Who Votes Left after the Fall of Communism?

By Mateju, Petr | International Journal of Comparative Sociology, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Who Votes Left after the Fall of Communism?


Mateju, Petr, International Journal of Comparative Sociology


PETR MATEJU [*]

The Czech Republic in Comparative Perspective [1]

ABSTRACT

The results of the Czech parliamentary election held in May 1996 were a surprise to many, due to a considerable increase of the proportion of votes cast for left-wing political parties, particularly for Czech Social Democracy. The principal objective of this paper is to examine the determinants of voting preferences for left-wing political parties in the Czech Republic compared to Hungary and Poland, countries in which the Left significantly improved its standing some time ago. The central hypothesis is that, though the effect of class on voting behavior has been gradually growing in post-communist countries subjective factors of social stratification (subjective status and income mobility, perception of change in factors determining life-success) are still more important in explaining left-voting than one's objective location in the class structure and intragenerational class mobility between 1989 and 1993. The results and interpretations presented in this article do not lake into account the changes in vot ing behavior in East-Central Europe that have occurred after 1996.

1. Introduction

ALTHOUGH PUBLIC OPINION POLLS carried out in 1995 and early 1996 in the Czech Republic showed a steady increase of voting preferences for left-wing political parties, particularly for Social Democrats, their electoral success in May 1996 elections surprised both politicians and political scientists. The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), which has a clear left political orientation, received 26% of votes, exactly four times more than in the 1992 elections. The Civic Democratic Party (ODS), a right-wing liberal party and the actual designer of the Czech economic reforms, received 30% votes both in 1992 and 1996. Though it remained the strongest party on the Czech political scene, due to the electoral success of Social Democrats its position became relatively weaker compared to 1992 elections.

Do these results suggest that the Czech Republic has joined the family of former state-socialist countries in East-Central Europe which, as many analysts have pointed out, have turned to the left? In what ways can we speak about "left-turns" in post-communist countries of East-Central Europe? Who are those who increasingly support left-wing political parties? Are social processes underlying an increase in the support for the Left similar or rather country-specific? These questions have become more and more frequent among political scientists as well as among the students of the post-communist transformation in East-Central Europe.

The central aim of this paper is to examine the social forces which have contributed to the recent electoral successes of left-wing political parties in East-Central Europe. We leave aside other explanations of recent left-turns in East-Central Europe, particularly those belonging to the domain of political science, which have been discussed by other scholars (see e.g. Wnuk-Lipinkski, 1993, Janos, 1994, S. Szelenyi et al., 1996; I. Szelenyi et al., 1995). In order to provide just an elementary information about the phenomenon we seek to explain in this paper and to set the grounds for comparisons between the countries analyzed, we considered it necessary to present at least two types of information documenting the development of left-voting between the two most recent elections in the three post-communist countries compared, i.e. in the Czech Republic in 1992 and 1996, in Hungary in 1990 and 1994, and in Poland in 1991 and 1993. [2] Figure 1 displays the development in percentage of votes for left-wing polit ical parties as well as in the proportion of parliamentary seats allocated to the legislators representing these parties. [3] Although the figures speak for themselves, it is worth emphasizing that regardless of the final allocation of seats in the parliaments, which differ remarkably between the countries, all the three countries experienced a significant growth in the proportion of individuals who voted for the Left, the most remarkable in Hungary, followed by Poland and the Czech Republic. …

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