Low income, high hopes

PASOK has two main weapons in its electoral arsenal. One is strong political and economic support, and media backing, from a strong web of vested interests. Second, it enjoys an extensive network of clientelist relationships, an outgrowth of the governing party’s long period of rule. These two weapons ensured victory in the 2000 elections. The electorate’s conformist tendencies and societal inertia (why bother establishing a whole new network with a new government?), were decisive to PASOK’s win. And the same entangled interests and conformity will continue to weigh in favor of the ruling party. The Socialists’ main drawback, on the other hand, is that depicted in the recent ICAP survey: Some 54 percent of households said they were worse off than last year, while 27 percent of Greece’s urban households have been forced to take out a loan or spend part of their savings. For the first time, PASOK is in danger of forsaking its influence among the lower-income groups that have been the steadiest segment of its electoral base. The Simitis government’s neoliberal economic policy has alienated it from low income groups by putting them under enormous economic strain. In response, the government is announcing aid packages in order to buy the tolerance of the have-nots. Under the right conditions, these measures could be much more effective than they have been so far, especially given New Democracy’s failure to grasp that it can attract these same voters. It is right to criticize the government’s measures, but its vague promises regarding growth etcetera fall on the deaf ears of the less prosperous groups, who want concrete pledges concerning their financial prospects. ND may fear that pledging to help that 54 percent will undermine support from vested interests. But it will only get a chance to do so if it first establishes strong ties among the majority of the electorate.