Voter swings

This year’s opinion polls have not only confirmed the steady lead of the conservative New Democracy party in voter preference. They have also underscored an ongoing transformation in the composition of the two leading parties’ electoral bases. It is a transformation of crucial importance, given that opinion polls demonstrate the unchallenged predominance of the country’s two-party system, thus reinforcing the view that the next elections will be decided by voter swings between the two parties, rather than drifts toward the smaller parties. The change in the electoral base of the opposition party does not come from the affluent strata, as one would expect, but rather from what one could refer to as the have-nots of society. By contrast, PASOK, which rode to power pledging to represent the low-income strata, now appears to stand for the interests of high-income voters. It’s uncertain to what degree this switchover reflects genuine societal shifts or is a result of disaffected PASOK voters turning to the only party which can sweep PASOK from power. Regardless of the reason, the change in the orientation of lower-income classes toward the conservative party is pressuring PASOK to follow a more social policy – a move which could endanger economic growth – while, at the same time, it is pushing New Democracy to promise handouts in order to keep its new supporters. If we assume that New Democracy’s lead is irreversible, the pressure on it may prove to be more dangerous than on PASOK. Elected to government on the votes of the needier citizens, the conservative party will find itself exposed to their demands and faced with the consequences if it chooses to reject them. If the current government faces the dilemma of whether to engage in lavish handouts or turn a deaf ear to the siren calls of the pre-election period, the most likely winner of the next elections faces the dilemma of whether it should cultivate expectations of non-feasible handouts, or run the risk of deflating electoral expectations to avoid disappointing people after the polls. In both cases, going for the first option could be equally perilous for the country.

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