent threshold required to win seats whatsoever.
Isamaa has taken support away from the Reform Party
While Isamaa's rating has tripled since the elections, the prime minister's party, Reform, has seen its rating almost halve on the same time frame, while the party's long-term leader (since 2018) Kaja Kallas has fallen to third place in the rating of party leaders.
In the November Kantar poll, 16 percent pledged their support to the Reform Party, while in October the prime minister's party had 20 supporters, and in September, 24 percent. At the March Riigikogu elections, the Reform Party polled at 31.2 percent, winning 37 seats.
Kallas ran unopposed at the recent Reform Party leadership election, and was duly returned by party members.
Voog noted that: "The Reform Party has been losing its supporters primarily to the current list-topper Isamaa. The decline of support for Reform has been greater among women and older voters, i.e. these groups have started to tend more towards Isamaa."
The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), which polled at 21 percent in November, is in second place. EKRE polled at 17 percent in October, and 21 percent in September. Aivar Voog pointed out that EKRE's support has mostly fluctuated between this 17 to 21 percent-range in Kantar Emor's surveys, though in May the party's support briefly rose to 23 percent.
The coalition Social Democratic Party (SDE) and the opposition Center Party lie in joint fifth place with a neck-and-neck support rating of 13 percent in Kantar's November survey.
SDE is the only governmental party whose support has not fallen compared with how it fared at the elections, and in fact has even slightly increased. SDE received 9.3 percent of the vote in March, but since then the party's rating has been in the 10-15 percent range, according to Kantar Emor.
Center Party slump deepening
The Center Party's support level for November of 13 percent marks a low point in the Kantar Emor polls so far. Center, which polled at 15.3 percent in the March elections, went on to see a rise in support in the 16-18 percent range in the ensuing months, only to fall to 14 percent in October.
Center is another party to have elected a new leader in recent months in the form of Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart.
Several prominent Center members quit the party in the aftermath of that leadership election, in mid-September (former minister Tanel Kiik was the runner-up), ostensibly over perceptions of the party now catering more to the Russian-speaking electorate than the Estonian-speaking majority.
Again, this defection mostly has played into Isamaa's hands, with former minister Tõnis Mölder and former Center Party whip Jaanus Karilaid both making the move to Isamaa.
While Center Party fell among Estonian-speaking voters and increased among voters of other ethnicities in the immediate aftermath of that change in leader, in November, the party's support among Estonian voters did not shift (it remained at the same low level of 4 percent), though perhaps more significantly it fell also, from 52 percent to 46 percent, among voters of "other ethnicities," in practice overwhelmingly meaning Russian-speaking or self-identified ethnic Russian voters (but Estonian citizens).
Eesti 200 lags far behind the "top" five parties on 6 percent according to Kantar, and thus closer to the non-parliamentary Parempoolsed (3 percent) and Estonian Greens (2 percent) parties.
Eesti 200 polled at 13.3 percent in the elections, winning 14 seats, but saw a major drop in support from the summer time, to 7 percent in August, a level from which the party has not recovered.
This fall followed several controversies involving Eesti 200 MPs, including over the destination of donations to an NGO set up to aid Ukraine and headed by a former MP, and allegations of a conflict of interest involving another MP who had been due to head up the Riigikogu environment committee.
Eesti 200 has, however, also changed its leader – former Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna was elected last weekend to replace Lauri Hussar, who stepped down to spend more time focusing on his role as Riigikogu speaker.
In any case, it is early doors to see what this result, if any, will have on Eesti 200's rating. Voog noted that this will be clearer in next month's Kantar Emor poll.
All of the above changes mean that, whereas in August the total support of the three coalition parties, Reform, Eesti 200 and SDE, was fractionally higher than the combined total support of the opposition parties – Isamaa, EKRE and Center (at 47 percent versus 45 percent respectively), since September the combined support of the opposition has been higher.
This difference became especially noticeable in this month's results, where 59 percent pledged for the three opposition parties but only 35 percent did so for the coalition parties.
Support with "can't say" answers included
The above ratings exclude those respondents to the Kantar survey who answered "ei oska öelda" ("don't know," or, literally, "can't say").
These are left out of the above results given that "don't know" is not an option at elections.
Twenty-two percent of respondents this month fell into this category, compared with 24 percent in October.
However, if we take into account the unpledged respondents, Isamaa's rating is five percentage points lower, at 20 percent (compared with15 percent in October, 10 percent in September).
EKRE's support with "can't say" respondents included came to 16 percent in November (cf. 13 percent in October).
Support for Reform with "can't say" included fell to 13 percent this month, from 15 percent last month.
For SDE, the rating was 10 percent this month, down from 11 percent in October, while for Center the figure was 9 percent this month, down from 10 percent last month, with "don't know" respondents incorporated.
With "don't know" respondents taken into account, Eesti 200 was bang on the threshold level of 5 percent needed to win seats in any constituency in any of Estonia's three categories of direct elections – to the Riigikogu, to the 79 municipalities at local elections, and to the European Parliament (when Estonia is treated as one constituency, and which is the next election, in June 2024, to be held).
For Parempoolsed and for the Greens, including "don't know" respondents made no difference – the rating remained at 3 percent and 2 percent respectively. For the other major registered party in Estonia, the pro-Kremlin EÜVP (also known as "Vasak") rated below 1 percent.
Two percent is a significant threshold of votes also in that parties at or above that level qualify for state support, which Parempoolsed, founded in 2022, did indeed do at the March election.
Kantar Emor was commissioned by the ERR news floor to conduct the above survey, which it did November 16-22, polling 1,494 Estonian citizens aged 18-84 (only citizens may vote in Riigikogu elections).
One third of respondents were over the phone; two thirds online. Kantar Emor claims a margin of error in this case of +/- 2.2 percent.
Aivar Voog of Kantar Emor is due to appear on ERR's ratings special webcast at 11 a.m. Estonian time, hosted by journalists Huko Aaspöllu and Indrek Kiisler, in order to shed more light on the implications of the above survey results.
Editor: Urmet Kook, Andrew Whyte