Can Syriza pull off a victory in Greece’s snap elections?

Can Syriza pull off a victory in Greece’s snap elections?

After negotiating their latest bailout deal with European creditors, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his ruling Syriza party face major reelection challenges. 

By the end of July, Syriza had retained a comfortable lead in the polls, despite the fact that it had agreed on a third bailout, contrary to its anti-bailout electoral pledge.

At the beginning of September however, in the aftermath of snap election calls, Syriza’s lead has reversed. In voting figures, published by the polling firm Metron Analysis, the ruling party would receive only 23.4 per cent of the vote, approximately 10 points down compared to the previous poll at the end of July. The center-right New Democracy is currently leading the polls, taking 24 per cent.

What has changed?

At end of July the relief of Greece from the third bailout and the avoidance of a Grexit was, at that moment, more important than the political inconsistencies of Syriza.

However, after the signing of the new bailout plan with its European counterparts, parliamentary approval was required. By mid-August, the Syriza-led government, with the support of other pro-bailout opposition parties, approved the plan in parliament and thus abandoned its anti-bailout platform completely.

The vote also led a significant number of Syriza MPs to defect from the party, establishing a separate anti-bailout, anti-euro party. These events seem to have made a significant impact on Greek citizens who haves started to re-evaluate the government and the prime minister’s record.

In this context, the majority of the public now blames Syriza and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras personally for the poor state of the economy. According to the Metron Analysis poll, those who negatively evaluate the government record of the Syriza-led administration have increased from 53% at the end of July to 72% today.

Similarly, negative public opinion over Tsipras’ performance has doubled from 36% to 61%. As a result, only half of those who voted for Syriza in the previous national election held in January 2015, seem to remain loyal to the party.

Nonetheless, ND’s lead over Syriza is marginal, though the former has improved its political image and increased its voter share. One reason for this may be that the majority of voters who have left Syriza do not appear to be shifting to ND, preferring instead to remain undecided.

In this sense, the likelihood of a Syriza re-election will be mainly dependent upon the party’s capacity to realign undecided voters coming from its own electoral base.

Under this reality, Tsipras has aims to personalize the election contest, projecting himself as the representative of ‘new’ politics against the ‘old’ political establishment, which is represented by the leader of ND, Evangelos Meimarakis.

In addition, Tsipras has stated that he is able to negotiate more efficiently with Greece’s international creditors in order to ease the harsh terms of the new bailout package on behalf of the poor.

In an attempt to further polarize the election contest, Tsipras is seeking an absolute parliamentary majority, only forming a coalition with his former government partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, should he fail.

Election obstacles

Tsipras’ election strategy faces a number of obstacles: His personal approval ratings are in decline, from 72% at the beginning of July to 43% today, and his main rival, Evangelos Meimarakis, is considered as popular as Tsipras, receiving an 47% positive review based on the Metron Analysis poll.

Furthermore, the majority of the public has already negatively evaluated Tsipras’ negotiation strategy during his seven-month tenure. In parallel, as a poll published by the polling organisation GPO suggests, around 60% of the population prefers a coalition rather than single-party government. Moreover, the majority (41.8 per cent) would prefer a national unity government, 17.7 per cent a ND-led coalition government, and only 14.4 per cent a single-party Syriza administration

Lastly, electoral support for the right wing party of the Independent Greeks, as opinion polls suggest, is currently below the threshold of 3% needed to enter the parliament.

Against this backdrop it will be difficult for Syriza to both command an absolute majority and realign its former and undecided voters. Consequently, while it seems likely that a coalition government will be generated by the election on September 20th, it is too close to call the winner at the moment.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Panos Koliastasis

Panos holds a PhD in Political Science from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). His thesis analyses the communication strategies applied by recent Greek prime ministers to preserve or even increase their popularity throughout their tenure. During the past years, coinciding with the eruption of the financial crisis in Greece, he served as a communication advisor to consecutive Greek governments until the elections of January 2015, employed for the analysis of opinion polls and formulation of communication strategy.