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Parliamentary election of 16 September 2007: extension and decremental replication of 2004

Introduction

The result of the parliamentary election of 16 September 2007 demonstrated, for the second time after the prefectural elections of October 2006, that during the first (uncompleted) term in power of the conservative New Democracy party there was no substantial shift in the electorate, nor was the clear lead of the ruling party ever disputed. On the contrary, the multifaceted crisis of the socialist PASOK party was confirmed for the fourth time in a consecutive electoral battle (Parliamentary 2004, European Elections 2004, Prefectural 2006, Parliamentary 2007). The electoral result (with some slight fluctuations) had been decided long before the unconventional pre-election period, in effect since autumn 2005, i.e. almost two years earlier. As has been shown elsewhere, the ruling party’s lead (42.5% to 38.5%) was recorded for the first time in September 2005 (Mavris 2006, 2007a, 2007b). The shockwaves from the fresh defeat of the main opposition party created – for the first time since 1996 – serious ‘cracks’ in the friendly news media and triggered the initiation of the discussion about the deeper reasons for PASOK’s crisis. It may well be that many realized only in 2007 why PASOK was defeated in 2004.

1. Overview of the electoral battle

There are striking similarities between the early election of September 2007 (Table 1), which was called 5½ months before the normal end of ND’s first term in office and the previous, clearly more important election of 2004. The 2007 election did not constitute a change, but rather a continuation of the 2004 election. This conclusion is strengthened not only by the analysis of the main ‘coordinates’ of the electoral behavior recorded, but also by the analysis of the dynamic of the pre-election period. As shown elsewhere in the present volume (1), the impact of the 2007 pre-election period on the electoral result was relatively small. The electoral result of 16 September had been consolidated quite some time before the election.
The importance of what was in any case a curtailed pre-election period was further reduced (this being the purpose) by the premature and ‘sudden’ (only in a formal sense) calling of the election in mid-August, smack in the middle of the social torpor of summer (2).

Similarities between the elections of 2004 and 2007

There are numerous similarities between the two electoral battles. The structure of electoral competition did not change significantly, while no appreciable variations were seen in voting criteria (Figure 1). Vote fluctuation proved to be almost identical (Figure 2). There was no sizeable late swing, although according to Public Issue’s exit poll for SKAI television, the left-wing SYRIZA and right-wing LAOS benefitted slightly more (Figure 3).

Triple reduction

The electoral contest was characterized by a triple reduction of: 1) participation, 2) the influence of the two-party system and 3) the gap between the first and second parties. On the basis of the number of voters during the past 12 years, participation in elections varied considerably: from 6,982,000 voters in 1996, the figure rose to 7,027,000 in 2000, before soaring to 7,575,000 in 2004 and falling to 7,356,000 in the latest election in 2007 (3). In 2007, the decrease in participation relative to 2004, by 219,000 voters, corresponded to 2.9% of the electorate (of 2004) and was not due to demographic factors, but rather political ones. It turned out to be quite significant and should not be underestimated.
Compared to both electoral battles of the past decade (85.9% in 2004 and 86.5% in 2000), the decline in the social influence of the two-party system in the 2007 election (-6%, 79.9%) was quite notable (Table 2). In effect, the two-party vote reverted to the levels of the 1996 election (79.6%). This latter election was, at the time, the most important indication of the cracks appearing in the party system in the 1990s. In the 2007 election, the two government parties lost a combined total of over 640,000 votes, resulting in the electoral base of the two parties falling below 3,000,000 voters. This means that 1 in 10 voters (10%), who in 2004 had preferred one of the two big parties, withdrew their support. In quantitative terms (number of votes), ND suffered greater losses (-365,027 votes, or -10.9% of its 2004 electoral base) than PASOK (-276,067 votes, -9.2% of its 2004 voters).
The third reduction seen in the aforesaid electoral battle concerns the gap between the first and second parties. The 4.8% gap in favor of ND in the 2004 parliamentary election, which rose to 9% in the European elections that followed, was narrowed to 3.7%.

2. Electoral shifts

The total number of voters who took their vote elsewhere in 2007 represents 17% of the electorate and corresponds to 1,250,000 individuals (4). This estimate coincides exactly with the corresponding calculation by I. Nikolakopoulos (2007) based on the Opinion exit poll for MEGA television. As pointed out previously, the withdrawal of voter support for the two main parties was considerable and hit New Democracy more. On the basis of data from the exit poll conducted by Public Issue on behalf of SKAI television, which however contain no information on the sources of the increased abstention, it emerges that almost 4 in 10 voters who switched parties (39%) were from New Democracy and almost 3 in 10 (27%) from PASOK (Table 3). This development benefited – equally – all three smaller parties of the country’s party system. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), SYRIZA and LAOS each absorbed 14% of the total number of voters who switched allegiance. (Nearly 1 in 3 voters moved to the left and almost 1 in 7 to the right, Table 4).
The most important trend in the 2004 election was the direct crossing over of a sizeable number of voters from the PASOK to the ND camp, who in 2000 had supported the then ruling party (Mavris 2004). In contrast, the 2007 election was characterized more by losses on two sides. In the case of New Democracy, its losses to the ‘right’, i.e. LAOS and the newly formed party of Stelios Papathemelis, Democratic Revival, accounted for around 5%, while its losses to PASOK (6%) and leftist groupings (3%) represented a total of 9% of its electoral support in 2004 (Figure 4). On the other hand, PASOK incurred losses not only to the two main leftist groupings (KKE and SYRIZA), which corresponded in total to approximately 6% of its 2004 electoral support, but – almost equally (around 5%) – to New Democracy also (Figure 5). The principle of ‘communicating vessels’ was evident in a variety of ways: Some 16% of former LAOS voters (in 2004, Figure 8), switched to ND, while 20% (1 in 5) former SYNASPISMOS voters and 8% of former KKE voters (almost 1 in 10) took their vote to PASOK (Figures 7 & 6).

