Federal elections were held in Austria on September 29, 2013. All 183 members of the National Council (Nationalrat), the lower house of the Austrian Parliament, were up for reelection.
The National Council is elected by proportional representation using partially open lists. For electoral purposes, Austria is divided into nine regional electoral districts (the nine federal states) and further subdivided into 39 local electoral districts. Political parties submit regional, state and federal lists; voters then cast their vote for a party, but they may also indicate their preference for one regional list candidate and one local list candidate. If they cast their vote for one party but then attribute their preferences to other lists’ candidates, only their vote for the party stands and their preferential votes are not counted. A statewide electoral quota, calculated by the Hare method, is used to allocate seats at both the regional and state levels; seats won by a party at the regional level are accordingly subtracted from its corresponding statewide seat total, and the remaining mandates come from the party’s state lists. Finally, all 183 National Council seats are distributed at the federal level by the d’Hondt rule; seats won by a party at the state level are then deducted from its corresponding nationwide seat total, and the remaining mandates are allocated from the party’s federal lists. A party must receive at least 4% of the vote or win at least one local mandate to secure representation.
Candidates may be ‘moved up’ the list through preferential votes if they win 14% in the regional constituency, or 10% in the state constituency or 7% federally.
The upper house, the Federal Council (Bundesrat) is, similarly to Germany, intended to provide representation for the states in Austria’s federal system. The 61 members of the upper house are indirectly elected by proportional representation by each state’s legislature (Landtage), with each state holding between 3 and 12 seats dependent on its population. Unlike in Germany, where the Bundesrat is rather powerful, the Austrian Bundesrat is weak and its powers are limited. It only has an absolute veto power over constitutional laws limiting the powers of the states, laws relating to the Bundesrat and treaties concerning the jurisdiction of the states. On other issues, it only has a dilatory veto, which the National Council can override easily. The weakness and near-irrelevance of the upper house in day-to-day politics has led to calls for it to be abolished or strengthened on the model of the German Bundesrat.
Austria’s party system
Between 1945 and the 1990s, Austria had a stable two-party system, dominated by the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Since the 1990s, Austrian politics became far more competitive, pluralist, depillarized (like in the Netherlands) and unstable with the rise of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) on the right of the spectrum and the growing weight of the Greens on the left.
Austrian society was pillarized (similar to Belgium or the Netherlands) until the 1960s and marked by a “two-camp mentality”. The two main camps, the ‘reds’ (Social Democrats) and the ‘blacks’ (Catholic conservatives), were more than two political parties: they formed tightly-knit and highly organized social milieus whose influence extended to the social, cultural and economic spheres. There were well-defined ‘red’ and ‘black’ trade unions, radio/TV stations, newspapers, student unions, recreational organizations, aid organizations, youth and pensioner organizations and typical leisure activities (skiing for the right, football for the left). During this era, political allegiances were rather solidly set in stone – there were no dramatic changes in the parties’ results from one election to another, and the main parties won fairly similar results in elections between 1945 and the mid-1980s.
On a geographic level, state governments reflect this tradition of solid political allegiances. ‘Red Vienna’ has been governed by Social Democrats since 1945 (and, with the exception of 1934-1945, since 1919), who even held an absolute majority between 1945 and 1991 and between 2001 and 2010. The Social Democrats have also governed Burgenland since 1964. On the other hand, the conservative ÖVP has governed the states of Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg since 1945 (and, except for Lower Austria, the conservatives governed those states during the entirety of the First Republic, 1918-1934).
As a relic of this almost entirely bygone era, Austria still has the highest rates of political party membership in the EU (alongside Cyprus) – in 2008, about 17% of the electorate were members of a political party – compared to less than 2% in France and the UK and 2.3% in Germany. It must be noted, however, that Austrian party membership (specifically in the ÖVP) is often acquired indirectly through membership in allied organizations such as the Austrian Workers ‘and Employees’ Federation (ÖAAB), the Austrian Business Association (ÖWB) and the Austrian Farmers’ Federation (ÖBB).
One of the main hallmarks of Austrian politics since 1945 has been the concept of ‘Proporz’, the proportional representation of parties in the government, the public service and the nationalized economy in accordance with their share of the vote at the polls. Proporz was established at the federal level after World War II, as to prevent a repeat of the political polarization and class warfare which had destroyed Austrian democracy in the inter-war era. Proporz was intended to mediate differences and mutual skepticism between the two parties, by allowing all major parties a share of the cake and to produce political stability and post-war prosperity through close bipartisan cooperation.
The Proporz principle not only involved the division of cabinet positions between the parties in proportion to their strength and traditional ‘profiles’ (the Ministry of Agriculture as a conservative position, the Ministry of Labour as a social democratic position); it also meant dividing public sector employment and positions in economic chambers, trade unions or state-owned businesses.
Depillarization led to increasing discontent with the Proporz system. Ideological differences between the two major parties became increasingly blurry, leading to a process of depoliticization and vegetative and corrupt politics in which the two main parties alternated in power and divvied up power like baronies. Proporz created political stability and a strong democracy, but it also created and entrenched nepotism and patronage at almost all levels of the state. The rise of the FPÖ in the 1980s/1990s represented the first major challenge to Proporz on the electoral scene.
Salzburg and Tyrol, to be joined by Styria, have abolished mandatory Proporz at the state level and allowed for free coalition building. Vienna and Vorarlberg never had mandatory Proporz.
The Social Democratic Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ) is Austria’s oldest party and the major party of the left.
The party finds its roots in the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP), founded in 1888 under the moderate leadership of Dr. Victor Adler. Socialists and workers’ movements, heavily influenced by similar movements in Germany, had begun meeting in 1874 but divisions between moderates and more radical anarchists prevented unification until 1888. The Social Democrats greatly benefited from the introduction of universal suffrage in the Austrian crown lands (Cisleithania) in 1907, becoming the second-largest faction in 1907 and the largest faction in the 1911. The Social Democrats operated in all parts of Cisleithania, even the non-German speaking provinces, and it supported a federal democratic state with minority rights and regional autonomy. This did not prevent the different nationalities to gradually form their own Social Democratic groups – for example, Czech, Italian or Polish Social Democrats sat in different groups than German Social Democrats. The Czechs split from the party in 1912, other groups followed with the outbreak of war and the eventual demise of Austria-Hungary.
With the Austro-Hungarian defeat in World War I in 1918, SDAP leader Karl Renner convened a provisional national assembly in October 1918 and proclaimed the Republic of German-Austria in November 1918. The SDAP won a plurality in the February 1919 elections to the constituent assembly, winning about 41% of the vote and 72 seats against 69 seats for their main rivals, the Christian Socials (CS). Karl Renner was confirmed as Chancellor, forming a Grand Coalition with the Christian Socials. Renner’s cabinet, which lasted until July 1920, introduced the 8-hour workday, workers’ councils, the creation of the Austrian Chamber of Labour and negotiations for a republican constitution which was adopted in November 1920. The SDAP, unlike the CS, were largely in favour of union with Germany (Anschluss) and the Republic of German-Austria’s provisional constitution expressly stated its intent to join the Weimar Republic. However, the Allies opposed Anschluss and, in the Treaty of Saint-Germain (September 1919), Austria was forced to renounce Anschluss and change its name to Austria instead of German-Austria. The SDAP were close allies of their German brothers, the SPD, and they hoped union with Germany would strengthen the socialist movement.
