Is Greece heading towards record-low voter turnout?

Is Greece heading towards record-low voter turnout?

With just a few hours until polls in Greece open for this year’s European elections, one would expect that analysts and commentators would be preoccupied with predicting the 21 MEPs that will represent Greece in the European Parliament or deciphering the potential shifts that may follow in the country’s political landscape.

But this time around, a different issue monopolizes interest: the alarming number of Greeks that may not even head to the polls to begin with. 

Pollsters, political analysts and party strategists all seem to agree that there is a major chance that the June 9 elections will bring record abstention rates for Greece.

Most analysts are convinced that the turnout will be lower than the June 2023 repeat national elections, which saw a participation rate that struggled to pass 53%. Many even believe that turnout will be lower than at all previous European elections, as well as at the 21 parliamentary elections that have taken place since Greece’s transition to democracy in 1974.

“We are concerned that this time around abstention rates may exceed 50%, perhaps even by a significant margin,” a member of ruling New Democracy told Kathimerini English Edition on condition of anonymity. A campaign staffer for the main opposition, SYRIZA, meanwhile, echoed similar concerns, stating that convincing reluctant voters to head to the polls has been “the number one priority of the opposition’s campaign.”

Feeble voter interest in European elections has been a consistent problem across the Union, reaching a pan-European low in 2014 with a turnout of just 42.6%. A campaign to reinvigorate public interest by energizing young voters saw participation across the EU soar to 50.6% in 2019, with turnout in some countries like Poland, Spain and Romania rising by over 10 percentage points. European experts expect this trend to continue this year, as the EU has doubled down on efforts to get people to the polls.

But in Greece, where European elections are largely perceived as a survey for domestic politics, voter turnout has been steadily deteriorating, from an impressive peak of 81.5% in the first elections of 1981 to a mere 58.7% in the last race.

Part of the reason parties and analysts alike fear for record abstention on Sunday is that, for the first time in 15 years, the European elections do not coincide with national or municipal elections in Greece, losing that extra pull that led many citizens to the polls in the past. The fact that there is no race for the top, as was the case in some of the previous European elections, doesn’t seem to help: according to all surveys, New Democracy is most likely heading towards an undeniable victory, albeit with fewer percentage points than their landslide win in 2023, and all eyes are set on the battle for second place between SYRIZA and PASOK.

For some voters, like 42-year-old Antonis Geros, the streak of successive elections in 2023 may have also created some election fatigue. “Last year I voted four times in the span of a few months: twice in the national elections and twice in the municipal ones since there was a second round for the mayoral contest in my city,” he explains. “It is one of the reasons why I have been so hesitant to follow the pre-election season this time around, and I am still unsure about whether I will head to the polls as a result. I am feeling electoral burnout,” he concludes.

For others, the choice to potentially abstain may stem from what they see as a disappointing roster of Greek MEPs in the last European Parliament, as well as pessimism about the most likely future representatives. 

“I am very disappointed with how Greeks tend to vote in European elections,” says Stefania Makridi, a 32-year-old freelancer who is also unsure whether she will cast a ballot on Sunday. “We usually send candidates like celebrities who don’t really care about making real change and are there for the salary or to remain relevant in the public sphere, or even more problematic cases of people who break the law, all coming from the same dominant political parties,” she adds. “Unfortunately, I do not expect anything different this year.”

The spell of extremely warm weather that is affecting Greece may be an additional reason why some Greeks might end up preferring to head to the beach rather than the ballot box on Sunday. Temperatures are predicted to exceed 35 degrees Celsius in several parts of the country during election day and for some, like 20-year-old Giorgos who can vote in a European election for the first time, this is likely to create dilemmas. “My parents are insisting that I vote, but I think it will really depend on how I feel about it on Sunday, and whether my friends and I make alternative plans,” he says.

It is worth noting that the lists of registered voters in Greece have not been regularly updated, despite repeated promises, and actually include many deceased citizens. This is one of the reasons why analysts have pointed out that the abstention rates in Greece are not actually indicative of the true percentage of Greeks that end up participating.

But even so, if the fears of record abstention come true on Sunday, it would be a disappointing development, particularly in the aftermath of a recent policy change that aimed to facilitate Greek voters by allowing them to participate with a postal vote. 


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