>Czech public opinion: underlying trends may favour Social Democrats

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While the Polish left languishes as an unwanted add-on in a political system dominated by conservative liberals and conservative populists, polling by CVVM in the Czech Republic points to the underlying strength of the Social Democrats (ČSSD) in that country. ČSSD enjoys a 6% (but oscillating) poll lead over the incumbent centre-right Civic Democrats and their leader ex-PM Jiří Paroubek (very unpopular) enjoys personal poll ratings only somewhat better than Civic Democrat leader and current PM Miroslav Topolánek (very, very unpopular). However, the real story is elsewhere in broader Czech attitudes to the country’s main political parties and views on issues of taxation and income differentials.

The Social Democrats come out in the Czech public mind as a strongly led party with a commitment to protecting the socially underprivileged rated even higher (72%) than that of the hardline Czech Communists (68%). At the same time, however, the party enjoys good rating for economic competence (44%) and is seen as more likely to promote the middle class (which we should perhaps take in the American sense of the term, since in Czech it is střední vrstva – the ‘middle layer’). The Civic Democrats (ODS) also have a clear profile, but are seen as rather more cynically power-seeking (75% – 60% for the Social Democrats) and hugely conflictual (67%, compared to 54% for the Social Democrats) despite efforts to promote themeselves as a party of the small- and medium-sized business, as a pary of business and the rich. Indeed, voters see them as less likely to promote middle class development (36%) than the Social Democrats (58%) or, incredibly, the Commuists (40%). They also rate worse than the Social Democrats on the economic competence question – only 42% thought ODS had programme, which would promote growth.

Meanwhile another survey suggests that, despite a liberal minority favouring flat(ter) taxes a clear majority of Czechs favour some form of progressive redistributive income tax. Although this view declines with income and education, it is widely held across all social groups, seeming to provide a certain empirical backing to the old cliché of the Czech as plebian, egalitarian nation. The bigger picture seems to be that although the liberal free market right represents a sizable chunk of Czech society, it is a minority corralled by a majority favouring some form of social market, ‘social-democratic’ a loose sense, not necessarily partisan sense. Despite the cynical attitude of Czechs towards all political parties – which narrow majorities pragmatically recognise as necessary for democracy – the Social Democrats, if they can translate it in terms of effective strategy (and so far they have good record of doing so) have a distinct advantage. Such ‘social’ blocs naturally exist elsewhere in the region. Aleks Szczerbiak wrote of the an economically ‘social Poland’ (represented by Law and Justice and smaller radical parties) defeating ‘liberal Poland’ in 2005 and, as noted below, think they may have achieved a kind victory-in-defeat in 2007.

As an interesting footnote the survey on parties also confirms that the Czech Greens are seen as party of the centre or right. A merely 19% thought that they were concerned with the socially underprivileged, the second lowest rating after ODS (12%).

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