Juhan Kivirähk: Politicians credibility main consideration for voters

Juhan Kivirähk of Turu-uuringute AS.
Juhan Kivirähk of Turu-uuringute AS. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The most important criterion for voters at election time is trustworthiness of individual politicians, writes Juhan Kivirähk, with party names, slogans and manifestos secondary to that.

Before commenting on party support levels in November, it is worth recalling October's. Since Estonia 200 had not reached party status at that point, respondents were asked , after making their selection from the existing roster of parties, whether they would switch allegiance to Estonia 200 should it be eligible to stand.

The survey results showed 9% would do just that, the majority of whom were current Reform and Social Democratic Party (SDE) supporters.

Polls don't tell the whole story

This came to fruition in the November market research results, where 8% said they would vote for the now-eligible Estonia 200, whereas Reform and SDE were down by five percentage points from October.

Naturally, Estonia 200 itself might not be the sole factor here. Reform seems to be going through a difficult patch, for instance with former members Imre Sooäär and Andrei Korobeinik joining the centre party and being critical of their previous party. There have also been questions as to whether all is well internally in the party, together with the unexpected stepping down of Kert Valdaru as party secretary in early November and his replacement by 27-year-old Erkki Keldo.

Centre has made progress on the other hand. In November it stood at 33% in the opinion polls, versus 23% for Reform, 15% for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), and Estonia 200 on 8% as noted, ahead of the SDE on 7%. Isamaa/Pro Patria were hovering around the electoral threshold of 5%, and the Greens and Free Party below that , on 3% and 1% respectively.

Estonia 200 a protest vote?

The situation looks a little rosier for Reform when looking at their support amongst those who will definitely vote. In this case Centre's support falls to 30% but rises to 25% for Reform. With the other parties the figure remains largely unchanged.

But can Estonia 200 protect its current position and if so what are its options? Many analysts believe its rating right now is partly the result of a protest vote for a newcomer to the scene, which might not translate into actual votes for named party members on an electoral list.

This is a criticism long aimed at EKRE too, that its support in market research is higher than would actually emerge on voting day, given the only well known figures they have are the current Riigikogu MPs. However, it seems that EKRE could overcome this gradually whereas Estonia 200 really is an unknown both in terms of personalities and everything else.

Electorate's fatigue

The electorate has heard all the miracle promises in pre-election manifestos time and again before, only for these to fail to materialise once a party is in office. Thus the ''long plan for Estonia'' which Estonia 200 proclaims will in practice mean it can have a hard time on election day.

However, taking account of Estonia 200's platform, it would serve it well to keep its nose clean and to steer clear of political mavericks, decoys or ''entertainers''.

Mr Korobeinik and Mr Sooäär, before joining Centre, had taken a look at Estonia 200 but turned it down. At the same time it would be prudent for parties to ward off those opportunist politicians just looking to ameliorate their positions.

Not enough familiar names

There are only two or three familiar names in the party leadership and it would have been good to introduce members to the public a long time ago, if the party wants to be more than just a group of specialists and experts. Without that, it is difficult for voters to put all their trust in the new party.

Finally, it is important to remember that the political climate has changed so much recently with the controversy over the past week, that even the November results could only be considered valid with the caveat ''before the government crisis''. As this situation resolves itself, we can see how things are looking in party support research in December.


Juhan Kivirähk is research director of market polling firm Turu-uuringute AS.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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