The scandals, which seem to come every day, linked to both the "Farmers" and the Conservatives, have failed to cause significant harm to either party's ratings. Meanwhile the new Social Democrat Labour Party of Gediminas Kirkilas has started with a result, which urges Gintautas Paluckas' Social Democrats to get their act together and climb out of their ratings pit.
Neither Ramūnas Karbauskis and his "Farmer" companions' land affairs, nor the protest under the windows of the Seimas, nor Mykolas Majauskas' #MeToo moment or Laurynas Kasčiūnas' links to MG Baltic have managed to budge the ratings of the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) or those of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (Conservatives, TS-LKD) according to the most recent data from a Spinter Tyrimai survey commissioned by Delfi.
"Every month you are left surprised, how the ratings of one party or another have not gone up or down, given the number of scandals. It is becoming a standard because those scandals are happening all the time. One after another and if the ratings fell after every one, we would long be seeing zeroes across the board. Finally, the people obtained a certain immunity," Spinter Tyrimai head Ignas Zokas said.
According to him, when looking at ratings, one must consider the long term perspective.
"If we look at the longer term, then in essence we now have a situation where we are seemingly moving toward a bipartisan system. There are two clear leaders – the "Farmers" and the Conservatives. All other parties are trailing significantly," I. Zokas commented.
"It is also interesting to see, how the Social Democrat puzzle will develop. We often confuse the Social Democrats and the rebel Social Labour members, the people are also left confused and this confusion is fairly significant. They might be seen as one entity in the ratings," I. Zokas said.
According to him, now it is important, to what extent the new party, which has many prominent old faces will manage and want to distance itself from the Social Democrats.
"It would appear that the idea was such that they slightly separated themselves, would remain separate for a time, but later will perhaps re-join. If the position will remain as such, it is likely that electors may be left confused and the classical Social Democrats will receive more votes during elections.
If they were to position as a separate party, with some long-time controversial figures, who nevertheless appeal to some and are well known, as well as long-time political veterans, then the classical Social Democrat Party would bleed far more," I. Zokas said.
"Farmers" are fortunate
According to VIPCommunications executive chairman Darius Gudelis, the public views the TS-LKD and "Farmers" as two real alternatives of government.
"The public is increasingly polarising into Vilnius, higher education and higher income individuals, who prefer the TS-LKD and the rest of Lithuania, including Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai, Panevėžys, not to even talk of regional centres and rural areas, who view the LVŽS as an alternative," D. Gudelis said.
According to the communications expert, with a year and a half passing since the elections, we can now see clearly established trends.
"During the Seimas elections there was the ascent of the formed image, Saulius Skvernelis arrival at the LVŽS as a leader. With a year and a half passing after the elections, we can say that it is no longer a momentary matter, but that two clear alternatives have been established now," D. Gudelis said.
He links this not only with the "Farmers" being in power and receiving much attention due to it, being criticised more or being valued for their work, but also with a certain stroke of fortune.
"Simply put, they have the luck of the draw. And good cards do not depend on their own intentions or efforts. They are simply fortunate that the Social Democrats are fracturing," D. Gudelis said.
Ratings could only be hurt by major disappointment
Public relations specialist, Fabula Hill + Knowlton Strategies board chairman Mykolas Katkus explained that the ratings are influenced by matters such as major disappointment in politicians or parties. Here he presented the example of Ramūnas Karbauskis as how one of the most popular people became one of the least popular.
"Or let us recall how Valinskas' party's ratings plummeted. This happens most often when people dedicate more attention to politics or it happens, for example selectively, as occurred in Eligijus Masiulis' case," M. Katkus said.
The current "political clashes" rarely have any immediate influence, the specialist notes. In summary he concluded that we have entered the Seimas political cycle period, where ratings remain within familiar error margins for a significant amount of time.
