Elblong. 5 May 2015. Four days before the first round of presidential elections. Bronisław Komorowski, previously declining to participate in general debates, is meeting voters and is accompanied by regional Civic Platform party leaders, the leadership of the Warmian-Masurian Province and military personnel. The theme of the meeting is Polish-Russian relations – the ace card of the president, who during the course of his term has successfully combined anti-Russian rhetoric with a pragmatic economic policy on the level of inter-regional cooperation.
Following that of the president, dozens of special buses with CP activists arrive to the place of the meeting. They are gathered from all over the province to support their leader. And only somewhere off in the distance are glimpses of a lone opposition group lost in a grand old Prussian park. The president senses victory is near and that this is the last sprint towards the finish line.
NOTHING FORETOLD MISFORTUNE
According to the last survey from the Market and Social Research Institute (IBRiS), Komorowski was ahead of his chief rival Andrzej Duda by 12.4% exactly a week before the first round of elections. Other measurements of social opinion regularly conducted by various companies since January of this year likewise forecast a landslide victory for Komorowski in the first round. And if there was a second tour, victory to the incumbent president was expected to be ensured by the presence of a whole galaxy of candidate-spoilers (Grzegorz Braun, Marian Kowalski, Janusz Palikot, Jacek Wilk) working against Andrzej Duda.
Thus, according to IBRiS, the dynamics of the ratings for the president and his contender consistently indicated that the former had a substantial advantage. And even though Komorowski lost 20% of his support in 5 months, he still considerably outpaced Duda – whose ratings rose only 3% – and was surely to win in the end.
Public opinion polls by the analytical corporation Millward Brown, conducted for the Polish television channels TVP and TVN-24 also attested to a significant gap between the candidates. Komorowski’s ratings fell by 23% from January and, in fact, remained unchanged through May, like the ratings of Duda.
Similar tendencies were observed in the surveys of other polling agencies – Duda’s victory was out of the question before the first round of elections. Sociologist Witold Marecki is convinced that such survey results were not accidental. “The candidates never went ‘head to head’ against each other. It was thought that Duda had a chance of winning the elections, but only in a second round thanks to an influx of votes from the unorganized opposition,” he stated in an interview to Europe Insight. “Duda’s electoral campaign before the first round was built only on the criticism of Komorowski. He only reacted to the actions of the president. Komorowski himself campaigned dully and ineptly – which contributed to the drop in the president’s ratings. But it was specifically the lethargy of the campaign that did not allow for Komorowski’s indicators to fall lower than those of Duda,” said the expert. Marecki thinks that the president’s staff believed in the success of the campaign through the very last moment.
FIRST ROUND. RESULT UNEXPECTED BUT NO ACCIDENT
The first round of presidential elections was held on 10 May. By evening, when the national exit poll results conducted by the company Ipsos for TVN-24 were made known, it became clear to all in Poland that the current president was not going to win an easy victory. On the following day, the National Electoral Commission presented the official results of the round: first place Andrzej Duda (37.76%), second place Bronisław Komorowski (33.77%), and third place Paweł Kukiz (20.8%).
Komorowski’s sensationally low results were driven by record voter absenteeism throughout the country as a whole, as well as in the northern and western territories, where the Civic Platform’s core electoral base lives. In total, 15,023,886 persons voted (48.96% of those eligible to vote). This is a record low turnout in the history of the Polish Third Republic.
Ironically, the lowest turnout in the first round proved to be exactly in the Warmian-Masurian Province (42.03%), where Komorowski held his final meeting with voters. The highest turnout was in the Masovian Province (54.91%), where Duda won a victory, garnering 36.06% of the votes. Generally, turnout was a degree lower in the regions where the population steadily supports the CP than those where the PiC (Law and Justice Party) usually leads.
In order to comprehend what occurred, it is necessary to understand the historico-cultural and ideological specificities of the population of these regions. Historically, the CP has relied on the support of regions like Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, and Greater Poland. A great part of these territories were located for centuries in German states: Brandenburg, the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Third Reich. Germany’s harsh policies with respect to the local Polish population contributed to the formation of a liberal and nationalistic ideological environment. It is namely in the northwest that the Polish most actively opposed economic and cultural restraints. Afterwards, this regional ideological tradition was preserved and began to appear regularly during the latter period of the Polish People’s Republic – for example, the Solidarity Movement got its start in this region. The northwestern territories are likewise distinguished by a unique mentality: the inhabitants therefrom are characterized above all with individualism and German pragmatism. It is namely towards these socio-psychological and ideological characteristics which CP image strategy policies are oriented.
