Poll tracker: the burden of incumbency

By Alex Porter
16 February 2018
The latest news from Germany, the US, Sweden and Australia
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In Germany, as SPD members prepare to vote on a grand coalition deal, those that oppose an agreement, hoping fresh elections could provide a boost for the party look set for disappointment. The latest polls show the social democrats sinking to a new low after negotiating a coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc, CDU/CSU. A Spon survey, published by Der Spiegel shows the SPD at just 17%, a low corroborated by a Civey poll, which has the party at 16%. This is quite a dive, even from September’s election result of 20.5% – which itself marked a record low for Germany’s oldest party. Supporters will be hoping the departure of Martin Schulz, who resigned as SPD leader last Tuesday, will be enough to reverse the party’s dire fortunes since it agreed a grand coalition deal. Merkel’s bloc has also suffered a 1 point hit, dropping to 29.5%. Meanwhile, the far-right AfD has crept to almost overtake the social democrats in recent weeks, with recent polling putting the populists as high as 14%.

Meanwhile, in the US, the left has faced a somewhat more surprising hit. Last month, pollsters were predicting a Democratic wave on the generic ballot that would leave the party in control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, with the Republicans behind by double digits. A small drop, reverting to a lead closer to the long term mean of eight or nine points was hardly unexpected, but these new numbers go further than a reversal of last month’s bump. In the Real Clear Politics poll average, the Democrat lead has fallen to around 7%, but in recent Politico and Monmouth surveys, the party fares worse as the GOP polls virtually neck-and-neck with the Democrats. The most popular explanation for the change is shifting public opinion of the Republican tax plan. At the back end of 2017, polls showed the plan to be deeply unpopular and, while still more Americans oppose than support it, as the campaign against the bill has cooled, Republican numbers have improved. Of course, the midterms are still almost nine months away, with plenty of time for the president to introduce more unpopular legislation in the meantime.

There is also some cause for concern in Sweden, ahead of the autumn general election. While Statistics Sweden’s Party Preference Survey shows Stefan Löfven’s Social Democrats remain the largest party, the prime minister may have cause for concern. As his party continues to poll around 30%, junior coalition partners the Greens have dropped below the 4% threshold for representation in the Riksdag. If the numbers fail to move before the election, the current ‘Red-Green’ coalition of the Social Democrats, Greens and Left parties would struggle to form a government – although the rival centre-right ‘Alliance’ would also fail to form their own government as, at present, one of their constituent parties is also polling below the 4% threshold. This raises the question of whether the centre-right would follow the example of Denmark and Norway to find some accommodation with the populists – in this case the Sweden Democrats, who are currently polling at 15.4%

In Australia too, Green performance presents a challenge for the traditional centre-left party. In recent years, the Greens have made major advances against Labor in areas of inner-city Sydney and Melbourne that used to be Labor strongholds, put down to demographic change as young ‘hipster’ voters seeking more radical policies move into the area. The contest will be put to the test with a federal byelection next month in the Melbourne seat of Batman. With little local polling, concern is largely based on the loss of Northcote (which sits in the southern part of the Batman electorate) to the Greens in a state byelection in November and a swing to the Greens of almost 9.8% in the 2016 general election. If Labor fail to retain this federal seat it will raise the question facing many social democrats worldwide, of how to bridge the divide between their traditional supporters and younger voters seeking a more radical alternative.

Image: Martin Schulz
Credit: NordStock / Shutterstock.com