Those disappointed in the "Farmers" crumbled away earlier
The Spinter Tyrimai survey commissioned by the Delfi news portal on March 21-29 revealed that the TS-LKD remains in first place. If the Seimas elections were to be held this coming Sunday, 18.6% of respondents would have voted for the party, while in February the number was 17.3%.
The "Farmer" ratings reached 16.9% in March, up from 15.4% in February. When looking at both parties' ratings since last September, one can see only minor fluctuations.
The error margin for the survey is 3.1%. Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political science lecturer Mažvydas Jastramskis isn't even willing to discuss what fluctuations within the error margin could mean.
"As a scientist I cannot speak of it because it would be a mistake. You cannot talk about people from data of this level because it is simply not discernible," M. Jastramskis said. Nevertheless, the political scientist does not deny that the "Farmer" ratings have declined in the long term perspective. The current ones, he believes, are akin to those the party had prior to the elections.
After the elections the ratings were inflated and reached 30%. VU TSPMI political scientists' post-electoral study suggests that it was inflated due to the second round results, where people voted for single mandate district candidates. After this, M. Jastramskis notes, it declined and is hovering at around 16-17%.
The political scientist does not observe any "mass exodus" of "Farmer" voters.
"I know from earlier studies that Lithuanian voters migrate not only between parties, but also between not voting and voting for something. It could be that part of the people, who were in that bloated "Farmer" rating now do not even have a party they would support," M. Jastramskis said.
Losing their advantage
The VU TSPMI scientists' national study shows that the "Farmers" greatly distinguished themselves with how people motivated their voting for the party as voting because they are now and that they are voting "for change."
"They would not be able to move on to the other parties because they are not new. I believe that some (potential votes) reached the TS-LKD because there was a minor overlap between the "Farmers" and the TS-LKD, but only a little. The TS-LKD ratings rose and then also stabilised," M. Jastramskis said.
The political scientist refuses to speculate on how stable the "Farmer" ratings are. In his opinion their current popularity is boosted by the currently decent economic conditions and such small steps as pension increases.
He also highlighted that currently their voters do not see any alternatives. That is to say, no newcomers, who would offer them a new hope.
Voters show, what they expect of Skvernelis
Saulius Skvernelis' ratings rose 3.9% in March, but the political scientist defused enthusiasm to claim that this change exceeds the error margin. In March the ratings reached 19.2%.
"The error margin goes in both directions. You could say that S. Skvernelis' ratings are stable," M. Jastramskis said.
Nevertheless, public relations specialist M. Katkus pointed out that S. Skvernelis' ratings are declining if we are to talk of him as a presidential candidate, but trust in him as prime minister is rising.
"The popularity of politicians is not absolute. (...) S. Skvernelis is fairly well received in the office he holds now. The people would want to see him remain in the position, increasingly few see him as a future president," M. Katkus said.
The board chairman of VIPCommunications suggests to separate the valuations of S. Skvernelis as presidential candidate and prime minister.
"I would explain S. Skvernelis' ascendancy through increased pensions and "children's money." This impacted large swathes of people, including those, who are seen as the "Farmer" electorate – older, lower income," D. Gudelis said.
Kirkilas party's debut sends a signal to Paluckas' Social Democrats
The Lithuanian Social Democrat Labour Party ratings appear in the ratings for the first time. They reach 3.7%.
"I did not think they would receive 5%, but if they already have this much, then Gintautas Paluckas' Social Democrats certainly have reason to worry. Especially when their own ratings have diminished significantly," M. Jastramskis said.
The political scientist stated he cannot say exactly what groups the Social Labourites gathered the percentage from.
"It is a colourful bunch, you cannot claim they are total social democrats. I would think it is an electoral mix – a part from the Social Democrats because a part of the party left, a part of the undecided. The undecided segment is the largest in Lithuania," M. Jastramskis said.
Public relations expert M. Katkus believes that 3.7% popularity is not a god result for the Social Labourites.
