A revealing study: Classes and parties in the June 17 Greek elections

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We are publishing this very interesting and detailed study of the Greek electorate. It provides extremely interesting data, which shows how the different classes and age groups voted. Syriza’s vote is overwhelmingly working class and young, which confirms once again the extreme radicalisation to the left of these layers in society.

The June 17 elections and new alignments in the party system

Tsipras at Election rally. Photo: Asteris MasourasTsipras at Election rally. Photo: Asteris MasourasThe elections of June 17 completed the change in the Greek party system that began with the election results of May 5. To a great extent both elections are similar; they recorded the transition from a two-party to a multiparty system, and revealed a new structure of political representation.

The social structure of voting on June 17 shows three cumulative polarisations: according to age; according to professional/class lines; and according to geography. The hitherto historic extreme differentiation between urban and rural areas seems to have receded, given that Syriza recorded its highest share ever of the suburban and rural vote. With the exception of Golden Dawn, which is chiefly a ‘male party’, there hasn’t been much differentiation along gender lines in any of the parties. The table provided helps with an initial analysis of these polarisations, which indicate, amongst other things, a clear picture of the dynamics and consistency of the parties.

1. Age-related polarisation

greek 17 June vote analysis (pdf)greek 17 June vote analysis (pdf, 1.51 MB) The June 17 electorate is divided into two general categories, as shown in more detail in the Table: on the one hand, the 18-54 year-old age group, and on the other, those aged 55 and above (within which those aged 65 and above have a higher incidence). The former group gave the lead to Syriza whilst the latter to New Democracy (ND). The former group gave exceptionally low percentages to Pasok, whilst the latter maintained its levels to that of the previous election of May 6.

Indeed, comparing the lowest age group of 18-24 year-olds with the highest group of 65-plus there is an unprecedented deviation. The 18-24 year-old age group gave the lead to Syriza with 45.5%, whilst the 65-plus gave the lead to ND with 49.4%. The 18-24 year-old age group gave only 2.3% of its vote to Pasok whilst the 65-plus group gave 19.1% to Pasok – a significant vote judging by recent developments. Generally, the old two-party model of ND and Pasok survived among the older age groupings, albeit with big losses when compared to historical figures.

In relation to Golden Dawn, its share of the vote is chiefly from the 25-44 year-olds, the middle to lower age group. In that respect, it is neither expressive of a younger nor older electorate per se.

2. Profession-based and class-based voting pattern

The second major division of the electorate was along professional and class lines. A strong class polarisation reappeared in the elections of June, a polarisation which had previously been reduced noticeably since 1996 and the ‘modernisation’ of Pasok. Behind ND, and the Right broadly, mobilised the entrepreneurial and employer layers (35.9%) which also appeared to have given a remarkable 20.3% to Golden Dawn. In that category of the economically active population, Pasok also managed a 17.2% share of the vote.

The second most supportive group for ND had been that of self-employed farmers with 35.9%, a group that also supported Golden Dawn with a strong 7.5% of the share of the vote.

In summing up, what emerges is that the force behind ND is an alliance between employers, entrepreneurial layers, mid-level rural layers, and of the non-economically active population, as indicated by the majorities it attracted from categories such as public and private sector pensioners.

It is diametrically the opposite situation for Syriza which for the first time in the history of this party sees the class aspects become so pronounced, to such an extent that is it evident that it has objectively transformed into a different political formation than what it had been during the previous two elections.

Among the categories of public and private sector wage workers, it garnered about 32.5% and 32%, respectively. Among the unemployed it scored 32.7%, whilst in the category of small-scale businesses and small-scale industries, it attracted 32.6% of the vote.

Parallel to these figures, it is worth noting trends in certain sub-categories, (as appear in the Table). 37.1% of the public sector skilled workers vote went to Syriza, whilst the public sector middle management sector supported Syriza with a 34.9% share of its vote.

The lower-level private-sector white-collar office-based staff supported Syriza with 34.2% of its vote, whilst skilled workers supported it with 30.2% of their vote. Overall, therefore, Syriza’s electoral structure reflects an alliance of wage workers (especially the low and middle ranks) with the unemployed and self-employed, small-scale businesses and professionals. This social structure is recorded in the spatial mapping of the voting.

Consequently, therefore, the old SYRIZA (and Synaspismos) of the middle-bourgeoisie and the middle-class generally belongs to the past.

3. Polarisation along geographical lines

The voting pattern based on professional backgrounds is further confirmed by the geographical analysis of the vote, given the socio-professional parallels reflected in where people reside. [The Table gives the distribution of voting for all parliamentary parties in key urban, middle-bourgeois, middle-class, and working class areas of Athens and Thessaloniki, available in the Greek original].