The SDAP lost the 1920 elections to the CS, taking 69 seats to CS’ 85 seats. Thereafter, the SDAP was excluded from government (the CS governed in coalition with the Pan-Germanist Greater German People’s Party) and remained in opposition for the rest of the democratic First Republic and was forced underground under the Austrofascist dictatorship (1934-1938) and Nazi rule (1938-1945). However, the SDAP dominated local politics in Vienna until the advent of Engelbert Dollfuβ’ Austrofascist regime in 1934, the so-called ‘Red Vienna’ era (1920-1934). SDAP mayors in the Austrian capital built large public housing projects (Gemeindebau) and provided social and health services which significantly ameliorated living conditions.
The First Republic (1920-1934) was a violent and fractious period politically, marked by an opposition between left and right – both politically and militarily through paramilitary organizations (the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund and the right-nationalist Heimwehr). In July 1927, for example, SDAP supporters protested the acquittal of right-wing paramilitaries accused of killing a veteran and a child; the chief of police, a former CS Chancellor, called on the police to breakup the protest, killing over 80 protesters. The SDAP’s intransigence aggravated the political crisis; for example in 1932, SDAP chairman Otto Bauer, leader of the party’s left-wing (Austromarxist), refused to form a Grand Coalition with the CS.
In February 1934, civil war (in Vienna and parts of Styria) erupted between the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund and Chancellor Dollfuβ’s authoritarian conservative government. Within a few days, with the intervention of the federal army, Dollfuβ put down the revolt and the SDAP was forced underground and persecuted by the government. The SDAP remained illegal until the end of World War II.
In April 1945, the party was refounded as the SPÖ and Karl Renner, with Stalin’s tacit approval, declared Austrian independence and formed a provisional government with the conservatives (ÖVP, ex-CS) and communists (KPÖ). Renner convinced Stalin to accept him as provisional leader of Austria, presenting himself as the only one who could reach an agreement with both communists and conservatives, and apologizing for his past support for the Anschluss (in 1938, Renner supported Hitler’s annexation of Austria). The Western Allies were skeptical of Renner, whom they viewed as a potential Soviet puppet, and held out recognition of the newly independent Austria until October 1945. The SPÖ was defeated in the November 1945 elections, in which the conservatives won an absolute majority while the communists won only 5.4% and 4 seats. The SPÖ remained an influential junior partner in ÖVP-led governments until 1966. These governments, fairly moderate, guided Austria through Allied military occupation (which ended with the State Treaty in 1955) and post-war reconstruction. The bases of the welfare state were laid, many industries nationalized and the communists were gradually entirely sidelined from the Austrian political scene. Crucially, the SPÖ chose to ally with the ÖVP rather than the KPÖ, and downplayed Otto Bauer’s Austro-Marxism.
The ÖVP, led by Josef Klaus, won an absolute majority in the 1966 elections and formed the first single-party government in post-war Austrian history. The SPÖ, however, returned to power only four years later, forming a minority government supported by the FPÖ. Bruno Kreisky, a former foreign minister of Jewish descent forced into exile by the Nazis in 1938, became Chancellor. A year later, in a snap election in 1971, the SPÖ won an absolute majority, which it held until 1983. Kreisky pursued a reformist-progressive agenda; on moral/cultural issues (decriminalization of abortion and homosexuality, moves towards separation of church and state, language rights for Slovene and Croat minorities), economic/social issues (expansion of the welfare state, 40-hour workweek, expanding employee benefits, gender equality in the workplace, 4-week paid vacation) and other issues (democratization of education, shorterning military service). He unsuccessfully tried to introduce nuclear energy in Austria, but voters narrowly rejected nuclear power in a referendum in 1979. Kreisky’s wide-reaching reforms came at a cost: under his chancellorship, the Austrian debt increased dramatically. His government increased spending (through deficit spending) in areas such as education or healthcare; Austria also had a large nationalized economy.
Economic woes, scandals, bungled policy decisions and the emergence of the Greens caused the SPÖ to lose its absolute majority in the 1983 election. Kreisky resigned and was replaced as Chancellor by Fred Sinowatz, who formed a coalition with the liberal FPÖ. Sinowatz’s short tenure (3 years) was largely clouded by scandals and the crisis caused by the heavily indebted nationalized industries. He resigned following Kurt Waldheim’s victory in the presidential election, having been highly critical of Waldheim because of his concealed Nazi past (he had served in the SA). He was replaced by Franz Vranitzky, who called snap elections for November 1986 when the FPÖ’s right-wing took control of the party in September 1986. The SPÖ sustained major loses in the elections but remained the largest party, allowing them to remain in power, through a Grand Coalition with the ÖVP. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition governed until 1999.
Under Vranitzky’s chancellorship, Austria entered the EU in January 1995, but Austrian neutrality – espoused since 1955 and the Cold War – was reaffirmed. During the Grand Coalition era, both major parties were confronted by the rise of the far-right/right-populist FPÖ led by Jörg Haider. Vranitzky kept his distance from Haider, denounced by the latter as a policy of exclusion.
Vranitzky resigned in 1997 and was replaced by Viktor Klima. Under Klima’s short chancellorship, a number of state-owned industries were privatized and cut several public services. The SPÖ suffered significant loses in the 1999 election, seeing their share of the vote fall to only 33%, although they remained in first place. Negotiations to renew the Grand Coalition failed, and the ÖVP, led by Wolfgang Schüssel, formed a highly controversial ‘black-blue’ coalition with Haider’s FPÖ in February 2000, despite attempts by Klima to organize EU opposition to such a coalition. The right blamed the SPÖ and the President for the EU ‘sanctions’ and questioned their loyalty to the country.
The SPÖ gained ground in the 2002 elections (but the main winner was the ÖVP), but remained in opposition. In 2006, the SPÖ suffered small loses in the election, as a result of a big scandal involving BAWAG, a major bank owned by the SPÖ-aligned trade union. Nevertheless, the SPÖ placed first and its leader, Alfred Gusenbauer, became Chancellor in an uneasy Grand Coalition with the ÖVP. The Grand Coalition barely lasted two years, wracked by consistent disagreements between the two partners and Gusenbauer’s weak leadership. New elections were held in September 2008, and both the SPÖ and ÖVP suffered substantial loses – the SPÖ lost 6.1% of its vote share, winning a paltry 29.3%, although it remained in first place. Lacking any other realistic options, the SPÖVP Grand Coalition retained power, with SPÖ leader Werner Faymann becoming Chancellor. This time, the SPÖVP coalition has managed to survive its full term, despite some policy disagreements between the two partners.
Austria’s economy has performed relatively well in the past years, again in contrast with other troubled EU economies. Close ties to Germany and a traditionally prosperous economy. GDP growth has been positive since 2010, although it slowed to 0.9% in 2012 and is projected to stand at 0.4% in 2013. Growth, however, should pick up again in 2014. Unemployment is very low, at 4%. The country’s deficit, at 2.5% of GDP, is below EU guidelines and the government is projecting a return to fiscal balance in 2016.
