In this week’s poll tracker, we look at three countries where the main party of the centre left is in government: Portugal, Germany and Malta.
The Portuguese Socialist party, despite finishing second in the 2015 election, currently leads a minority government backed by parties to its left – the Left Bloc, the Communists and the Greens. At the time of its formation, which involved bringing down the incumbent president’s preferred rightwing coalition, many feared the new arrangement would lead to instability as it attempted to end austerity at the same time as meeting the demands of the eurozone and international lenders.
Instead, António Costa’s party is now being seen as a model for other centre-left parties to emulate. The latest poll from Eurosondagem gives the Socialists a ten-point lead over the centre right, while Aximage puts the lead at 18 points. The socialists are consistently hitting around 40 per cent while the opposition is either in the mid-20s or high-20s depending on the poll. Costa himself is even more popular than his party, with a 50 per cent approval rating (just 15 per cent disapprove) – a net positive most progressive leaders can only dream of.
Of course, Portugal has a very different history political culture to much of the rest of Europe, and what works there isn’t necessarily replicable, but it is an impressive feat. Unemployment is down, growth is up, and while most commentators expected the Socialists to be dragged off to the left as they were held to ransom by their partners. they are instead taking support from the centre, away from the main opposition party.
In Germany, the so-called ‘Schulz effect’ appears to be well and truly dead. The SPD experienced a strong bounce when Martin Schulz became its candidate for chancellor at the end of January, stripping the CDU/CSU lead from fifteen points down to zero. It was thought that Shulz, blending experience at the top level of politics with an engaging personal story and charisma could appeal both to the traditional SPD base as well as bringing in new supporters.
However, as the dust settles on a series of electoral disappointments in state elections in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, the latest polls show the CDU/CSU is back to a lead of between 10 (INSA) or 13 (Forsa) points. Schulz’s pivot in tone to the left, focusing on ‘social justice’ in the abstract is an attempt to win around the blue-collar voters that are abandoning centre-left parties across the continent. To date, it is failing badly against Merkel’s centrism. A recent Infratest dimap survey found that 63 per cent are satisfied with Merkel’s performance, compared to 42 per cent for Schulz (down 6 points from a month ago). In the same poll, two thirds said they were not clear what policies Schulz would implement, with 45 per cent saying they had expected more from him.
Maltese voters will be heading to the polls this weekend, after Maltese Labour prime minister Joseph Muscat called a snap election just a month ago. He decided to seek a new mandate following the publication of the Panama papers which implicated a number of figures close to the prime minister, and subsequent leaks that have named Muscat himself.
Rarely for a European social democratic party, Labour currently has a parliamentary majority. Muscat, who positions himself firmly in the ‘Third Way’ tradition of Clinton, Blair and Schöder, has presided over a strong economic performance – unemployment is at a record low of 4 per cent, while the economy grew by over 5 per cent in 2016. This may go some way to explaining why, despite the scandals, the most recent Malta Today survey indicates Muscat is still trusted ahead of his main Nationalist party rival Simon Busuttil (by 43 per cent to 38 per cent). Excluding 12 per cent who remain undecided at this late stage of the campaign, Labour goes into polling day on 52 per cent of the vote, with a 5-point lead over the centre-right opposition.