3. Party cohesion

The rallying of support for ND (Figure 4) turned out to be much lower than in 2004 (85%, against 94%), but slightly higher for PASOK (88%, against 80%, Figure 5). The rallying of support for the other three players of the party system remained at roughly the same levels relative to the previous elections: KKE at 80% (unchanged), SYRIZA at 60%, compared to 63% in 2004 and LAOS at 74% (Figures 6, 7 & 8). The rallying of the two biggest parties (and by extension the level of social support for the two-party system) was lower in the country’s two largest conurbations (Greater Area of Athens & Greater Area of Thessaloniki) and, more generally, in towns and cities (ND 83% – PASOK 85%), compared to semi-urban areas (88% and 89% respectively) and rural areas (88% and 91%), where parties tended to retain their support to a greater degree (Figure 5).
Not only KKE, but SYRIZA and LAOS in particular, achieved the greatest renewal (expansion) of their pools of potential voters (Figures 9 & 10).
In effect, this signifies a strengthening of protest on the right and the left. In 2007, just 41% (4 in 10) of SYRIZA voters came from the old Synaspismos of 2004, while the other 6 out of 10 were from PASOK (21%), ND (8%), new voters (8%), or those who had previously opted to cast blank or spoiled ballots (8% – Figure 9). It is also quite remarkable that the LAOS ‘faithful’ (i.e. those who voted for the party in 2004), accounted for just 32% (3 in 10) of its electoral base (i.e. those who voted for LAOS in 2007, Figure 10).

4. Political parties and sociological factors

As in 2004, in 2007 also, young people 18-24 years old were the only age group in which PASOK gained a clear lead over ND (+6%, 41%, against 35%), while it was slightly in front also in the 45-54 ‘post-dictatorship’ age group (+1%, Tables & ). (Regarding young voters, see also Figure 11). ND was ahead in all other age groups, either slightly (intermediate age groups), or with a large difference, particularly in the 65+ group (+20%, Tables ). The Left too gained high percentages among young people: 9% for KKE and 8% for SYRIZA (its highest percentage among all age groups). The parties of the Left strengthened their influence in Greek society, mainly among younger age groups (under 35), at the expense of PASOK. The same was true in the case of LAOS, which appeared to win over, at the expense of ND, the preference not so much of conservative elderly citizens, but rather of young people in the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups (Tables ).
On the basis of a scale of 12 socio-economic categories (5), which Public Issue has used over time in its surveys, the conclusion to emerge is that ND had the electoral lead in 6 and PASOK in 3, while the two government parties more or less tied in the other 3 (Tables & ). More specifically: 1) ND retained the highest percentage among employers (+12%, 46%, against 34% for PASOK), the self-employed (+10%, 43%, compared to 33% for PASOK) and the young unemployed (+14%, 47%, against 33%). ND also retained the predominance it has enjoyed since 2000 in the main categories of the economically inactive population: pensioners of the private (+8%, 47%, against 39%) and especially the public sector, where its biggest lead over PASOK was seen (+17%, 53%, against 36%), as well as among housewives (+12%, 50%, against 38%). 2) In contrast, PASOK was slightly ahead among salaried employees of the private sector (+2%, 38%, against 36%), the long-term unemployed (+2%, 41%, against 39%) and students, with the biggest difference (+11%, 41%, against 30%). 3) Lastly, the two main parties were more or less level in three socio-economic categories: among farmers (44% ND, against 45% for PASOK), traditional middle-class strata (37%), as well as salaried employees of the public sector (41% ND, against 40% for PASOK).

Main differences 2004-2007

The 2004-2007 electoral cycle saw the social weakening of both government parties. If the higher abstention is also taken into account, this weakening is in reality greater than what emerges from the analysis of the election result, which is based only on exit poll data, i.e. taking into account only members of the electorate who cast their vote. Compared to 2004, the social weakening of ND was general and ‘horizontal’. It incurred losses in 8 of the 12 categories, but the relatively greater ones were recorded among farmers (-7%), traditional middle-class strata and students (-6%, Table – [2]) (6). PASOK too was similarly weakened, suffering losses in 9 of the 12 categories. The biggest losses were among the young unemployed (-11%), salaried employees of the private sector (-6%, but also the public sector, -3%), housewives (-6%), middle-class strata (-5%) and students (-5%). On the other hand, the recent elections saw an impressive swing of farmers toward PASOK. In this social category, PASOK achieved an increase of 10% (45%, against 35% in 2004, Table – [3]) (7). A development that brought its support in society back up to the levels of the 1990s.

Figures and tables:

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Notes:

(1) See Mavris & Symeonidis: “Forecasting the election result and the importance of the pre-election period, in the parliamentary election of 2007”.
(2) Regarding the same issue, see Nikolakopoulos (2007) and Patrikios & Karyotis (2008).
(3) Ministry of the Interior, www.ypes.gr
(4) Refusal to declare previous vote, new voters, as well as voters who abstained in the previous election for other reasons are removed from the total sample of the exit poll (N=7,296).
(5) Regarding the scale, see Mavris (1999 and 2001).
(6) The changes ascertained are also confirmed, as trends, by the data of the exit poll conducted by OPINION on behalf of MEGA television (Nikolakopoulos 2007).
(7) PASOK’s electoral support among farmers (45%) is also confirmed by I. Nikolakopoulos (2007).

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