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Campaigns have minor influence, polls show the winners

The difference in the ratings between the ruling party and the opposition is owed to VMRO-DPMNE's greater orderliness, thoroughness and organization and the lack of those significant features within SDSM

You have been engaged in elections poll analysis. What do the last couple of cycles show, to what extent the pre-election polls’ data is accurate compared to the official election results?

Madzoski: It is true that public opinion surveys, as part of the political science in Macedonia, in the past 15 years have achieved a significant progress. In that context, according to me, a small part of the agencies and institutes engaged in public opinion spot surveys  have improved their methods, and thus managing to convey the voter’s mood more precisely. However, the number of the appropriate institutes and agencies is not bigger than three, or eventually four. We, who are engaged in political campaigns, perfectly know which data from which institutes can consider as accurate and precise. The veracity of their polls can easily be checked by taking the percentage of their last polls conducted before the election process and compare them with the official election results. In this regard, the assessments of the corresponding institutes and agencies are very close to the official election results of the past election cycles.

On the other hand, we have witnessed many phantom institutes and agencies for public opinion surveys for a single use before every election cycle. The appear before every election and then they disappear. According to me, the main goal of these false institutes and agencies is to form the public opinion.

Here, I would like to stress that public opinion surveys it is not a goal on its merits. It is a tool that helps political parties to enhance their policies, to establish their advantages and disadvantages and to react appropriately, to notice in which regions of the country they have strong support, in which regions they do not and the like. Some of the parties have realized that on time and their election results are evident.

To what do we owe the difference between the ruling party and the opposition. Is it logical the difference to reduce after eight years?

Madzoski: There is no simple answer to this question. Shortly, the difference in the ratings between the ruling party and the opposition is owed to VMRO-DPMNE’s greater orderliness, thoroughness and organization and the lack of those significant features within SDSM.

At last year’s local elections, VMRO-DPMNE had a huge advantage in regard to SDSM. Could it be reduced in a year?

Madzoski: Theoretically is possible, but in practice is hard to happen. VMRO-DPMNE can obtain 400,000 to 450,000 votes in any moment, in any elections. It is a question of organized party with clear concept. According to me, the number of voters that the ruling party continuously obtains in all elections since 2006 till now is still unattainable for the largest opposition party.

On the other hand, even though the management of SDSM has been leading the party for a year now, it is prime time for them to offer a new, clear and recognizable concept and to reshuffle successfully. They need a new positive political product, a new story, which the new management makes efforts to offer, but with no results. If they want results, they have to work on the new political product comprised of programme, offer, image, personnel solutions, work, party’ recognition and so forth.

Their new story has to be clear and fresh. More important, the new story to be professional shared with the wider public. According to me, they still do not manage to offer that new concept. For instance, the opposition still has not offered a shadow government, one of the main tools of the opposition parties in the democratic states. It has to offer an alternative for the solutions of the current government, on a daily basis, simultaneously and continually. Until they succeed in doing so, they will not move from the point where they are now.

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What influences voters most? Personal interests, ideology, ethnic and national matters, or something else?

Madzoski: The comprehensive answer to this question would be very long. It is simply a sublimate of all the influences you have mentioned, plus some others. In order to give a clear answer, I will mentions long-term factors, which are voters moving force, according to analysis. Some of them are: ideological orientation, the natural need of belonging to some political subject, the possibility of personal benefits from a political subject, different views of a political subject towards national issues, economic situation, state’s security situation and social justice. These 7 factors are among the main motives as to why people decide to support one or other political subject.

Your master’s thesis analyses the role of neutral voters in election results. Both government and opposition rely on them. To what extent they realistically influence elections end result?

Madzoski: As a rule, these group of voters has insignificant elections influence. In my thesis I analysed the wining parties on parliamentary elections 2002-2011 and the neutral voters participation in those elections. Analyzing the data from the last 4 parliamentary elections in Macedonia, I have proved mathematically that neutral voters and the campaign in general, have minimum influence in election result. In other words, neither SDSM in 2002, or VMRO-DPMNE in 2006 needed neutral votes to win the respective elections. They had won the elections long before Elections Day, if I may say. In order to confirm my hypothesis that neutral voters do not essentially influence end results, I have processed all presidential elections in the USA from 1972-2004. I reached the same conclusions. In 8 out of 9 presidential elections, the candidates who were favored in pre-election polls have no need of neutral voters support. Only in one of these nine cases of USA presidential elections (the race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1976), candidate Carter won his term thanks to neutral voters. Hence, the claim that neutral voters determine the winner is a myth.

I would underline that new parties stand better chances to win neutral voters support, which, in certain cases, means few MP seats. As far as elections winner is concerned, I believe it is clear during the campaign itself.

Speaking of which, to what extent does the campaign influence citizens’ decision on which party would they vote for?

Madzoski: Very little, actually. Political campaign is a short-term factor for parties to influence voters election behavior. I would emphasize again that positive ans innovative campaign offer increase new parties’ chances to win a share of neutral voters. However, the elections winner is certain well before. In simple words, the party that has most supporters in the polls one month before the elections, wins the elections.

Therefore, in times of election campaign people, especially the media, tend to exaggerate certain occurrences, such as gaffes during the campaign, controversial advertisements, more or less cute party leaders speeches etc. This moments, however, do not have a significant influence as to who citizens would vote for. Naturally, the media is interested in attracting citizens’ attention, but most of the stories we see, hear or read are trivial. Hence, other fundamental factors determine citizens’ election behavior.

Generally, contrary to popular belief that campaign significantly influences neutral voters as target group, as well as election results, history and analysis prove otherwise. In the 1940s, Paul Lasarfeld, one of the most famous modern sociologists, wrote on this matter: “To a certain extent, modern political campaign are done before they begin”. He suggests: “Not that campaigns have any influence, but modern political campaigns are like a bathtub filled with photography developing agents. The chemical influence of an agent is necessary to develop a photograph, but only a previously taken photograph can be developed.”

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By: Goran Momiroski

Photo: Aleksandar Ivanovski