Better together?

Two of Poland’s opposition parties - the conservative Civic Platform (PO) and the liberal Nowoczesna (N)  - formed the Civic Coalition (Koalicja Obywatelska, KO) earlier in the year to take the fight more effectively to the governing populist-nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in the upcoming local elections. While the nature of their intended cooperation in next autumn’s general election remains uncertain, with much hinging on how they perform at local level, pollsters have begun to treat the coalition as a going concern at national level.

While few polls to date have asked respondents specifically about their support for KO rather than their support for PO and N separately, there are sufficient data to gain a sense of where such a coalition might stand. While PiS remain unassailable on over 40% of the vote, nearly a third (32%) of declared voters (those who would vote, and know for whom they would vote) would opt for KO. The two major forces are significantly ahead of their competitors, with only the radical-right Kukiz’15 movement polling in double figures (11%), while the social-democratic Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) just about stays above the electoral threshold on 7%, and the agrarian centrist Polish Peasant Party (PSL) adopts its customary mid-term position just below the threshold.

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There is currently little to go on by way of trends, given the sparsity of the data. What appears to be movement in the graph below is more likely to be smoothed-out noise. If conventional vote intention polls are any guide, no significant change should be expected; for all the volatility of Polish politics at present, support for parties is remarkably stable.

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Current levels of support, weighted to reflect support for the relevant parties in each of Poland’s 41 constituencies in 2015, suggest that were an election to be held tomorrow, the situation for the two main forces would not change markedly, with PiS falling just short of a majority (a majority they would presumably swiftly achieve by tempting switchers from the organisationally fragile Kukiz’15 movement), while KO would have slightly fewer than the combined share of seats for PO and N in 2015. The only parties whose fortunes would change significantly would be the SLD, which would re-enter the Sejm after a fallow parliamentary term, and PSL, which would finally drop out of parliament for the first time since 1989.

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Are the coalition members better off together? At most, we can say “Moderately so”.  KO certainly provides a lifeboat for N, which has dipped below the threshold in several recent polls. Running in a coalition helps PO get over the psychologically important 30% barrier, so long a bane of PiS during their sojourn in the wilderness of opposition, and a threshold PO has struggled consistently to surmount during the last three years. But these are cold comforts, or at best lukewarm ones. The absence of failure is hardly the most resounding measure of success.