Crash impacts ratings, potentially changing election dynamics
The dynamic ahead of the national elections appears to have changed slightly based on the opinion polls that have been published in the wake of the Tempe train tragedy, raising doubts about whether New Democracy will be able to secure an outright majority even after a second vote and what kind of coalition could be formed if a single party government is not possible.
A GPO poll published over the weekend indicates that New Democracy’s support has declined by 4.3 points since the company’s last survey. This fall is slightly higher than the 2.9-point decline seen in a Marc poll a few days earlier.
According to GPO, ND is on 29.5 pct, followed by SYRIZA on 25.6 pct, PASOK on 9.2, KKE 6.7, MeRA25 3.3 and Greek Solution on 3 pct. SYRIZA suffered a 0.8-point drop since the last poll, while none of the parties seem to have profited to any great extent from the dip in New Democracy’s popularity. There has, though, been an increase in the percentage of respondents not declaring for any party at this stage. This figure, which tends to hover around 10-12 pct in most surveys, is up to 16.3 pct in the GPO poll.
An MRB poll for Open TV this week suggested that the ruling centre-right party’s rating has dropped from 30.2 pct to 27.4 pct following the deadly train crash. As in the other surveys published since Friday, SYRIZA does not seem to have profited from this decline in support for ND. The left-wing party’s rating remains virtually unchanged, from 24.3 pct to 24.5 pct. Nevertheless, it is notable that the gap between the two leading parties has narrowed to 2.9 points from 5.9 points in the last survey, which was published on January 24.
Another opinion poll made public on Tuesday produced similar numbers to the MRB survey. The Prorata poll for Attica TV indicated that support for ND has fallen from 31 pct to 28.5, while SYRIZA remains stable on 26, meaning the gap between the two leading parties is at just 2.5 points. In this survey, PASOK has edged up from 9 to 9.5 pct, while the undefined vote stands at 16 pct.
All the data points to the majority of the public being unimpressed by ND’s stance over the crash, which has been equivocal, ranging from a focus on “human error” at the beginning to blaming unprofessional railway staff and reactionary unions in the public sector for the gross failings in ensuring passenger safety on the railways.
This argument was reflected in its most forceful manner in comments that Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis made to Skai TV over the weekend, when he suggested that the station master in Larissa, his colleagues, the people who appointed them and unionists in the Greek railways were responsible for the 57 deaths in Tempe. He argued that there was no way that during its four years in power, New Democracy could have fixed all these issues, which are symptomatic of deep-rooted weaknesses and inefficiencies in the public sector.
In his first televised interview since the crash, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras dismissed on Tuesday the suggestion that broad political responsibility lays behind the Tempe crash, insisting that the current government should take most of the blame.
Tsipras argued that although SYRIZA cannot be considered completely blameless, it cannot be deemed to have the same level of responsibility for apparent chronic weaknesses in the public administration, which the government argues played a major role in the rail crash, as other parties given that the left-wing party has governed for “four out of the 49 years” since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974.
He also hit back at claims that during SYRIZA’s tenure between 2015 and 2019 there was little progress on installing a full signalling and remote control system. He argued that official documents show that 72.4 pct of the project had been completed by May 2019, shortly before the national elections that year. This figure is disputed by the current government, which claims that only around 30 pct had been completed.
Although recent opinion polls have shown support for ND dropping by a few percentage points, SYRIZA does not appear to have profited directly. If this does not change, there will be no boost for the leftists’ slim hopes of being in a position to lead the formation of a coalition government after the upcoming elections, when proportional representation will apply.
If SYRIZA’s share of the vote does not increase by a few percentage points, the electoral arithmetic will mean that it will not be able to pool together enough seats to form a coalition even if it persuades centre-left PASOK and possibly a third party, most likely radical left MeRA25 to come on board.
Taking Tuesday’s opinion polls as an example, the projected results for ND and SYRIZA in the MRB survey would be 33.2 and 29.7 pct, according to the Greece Elects Twitter account which extrapolates the numbers. This would translate into 105 seats for ND and 94 seats for SYRIZA in the first election under the proportional representation system. PASOK would have 34 seats, meaning that if ND or SYRIZA wanted to ally with the centre-left party to form a government, they would need a third party. This is based on a scenario of seven parties making it into Parliament.
The Prorata poll foresees only six parties making it into Parliament, which changes the dynamic slightly. ND is projected to gain 33.9 pct of the vote, SYRIZA 31 and PASOK 11.3. In the first election, this would result in ND gaining 113 seats, SYRIZA 103 and PASOK 38. In this case, ND and PASOK could form the flimsiest of coalitions, with a one-seat majority in the 300-seat Parliament, but SYRIZA would still need a third party to come on board to form a workable government.