"It is very close to the bottom end of the error margin. At the moment it appears that they are in the area where other parties, which have potential, but fail to overcome the barrier are bogged down in. I believe that we should monitor the rating for the coming two-three months," M. Katkus said.
Cause for concern for Paluckas
The head of VIPCommunications does not agree with the claim that part of the Social Labourite ratings could be due to people confusing the social democratic parties.
"If it was just one number and I had not seen that of the previous month, I could perhaps say it is possible. But since I have a little more information, I can say that it is now a certain trend.
Furthermore, the communications expert disagrees that the voting in elections could be based on emotions.
"I am convinced that a number of electoral reviews show that the voting in elections is similar for people to buying a cell phone in terms of complexity. It is a measured and important decision based on fact," B. Gudelis said.
The VIP Communications board chairman has reviewed research done in February (when the party had not been founded yet, but it was already clear it would be, what the name would be and who would lead it) and the Social Labourite ratings there were 4.5%.
"It is an excellent result for them. I do not believe that many, particularly G. Paluckas' camp, expected it. G. Paluckas' rhetoric was clear that it would not be an alternative to the Social Democrats. Now you can see from the ratings that it is becoming a certain alternative and if this alternative catches on in the branches, local leaders such as mayors and councilmen, it could lead to certain shifts from one party to another," D. Gudelis said.
According to Spinter Tyrimai data, if the elections were held this coming Sunday, five parties would overcome the 5% electoral barrier. TS-LKD ratings were 18.6% in March, LVŽS – 16.9%, Social Democrat – 6.5%, Order and Justice – 7.5% and Liberal Movement – 5.8%.
The Lithuanian Centre Party would remain beneath the bar with 3.3% ratings, as would the with 4% and the Social Labourites at 3.7%. 5.8% of survey takers would choose a different party, 18.4% wouldn't vote and 9.5% do not have an opinion.
Most would prefer to see S. Skvernelis in the post of prime minister. His ratings rose from 15.3% to 19.2% over the month. In second is Conservative leader Gabrielius Landsbergis, whose popularity shifted from 12.1% to 10.6% and in third is "Farmer" leader Ramūnas Karbauskis, whose ratings were 7.1% in February and 7% in March.
MEP Antanas Guoga's candidacy would have been supported by 5.2% of voters, compared to 2.7% in February, MP Algirdas Butkevičius' – respectively 4.3% and 5.4%, MEP Vilija Blinkevičiūtė – 4.3% and 5%, economist Gitanas Nausėda – 3.6% and 4.7%, MP Andrius Kubilius – 3.3% and 3.8%, MEP Ingrida Šimonytė – 2.8% and 1.8% and Liberal Movement leader Eugenijus Gentvilas – 2 and 2.2%.
The board chairman of VIPCommunications highlighted A. Guoga's ratings jumping by 2.5%, which is near the error margin.
"I believe it is based on his appearances on regional news media at around the time when the surveys were done," D. Gudelis said.
The communications expert did not miss the "dramatic fall of G. Nausėda's ratings."
"Just in January it was around 8.5%, now only 3.5% remains. I cannot explain it," D. Gudelis said.
He agreed that it could be linked with people seeing him more as a potential presidential candidate.
"But we know that people expect more of a president than a prime minister – very specific actions: increasing pensions, benefits payments and cheaper heating," D. Gudelis mused.
The number of those evaluating cabinet work positively or likely positively has increased during the month from 31.6% to 33.9%, while the number of negative or likely negatively has remained static, respectively at 61.7% and 61.6%. The number of unsure respondents was 6.7% in February, while in March – 4.5%.
The public opinion and market research company Spinter Tyrimai performed a public opinion survey on commission by the Delfi news portal on March 21-29, 2018. Participants were aged 18 to 75. The survey was held as a standardised interview. The research was performed across Lithuania at 65 locations distributed to represent the entire country's territory. 1009 respondents were interviewed. The distribution of participants is proportionate to the number of inhabitants in the country's regions. The research error margin is 3.1%.
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