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Elections of 17 June – the right and the wrong

Tuesday, 26 Jun 2012

Analysis by
YIANNIS MAVRIS*

The result of the 17 June election was in no way certain from the outset. On the contrary, the outcome of the contest remained open until the last moment. Indeed, as it turned out, the most recent pre-election period showed the greatest historically observed momentum ever and was clearly stronger than the corresponding impetus seen in May. The rapid developments during the final two weeks, which continued even until the day of voting, had a decisive impact on the result. Any objective or non-fanatical reader will accept – albeit as a working hypothesis – that the fact New Democracy (ND) eventually won the elections in no way automatically proves that it was ahead – and moreover constantly – during the entire run-up.

            After the May elections, a very strong and broadly diverse electoral surge appeared in favor of SYRIZA, the classic phenomenon of an election tide: first the flow (31.5%), then the ebb (26.9%). The current was rising until 30 May, i.e. before SYRIZA announced its program (1/6) and then fell sharply, for 2½ weeks, possibly even up until election day. The reasons for SYRIZA’s contraction should be sought in the fear generated by: a) its program, b) the ‘grey’ communication assault launched by ND and primarily c) the relentless scaremongering and pressure exerted from both within the country and abroad. It is characteristic that 2 in 10 ND voters (approximately 5% of the electorate) opted for the conservatives “in order to remain in the euro area”, while roughly 2.5% of the electorate “to avert chaos and anarchy” (8% of ND’s voters). Taking also into account the higher abstention (young people, ‘out-of-constituency’ voters), SYRIZA lost a total of 4.5 percentage points and its electoral support finally shrank to 26.9%.

            At the same time, during the last 15 days prior to the election there was a rise in ND’s estimated voter support, which in the last 10 days of May had remained stagnant. To a large extent, the rise of ND in the final two weeks was due to the phenomenon of ‘tactical voting‘. Some 10% of its voters stated that they had voted for ND “to prevent SYRIZA from winning”. This current (approximately 3% of the electorate) mainly comprised voters of Democratic Left and PASOK, which is why the last pre-election polls had overestimated the strength of these two parties. We have not yet investigated whether this current simply constituted a ‘late swing’ or if it additionally involves a “hidden vote” in favor of ND, which cannot be detected either by pre-election opinion polls or, of course, by exit polls. Something of this sort can be verified (unfortunately) only ex post, i.e. only on the basis of the actual election result.

            Public Issue’s final estimate before the ban on the publication of poll results (1/6 – SYRIZA 31.5%, ND 25.5%) reflected the trends that had been shaped among the electorate up to that moment and did not constitute a forecast of the final election result. However, SYRIZA’s estimated voter support continuously shrank during the two weeks in which the ban was in force. The first unpublished (since Greek law prohibits the publication of polls in the two weeks before elections) survey (1-7/6) showed a significant narrowing of the gap (2.5), still with SYRIZA ahead (29.5%-27%), while the next one (11-14/6), on the Thursday before the election, that the gap (0.5) had almost been closed (28%, against 27.5%). Unfortunately, due to the ban in force, it was not possible to publish these surveys, resulting in the false impression that Public Issue was forecasting victory for SYRIZA by 6 percentage points. The two ‘secret’ surveys, which revealed the rapid change that had taken place, were presented on SKAI television, after the polling stations had closed, and before the election result was known.

            However, even this presentation of the final pre-election surveys was misinterpreted. It was considered to be the result of an ‘exit poll’, and consequently a forecast of the election result, while in fact it had to do explicitly with pre-election surveys which reflected the situation up to and including the Thursday before election day. Despite the fact that Public Issue has not conducted any exit poll since 2007, on account of the serious drawbacks ascertained with this method, nevertheless, the conviction is so strong among the television audience that in the evening of election day all figures are ‘exit polls’ that it is not possible for this difference to be perceived.

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

Date of publication: 24/06/2012
Publication: Newspaper “KATHIMERINI”