Refugee crisis affects elections in Upper Austria

29.09.2015972
Governor Josef Pühringer campaigned like he had used to, yet the situation changed. Credits: Kurier

Governor Josef Pühringer campaigned like he had used to, yet the situation changed. Credits: Kurier

27 Sept. — Parliamentary elections were held for the Upper Austrian Landtag. They primarily benefited the far right, populist Freedom Party (FPÖ), which is a direct result of the immigration crisis in Europe. However, the elections registered even bleaker trends for country’s two leading parties – the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ).

Upper Austria had been governed for the past 12 years by the first coalition between the ruling Austrian People’s Party and the Greens. Moreover, the federal landtag was seen as a bastion of the ÖVP. During the campaign, they placed their stakes on the domestic agenda, focusing on the specific social and economic problems of the region and underestimating the significance of the common European crisis.

According to a public opinion survey conducted by the Institute for Social Research and Consulting, SORA, 61% of voters considered the issue of immigration and refugees as important. This is what resonated with the themes of the Freedom Party (refusing the impositions of integration, rejecting uncontrolled immigration, mandatory knowledge of German). Even lacking an aggressive campaign (for example, one can assess the tone and content of their pre-election posters here), they were – based on SORA’s express analysis – able to mobilise 83% of their former constituency and double their support in comparison with 2009.

The same calculations indicated that the topic of immigration cost the ÖVP a fifth of their voters and the SPÖ a quarter. As a result, both parties set a series of anti-records. Since 2008, when the current Chancellor Werner Faymann became leader of the Social Democrats, the indicators for 17 out of 19 elections at various levels have decreased in comparison with the previous ones. Under Reinhold Mitterlehner, who was elected last year, the ÖVP has four times experienced the like, and its popularity has fallen by double-digits for the first time (though its showing was steadily declining even before).

Therefore, there is no longer any doubt that the two leading political parties are, in fact, uniformly and irreversibly losing support throughout the entire country. The disappointment in the regular regional elections has already resulted in the intensification of discussion in the parties. The newspaper Die Presse mentions the SPÖ’s left wing, which is using the situation to once again talk about the whole party’s loss of voter confidence.

It is against this backdrop that, as the Austrian Press Agency notes, the indicators are growing for the remaining political parties – the Freedom Party, the Greens, and the NEOS. In the new Landtag Parliament, the new ÖVP will have 21 seats, the Freedom Party – 18, SPÖ – 11, Greens – 6. New Austria was just shy of the 4% barrier.

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