Faymann’s government has received some international attention for his Keynesian policies, although the SPÖVP government also adopted austerity measures, most recently in March 2012. Faymann’s government pushed through work-training legislation which provided strong unemployment benefits and guaranteed paid training internships for young apprentices.
In 2012, the government adopted an austerity package worth €27.9 billion in tax increases and spending cuts (pensions, public sector, sector subsidies). This followed the loss of Austria’s Triple-A credit rating in January 2012. In June 2013, however, the coalition announced a €1.59 billion stimulus package for the next 3.5 years (until 2016), on the heels of the insolvency of Alpine Bau, Austria’s second-largest construction company. Without dropping its objective to reach fiscal balance in 2016, the government’s stimulus package envisions bringing forward public works projects and promoting housing construction.
The SPÖ is a traditional European social democratic party, although perhaps a bit more left-wing than other social democratic parties whose shifts towards the centre have been even more pronounced. The SPÖ says that they are the party of social justice, and their 2013 platform was fairly left-leaning.
One of the SPÖ’s main planks this year was a much-debated proposal to introduce a “millionaire’s tax” (estate, inheritance and gift taxes, 0.5%-1% levy) on all wealth and inheritances in excess of €1 million. The SPÖ argues that its tax proposals would fund concomitant tax reductions on labour incomes and provide €2-3 billion in revenues to fund the welfare state. The Social Democrats claim that the tax is also a fair contribution from the wealthiest Austrians, and a tool to fight income inequality. The SPÖ also advocated for higher contributions to the healthcare system from higher-income voters.
The SPÖ also wished to extend an existing bank levy to help pay for embattled lender Hypo Alpe Adria.
The SPÖ’s labour and social policies included calls for more investments in community housing, increasing the minimum wage in regulated industries to €1,500/month (there is no national minimum wage, collective bargaining in regulated industries currently set a minimum wage of €1,000/month), AMS (Austrian Labour Market Service) support for groups particularly affected by unemployment (elderly, health impaired, beginners, those with inappropriate or inadequate qualifications), expanding and improving childcare, proving paid paternity leave (for a month).
The party also opposes equalizing the retiring age for men and women (women may retire at 60 instead of 65 for men) before the scheduled timeline of 2024-2033. The different retirement age, the party argues, is compensation for the social, family and economic burden of women.
On educational issues, the SPÖ proposed lengthening compulsory education until the age of 18 (currently 15) and it has supported the creation of ‘new secondary schools’ for students between the ages of 10 and 14; these are to be new common, comprehensive schools which will replace lower secondary schools; the aim is to eliminate the separation of children into educational avenues too early on. The SPÖ opposes tuition fees in university, and, alongside the Greens and FPÖ, voted to abolish tuition fees in 2008 (that law was overturned and the SPÖVP failed to reach an agreement by the court’s deadline, creating a mess). The SPÖ also proposed introducing an Austria-wide training fund for apprentices to provide financial incentives to companies excelling in the training of young apprentices.
The SPÖ is traditionally pro-European. However, in 2008, SPÖ leaders Werner Faymann and Alfred Gusenbauer, in an open letter to the very popular Eurosceptic and populist newspaper Kronen Zeitung, said that any further modifications of EU treaties which would affect Austrian treaties would need to be ratified by the Austrian electorate. Seemingly, they have dropped that posturing since then…
The SPÖ and ÖVP crossed swords recently on the issue of the draft (compulsory 6-month military service or alternative civilian service), which was decided by voters in a referendum in January 2013. The SPÖ’s leadership, including Faymann, supported abolishing the draft and creating a professional army. However, the proposal divided the SPÖ itself (the governors of Salzburg and Styria gave tacit support to the status-quo) and proved unpopular with (older) voters, who appreciate draftees’ roles in emergency/disaster relief efforts and who were concerned about defending Austrian neutrality. With about 49% of voters turning out, nearly 60% voted in favour of the draft. The issue is dead for the moment and did not feature in the electoral campaign.
The Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) is Austria’s main centre-right party, founded in 1945.
Although the ÖVP is a post-war creation, it is the clear successor of the Christian Social Party (Christlichsoziale Partei, CS), founded in 1891. The Christian Socials were a clerical-conservative party which originally opposed capitalism, liberalism and consistently opposed socialism. Besides clericalism and, later, close ties to the Catholic Church, the CS came to be strongly associated with political anti-Semitism (although it was by no means the sole preserve of the CS). The CS used strongly anti-Semitic rhetoric in its early denunciations of capitalism and tied their liberal and later socialist enemies to ‘the Jews’. The CS’ original policies were not, ironically, all that far removed from the Social Democrats: they both were anti-capitalist, competed for working-class support and promised social reforms. The CS’ social agenda was strongly influenced by the Papal encylical Rerum Novarum. In their early years, the CS received a cool reception from the old elites and even some of the Church hierarchy.
However, after World War I, the CS emerged as the dominant Catholic conservative party. The CS won the 1920 elections, and thereafter became the dominant force in federal politics until 1934/1938. The CS governed in coalition with the pan-German GDVP and the agrarian Landbund; however, during the 1920s and 1930s, the CS opposed Anschluss (union with Germany), having been naturally reluctant to join Catholic Austria with predominantly Protestant and Prussian-dominated Germany. During the First Republic, the CS built a strong base of support through an alliance with the Catholic Church and leading Austrian industrialists. The Heimwehr, a right-wing paramilitary group, was also a part of this ‘system’; although they were a diverse group, with the Styrian and Carinthian groups eventually leaning towards the Nazis, they came to be closely identified with the CS (or the pan-Germanists) and the CS strengthened them as a de facto ideological military. The CS’ leader for most of this era was Ignaz Seipel, a Catholic prelate who served as Chancellor between 1922 and 1924 and 1926 and 1929.
The CS suffered major loses in the 1930 elections (-12.6%), losing votes to the pan-Germanists, the Heimatblock (political wing of the Heimwehr) and the Austrian Nazis. Following substantial Nazi gains and CS loses in regional elections in 1932, Karl Buresch’s government resigned and the President called upon his young agriculturte minister, Engelbert Dollfuβ, to form a cabinet in May 1932. During the Great Depression, CS leaders (including Ignaz Seipel), on the basis of the Papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, came to favour the implementation of a corporatist government modelled on Italian fascism. In March 1933, faced with the Depression, Hitler’s accession to power in Berlin and domestic political violence and instability, Dollfuβ took advantage of a procedural crisis in the Nationalrat to suspend the legislature and subsequently barred its members from reconvening.
Henceforth, Dollfuβ ruled by decree and granted his government authoritarian powers. The government censored the press, arrested opponents and quickly dissolved the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund, the Communist Party and the Austrian NSDAP. In September 1933, the CS and other nationalist groups merged into the Fatherland Front (Vaterländische Front) which became the authoritarian ruling party. Following the Austrian Civil War in February 1934, Dollfuβ’ government banned the SDAP.
