The first round of presidential elections took place on Sunday 20th June. No candidate emerged as an outright winner and a second round between Citizen Platform's (PO) candidate Bronisław Komorowski and Law and Justice (PiS) candidate Jarosław Kaczyński will take place next Sunday 4th July.
Both Komorowski and Kaczyński dominated the elections winning nearly 80% of all votes cast. This shows how Polish politics continues to be dominated by two parties from the right, with the left remaining a minor player on the political scene. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) candidate Napieralski won nearly 14% of the vote, while the Peasants' Party (PSL) candidate Pawlak scored a disastrous 2.5%. The votes for the 3 main candidates were broadly reflective of the support their parties gained in the 2007 parliamentary elections. However, Napieralski's vote came as a surprise to many commentators as he began the campaign with opinion polls showing support for him in low single figures. Therefore, Napieralski initially emerged as the success story of the elections, with both Komorowski and Kaczynski trying to win the votes of the left electorate (more on this to come in future posts.)
Let's take a closer look at the breakdown of the votes for the 3 main candidates, through examining how votes were cast according to age, education, and place of residence (figures compiled by SMF/KRC and published in Gazeta Wyborcza 21.06.2010).
If we begin by comparing the votes of Komorowski and Kaczyński then we can immediately see a clear trend and divide in Polish society. Komorowski won a majority of all the age groups in Poland, but his vote was particularly high amongst young people – especially within the 25 – 34 age group. Furthermore, Kaczynski scored better with middle aged and elder voters, although not so with voters aged 60+. Likewise with regards education Komorwski won the support of the majority of voters across the spectrum. However, again this majority was larger amongst those with a higher level of education – winning the support of over a half of all voters with a university education. The biggest divide amongst the Polish electorate can be found when we compare votes according to place of residence. Here, Kaczyński actually won a majority amongst those living in the countryside, although he lost in the cities. Komorowski won over 50% of the votes in the large and medium cities.
This geographical divide is especially stark when we look at a map of how Poles voted in the country as a whole, which can be found here: The extent of the divide between western and eastern Poland in this map is striking and shows a deep rift that runs through Polish society. This axis has been intensified by the socio-economic effects of the transition to capitalism (in media jargon Polska A and Polska B) but also is derived from Poland's historical uneven development, particularly its partition prior to World War One.
Napieralski's vote is interesting due to the fact that it differs in its social composition from the 'core' SLD vote. Napieralski managed to win more from younger voters than older voters, who were once considered the SLD's standard electorate. Napieralski's voters were also relatively well educated and spread fairly evenly across towns and cities.
The presidential election is now heading towards its second round and the outcome is hanging in the balance. Both parties are seeking to expand their vote, partly by competing for the votes of the SLD (see next blog post). However, this election could be decided by who manages to successfully mobilize its core electorate . During the 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections PiS, who won these elections, ran campaigns that countered PO's openly neo-liberal economic programme and appealed to a section of those frustrated with the transition. Accordingly they managed to create a political divide around those supporting a 'liberal' Poland and a 'social' Poland. However, by the 2007 elections the appeal of this approach had worn off; not least because PiS had failed to deliver on its economic promises, introducing, for example, a more regressive taxation system. In contrast, in 2007 PO sought to unite society against PiS, whose government had been ridden with conflict, extreme conservatism and political aggression. PO were therefore able to mobilize large numbers of people who were opposed to the anti-democratic and political divisive policies of PiS. The attempt by Komorowski to repeat this tactic and by Kaczyński to return to his 'pro-social' economic rhetoric are having a limited impact and increasingly it is becoming difficult to draw a clear political line between these two conservative right-wing parties.
On Sunday we shall know the result. At this moment I would predict a Komorowski victory. But then again I always call elections wrong!