The other Grand Coalition: the 2013 Austrian ElectionBy Peter Allen on 1 October 2013
Markus Wagner takes a look at the Austrian election which was on Sunday.
The Austrian elections took place last Sunday, but I don’t blame you if you didn’t notice. The result failed to create the waves caused by Jörg Haider’s stunning success in the 1999 election. Instead, the two long-standing governing parties – the Social Democratic SPÖ and the Christian Democratic ÖVP – lost a little, but not enough to cost them the majority of seats in the country’s lower house. So, the two parties are likely to govern together once again, this time with a bare majority of the popular vote (see the Table below and here for the full results). This may, however, be the last time that Austria’s not-so-grand coalition can govern alone: if they lose a few more votes next time around, the two parties will need to find an additional partner.
Austrian election results 2013 (as of 1 October )
Vote share, 2013
Vote share, 2008
SPÖ (Social Democratic Party)
ÖVP (Austrian People's Party, Christian Democrats)
FPÖ (Freedom Party, radical right)
Team Stronach (populist-liberal)
Nevertheless, there were some very interesting developments in this election, especially for electoral researchers. The central phenomenon in Austria is the continuing erosion of the traditionally dominant parties of the centre-left (SPÖ) and the centre-right (ÖVP). For a long time, Austria was Europe’s prime example for a political system with strong mass parties. This no longer holds nearly as true as before. Instead, various groupings across the political system have become natural homes for electoral support, particularly among younger voters.
Among these, the radical-right FPÖ and the Greens are by now established forces in the Austrian parliament. New at this election were two smaller groups, Team Stronach and Neos. The first is a populist, somewhat Eurosceptic outfit funded by an eccentric Austro-Canadian millionaire, Frank Stronach. After gaining lots of support in opinion polls and regional elections earlier this year, his campaign faltered after his oddness and his lack of command of the German language became fully apparent during his appearances on Austrian TV. After achieving over 10 per cent in some early opinion polls, he barely scraped over the four per cent hurdle for parliamentary representation, despite apparently spending over 25 million Euros of his own money on his campaign. In contrast, a smallish liberal party, the Neos, ran a grassroots and largely online campaign and achieved a similar result with about one-tenth of the budget. Given recent findings by Nicole Bolleyer and Evelyn Bytzek, we can expect the Team Stronach to implode rather quickly, while the Neos may become a stable feature in Austrian politics.
Finally, this election saw a resurgence of the radical-right FPÖ, which once again gained over 20 per cent of votes. Here, it benefited from the implosion of its smaller rival, the BZÖ, after Jörg Haider’s death in 2008, shortly after the last election. However, the FPÖ did not manage to win back all of the BZÖ’s votes, many of which went to the Team Stronach and the SPÖ. At over 20 per cent, it will nevertheless be an increasing threat to mainstream parties in the years to come. At this election, what surprised many was that the FPÖ was somewhat tamer than it has been in the past: it made less use of anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic rhetoric and almost completely avoided talking about the EU and the Euro. It will be interesting to see if this more moderate strategy is maintained.
All of these developments deserve to be investigated in detail. One project that will do so is the Austrian National Election Study (Autnes). Four different surveys are currently in the field. First, a face-to-face survey with over 3,000 participants was run in spring 2013, and many of these participants will be re-interviewed over the phone in the next weeks. Second, we conducted a telephone campaign survey with over 4,000 participants during the last two months of the campaign, with re-interviews again taking place from now. Third, a four-wave internet panel survey has looked at the impact of televised debates between the top candidates. Finally, we are preparing a smaller telephone survey for inclusion in the CSES research programme.
These data will be available publicly early next year (check our website for more). The data for the 2008 election is already available for download. Do contact us for more details.
Markus Wagner works at the University of Vienna. He is part of the team working on the Austrian National Election Study (www.autnes.at), where his focus is on the development of survey instruments and the analysis of Austrian voting behaviour. Methodologically, his research and teaching concentrates on regression modelling.