In May 1934, Dollfuβ promulgated the May Constitution, which created the so-called ‘Ständestaat‘ (Corporative State). This period has come to be referred to by some as Austrofascism. Dollfuβ’ ideology and his regime was strongly influenced by Italian fascism (corporatism) but also from traditional Austrian political Catholicism (which entailed a strong opposition to Anschluss and union with Protestant Germany); Austrofascism bears strong resemblance to António de Salazar’s Portuguese Estado Novo, Miguel Primo de Rivera’s 1920s dictatorship in Spain and, later, the first decades Francisco Franco’s regime in Spain.
Dollfuβ’ main goal was preserving Austrian independence and fighting Hitler’s expansionist designs over his native country. Rhetorically, Austrofascism promoted a clerical view of Austrian nationalism which emphasized Austria as a ‘better German nation’ and drew a clear line between Catholic Austria and largely Protestant Germany. In practical terms, Dollfuβ found a strong ally in Italy’s Benito Mussolini. Prior to 1936, Italian relations with Nazi Germany were fairly cool, notably because Rome was hostile to the idea of Anschluss and wanted to preserve Austrian independence as to provide it with a weak buffer state.
Dollfuβ was assassinated by Austrian Nazis in July 1934, but the Nazi coup attempt failed – in large part because a furious Mussolini threatened war with Germany if Hitler invaded Austria. Hitler stood down, and Dollfuβ was succeeded by Kurt Schuschnigg. Schuschnigg sought to defend Austrian independence by seeking Italian backing, but by 1936, with Rome moving closer and closer to Berlin after the Ethiopian invasion, Vienna lost its main ally and Schuschnigg was forced to give in to Hitler’s successive demands (amnesty for imprisoned Nazis, including Nazis in cabinet, appointing Austrian Nazi leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart as interior minister etc). In February-March 1938, Schuschnigg tried last-ditch attempts to salvage Austrian independence, but to no avail. Schuschnigg was unwilling to put up any resistance when Hitler demanded his resignation and replacement by Seyss-Inquart. Austria was quickly annexed by the Third Reich and Schuschnigg, among others, sent to concentration camps.
The post-war ÖVP was the clear successor of the Christian Socials, with the important difference that the ÖVP rejected authoritarianism and anti-Semitism. The ÖVP eventually became a traditional post-war European Christian democratic party, which embraced parliamentary democracy and gradually became less sectarian. The ÖVP became the strongest party in the Nationlrat following the 1945 elections, and held the chancellorship until 1970 – in coalition with their former sworn enemies, the Social Democrats, until 1966. Under the Grand Coalition, the Austrian ‘social partnership’ model – the elaboration and formulation of social and economic policy in close collaboration with social partners – was entrenched.
The ÖVP went through a long and tortuous period in opposition, federally, between 1970 and 1986. The ÖVP reentered government, as the SPÖ’s junior partner, following the 1986 elections, a role it kept until 1999. However, during this period, the ÖVP, badly hurt by the rise of Haider’s far-right FPÖ, saw its support drop by well over 10 points. In the 1999 elections, the ÖVP placed third behind the SPÖ and FPÖ, with 26.9%. Nevertheless, after SPÖ-ÖVP talks failed, ÖVP leader Wolfgang Schüssel formed a controversial governing coalition with Haider’s FPÖ. The formation of a coalition with a far-right party led to EU ‘sanctions’ on Austria (mostly a concerted boycott of the Austrian government). However, the ‘sanctions’ failed and largely had the opposite effect: many Austrians were alienated from the EU and rallied behind Schüssel. In the 2002 elections, the ÖVP cashed in on this phenomenon and the collapse of the FPÖ, increasing its vote share by over 15 points and winning 42.3%, its best result in years. Schüssel continued his coalition with a weakened FPÖ, later BZÖ. His government was marked by a strong economy, privatizations, a major pension reform including pension cuts and an increase in the retirement age and tough new immigration/integration policies. Today, the Schüssel government has been increasingly tainted by revelations of corruption scandals involving former ÖVP and FPÖ/BZÖ ministers.
In an unpleasant surprise for the party, the ÖVP placed a close second behind the Social Democrats in 2006, with 34.3% of the vote. The ÖVP resigned itself to becoming the junior partner in a Grand Coalition with the SPÖ, which collapsed after a bit more than two years. Like their governing partner, the ÖVP suffered major loses in the 2008 elections, falling to a record low 26%, down 8.4% since 2006.
The ÖVP’s leader since 2011 has been Michael Spindelegger, the Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister. The ÖVP also holds the important portfolios of finance, interior and justice.
The ÖVP is, as aforementioned, a run-of-the-mill Christian democratic centre-right party. It emphasizes traditional Christian democratic values such as the social market economy (which the ÖVP rebranded, in the 1990s, as the ‘eco-social market economy’ to highlight a preoccupation with environmental issues) and support for European integration, as well as broader centre-right themes such as freedom, responsibility, rule of law and subsidiarity.
The ÖVP campaigned hard against “Faymann’s taxes” (particularly the millionaire’s tax), highlighting the fact that Austria already has one of the highest tax burdens in the OECD (48.9%, fifth place), and that further taxes would create an additional burden on the middle-class and hinder the country’s economic competitiveness (a claim which the SPÖ roundly denies). The ÖVP often claims that foreign companies are turning away from Austria or outsourcing jobs because of the tax burden (despite the fact that the ÖVP has been in power since 1987). Instead, the ÖVP says it wants to lower taxes with the aim of pushing the tax burden below 40%. They proposed to introduce a tax-free allowance of €7,000 per child and a child tax credit.
The ÖVP, like the SPÖ, wishes to balance the budget by 2016, but it prefers to balance the budget through spending cuts rather than tax increases.
On economic policy, the ÖVP’s platform focused on simplifying business creation, job creation (42,000 by 2018), reducing bureaucracy and reducing regulations. One of their main proposals was flexible working hours, and a more flexible retirement model to allow seniors to remain active in the labour force longer if they wished to do so. On the whole, the economy – particularly ‘restoring’ the country’s competitiveness, promoting entrepreneurship (especially among the youth) – played a prominent role in the party’s campaign, which sought to paint itself as the party for “hard-working citizens” or promoted Austria as the “land of explorers” in campaign posters which looked like tourism campaigns.
Another point of contention with the SPÖ in this campaign was the equalization of men and women retirement ages: the left sticks to the long-term timeline (2024-2033), while the ÖVP wants to bring it forward immediately.
The ÖVP recognizes the role the government has to play in ensuring social cohesion and providing a social safety net, but they feel that such safety nets create dependency. The party proposed to introduce means-testing for social benefits and sanctions for beneficiaries who, for example, turned down a job opportunity. The party also seeks to strengthen the voluntary sector.
On education policy, the ÖVP supports the current two-tier system for general secondary education (grades 5-8), while the SPÖ and the Greens tend to favour a comprehensive school system. The party’s platform proposed to make the second year of kindergarten free but also mandatory for children with learning deficits. On post-secondary education, the party has clashed with the SPÖ numerous times in the past years over the issue of tuition fees – the ÖVP favours reintroducing them.
The Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), a far-right or right-populist grouping, is probably Austria’s most famous and most polarizing and controversial party.
The FPÖ was founded in 1956, but it is the post-war incarnation of the old German national-liberal or German nationalist ‘camp’ (lager) in Austrian politics, which was born following the 1848 Revolutions. In the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire, German national-liberal advocated for the union of German-speaking peoples in a single, Greater Germany. The German liberal base – the anti-clerical intelligentsia and middle-classes of German Austria – feared that they would be overwhelmed by Slavic peoples in the Austro-Hungarian empire. The German national movement emerged in 1879, following the collapse of the hitherto dominant but increasingly moribund and stale German Liberal Party.
These ideas were expressed by numerous leading German Austrian politicians – future SDAP founder Victor Adler and radical German nationalist and anti-Semite Georg von Schönerer – in the 1882 Linz Program, which opposed ‘attempts to convert Austria into a Slavic state’, defended German as the official language and proposed ‘splitting off’ ‘foreign’ regions such as Galicia, Bukovina and Dalmatia to retain only the core German crown lands of Austria, Bohemia and Moravia which would, they hoped, become part of the Greater Germany. Many of Georg von Schönerer’s erstwhile followers abandoned him, but his pan-Germanism, rabid anti-Semitism and fiery opposition to political Catholicism (he founded the ‘Away from Rome!’ movement advocating conversion to Lutheranism) had a deep influence on Adolf Hitler years later. The German nationals were some of those who lost out with the introduction of universal suffrage in 1907, but they retained a significant electoral presence in several German-speaking regions of Cisleithania including Carinthia and Styria.
In the inter-war era, the Greater German People’s Party (Großdeutsche Volkspartei, GDVP) was the largest pan-Germanist party, although the agrarian Landbund expressed similar opinions. The GDVP advocated for Anschluss, free trade, the creation of Volksgemeinschaft and was still rabidly anti-Semitic. They governed in coalition with the CS between 1921 and 1929, while the Landbund remained in most CS-led governments until the official end of the First Republic and the advent of Austrofascism in 1933. After 1930, the GDVP, like the DNVP in Germany, lost significant support to the Nazis and most GDVP members went on to join the NSDAP after the Anschluss in 1938.
World War II discredited pan-German ideas (guilt by association), and Austria developed its own national identity – one which was in good part built around the “first victim” idea – Austria as the first, unwilling, victim of Nazism; a controversial concept to this day which many say has allowed Austrians to wash their hands of any responsibility in relation to Nazi atrocities, in which Austrian citizens partook. Regardless, most Austrians identify as Austrians today rather than as Germans, and even within the FPÖ, pan-Germanists form only a small minority. Nevertheless, the FPÖ has retained some of the ideological markers of German nationalism (notably opposition to non-German minorities, such as Carinthian Slovenes) and some politicians retain close ties to German nationalist student fraternities (Burschenschaften).
The FPÖ’s direct predecessor was the short-lived Federation of Independents (Verband der Unabhängigen, VdU) founded in 1949, winning 11.7% of the vote in the second post-war election in the Second Republic. In the 1945 election, about 500,000-700,000 ex-Nazis were barred from voting, but they regained their voting rights in the 1949 election. The VdU, a national-liberal and ‘third camp’ party, won most of their votes. The VdU also recruited former Nazi officers, including Luftwaffe colonel Gordon Gollob and Waffen SS Obersturmführer Friedrich Peter. However, ex-Nazis did not only flow to the ‘third camp’ – a significant number joined the SPÖ, ÖVP and even KPÖ. In 1970, SPÖ Chancellor Bruno Kreisky’s first cabinet ran into controversy because it included four former NSDAP members, one of whom (agriculture minister Hans Öllinger) was forced to resign. That same year, Kreisky – despite being of Jewish descent and having been forced to flee into exile in 1938 – strongly defended Friedrich Peter, by then leader of the FPÖ (a potential coalition partner), when he came under attack from ‘Nazi hunter’ Simon Wiesenthal who had revealed that Peter had served in the Einsatzgruppen (which killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe in 1941, although Peter denied taking part in mass killings). Kreisky even directly attacked Wiesenthal, going as far as calling him a Gestapo agent.
The FPÖ was founded in 1955/1956, and its first leader was Anton Reinthaller, a pre-war Austrian Nazi leader (although fairly ‘moderate’, non-violent) who served in Nazi public administration and the SS after 1938. He was replaced by Friedrich Peter in 1958, who held the party’s leadership until 1978. Peter, despite his Nazi past, gradually moved the party towards the centre, presenting the FPÖ as a modern liberal party. His successor as party leader, Norbert Steger, maintained a similar direction. Steger envisioned to transform the FPÖ into a liberal party similar to the German FDP, emphasizing free-market economics and anti-statist policies.
However, Steger was unable to transform the FPÖ into such a party. Firstly, the FPÖ was an ideologically heterogeneous party which included a mix of moderate free-market liberals, ex-Nazis, German nationalists and other more right-wing types. Under the SPÖ-FPÖ coalition government (1983-1986), for example, FPÖ defense minister Friedhelm Frischenschlager attracted much controversy when he shook hands with Nazi war criminal Walter Reder, responsible for the Marzabotto massacre in Italy, upon his return to Austria. Secondly, under Peter and Steger’s leaderships, FPÖ support had declined from the post-war high of 10-11% to only 5-6%. In the 1983 election, the FPÖ won an all-time low of 5%.
Steger was overthrown at a leadership conference in Innsbruck by Jörg Haider, the leader of the Carinthian FPÖ, who was backed by the German nationals in the FPÖ. Under his leadership, the FPÖ started clawing its way to the top – winning 9.7% in 1988, 16.6% in 1990, 22.5% in 1994, 22% in 1995 and the historic high of 26.9% in 1999. In 1989, Haider’s Carinthian FPÖ saw its vote share in the state elections surge by 13 points, placing second with 29%. In coalition with the ÖVP, Haider became Governor of Carinthia in 1989, a position he lost in 1989 after he commented positively on the Third Reich’s ’employment policies’. On a similar register, Haider, in his career, also praised Waffen SS men and described the Austrian nation as an ‘ideological miscarriage’. Haider would regain his gubernatorial office in 1999, when the FPÖ claimed 42.1% of the vote in the state election, placing first.
Although Haider gained publicity for his comments about anything and everything Nazi, pan-Germanism and Nazi nostalgia played little to no role in the FPÖ’s campaigns. Instead, Haider’s leadership was marked by opposition to immigration, the European Union and populist attacks on the political leadership and Austria’s cozy political system.
Within the FPÖ, Haider’s right-wing populist leadership alienated the liberal minority, led by Heide Schmidt, which split off from the party in 1993 and founded the Liberal Forum (LIF). The liberals disagreed with Haider’s leadership style and his right-populist direction on issues such as immigration or the EU. The LIF achieved initial electoral success in the 1994 election, but it soon saw its support decline and effectively died out by 1999.