Poland’s southeast has been a more conservative region historically. These territories were under the authority of the Russian and Austrian empires for more than two hundred years. Poles on either side of the border faced systematic repression of their attempts at nation-building. The fate of the Polish aristocracy played a leading role in the formation of the political culture of the southeastern part of Poland. If the gentry integrated into the structure of the political elite in the lands under the control of Germany, it maximally preserved its national political traditions and special social status in Austria-Hungary and Russia. The homeland of Andrzej Duda – Galicia – was the core of Polish statehood and conservatism, as well as an arena for constant geopolitical struggles for the existence of an independent state. It is specifically orientation towards the conservative nationalism of Poles in the south and east which made it possible for Lech Kaczyński in 2005, and then Duda in 2015, to wage an effective struggle for power in Poland.
“In fact, the southeast and the northwest are two regions that are different ideological and cultural vectors,” said political scientist and analyst David Zolkiewski from the Center for Domestic Policy Research in an interview with Europe Insight. In his opinion, one of the important features of the northwest is its large, in comparison with other regions, embeddedness into the general European economic system due to cooperation with Germany. “The more integrated the province is into the European structure, the more its population is impacted by common European problems. Among the population of the northwestern region, for several years there has already been a large degree of social deprivation (a gap between expectations and reality – note) and disillusionment brought about by European integration. The fact that they ignored the elections was to be expected,” concluded the expert.
However, failing to participate in the elections was not the only form of electorate protest behaviour. According to the publicist Przemysław Trenc, Paweł Kukiz’s results are also an act of political protest by the voters, who are retracting from the current form of the political system. “Poland demands changes. The defeat of Komorowski bore witness to the fact that the changes are going in the right direction. The victory of the politician from the PiS is not something exceptional, it seems to me. The sensation is that Paweł Kukiz got 20% of the votes,” thinks Trenc.
It is unsurprising that the sentiments of the electorate immediately became the object of the special interest of the Komorowski and Duda teams. Thus, on 11 May the president made the following announcement: “The election results have made me realize that changes are needed in the relationship between citizens and the state, as well as the strengthening of mechanisms that will enable citizens to influence the course of events in Poland.” In the spirit of this statement, Komorowski announced his intentions to conduct a referendum on three issues of crucial importance for the political power of the unorganized opposition (voting system, party financing, and taxation). In the opinion of experts, this manipulation gained him votes. “The promise to hold a referendum is a manifestation of our leaders’ exceptional despair. Nevertheless, a series of internal surveys commissioned by the party say that thanks to them Komorowski received a 3-5.5% increase in votes in the second round,” a source from inside Civil Platform told Europe Insight.
SECOND ROUND. THERE COULD HAVE BEEN NO DEFEAT
Despite borrowing campaign promises from the program of the political forces of the unorganized opposition and actively agitating the electorate to participate in elections, Komorowski’s team could not set the unfolding situation aright. The impression voters received from Duda’s unexpected victory was so strong that immediately after the pronouncement of the results of the first round, the imitation effect started working and the ratings of the opposition candidate overtook the ratings of the incumbent president. This is evidenced by the results of the public opinion polls conducted by Millward Brown (for TVN-24) and Estymater (for Newsweek-Polska) in the period between rounds.
Nevertheless, Komorowski still had a chance to win the elections. Meetings with voters and the active support of the party and the government could change the situation after the first round. Between 18-20 May, according to the Millward Brown poll, Komorowski led Duda by 2-3%. p>
However, the next obstacle for the incumbent president was to become the final round of debates held on 21 May. They obscured the balance of forces. In the opinion of individual experts, the candidate from the opposition behaved more confidently. As sociologist Marcin Gacek from Silesian University noted, the debates went “evenly, but slightly in Duda’s favour”. The results of the 22 May poll were confirmation of Gacek’s words; Duda had moved ahead of Komorowski by 0.5%.
