Support for the prime minister’s party falling

Kadri Kuulpak
, reporter
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Photo: Sander Ilvest

The monthly poll ordered by Postimees and BNS and carried out by Kantar Emor shows support for the Center Party fall to its lowest this year in December, following Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson’s agricultural support scandal.

The previous time support for the ruling party was that low (21.8 percent) was in May, when Arvo Sarapuu was detained as a suspect in the criminal case that concerned the capital’s waste business. The result for December – 21.5 percent – is another 0.3 points lower and is the poorest result for the prime minister’s party this year.

Support for the entire coalition has dropped by 3.6 percent, from 48.1 percent in November to 44.5 in December. The coalition has the support of less than half of voters with a clear preference.

If in November the “cannot say” vote made up 19.3 percent, the number of undecided people grew by 9.5 percent to 28.8 percent in December.

Survey expert at Kantar Emor Aivar Voog said that probable reasons for Center’s falling rating include minister Simson’s scandal, the new income tax act, as well as the government’s decision to continue hiking the excise duty on alcohol.

“It is sure to annoy people making modest salary on the background of universal and rapid price advance,” Voog said. The expert said that the group has been among Center’s most steadfast supporters. Support for the ruling party fell from 36 percent toward the beginning of the year to 14 percent in December among people earning modest income. The Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) has become the favorite of the demographic (29.5 percent in December).

Support for the Center Party also fell considerably among people over the age of 50: from 33.2 percent to 20.4 percent. The Reform Party is now the favorite of people in that group with 29.5 percent.

Center also lost ground in Tallinn, with support falling from 37.4 percent to 31.4 percent.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said falling support is tied to recent media criticism of the government’s policy and decisions. He believes it has had a temporary effect on the rating.

Ratas said he hopes the party’s rating will bounce back in the new year when the effect of next year’s state budget manifests. He mentioned additional healthcare financing, infrastructure investments, local governments’ revenue base hike, and new tax policy as contributing factors.

“Forecasts suggests average net salary will grow by 12 percent in 2018 because of the tax reform and general salary advance, which is the best result in recent years,” he said.

Ratas said the poll should be looked at in the long run, instead of drawing far-reaching conclusions based on the results of a few months. Support for the Center Party has hovered around 25 percent in 2017. “This means the party’s rating is on par or higher than during the previous Riigikogu elections, which is something I would like to thank our supporters for,” he said.

The Reform Party is the most popular in December (27.8 percent). The party has lost 1.2 points since November. Aivar Voog said that infighting in the Reform Party has not had an effect on its rating so far.

Chairman Hanno Pevkur said the party’s consistently strong rating shows the Reform Party is the only serious alternative to Center’s irresponsible policy of living at the expense of the future.

Pevkur said that hurried tax decisions have sparked insecurity and confusion in people. He said that Russian network PBK that has a direct line to the Kremlin is also becoming a mouthpiece of the government, following the example of Tallinn city authorities.

“Over the past weeks, we have been treated to a performance where the lead is played by a centrist minister who denies an obvious conflict of interest between her role and businesses with ties to her partner,” Pevkur said, pointing to Kadri Simson and partner Teet Soorm’s pig support scandal.

Pevkur added that the Reform Party fights for a competitive Estonia that would have a simple tax system, and where money would be spent on preparing for the future and helping people who really need it, instead of senselessly throwing it around. The chairman said that the party’s high rating means people want the party to put these ideas into practice. Support for the Social Democrat Party has been dropping steadily since September.

The Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL) has managed to regain some of its support by the end of the year, reaching eight percent. Voog said the result is nevertheless far from the party’s traditional annual average of around 15 percent. He added that IRL’s reluctance to go along with its partners’ excise duty policy has helped it regain ground.

Support for EKRE has climbed back to its highest level of around 17 percent.

If in November, the Reform Party was the number one choice for men (25.3 percent) that spot belongs to EKRE in December (24.5 percent). Aivar Voog pointed out that the relative importance of people wanting to see a more conservative line has grown to 25 percent. Support for conservatives has hovered around 20 percent among people with a clear preference in past years.