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Political polarization leading to weakening of PASOK on two sides

Monday, 18 Jul 2011

Strengthening mainly of ND and SYRIZA

Analysis by

YIANNIS MAVRIS*

The July measurement of the Political Barometer reveals increasing polarization of the political and social climate. The Greek parliament’s enactment of the mid-term austerity program, the significant escalation of social protests and the severity of the police response have had a catalytic impact on the electorate. The recent government reshuffle failed to yield the expected results for the ruling party. And even if it did have a ‘rallying’ effect, this was momentary and has already faded.

The electoral weakening of PASOK is on two sides, both on the right and the left. The party’s vote estimate continues to decline, while at the same time the gap is widening with main opposition conservative New Democracy which has now taken the lead and appears to be gathering considerable momentum for victory at the polls, perhaps a reversal of 2009. Strongly indicative of this possibility is the so-called ‘election winner forecast’, which historically has rarely been wrong. The turnaround recorded by the relevant index is indeed spectacular. In just two months, PASOK’s lead over ND – by 43% to 16% respectively – has now become the exact opposite.

The gathering of electoral momentum in favor of New Democracy has obvious political impacts. First, in the conservative camp, ND’s electoral strengthening is clearly causing a contraction of the other two constituents (the right-wing LAOS and the centrist Democratic Alliance parties) as well as a more general contraction of the frag-mented protest vote. Second, and more importantly, it may reacti-vate the institutional function of the two-party alternation, i.e. par-liamentary disapproval of the ruling party, providing an outlet for the dissatisfaction of ‘middle-ground’ voters. But this may happen at levels that are lower than historically usual for the two-party system. For the time being, the above-described trend does not appear to be affecting abstention. Indeed, in the current month, the intention to abstain remains unchanged at the highest recorded level (38%). However, the possibility of the abstention percentage also being affected in the coming period remains open.
On the other hand, the prime minister’s standing, after plummeting in the last two months, appears unable to recover and remains at the historically low levels recorded also in the previous month. What has clearly contributed to this development is the fact that, at a leadership level, the presence of George Papandreou has to some degree been ‘displaced’ by the new finance minister and deputy prime minister, Evangelos Venizelos. In contrast, the hitherto extremely weak showing of ND leader Antonis Samaras in terms of his perceived suitability as premier seems to be following – albeit with some delay – ND’s recovery with regard to voting intention and it too has now become positive. For the first time, the main opposition leader has surpassed – moreover quite markedly (by 7 percentage points) – G. Papandreou’s perceived capability as prime minister (29%, against 22%).

Repetition of the 2008 phenomenon?

PASOK’s weakening has also been notable on the left (Communist Party of Greece, SYRIZA). This is particularly true in the case of the left-wing SYRIZA, which has registered a spectacular increase of 2.5 percentage points and according to Public Issue’s vote estimate is now approaching – for the first time in 29 months, i.e. since February 2009 – the figure of 9%. However, it is difficult to answer the question as to whether this is a repetition of the 2008 phenomenon. It may be recalled that during 2008, due to the deep crisis in which PASOK found itself, following its second electoral defeat (2007), a significant segment of its historical social base had shown a tendency to shift to the left, resulting in a significant increase in SYRIZA’s vote estimate… an increase that was mistakenly dismissed as merely a polling anomaly. That electoral momentum, which SYRIZA was unable to manage, lasted 14 months and, as is known, was ‘violently’ interrupted by the events of December 2008.

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*Political scientist, PhD, President & CEO of Public Issue

Date of publication: 17/07/2011
Publication: Newspaper “KATHIMERINI”