All the same, one should never say that it is precisely the debate outcome which cardinally impacted the election results. There are a number of other reasons for the defeat of Komorowski in the second round which become clear through an analysis of his campaign. Some of the most important ones are as follows:
- Overly late start for the election campaign.The initially high ratings acted in some way as a sedative on President Komorowski’s own alertness as well as that of his staff. According to Europe Insight’s information, they thought for a long time in the CP that the president would be able to win a second term in the very first round. But new polls influenced the perspective of the party leadership. In fact, a “serious” election campaign began only in the middle of April. Meanwhile, Duda had launched his campaign back in January.
- Failure of campaign financial planning. According to the journal Newsweek-Polska, initially the president’s headquarters planned to spend 10 million złotys, but in the end, total expenditures reached 19 million. Additionally, money was often spent unjustifiably and excessively.
The biggest dereliction of the Komorowski headquarters was the purchase of 16 Setra buses, which the president and his staff were supposed to use for travelling around the regions. However, out of the whole fleet of "Broncobuses" - as they were called in Poland, only one was used for its intended purpose. The rest were, at best, driven to various events of Komorowski supporters to simulate support.
- Failure of the Internet campaign. Promotion of the candidate on the internet, especially on social networking sites, ended up being a daunting task for the Komorowski team. Essentially, the illiterate work of the group moderating the president’s Twitter account @prezydentp elicited bewilderment. Their major mistake was publishing word for word all of the president’s colourful remarks, even if they were tautological or absolutely obvious.
Translation of tweet No. 1: Prezydent.pl: President: Ukraine can count on our support in the issue of support of recourse related to the distribution of UN forces, if such recourse is needed
Waldemar Kuczynski: @prezydentp “support in the issue of support of recourse…”. For God’s sake, put someone in there who writes in human!
Translation of tweet No. 2: Prezydent.pl: President: the dispatch of distributed forces makes sense, if there is a distribution because if war, then it will be hard to send soldiers
olkinha: @prezydentp Who is writing this???
The many attempts of his Twitter account moderators to attack Duda aroused the particular anger of Komorowski supporters. They were perceived as very simple, if not to say coarse. Meanwhile, the opposition candidate did not react, as expected.
Translation of tweets Nos. 3-5:
Prezydent.pl: Should we take #Russia as an example for foreign policy? @AndrzejDuda
Prezydent.pl: President @komorowski supports Polish business – business is the flywheel of the Polish economy @AndrzejDuda
Prezydent.pl: And where is the economic element in foreign policy??!! @AndrzejDuda
One of the main trends in the internet-campaign against Komorowski was in creating demotivators which mocked and made fun of various amusing photos of the president, as well as of his age and personal qualities, particularly his education. In the evaluation of Jacek Brzezia, a specialist in internet marketing, in the period between 10-24 May (the first and second rounds), the volume of demotivators about Komorowski in the Polish Internet increased six or seven-fold.
Translation of demotivator No. 1:
Why did Bronisław Komorowski put forward his candidacy again? Because he only has 4 years left till his pension!
Translation of demotivator No. 2:
When you don’t understand anything, it’s best to smile.
- Careful avoidance of association with Civic Platform. This tactic was initially selected by Komorowski’s headquarters with the objective of attracting voters from other political parties and simultaneously avoiding negative associations with the government of Ewa Kopacz, whose activities far from everyone in even the Platform itself currently approve. However, the president overcalculated. He began to too eagerly present himself as a “no-party” candidate, which was noted by his opponents. Thus, in the very beginning of the final round of debates, Duda presented Komorowski a little CP flag on live broadcast and advised him not to avoid the party that finances and conducts the electoral campaign.
The excessive confidence of Bronisław Komorowski’s team (which led to the campaign’s late start and low electorate motivation) and its lack of a deliberate image policy or effective strategy for promoting the candidate’s image online resulted in defeat in the elections. At the same time, 19 million złoty were lost which could have been very useful for the CP in the parliamentary elections planned for fall. In fact, Komorowski had a great chance at victory and extending his presidency through a second term, but he fell hostage to the carelessness and irresponsibility of his staff.
On 25 May, the Polish National Electoral Commission declared the elected president of the country to be Andrzej Duda, a member of the Law and Justice Party; he received 8,630,627 popular votes (51.55%). 8,112,311 persons (48.45%) voted for Bronisław Komorowski.