The FPÖ’s historic result in 1999 and the formation of a coalition government with ÖVP in which the FPÖ held key portfolios including finance, defense and justice, created an uproar in the EU. The EU considered that the FPÖ’s cabinet participated legitimized the European far-right and they saw it as a breach of the traditional cordon sanitaire around the far-right in other European countries – although it should be pointed out that EU outrage was far tamer after the post-fascist AN/MSI entered the Italian government in 1994.
At any rate, the EU boycott of Austria was counterproductive and the FPÖ soon found itself steamrolled by its far more experienced coalition partner. Besides, the FPÖ struggled to adapt to its cabinet participation after having gotten there on an anti-establishment drive. Blue-collar supporters disliked the ÖVP’s neoliberal economic reforms and the government lost support when a tax reform, a major demand of the FPÖ, was postponed. The FPÖ lost support in state elections as early as 2000.
Jörg Haider did not enter the government, preferring to stay on as governor of his home state and influencing the party and coalition from the outside. In 2000, Haider officially stepped down from the party’s leadership and was replaced by Susanne Riess-Passer, the Vice-Chancellor. At least twice, Haider announced his definite retirement from politics, before changing his mind within days. Despite being formally removed from the FPÖ leadership, Haider remained the ‘true’ leader of the party. He created uncomfortable controversies for the government in 2002 when he caused a crisis with the Czech Republic by demanding the closure of a Czech nuclear facility and later by his controversial visit to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (Haider was well known for his close ties to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi).
Haider’s involvement in government business came to irk the FPÖ’s cabinet ministers, who adopted a more pragmatic and moderate attitude while in government. In August 2002, he criticized the government for delaying tax reforms due to major floods, while Riess-Passer backed the government’s policy on tax reform. The FPÖ’s right-wing, backed by Haider, organized a leadership conference at Knittelfeld (Styria) in September 2002, at which the party’s anti-government right-wing disavowed its cabinet members. The next day, Riess-Passer, the FPÖ finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser (who later defected to the ÖVP) and parliamentary club leader Peter Westenthaler, resigned from their positions. This crisis led to snap elections in November 2002 in which the FPÖ’s support plummeted to 10.1% of the vote and lost 33 seats. A much weakened FPÖ remained in government.
The FPÖ’s internal crises and electoral annihilation did not end there. The party suffered even more severe loses in state elections after 2002, and it collapsed to only 6% in the 2004 EU elections. Once again, the FPÖ’s cabinet participation and electoral failures led to an internal crisis in the party, except that Haider was now the one being opposed by the party’s right. In 2005, FPÖ chairwoman and Haider’s sister Ursula Haubner saw her position threatened by the party’s right, led by Vienna FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache. In April 2005, Haider, Haubner and Vice-Chancellor Hubert Gorbach (among others, including most of the FPÖ caucus) quit the FPÖ and founded the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which was almost immediately marginalized in comparison to the FPÖ in two state elections in 2005. The black-blue coalition became a black-orange (BZÖ) and completed its term in 2006.
The regrouped FPÖ was led by Heinz-Christian Strache, who reoriented the party on a more radical, far-right orientation focusing on immigration, integration, Islam and the EU. In the 2006 elections, Strache’s FPÖ won 11% of the vote, a low result but nevertheless a small improvement on the united FPÖ’s result in 2002 – despite the loss of its Carinthian stronghold to Haider’s BZÖ. In 2008, the FPÖ won 17% of the vote, a significant improvement.
Haider’s untimely death shortly after the 2008 elections, in which the BZÖ had won 11% of the vote, did not reunite the divided Austrian far-right, as the federal BZÖ took a right-liberal turn. However, the Carinthian branch of the BZÖ, dominated by ‘Haiderites’ closer to the far-right, broke away from the BZÖ and founded the Freedom Party in Carinthia (FPK), which became the FPÖ’s state branch in a CSU/CSU-type of relationship.
The past five years have been a mixed bag for the FPÖ, which polled up to 27% (its 1999 record) but saw its support drop to the high teens-low twenties more recently. In 2010, Heinz-Christian Strache won 25.8% of the vote in the Vienna state elections, more than predicted by polls and close to its 1996 Viennese record. In January 2012, the FPÖ’s support temporarily declined after Strache’s controversial “new Jews” comment – saying that his supporters were the “new Jews”, likening the troubles they faced because of protesters outside a controversial far-right ball in Vienna to the persecution of the Jews under Nazi rule. The FPÖ’s support declined considerably, below 20%, starting in the summer of 2012 – a mix of Frank Stronach’s new party joining the scene and corruption scandals badly hurting the Carinthian FPK but also senior FPÖ parliamentarian Martin Graf (accused of swindling a 90-year old woman). Following the spectacular loses suffered by the FPK in the March 2013 Carinthian state elections, there were divisions between the FPK and the FPÖ which led to the FPK merging into the FPÖ in June 2013.
The FPÖ, like other successful European far-right parties, strongly polarize public opinion. Strache and the FPÖ are disliked by a large majority of voters, and the party’s strongest critics brand it an extremist, xenophobic and racist party. On the other hand, the FPÖ has a fluctuating but relatively robust core of voters, who see in it a party either close to their ideology or, more often, a protest option against the corrupt and stale major parties.
The FPÖ’s campaign have traditionally focused on immigration, asylum and integration issues, although less so in this election. Social and economic issues, which the FPÖ often ties to its criticism of immigration, have always been central to the FPÖ’s ideology as well. The party’s tagline is die soziale heimatpartei, or ‘the social homeland party’. In this election, the FPÖ’s slogan was liebe die nächsten (love thy neighbor), although that was followed by für mich sind das unsere österreicher (for me, that’s our Austrians). One of their posters even featured a sweet grandmother embracing Strache.
The party has tough stances against immigration, asylum seekers and Islam. The ÖVP-FPÖ government introduced stricter laws on asylum, immigration and integration while they were in government; a 1999 law forced non-EU foreigners residing in Austria to take German classes (half of which they would pay for from their own pockets) and threatened with losing social benefits and their right of residency if they refused.
The FPÖ wishes to limit asylum, which it feels should only be temporary, and wants to crack down on asylum abuse, by immediately deporting those who abuse the system. Furthermore, the party wants to deny asylum to all those who come from a safe third country or those whose asylum requests have previously been rejected by a safe third country.
The FPÖ’s platform accused the SPÖ and ÖVP of bringing more and more immigrants into Austria on the pretext of jobs, something which the FPÖ said endangers Austrian jobs, fuels social dumping and is destroying the educational system. It wants to close the labour market to workers from the east.
Closely related to these issues, the party has often campaigned hard on issues of national identity and against ‘Islamization’, denouncing Islam as contrary to Europe/Austria’s ‘Judeo-Christian values’. The FPÖ platform called on limiting/stopping immigration from outside the EU, opposed Turkish membership in the EU, denounced Islamization and promoted the German language. The FPÖ has often rhetorically associated immigration with criminality. They want to automatically deport foreign criminals, and to fight all crime, they want more means for the police and stiffer sentencing.
