Several European countries are heading to the polls in the weeks and months to come. With populism on an unprecedented level throughout the continent, these elections are well worth watching. Has Europe reached “peak populism” yet, or will voters cast their ballots in favor of extreme political views in even higher numbers than before? We will take a look at the current polling results.
Austrians are heading to the polls in just 21 days, on September 29th, to elect their national parliament and, by extension, their new chancellor. The country is currently governed by an interim government following the never-before seen political earthquake that shook the country in July.
Following the release of the damning “Ibiza-Video” earlier this year, the coalition of Austria’s center-right ÖVP (People’s Party) and far-right FPÖ (Freedom Party) fell apart. Since then, a series of scandals (ranging from documents which were shreddered under peculiar circumstances to campaign finance regulations and questionable deals with the casino-operator Novomatic) has rocked the Austrian political landscape, most of which are still being actively investigated by the judiciary. Nonetheless, the ÖVP’s head and former chancellor Sebastian Kurz is set to regain the position he was ousted from through a vote of non-confidence just a few months ago while leading his party to even stronger election results. A coalition with the far-right Freedom Party also seems like a highly plausible option. Let’s take a look at the latest polls:
Kurz’ ÖVP is set to win the elections by a comfortable margin, but next up there will be a tight race for second between the center-left social democrats (SPÖ) and the far-right freedom party (FPÖ). Historically, the ÖVP and SPÖ were the two major government parties and they shaped much of Austria’s history and political landscape since the war. In recent years, though, the public disliking of the “black-red coalition” grew, however, prompting not just votes for the freedom party, but also the coalition of the ÖVP (re-branded to be turquoise under Kurz) and the FPÖ. This coalition presented a major shift to the right in Austrian politics, including a very hostile way of dealing with asylum seekers, an increase of working hours per week to 50, and increasingly authoritarian methods and proposals especially from the interior ministry, led then by Herbert Kickl (FPÖ). The freedom party has named Kickl regaining his post as minister for interior as a condition which would make or break a coalition with the ÖVP following the 2019 elections.
The social democrats will likely stay in the opposition yet again, thanks also to their voting in favor of dismissing chancellor Kurz earlier this year (the vote of non-confidence was majorly backed by the FPÖ and SPÖ). Lagging considerably behind, the green party has made up for much of what it lost in 2017’s elections, where, at 3.8%, it didn’t even make the minimum requirement of 4% which is needed to have a seat in parliament. Polling currently at 11.5%, it seems to have well recovered from the split which hit it hard ahead of the 2017 elections. Peter Pilz’ party “Jetzt”, the wing that split away from the green party ahead of the previous elections and did get into parliament, will most likely not make that jump again, polling now at just over 1%. Finally, the economic liberals, Neos, are also expected to do better this time around than in 2017 – polling currently at almost 9%, compared to the 5.3% they received from voters in 2017.
In conclusion, Austria looks set to be heading for a renewed round of the right-wing coalition which brought it into the worst political crisis since the re-establishment of sovereignty following the war and occupation by the allies. Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP), Austria’s former and almost certainly next chancellor, seems to have managed to profit out of the scandals that tore apart his governing coalition and led to a vote of no confidence against himself. By painting himself as the victim of a political smear campaign by the opposition parties, especially the social democrats (SPÖ), in combination with a cult of personality and generally favorable public reception, he appears set to coast to a resounding election victory this late September. Though in theory, a coalition with the social democrats looks to be possible, this seems highly unlikely following the extreme split between the parties and the harsh rhetoric that has come with it. A coalition with the weaker opposition parties such as the Greens and Neos would likely fall short of the required number of seats and are to be considered in effect impossible due to the political differences between the parties. That leaves the far-right FPÖ, and a re-establishment of the government which fell just earlier this year for round two of a strictly right-wing, neoliberal and Kurzian period of rule.