>Czech elections: How I got it wrong (again) – and why

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The Czech election have happened and as soon as the exit polls came in, it was clear something pretty unusual had happened. When the results came in the Social Democrats ‘had won’, but both big parties’ score were way down on what had been predicted on unexpected and pretty much historic lows: the Social Democrats on 22.1%, the Civic Democrats on 20.2%. The big winners were the two new reformist centre-right parties TOP09 on 16.7% and Public Affairs (VV) on 10.9 who came close to pushing the Communists (KSČM) into fifth. In the end, however, KSČM – the only sure thing in Czech politics these days – pulled in 11.27%, a bad (-1.5%) but not a disasterous result. It was a bad election for small parliamentary parties: the Greens as widely expected were wiped out and – as also anticipated, but much more momentously- the Christian Democrats also fell below the 5% threshold and are out of parliament for the first time since 1990 and – in wider historical perspective taking into account the communist period (when they were a satellite party) and the pre-communist period – perhaps more than century.
Small left-wing parliamentary parties – the Citizens Rights Party – Zemanites of … can you guess? …. former Social Democratic PM Miloš Zeman and the Sovereignty bloc of former news presenter Jana Bobošiková – neither of which were given much of chance before the election, both polled unexpectedly well: 4.33% and 3.67% – enough for annual state funding – although this wasn’t enough for the mecurial Zeman who promptly resigned as leader of his own personal party. He was shortly joined by Christian Democrat Cyril Svoboda and Jiří Paroubek, who led the Social Democrats for the first time in ages to a worse-than-expected parliamentary election results – although without quite hitting the 8% managed by Vladimír Špidla in the 2004 European elections.

And, if I was head of the Czech Politics Pundits Party, I too would resign, because as you will gather, I was badly wrong in my forecast (again). However, mistakes can be instructive, so let’ go over how I got it wrong. I predicted

Social Democrats 27%

Civic Democrats 23%
Communists 13.5 – 14.0%
TOP09 12%
VV 8%
Christian Democrats 6%

My first main mistake was to assume – perhaps thinking of how British voters behaved earlier this month – was that new parties support would be less than that in the polls and that established parties somewhat greater. My assumption was that new parties new found popularity was fairly flakey and that some of their supporters either wouldn’t turn out to vote or would make a better-the-devil-you-know choice at the polls and opt in the end for an established parties. So Mistake No 1. was to underestimate the frustration of Czech voters and to overestimate the underlying appeal of established parties. A very West European error.

This led to two smaller errors: Mistake No. 2 was to overestimate the core electorate of historic parties such as the Communists – who lost votes in both relative and absolute terms – and the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), who did indeed fall below the 5% threshold. Interestingly, the gambler in me got this one right – I staked 10 euros on them crashing our of parliament winning have a princely four – while the more cautious blogging political scientist didn’t. Mistake No. 3 was to discount the prospects of small left-wing parties, despite the fact that polls showed at least one (SPOZ) creeping up in the polls to 3-4 per cent.

Overall, I show (as ever) a lack of political imagination – or an engrained sense of disbelief – about likely changes. Borrowing from the trends picked Kevin Deegan-Krause’s poll analysis, I at least see that both main parties are not going to suffer a dip in support, but what I failed to see is that far from rowing back from these trends being , in the actual results conistent of these trends writ very, very large indeed. A bit of imagination and the Deegan Krause analysis and you could have been there.

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