In the past, the FPÖ ran into some controversy with its very blunt language on those issues. In the 2010 Viennese elections, Strache’s campaign posters included slogans such as Mehr Mut für unser Wiener Blut (more strength for our Viennese blood), Zu viel Fremdes tut niemandem gut (too much foreign[ers] does no one good) or Wir bewahren unsere Heimatstadt. Die SPÖ macht sie uns fremd (we maintain our hometown. The SPÖ makes it foreign). In the 2006 Viennese elections, the FPÖ posters stated that “Vienna must not become Istanbul” (previously, under Haider, “Vienna must not become Chicago”).
Some of the party’s immigration/asylum proposals also significantly isolate them from the other parties: they are the only party favouring the detention of asylum seekers’ children pending deportation or creating a separate healthcare system for non-EU foreigners.
In this campaign, however, the FPÖ ran a comparatively tame campaign with feel-good slogans like “love thy neighbor” (though foreigners apparently don’t count as neighbors) or “high time for charity” – the party branded its policy as one ‘Nächstenliebe‘ (charity). Socioeconomic issues were high on the FPÖ’s agenda, which has often been described as a contradictory mix of economic liberalism and interventionism. However, in this campaign, Strache focused a lot on defending the welfare state (for ‘real’ Austrians), criticizing the SPÖVP government for its policies on matters such as pensions,
The FPÖ wants to reserve full benefits for Austrian citizens and stop the ‘export’ of family allowances abroad. It also conditions its ‘charity’ by saying that it only wants to help those who want to help themselves but cannot do so on their own.
The party’s platform called for increasing family allowances, tax relief for families with children, rent reduction, investments in social housing, increasing the monthly minimum wage to €1,600, solidarity tax for millionaires, an entitlement to a markdown-free pension after 45 years employment, fixing the legal retirement age for men at 65, keeping women’ retirement age at 60 and an increase in minimum pensions. On a more liberal line, the party’s platform emphasized lower taxes: lowering the tax rate for the lowest income bracket from 36.5% to 25% and tax breaks for small/medium businesses. It also accussed the two major parties of favouring big corporations and banks, and promised to relieve small/medium businesses by reducing bureaucracy, exempting them from compulsory contributions and promoting subsidized bank loans for domestic businesses.
The party takes conservative stances on moral/societal issues such as same-sex marriage, religious symbols in classrooms (the crucifix) and is critical of the use of gender quotas or penalties to promote gender equality in business (the left-wing parties favour gender quotas).
The FPÖ is Eurosceptic – Strache insists he’s pro-European, but also says that the EU has not created social peace. In this campaign, the FPÖ aimed its Eurosceptic fire at the so-called “liability madness” and advocated withdrawing from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and reducing Austria’s contributions to the EU. It is also opposed to Eurobonds, and wants to support the Eurozone into a ‘strong’ northern Euro and ‘weak’ southern Euro. Under Strache’s leadership, the FPÖ has become more pro-Israel; the party is also pro-Russian and pro-Serbian.
As an anti-establishment party, the FPÖ is also pretty big on issues like direct democracy: its wants to introduce binding popular initiative referendums (250,000 voter signatures), veto referendums and promoting direct democracy through the internet.
The Greens-The Green Alternative (Die Grünen – Die Grüne Alternative or Die Grünen) are Austria’s green party. In the past three elections, the Greens won between 9.5% and 11% of the vote, making them one of the consistently strongest green parties in Europe.
The opposition against the construction of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant in 1978 (resulting in the defeat of nuclear energy in a 1979 referendum) and popular mobilization against plans to build a power plant on the Danube at Hainburg in 1984 are often cited as the events which led to the formation of the Austrian Greens. The modern-day Greens were founded in 1986, in an attempt to unite a leftist green movement and a right-wing green party, both of which had run separate lists in the 1983 elections (1.9% for the conservatives, 1.4% for the leftists). Proto-green politicians, however, had been winning some seats at the local level since 1977, beginning in Salzburg.
A Green list won 4.8% of the vote and 8 seats in the 1986 elections. Political inexperience, tensions between the parliamentarians and the base (a constant in the history of many early green parties), internal divisions and a knack for provocative statements/actions marked their first term in the Nationalrat. In the 1990 elections, the Greens kept their share of the vote and took 10 seats. In the 1994 elections, after presenting themselves as a “constructive opposition” (in contrast to the FPÖ’s intransigence) and as a bulwark against the FPÖ (the Greens had been active in fighting the FPÖ’s first anti-immigration actions), the Greens increased their support to 7.3% and 13 seats. In snap elections in 1995, the Greens proved unable to find their voice in a campaign which did not hit on their core themes, and their support fell to 4.8%. Reorganized under the leadership of Alexander van der Bellen, who remained Green leader until 2009, the Greens returned to the 1994 levels in 1999 (7.4%) and increased their vote to 9.5% in 2002.
The Greens won their best result in 2006, with 11.1% and 21 seats. Their support fell slightly in the 2008 election, winning 10.4% and 20 seats. Eva Glawischnig is the Green leader since 2009 and was the party’s top candidate in this election.
The Greens are often cited as a potential coalition partner for either the SPÖ or the ÖVP (or both) at the federal level, but the Greens have not yet participated in a federal governing coalition. At the state level, however, the Greens currently govern in coalition with the SPÖ in Vienna (since 2010), with the ÖVP in Upper Austria (since 2003), Salzburg and Tyrol (both since 2013) and with both parties in a coalition within Proporz in Carinthia (since 2013).
The Austrian Greens are often described as a centrist party, which attempts to appeal to dissatisfied voters from both the ÖVP and SPÖ. There are differences between the state parties in terms of ideology: the Viennese Greens are widely seen as the most left-wing branch of the Austrian Greens.
Traditional green themes such as environmental and economic sustainability, solidarity, human rights, feminism, grassroots democracy and non-violence are at the core of the party’s ideology.
The environment was, naturally, atop the Greens’ platform and remained the key preoccupation for most of their voters. In this elections, the Greens targeted 100% use of renewable energies by 2035. To reach this goal, the Greens proposed a ‘get out of oil’ plan, a €1 million solar rooftop panels program. Another key Green initiative, which is due to be implemented in three states starting next year, is the 365 Euro-Öffi-Ticket – a plan to reduce public transportation costs to a maximum of €1,095 per year (€1/day for transportation within one state, €2/day for transportation across one state border, €3/day across Austria). Other key parts of their environmental agenda included: increasing the truck toll to shift goods transport to rail, promoting public transit and non-polluting forms of transportation, entrenching animal welfare in the constitution, ending factory farming, promoting organic farming and shifting to 100% organic food in kindergartens, schools and hospitals.
The Greens’ socioeconomic policies in this election were rather left-leaning. The party wants upper rent limits, more social housing, opposition to the ‘two-class system in medicine’, creating a needs-based basic income to close gaps in the existing welfare system and ensure a ‘decent living for all’, no tuition fees for universities, a statutory universal minimum wage of €8.50/hour, full social insurance for all employees, increasing the cost of overtime hours, mandatory rest periods.
