By Panos Koliastasis for Global Risk Insights
Electoral support for Greece’s ruling party Syriza, according to a recent poll published by the pollster Metron Analysis, has decreased by about 5 points. From 38.5% at the beginning of July, it dropped to 33.6% by the end of the month.
Economic frustration is high
It seems that two factors have contributed to the decline:
First, voter frustration with the state of the economy, which has slid back into recession, is high. According to the Metron Analysis survey, eight in ten respondents evaluate current national economic conditions as ‘negative.’ Moreover, 55% of the population are expecting that the state of the economy will worsen in the coming months. Furthermore, for the first time since the previous elections held in January 2015, the majority of the public (53%) evaluates the performance of the government negatively.
Second, the second reason is the decision of the Syriza-led government to agree to a third bailout by Greece’s international creditors, despite the fact that it was elected on an anti-bailout platform pledging to end austerity. It is indicative that 86% believe that the new memorandum will bring more austerity. In addition, the voters who left Syriza moved to competing parties of the anti-bailout camp, like the far-right Golden Dawn and the leftist Antarsya.
However, the Syriza party still enjoys a comfortable lead of more than 15 points over the center-right New Democracy party (ND). Why is Syriza still leading the polls? One of the reasons is that public perception over the current state of the economy is as negative as it was under the previous coalition government of ND and PASOK.
Protest vote is unlikely
According to a Metron Analysis survey published in November 2014, two months ahead of the 2015 parliamentary elections, almost eight in ten respondents evaluated the national economic conditions as ‘negative.’
Those who evaluate the performance of the current government negatively (53%) are fewer compared to those who evaluated the performance of the previous ND-PASOK government as negative (69%) in November 2014. As a result, the emergence of a protest vote against the government seems unlikely at the moment.
Another reason is related to the fact that the majority of Greeks do not blame Syriza for the deterioration of the economy and the third bailout. As recent polls indicate, about 50% of the voting public holds the Eurozone (rather than the Greek government) accountable for the closure of the banks, the imposition of capital controls and the austerity measures of the new bailout programme.
A third reason is that the great majority of Greek people is in favour of the agreement between the country and its international creditors. More than six in ten respondents believe that the prime minister ‘did the right thing’, though they are expecting that the new deal will bring more tax hikes and spending cuts, which are at odds with Syriza’s central electoral pledge to end austerity and bailout programmes.
It seems that the Greek public’s relief over the deal and the avoidance of a Grexit is for the moment more important than Syriza’s political inconsistencies.
It is no surprise then, as the Metron Analysis poll indicates, that although the personal popularity of the prime minister among the anti-bailout voters has dropped sharply, his approval ratings among the voters of the broad pro-bailout ‘middle ground’ have increased significantly.
The latter is facilitated by the inability of the pro-bailout opposition, including the center-left PASOK, the centrist Potami and particularly ND, to improve their image. Hence Tsipras’ overall popularity ratings remain unchanged, exceeding 70%.
A fourth reason is related to the so-called ‘honeymoon effect.’ Syriza came to power only seven months ago after a forty-year dominance of ND and PASOK. It is reasonable to assume that a significant part of the public, having rejected the previous political establishment, is willing to give the new government and the new prime minister plenty of opportunities to promote their policy plans.
Syriza effectively staved off internal threats
The final reason is that, despite the fact that more than 35 of Syriza parliamentarians voted against the two packages of measures needed to unlock further financing and start the negotiations over a third bailout, the party of Syriza remains traditionally united since the defectors have neither been expelled nor quit the party.
As a result, one in three of Syriza voters, though they disagree with the government’s decision to reach an agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, still support the party.
Given the above, three uncertain factors will shape the future electoral prospects of the governing coalition and the opposition. First, the potential formalisation of a split in Syriza, and consequently the creation of a new anti-bailout anti-euro left party. Second, the extent to which the pro-bailout pro-European opposition, and particularly the main opposition party ND, will manage to restore its political image. Third, the timing of the possible snap elections.
Given the fact that the Greek economy is already in recession and the measures of the third bailout are expected to deepen the recession at least in the short-run, it is very likely the Syriza-led government will call early elections as soon as possible to stave off any electoral challenges.