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Postcard from the Field

Post-election Survey 2016 in Slovakia:
Manifolds Challenges to Voters’ Memory
Olga Gyarfasova

This is the first of our Postcards from the Field series. CSES collaborators provide an update and commentary on election studies recently in the field.

In general, election results are getting more and more unexpected. It is due to growing voters’ volatility, increasing portion of late-deciders, or changes on the political scene (e.g. due to the formation of new parties). High electoral volatility is further catalyzed by social media channels that have proven to be extremely effective in generating quick though often short-lived voter mobilization. All in all – predicting election results has become a very tough job. But the same is true for recalling the vote choice once the interviewer asks you: who did vote for? Especially if this happens some weeks or even months after the election day.

High electoral volatility is a global phenomenon; however, the post-communist countries are affected even more. In newer democracies the alignments between political parties and their electorates do not share historically-grown roots as they do in more mature democracies. The fluctuation of party sympathizers is in addition supported by the unstable political scene (and vice versa – the voters’ demands reinforce the supply of candidates from new parties).

In March 2016 Slovakia held its 9th democratic general elections after the Communist regime collapsed in 1989. Many analysts labeled this election as an “earthquake,” “shock,” or “hurricane”. In any case, an unpredictable phenomenon indeed.

Why? Altogether, candidates from 23 (!) political parties ran in the race, eight of which passed the five percent threshold needed to gain parliamentary representation. Two of them were total newcomers – We Are Family and #Network; one party existed but had not been represented yet at the national level – the extreme right nationalist People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS); and finally, the more moderate nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) was not in parliament during the last four years but with a new leader it managed to reenter. Four other parties defended their seats from the previous legislation period.

On the losers side (below the five percent threshold) we could find such matadors like the Christian Democratic Movement, a relevant actor on the political scene since 1990; and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, which used to be the engine of Slovakia’s reforms and integration into the EU and NATO. With 0.2% of total votes it became just a chapter in history. Aggregated voter volatility reached 34.4%.

The election is over and here’s what we’ve found so far. The post-election Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) survey, Module 4, went into the field only several months after the election. Administrative troubles around the public procurement of the polling agency were in the background. Nevertheless, what post-election reality did we face when we went into the field? The governing coalition which was built up after the election still exists. However, it is now a patch-work coalition of four-parties which deny all earlier dividing lines. Those who voted for earlier opposition parties felt betrayed because they promised never to align with those incumbent “corruptionists;” the voters of nationalistic Slovak National Party felt fooled because the party of their choice made a coalition with a liberal inter-ethnic Hungarian – Slovak party, and vice versa; and finally, the smallest coalition partner #Network ceased to exist shortly after entering the coalition, first because it split and then its leader left the party. Taken together, it has not been easy trying to remember what was on the ballot.

I was expecting the post-election CSES survey results with huge concerns. In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to realize that the Slovak voter has a good memory. The recall question matches the actual election results very well. What we do observe are just some “usual suspects,” such as slightly higher reported turnout and slightly more reported votes for the winning party. My respect. Because the political reality is changing in such an extreme pace. In the meantime, new parties are emerging and are already starting to appeal to voters for the 2020 general election.

Olga Gyarfasova is Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for European Studies and International Relations in the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at Comenius University in Bratislava. Her research areas include electoral behaviour, political attitudes, extremism and populism. She is the national principle investigator for the CSES Slovakia, which was conducted for the first time in 2010.