Opinion polls

The poll margin separating opposition New Democracy from the ruling PASOK party is growing slowly but surely and is already close to 10 percent. Most importantly, the RASS poll was conducted after the US-led war in Iraq and at the peak of Greece’s EU presidency, namely during Cyprus’s triumphant entry into the EU bloc which was, very symbolically, signed at the Stoa of Attalos in Athens. The fact that the government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis failed to capitalize either on the unquestionable success of the island’s EU accession or on the spontaneous public backing of its leadership – a typical phenomenon at times of international crisis – is, no doubt, a bad omen for PASOK. Opinion polls, however, are one thing, while elections are quite another. Voter surveys reflect public discontent with government policy at the time they are held but by no means do they represent voter preference at election time. Expressing a preference during an opinion poll carries no substantial repercussions for those questioned and, surely, is a more authentic reflection of public sentiment. However, voter behavior is influenced by the people’s mutual dependency on the administration and affiliation with the various political parties. Combined with voters’ conservatism and their distaste for change, these ties often prove strong enough to rescue a government. This happened in 2000, despite the contradictory opinion polls. On the other hand, of course, New Democracy’s impressive and growing lead over PASOK echoes public disaffection with the Socialists’ performance so far. It also gives the conservatives an air of victory ahead of the polls. Excellent as these parameters may be, they alone cannot lock in a conservative victory. Apart from public disillusionment with the government, the opposition party must create an autonomous appeal in order to win the elections. In order to achieve this, New Democracy must publish its own manifesto. The announcement of its proposals for education reform was a step in the right direction but this must be complemented by similar programmatic statements. This is the way for the opposition to not only enhance its government profile, but also to do a great service in upgrading Greece’s body politic, as such moves put emphasis on party programs rather than on vacuous demagogy.