Election Eye: Attitudes to religion affecting voters choices

Surveys on voters attitudes show that axiomatic issues related to gender, race and religion are playing an increasing role in determining the way people are likely to vote in elections.

A survey by the IBRIS agency for Polish daily “Dziennik Gazeta Prawna” shows that 36 percent of voters declare that their attitudes towards religion and other axiomatic matters will affect their electoral decisions. This is almost as high a number as those who declare that their views on the present government (39 percent) , their opinions of individual candidates standing in the elections (38 percent) and nearly twice as many as declare that “European issues” are likely to influence them (20 percent).

This in part explains why so much attention has been paid by Polish media to incidents such as the arrest of a woman opposition activist for putting up posters of the Virgin mary in a rainbow halo and a speech introducing a lecture by Donald Tusk from the head of “Liberte!” publication Leszek Jażdżewski that attacked the church in no uncertain terms. When asked about these incidents over 40 percent of voters felt they could influence people’s electoral choices, though over 70 percent declared that they would have no impact on the way they themselves were going to vote.

The findings suggests that the row about the Catholic Church and its role in the state and instances of paedophilia within the Church could be a factor in mobilizing voters against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS). But it is is also being used to mobilize the conservative electorate in defence of the church, as evidenced by the ruling party leader Mr Kaczyński’s recent declaration that “those who raise their hand against the church are attacking Poland”.

Polarisation on axiomatic issues in Poland is a key part of the new conservative v liberal cleavage which has gradually replaced the division on attitudes towards the communist past which dominated Polish politics of the 1990s. Neither the liberals nor the conservatives challenge the market economy or Poland’s orientation towards the west, especially with regard to the alliance with the US and membership of NATO. They part company on axiomatic issues, attitudes towards the pace and shape of integration within the EU, and, to some extent, on the scale of state intervention in the economy and redistribution of wealth (with the conservatives actually choosing more redistribution and intervention than liberals).

Voter mobilization the key

All of the parties in the election are keen to maximise the potential turnout of their own voters and to depress turnout by those from their opponents. This is why election programmes are now very much in the background and leaders are focused on raising matters which energize their base.

This is especially relevant to the European Parliamentary elections in which the turnout has in the past been notoriously low. Only 25 percent turned out last time. This figure is likely to be higher this time round because these elections are widely regarded as a primary or prelude to the general election due in the autumn. The turnout in that election will be higher because the government of the country will be at stake.