Election 2019: Will current party support stay set in stone?

Party support ratings in October, November and December. From left, Centre, Reform, EKRE, SDE, Estonia 200, Pro Patria, Greens, Free, Biodiversity and People's Will.
Party support ratings in October, November and December. From left, Centre, Reform, EKRE, SDE, Estonia 200, Pro Patria, Greens, Free, Biodiversity and People's Will. Source: ERR

With just over two months until the general election, the coalition Centre Party is still the favourite in the opinion polls. But can the balance change between now and then?

According to research from the two leading market research companies in Estonia, Turu-uuringute and Kantar Emor, Centre is clear leader in the opinion polls at year end, with 31%, next to the second and third place parties, Reform and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), with 21% and 18% respectively.

Of the remaining parties, the junior coalition parties the Social Democratic Party (SDE ‒ 8%) and Isamaa/Pro Patria (5%), plus the newly formed Estonia 200 (7%) all surpass the required 5% threshold to be guaranteed of Riigikogu seats.

But will the picture remain static through to 3 March? One answer is to compare the situation around the same time before the last election, in March 2015, and on polling day itself, where things bobbed up and down a little.

A rising tide lifts everyone, albeit unequally

In December 2014, Centre and Reform were neck-and-neck on 24%, according to the same pollsters behind the present data. By 1 March, election day, and ultimately the only measure which truly counts, both parties had seen a rise in support. However, Reform had a bigger surge (to 28%) than Centre, and took office (Centre entered the coalition in November 2016 after a vote of no-confidence in the premiership of Taavi Rõivas (Reform), being replaced by current prime minister Jüri Ratas (Centre)).

Even if the same pattern repeated with the current situation, with a 10% gap in favour of Centre over Reform, both a stronger surge for Reform in the last few weeks before polling day and Centre to see a significant drop would be needed; possible, but highly unlikely – if nothing else because the one recent issue where Reform could have picked up significant support, the governmental split on the UN's Global Compact on Migration, they either failed to or were unable to capitalise on Centre's relative woes.

Who will play a support role in the coaltion?

Even if Centre are still looking strong, there remains the issue of which parties could join them in office after 3 March. Four years ago, SDE were in third place on 17%, significantly higher than today, falling by nearly 2% by election day. Pro Patria's remained the same at around 14%, nearly three times higher than their support today.

Part of the reason for the two junior coalition parties' contractions is the result of greater support for the two biggest parties, but not by much – whereas Centre and Reform together account for 52% of the total according to the most recent research, at year end 2014 the figure was 48%.

More significant is the emergence of Estonia 200, who have hived off support from SDE, and the rise of EKRE, who have done the same to Pro Patria.

Indeed EKRE, together with the Free Party, were both below the 5% threshold in December 2014, transcending it on election day to between 8 and 9% support each and getting a few seats each in the process. EKRE seems on course to boost its Riigikogu contingent this time around, with support steadily rising over the past two years, and will probably have some influence in how the coalition ultimately pans out simply by being there; Free on the other hand look likely to be out of the parliament altogether come March, quite possibly ceasing to be a party at all (electoral law requires 500 members for official party registration, which Free have been hovering around for several months now).

Support goes to support

Of the other parties, if the previous elections are anything to go by, any parties which had not met the 5% threshold by now, are unlikely to make it, which means the two ecologically-oriented parties, the Greens and the other newcomer, the Biodiversity Party, as well as Free, will not get representation. It could even mean Pro Patria missing out, though if the general tendency for a surge in support for the parties which end up with seats continues, their support should snowball.

Naturally history does not always repeat itself, but no party can consider itself home and dry yet; another caveat is that the research quoted is directed mainly at the parties' ''branding'' and may be altered in the various electoral districts depending on the individual candidates running in the lists.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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