Polls and the prime-minister race

Although I’ve been silent for a long time I have kept track of the polls, which show a clear advantage for SP and VVD, with the rest of the parties trailing behind. Today I added a feature: a calculation of pollster errors in the 2002-2010 elections, which serves to understand why the Politieke Barometer is the most reliable poll.

Last week I disovered a new poll: Een Vandaag, commisioned by the TV programme of the same name and executed by Intomart GFK, which also polled in 2010. It’s even more extreme than Peil.nl, and I don’t really trust it, but it’s a genuine poll and is thus added to my overview.

Also, the bottom of the polls page now contains a comparison of the final polls in 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2010 with the election result, which allows us to calculate the errors the pollsters made. The Politieke Barometer scores best, with on average 7.8 seats misassigned, then comes Peil.nl with 9.5, TNS-NIPO with 10, and finally Een Vandaag with 11 (though that last number is derived from only one election). Also, study the 2003 polls and election outcome. They’re relevant for this year’s.

The prime-minister race

These elections have become a classic prime-minister race. SP and VVD are well ahead of all the others: the difference between them and the third-largest is more than 10 seats in all polls but the Barometer, where it is 6.

SP leader Roemer and VVD leader and prime minister Rutte are doing everything they can to cast the elections as a struggle between the two of them. Who do you want to head the new government: left-wing Roemer or right-wing Rutte?

They are each other’s staunchest allies. They can only create the prime-minister-race dynamics together, and both stand to win from it. Also, they’d prefer not to go to big debates where four to eight other party leaders will also be present. That’s why they politely declined to come to a recent debate, which caused of a lot of acerbic comments.

The purpose of the race is not stealing votes from each other: SP and VVD are pretty far apart in the political spectrum and there are hardly any voters hesitating between the two. No, the idea is that SP and VVD can suck voters from the other parties in their block. Left-wingers, even if their preference is PvdA or GL, will want Roemer to win the race and thus consider a strategic vote for the SP. The same on the right, where CDA and Wilders voters may switch to a strategic vote for Rutte.

This prime-minister race is a well-established pattern in Dutch politics. They most recently occurred between Balkenende (CDA) and Bos (PvdA) in 2003, and the 1986 and 1977 elections also saw this dynamic. Back then, of course, the two largest parties were PvdA and CDA, and the very fact that SP and VVD have taken over these positions is a change of epic proportions.

The race in the polls

The polls are divided: three out of four show the SP in the lead, while the Politieke Barometer disagrees and shows the VVD in the lead.

Now one of the curious facets of the race is that you want to be in second position in the final polls. It doesn’t matter how reliable they are; what you want is the press loudly repeating the polls and telling everyone how you will come in second after your competitor.

Suppose the polls don’t change and most give Rutte second place. At that point in time, right-wingers who hesitate between a strategic VVD vote and a vote from the heart for CDA or PVV, will have an extra incentive to vote strategically. Simultaneously, left-wingers, who see that Roemer is going to win anyway, will be more likely to vote from the heart for PvdA or GL. The net result is that the VVD will come in first and the SP second.

This is exactly what happened in 2003. Back then all polls gave the PvdA a one- or two-seat lead over the CDA, but when all votes were counted the CDA had a two-seat lead over the PvdA, which disappeared into the opposition.

The race is fake

Unfortunately, this time around the race is fake. I feel that Rutte has little chance to become prime minister again, even if he finishes first.

Let’s say Rutte wins. Now he has to create a coalition. The CDA is a sure bet — the christian-democrats are flexible enough to do anything, and they have a genuine desire for a coalition with Rutte’s VVD. Wilders’s PVV is out — after the debacle of the Rutte government nobody trusts them any more, least of all the VVD.

VVD+CDA will not be enough for a majority, so Rutte will have to shop for coalition partners on the left. Basically, what he needs to do is re-form the Kunduz coalition which also supported the Spring Agreements: VVD+CDA+D66+CU+GL. Political commenters see this five-party coalition as a serious possibility.

I disagree. First of all, by entering such a coalition GL, which is already in a downward spiral, will sign its death warrant for reasons we’ll discuss later. Second, the Kunduz coalition simply does not have a majority, and hasn’t had one for months in any of the polls.

Besides, even if Rutte managed to form a coalition his VVD would come under relentless attack from Wilders on the right. Wilders will suck quite a few seats from the VVD in the next elections.

So all in all I believe that Rutte will become opposition leader, regardless of the election outcome. Oh, he’ll have to make a token effort, but as soon as GL says No we’ll switch to the left.

Compare Rutte’s difficult position to Roemer’s. Roemer doesn’t have a major competitor on his left flank, and he has a likely coalition in SP+PvdA+D66+CDA. This coalition has a solid majority in all polls for the last few months. True, negotiations with CDA and especially D66 will be difficult, but these parties will see there’s no real alternative and succumb with decent grace.

So whoever wins the prime-minister race, it seems likely Roemer will become prime minister. That’s his goal, the SP is more than ready to govern (and is willing to make the appropriate concessions), so my money is still on an SP-led left or centre-left government, most likely SP+PvdA+D66+CDA.

<— Party leaders, moves to the flanks, and Europe | Party profile — GL —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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