From the rural election results we can draw some initial conclusions:

  1. They confirm a strong, class-based distribution of the vote for both ND and Syriza. ND received the votes chiefly of residents in the areas of the middle upper, and upper classes, whereas it was underrepresented by the vote in lower middle and working class areas. Syriza, conversely, received the votes chiefly of residents from working class and lower middle class areas and was underrepresented in areas where the upper social classes reside. It is worth noting that ND managed to significantly alter the electoral landscape of the May 6 elections where its share of the vote was much lower due to the fragmentation of the centre-Right and Right vote and due to the purported distancing of its constituents from the old ND – what we then witness are the employer/entrepreneurial layers mobilising behind ND in the June 17 elections which was the key to its electoral victory.
  2. Pasok managed to maintain comparatively remarkable shares of the vote in the areas where upper to middle-class layers reside, showing in this area of the vote a change in the structure of its electoral base. Its share of the urban vote was the highest in urban regions outside the two major conurbations of Athens and Thessaloniki.
  3. The composition of the electorate of the Independent Greeks (ANEL) is particularly interesting as it displays some strength in the working class (rates above the average rate in urban areas), whilst it does not present much strength in areas where the upper and upper/middle classes reside. In that respect it scored similarly to a leftist party than to one of the centre-Right, despite the presence of strong populist influences in those regions that previously supported Right formations. It may be because it represents some “transitional option” for working class layers that have historically supported the Right, that may either move "leftward" in the coming years or adhere to the ideological positions of the fascist extreme right through Golden Dawn.
  4. Similarly to the Independent Greeks, Golden Dawn exhibits this ‘populist class’ [Translator’s note: In Greek with ‘laiki taksikotita’ – ‘laiki’ means ‘popular’ whilst ‘taxikotita’ means ‘class-ness’ – the author means to say that this new type of populist “class-ness” brings together layers that express both a kind of populist national pride and confused-socialist thinking hence ‘populist inter-class, new class’ or ‘populist class’ more or less translates the intended meaning], something suggestive of a significant difference compared to the extreme Right LAOS which had been more inclusive [ed., ‘polysyllectikos’ = ‘multi-collective’] and had significant influence in the upper middle and upper class areas. Golden Dawn presents a ‘purer’ populist influence which during the June elections expressed itself with a much more clearly ideological agenda than it did in the May elections. Golden Dawn’s geographical spread indicates a formation that does not coincide with the party-based system.
  5. The Democratic Left [DIMAR], former ‘Renovator’ reformist wing of Synaspismos [who split from Syriza to absorb the Pasok constituency protest vote] seems to be the continuation of the old electoral structure of the ‘Renovator Left’. With a focus on areas where medium to high socio-professional classes reside along with an underrepresentation in the working class areas, it appears that a specific ideological-political audience is being formed moving more clearly than the old tradition of Synaspismos towards the moderate centre-Left, that is to say, in the same social space where it meets the current Pasok.
  6. Finally, the KKE (the Greek Communist Party) in the 2012 elections maintains the same stable electoral base which it had after the fall of the Colonels’ regime and during the transition to bourgeois democracy; namely, an electoral base of middle and working class voters where the former, chiefly, led.

4. Dynamics and contradictions of today's parties

In attempting to outline a summary of the elections in relation to current party formations and their current dynamics, it is worth noting that:

The party system of this new transitional situation is still fluid. The current situation may be characterised as "polarised pluralism" of seven parties that coalesce along two axes:

  1. The Left/Right axis (as defined mainly by the contrast Syriza/ND) and
  2. the intersection between anti-Memoranda and pro-Memoranda forces, as defined mainly by the specific positioning of the existing political forces on the question of government priorities: Syriza, the Communist Party and Independent Greeks are on the anti-side, whilst ND, Pasok, and Democratic Left are on the pro-side. Golden Dawn is increasingly trying to carve out a place for itself on the Right with its anti-immigrant and anti-left ideology seeking a role within the pro-memoranda bloc.

The configuration of these electoral forces along these two axes clearly involves much fluidity. Undoubtedly, some parties will contract while others will prevail. Based on the current situation, however, one can argue the following:

ND has restored the unity of a bourgeois urban social alliance, albeit temporarily and at a cost in relation to the middle class and traditional layers of small-scale owners of wealth that have historically supported it. Its main constituency is chiefly characterised by higher age groups.

PASOK is undergoing a structural crisis of social representation. No social or class category is represented by it, while its relatively higher rates were among groups that have voted for ND in the past. Both parties through their pro-Memoranda policies have assimilated their electoral bases.

The Independent Greeks belong to the Right/conservative political alignment, and receive support from the social and age groups that also elect Syriza. It is a "class" division within the conservative layers along coherent ideological lines, and that is why they retained significant support in the June elections. As a party that is receiving votes from layers that are moving away from other parties, it will be interesting to chart its course.

The KKE suffered a fall in its support and therefore its influence, without, however, its long-term social base being in any way altered. It is undoubtedly at a difficult turning point where it is facing a choice of policy options.

The Democratic Left attempts to balance itself between the Left and Right and can more appropriately be considered a centre party, than a party of the Left. Its attempts to firmly position itself in the centre are of very dubious success.

SYRIZA has a historic opportunity to become the main popular and working class political representation in Greece. It has a privileged position within both axes that define the party system and therefore has the potential to become the new open mass party of the Left in Greece.

Finally, the Golden Dawn is a coherent formation, with a strong class structure in its electorate and apparently has a great ideological homogeneity. It will be a strong pole in the coming years and a formidably strong opponent of the Left.

(25 June 2012)

[Original Greek]

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