Polling on the upcoming election in Poland reflects a society often at odds with the ruling party. This is the election broken down by numbers.
Number of seats necessary to win an absolute majority in the 460-strong Sejm (Poland’s lower legislative chamber). According to most polls, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) – a conservative and nationalist organisation led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski – looks set to win at least 231 seats in the election on 13 October, allowing it to continue to rule without a coalition partner for another four years. The PiS is projected to win more than 40 per cent of votes, a greater share than its two main opponents – the liberals (Civic Coalition) and the Left – put together.
Number of seats that leaders and supporters of the opposition hope to win in the country’s higher legislative chamber, the 100-strong Senate. They have agreed to put forward joint candidates to the Senate in most constituencies. The Senate could reject the Sejm’s bills, even if the PiS could invalidate this rejection if it dominated the lower chamber. Still, control of the Senate would not be a mere consolation prize: the opposition could have at least some impact on non-negligible constitutional proceedings, such as the appointment of a new ombudsman scheduled to take place next year.
Share of Polish electors likely to vote for the PiS. Around 75 percent of those eligible are likely to vote in the election – a record high for the country, but one that would still enable the PiS to win an absolute majority in the Sejm even if most Poles do not vote for it. In the last election, aided by turnout of 51 percent and several of its opponents’ failure to cross the electoral threshold (5 percent), the party came to power with the support of just 19 percent of Poles.
Share of PiS supporters who say they are committed to voting. The ruling party expanded its electoral base and persuaded many of its supporters to vote in the lead-up to the European Parliament election earlier this year. Nonetheless, according to a survey the European Council on Foreign Relations conducted in Poland in September 2019, PiS supporters now seem to be much less motivated to vote than Poles who back the opposition. Seventy percent of the liberals’ supporters, and 75 percent of the Left’s, say that they are committed to voting. If these projections prove accurate, it is far from certain that the PiS will gain an absolute majority in parliament. Rather than seeking a coalition partner, Kaczynski’s party may then try to recruit the few parliamentarians it would need to form a stable majority.
Around 75 percent of those eligible are likely to vote in the election – a record high for the country, but one that would still enable the PiS to win an absolute majority
Number of opposition parties likely required to form a governing coalition if the PiS fails to win an absolute majority in the Sejm. The two main opposition blocs would have to find ways to cooperate with not just one another but also with the Polish Coalition (an exotic mixture of the Peasants Party and the anti-system Kukiz’15), which is polling at just above the electoral threshold. These parties would also prefer it if the nationalist Confederation, polling at just under 5 percent, did not enter parliament – as, otherwise, it could become a source of PiS converts.
Share of Poles who say they fear the end of democracy in their country when asked about the biggest threats to themselves and their children. A minority of PiS voters have this fear. And society is at odds with the ruling party on many other issues. According to ECFR’s survey, seven out of ten PiS voters believe that Poland is heading in the right direction under the current government. This view is held by only 30 percent of the population as a whole. Similarly, most PiS voters believe that Poland’s alliance with the United States is more important than its EU membership; that LGBT people do not experience discrimination in Poland; and that there will not be a crisis of public finances if the PiS remains in power. Most Poles have the opposite view on all these issues.
Value of the tax-free monthly child benefit that is widely recognised as the government’s greatest policy achievement – and as a key reason why the PiS maintains a large lead in the polls. The Polish opposition promises to keep this benefit, but it also wants the election to be about values such as democracy, the rule of law, openness, and tolerance. The opposition is also concerned about the fact that PiS policies damage civil society and fail to provide public goods. Nonetheless, it seems that, for the moment, too many voters are primarily concerned about their wallets. In other words, high levels of support for the PiS are not a sign that most Poles have become nationalist or xenophobic. Rather, they show that the party has been effective in mobilising voters through policies based on direct social transfers. However – as economist Albert Hirschman observed in 1982 – societies tend to oscillate between intense interest in public goods and an almost total concentration on private goals. Given that many Poles who like the government’s social programmes also fear for democracy, they may change their votes one day. This may not happen in the upcoming election. But Poland’s recent history suggests that one can anticipate the shift without indulging in wishful thinking.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.