Austria President 2010
Austria held a presidential election today, April 25. Austria’s President holds a largely ceremonial office, notably in charge of officially appointing a Chancellor. However, unlike in Germany, Austria’s President is directly elected by voters for a six-year term in a classic two-round system. Most hot presidential contests in Austria happen when the incumbent retires, when it is usually contested by the main parties. The last such incidence was in 2004, when incumbent President Thomas Klestil was term-limited after two terms in office. At that point, both of Austria’s major parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) contested the election, which was narrowly won by Heinz Fischer of the SPÖ. Presidents running for re-election usually face no major opposition, save for opposition from smaller parties on the far-right or the Greens. In 1998, for example, Klestil, a member of the ÖVP, was re-elected with the support of the SPÖ and the far-right FPÖ against three other opponents, including a Green and a Liberal.
Heinz Fischer, like most of his predecessors, built up tremendous popularity while in office, likely due to the non-confrontational nature of the office. Despite the SPÖ’s series of electoral trouncings in 2009, Fischer’s popularity broke party lines and the ÖVP could not hope to field a strong challenge. Indeed, the ÖVP’s most likely candidate, Lower Austrian Governor Erwin Pröll announced in late 2009 that he would not run and the party officially endorsed Fischer in February 2010. The Greens, who were considering fielding their former popular leader Alexander Van der Bellen as a candidate, finally decided to endorse Fischer as well. On the far-right, the FPÖ announced early that it would field an opponent to Fischer. However, since the FPÖ’s young leader, Heinz-Christian Strache is focusing on the Vienna state elections later this year, he did not run but he announced in the Kronen Zeitung (the FPÖ’s mouthpiece, for all intents and purposes) that Barbara Rosenkranz, a state deputy in Lower Austria and a known far-rightist, would be the party’s candidate. Rosenkranz, it was thought, would have more appeal to traditionally conservative voters, while Strache is more popular with young and working-class voters. Rosenkranz is a polarizing figure, given her marriage to a neo-Nazi and her controversial position on immigration, the EU and Austria’s anti-Nazi legislation. The BZÖ of the late Jorg Haider, which has seen its fortune dwindle due to scandals in Carinthia, division and civil war in the party’s Carinthian stronghold, considered fielding Haider’s widow but decided against it. A final candidate emerged from the fringes, Rudolf Gehring of the Christian Party (CPÖ), which is a Christian fundamentalist outfit and shares some of the far-right’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Fischer’s re-election was never in doubt, with polls predicting around 75-80% support against 15-20% for Rosenkranz and 3-6% for Gehring. Rosenkranz’ goal was around 17%. Many had thought that she could have broken 20%. Turnout, which was slightly above 70% in 2004, was widely expected to reach a record low this time. Here are the results. excluding postal votes (which are significant in Austria):
Heinz Fischer (SPÖ-ÖVP-Greens) 78.94%
Barbara Rosenkranz (FPÖ) 15.62%
Rudolf Gehring (CPÖ) 5.44%
Turnout was 49.2%, including a record 7.3% spoilt ballots. This reflects well the apathy of voters vis-a-vis an unimportant election for a ceremonial position, but also the abstention of many ÖVP voters, not fond of the Social Democrat Fischer, the quasi-Nazi Rosenkranz and the fundie Gehring. The high amount of spoilt ballots likely comes from ÖVP voters as well.
Fischer’s results are remarkably similar throughout Austria (a low of 67% in one district, with highs of around 89%), and the FPÖ did relatively poorly in areas where the bulk of its vote comes from old working-class voters, showing Rosenkranz’s weak appeal to that demographic. Even in Vorarlberg, where the FPÖ polled around 25% in last year’s state election, Rosenkranz won only 8.1% of the vote, while Gehring took 10.8%. Gehring did best in western Austria, which is traditionally rural, Catholic and a stronghold of the ÖVP. It shows well that the vast majority of Gehring’s vote came from ÖVP voters. Rosenkranz won her best result, 20.8%, in Carinthia, which isn’t very surprising. Overall, Fischer did surprisingly well in western Austria as well, either due to the flukes of low turnout or Rosenkranz’s poor appeal to FPÖ voters here (or the result of extrapolating too much stuff about results in such an election).