Opinion/ Comment

Five key points on the double electoral earthquake of 2023

The novel elements in the electoral landscape of the post-independence period, the strategic agenda of New Democracy, the limited polarization during the pre-election period, Alexis Tsipras’ criticism of Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the post-election dichotomy. By Assistant Professor Fani Kountouri*

The first key point we will be examining is the electoral earthquake itself, which signifies the culmination of a historical cycle that began with the previous double electoral earthquake in 2012. The 2023 elections introduced several novel elements into the post-independence electoral landscape (particularly following the 1981 elections), including the high abstention rate, the presence of eight parties in parliament, the significant representation of anti-systemic/far-right parties that secured double-digit percentages of the vote, the substantial gap between the first and second parties, the reconfiguration of the two-party system in favor of a dominant party, the fragmented and uncoordinated opposition, and the weakened position of the opposition both institutionally and electorally.

The second key point revolves around the strategic agenda of New Democracy. The analysis conducted by iMEdD Lab reveals that Kyriakos Mitsotakis predominantly adopted a positive discourse, with a significant percentage (85%) dedicated to promoting the party’s programmatic agenda. This finding can be attributed to New Democracy’s four-year strategy, which aimed to shape the political playing field. Through effective agenda-setting over the course of four years, New Democracy successfully shaped the political discourse, provided politically advantageous interpretations of key issues, and established thematic ownership of the problems, benefiting from a supportive media environment.

New Democracy focused on the reform agenda and the agenda of order and security. SYRIZA’s agenda lacked a clear political mark, and it was accompanied by information overload that diluted the intended message.

As a result, New Democracy emerged from the 2023 double elections as the most competent, capable, and effective force in addressing critical political challenges, including growth, defense, immigration, and the economy. New Democracy focused on two key agendas: the reform agenda, aiming to bring the party closer to the center, and the agenda of order and security, aiming to highlight issues such as asylum, university police, protests, the Exarchia neighborhood, immigration, and refugees. The latter agenda specifically aimed to activate conservative and fear-based sentiments among conservative voter segments of society. At the same time, New Democracy framed problem areas and crises through a conceptual lens, presenting them as a dual narrative: external threats (such as the pandemic and energy crisis) and individual responsibility (attributing blame to the young, the unvaccinated, traffickers, and the stationmaster involved in the fatal Tempi train crush).

The third key point pertains to the decreased polarization, as revealed by the analysis conducted by iMEdD Lab. It is intriguing to note that Kyriakos Mitsotakis did not emphasize polarization in his speeches during the election period. However, the strategy of polarization was employed throughout his four-year tenure as a means of stigmatizing and morally discrediting his opponents. This non-programmatic agenda, prominently featured in the media, cultivates emotional polarization rather than ideological divisions, focusing less on the traditional left-right confrontation and more on identity differentiation.

The fourth key point revolves around SYRIZA’s strategy. According to the iMEdD Lab’s analysis, (which indicates that 50% of Alexis Tsipras’ campaign speech is programmatic), SYRIZA’s election campaign, particularly in the first round, exhibited a lesser emphasis on specific programs. Instead, it adopted a more polarizing approach compared to the previous decade (exploiting feelings of anger and indignation), while directing criticism towards Kyriakos Mitsotakis (rather than New Democracy as a whole). The campaign also sought to evoke fear towards New Democracy’s governance – a sentiment that voters tend to reject, especially during election periods. SYRIZA’s agenda lacked a clear political mark and well-defined boundaries, and it was accompanied by information overload that diluted the intended message.

The final point concerns the post-electoral landscape and the anticipated conflict between the social liberalism/social state dichotomy and the authoritarian/nationalist political sphere. While political positioning tends to gravitate towards the center in times of normalcy, both New Democracy and SYRIZA will face increasing pressures from the extremes that will impact their respective agendas.

*Fani Kountouri is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and History at Panteion University.

Translation: Anatoli Stavroulopoulou

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