Center bouncing back in polls courtesy of crisis

Loora-Elisabet Lomp
Photo: Madis Veltman

The recent poll by Kantar Emor suggests a number of Reform Party voters have migrated to other political forces as the opposition leader’s rating has come down from 30 percent in April to 24 percent in May. The Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) and the Center Party have succeeded in attracting some of the opposition’s voters. The rating of the coalition Isamaa party remains below the 5 percent election threshold where it has been for the past four months.

Kantar Emor survey expert Aivar Voog said that the Reform Party has lost nearly ten points compared to the same time last year. While the party’s rating remained stable toward the beginning of the year, the coronavirus crisis sent it into freefall. Reform remains the most popular political force, but Center and EKRE aren’t far behind anymore.

Voog explained that the average Reform voter is a woman under 40, while the recent decline has been caused by even more voters who do not fall into this category leaving. “They [Reform Party] have really been overshadowed,” Voog said. “While the Reform Party has a strong trademark, it cannot hold up to the media ignoring them. They were clearly outclassed by Center and EKRE, Voog explained, adding that the decision-makers dominated crisis media coverage. Should Reform fail to be active in summer, it is possible their competitors will overtake them in the polls. “The party has been in second or third place before,” Voog said.

Anticipated decline

Chairman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas said that the party expected the downturn in ratings. “People all over the world support the rulers in a crisis, with the opposition’s rating suffering as result,” Kallas said, adding that election results will only be determined on election day. “But ratings make for good entertainment in the meantime.”

Kallas said the Reform Party adopted a constructive stance at the start of the crisis, while the government set about misusing it. She said she regrets the opposition not criticizing the government fiercely enough for some things. “We plan to come up with various ideas in terms of how this crisis could be turned into an opportunity and how Estonian economic and financial policy could find its footing again so everyone would do better,” Kallas said.

According to Aivar Voog, the Center Party (20 percent) is restoring its former glory. “They have enjoyed a much higher rating in the past and they are now in the process of restoring it, especially among non-Estonian-speakers,” he said. While women tend to stand behind the Reform Party, they have lost younger voters who seem to be gravitating towards Center.

EKRE (22 percent) gained three points in May and is not trying to appeal to all voter groups. “They target middle-aged or older men. Their voter base is very stable,” Voog added. Because the party’s rating is stable, the conclusion can be drawn that EKRE’s actions correspond with voter expectations.

The rating of the coalition Isamaa has remained steadily under the election threshold at 4 percent for months. Voog said that Isamaa has been overshadowed by its closest competitor EKRE. Looking at the preferences of the two parties’ voters, they are very similar. “However, one party is considerably stronger. Potential supporters gravitate toward EKRE that comes off more striking and confident compared to Isamaa that seems to lack a clear message for its voters,” Voog explained, describing EKRE’s communication as rigid and unidirectional, while Isamaa should render its messages clearer if it wants to climb over the election threshold again.

“It hardly comes as a great surprise,” Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder said, adding that the rating could hardly change during the crisis in a situation where other parties’ ministers were in the spotlight.

Voters returning

“The key ministers were members of our coalition partners. The PM was in charge of the emergency situation, healthcare was the responsibility of the social affairs minister, the budget and fiscal package were handled by the finance minister, with other measures coordinated by the IT minister,” Seeder explained, adding that while Isamaa ministers were in charge of their fields, they were not addressing the crisis directly and will come out of shadows as it recedes. “Isamaa has always laid a greater emphasis on actual work than media attention and propaganda,” the chairman said. Seeder added that the party’s current rating is no reason to change course.

“It is also true that a part of Isamaa voters have moved behind other parties, but I believe they will come back. These processes are inert and do not happen over a month or a year. I’m sure voters understand our policy.”