Naturally, the Greens take liberal positions on moral/societal issues: they favour same-sex marriage and adoption rights, legalizing soft drugs, creation 10,000 “women jobs” and linking government funding/contracts for business to the promotion of women. They also tend to have liberal attitudes on immigration: jus soli citizenship (if the parents are permanent residents) or granting work permits to asylum seekers as soon as they have applied for asylum (something which almost all parties, including the SPÖ oppose). Originally opposed to EU membership, the Greens are now strongly pro-European, in line with most other continental green parties.
Corruption and transparency were the other major Green theme this year, following a number of scandals which have involved the ÖVP, SPÖ, FPÖ and BZÖ. The party’s platform called for immediate examination of corruption suspicions, banning risky monetary transactions with taxpayers’ money, more funding for fighting corruption, an independent prosecutor and a fundamental right to information.
The Alliance for the Future of Austria (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, BZÖ) is a right-liberal party founded in 2005 by Jörg Haider and other FPÖ dissidents.
The impetus for the BZÖ’s foundation in 2005 was a pushback against the FPÖ’s government participation and its negative effect on its electoral results led by the FPÖ’s right-wing against Carinthian governor Jörg Haider and his followers (notably his sister who was the then-leader of the FPÖ). The BZÖ’s ideology under Haider differed only slightly from that of the FPÖ, with the notable exception that the BZÖ (which took the FPÖ’s place in Schüssel’s government until the 2006 elections) was seen as more ‘responsible’ and ‘fit’ for government than the radicalized FPÖ and the BZÖ adopted more economically liberal positions than the HC Strache-led FPÖ (favouring a flat tax, for example). On immigration issues, Haider’s BZÖ recycled the anti-immigrant stances of Haider’s FPÖ.
As often happens in the party splits, the BZÖ took the bulk of the pre-division party’s caucus but, at the polls, voters preferred the old party rather than the splinter. The BZÖ badly lost two state elections in 2005 (Styria, Vienna), failing to enter the Landtage and falling behind the FPÖ. In the 2006 federal elections, with Haider retreating to Carinthia, the BZÖ’s top candidate was Peter Westenthaler. The BZÖ won only 4.1% of the vote and 7 seats – almost all of it due to its regionally-concentrated strength in Carinthia, where it won 25% of the vote.
When Westenthaler was found guilty of perjury in the summer of 2008, Haider returned to the forefront and became the BZÖ’s top candidate in the 2008 elections. With a campaign largely focused on immigration issues, the Haider-led BZÖ experienced a spectacular electoral breakthrough, winning 10.7% of the vote (a combined 28.2% of the vote for the two far-right parties) and 21 seats. It won 39% of the vote in Carinthia, and won over 10% in Salzburg, Styria and Vorarlberg.
However, Haider was killed in a car accident (speeding and DUI at cause) on October 11 in Carinthia, a bit more than ten days after his party’s electoral breakthrough.
Haider’s death led many to question the future of his party: would the BZÖ survive its founder/leader’s death or would Haider’s death mean the demise of the BZÖ and HC Strache’s FPÖ becoming the sole far-right party in the country. In any event, the Carinthian BZÖ fared extremely well in the March 2009 state elections in Carinthia: Governor Gerhard Dörfler’s party won 44.9% of the vote, an increase on the Haider FPÖ’s 2004 state election result. That was, however, the BZÖ’s last hurrah.
Josef Bucher, the BZÖ’s parliamentary club leader and a former businessman, was elected BZÖ leader in April 2009. Under Bucher, the party re-positioned itself as a right-wing liberal party, with a liberal emphasis on economic issues while retaining conservative views on immigration and Euroscepticism. The new orientation displeased the large Haiderite Carinthian branch, led by Haider loyalists such as Governor Gerhard Dörfler and chairman Uwe Scheuch. In December 2009, they split from the party to create the FPK, which aligned with federal FPÖ as a regional ‘sister party’ (a la CSU). The BZÖ’s leaders in Styria and Lower Austria also criticized the new liberal direction. As a result of internal divisions, defections, loss of support to parties like Team Stronach, the weakness of Bucher as a leader, the weakness of his liberal positioning and scandals hurting the BZÖ, its support fell to 2-3% in polls. The Carinthian BZÖ, a rump party led by Bucher, managed to win 6.4% and 2 seats in state elections earlier this year.
The BZÖ is a right-wing, economically liberal and moderately nationalist party – located somewhere between the FPÖ and ÖVP, but with far more right-wing (neoliberal) views on economic issues than the FPÖ.
On economic issues, the BZÖ focuses on low taxes – no new taxes, cutting or abolishing some existing taxes (fuel tax, legal fees, commissions to real estate agents paid by renters/buyers, energy tax etc), limiting municipal taxes and utility prices and flattening the tax system (44% flat rate on incomes over €11,000, with a €9,000 deduction for each child). One of their well-known recent slogans has been Genug gezahlt! (paid enough!). The party’s platform proposed over €10 billion in savings through major administrative reforms, including privatization, massive reduction in bureaucracy (including cutting many civil service positions). As a liberal party, the BZÖ also places much emphasis on encouraging entrepreneurship and helping start-ups and small businesses. In fact, the party presents itself as the ‘only party’ which represents small business owners.
On social policy, the party’s landmark proposal this year was a “citizen’s income”, set at a third of the minimum wage (to encourage initiative and reduce dependency), which would replace current social benefits. The party also wants tax-free overtime, a flexible retirement age, supports healthcare privatization, and introducing €1,000/year tuition fees.
The BZÖ has retained more conservative views on immigration issues (though it no longer prioritizes them) and is Eurosceptic. However, its immigration views are a bit more moderate than the FPÖ – recognizing the need for skilled migrants, the BZÖ supports a ‘Green card’ model and a point system.
Team Stronach (TS or FRANK) is the Austria’s political newcomer, founded in September 2012 by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. Although it is vague on a number of issues, it is a right-wing liberal, populist and Eurosceptic party.
Frank Stronach, aged 81, was born in Styria before moving to Canada in 1954. He started his own company two years later in Toronto, and in 1969 his company got its first automotive parts contract and merged with Magna Electronics. Stronach made his fortune (estimated at US$ 1.2 billion) in the automotive parts industry in Ontario (Canada), where he was CEO of Magna International. Stronach set up Magna activities in his native Austria, with the creation of Magna Europe in 1986 and the 1998 acquisition of Steyr Daimler Puch, now Magna Steyr, an automobile manufacturer based in Styria. Stronach also owned Magna Entertainment, which was North America’s largest thoroughbred racing company – Stronach’s horses won several races in the 90s and 00s.
Stronach, and his Canadian-born daughter Belinda Stronach, were previously active in Canadian politics. Stronach himself ran for the federal Liberal Party in the 1988 federal election in York-Simcoe, but lost to the Progressive Conservative candidate. Magna International was noted for its connections to both the Ontario Liberal Party and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. Belinda Stronach, who replaced her father as CEO of Magna International, ran for the leadership of the newly-founded federal Conservative Party in 2004 (as a moderate, Red Tory, candidate), placing a distant second to Stephen Harper. She was elected as a Conservative MP for the suburban Toronto riding of Newmarket-Aurora in the 2004 federal election, but she crossed the floor to join Prime Minister Paul Martin’s governing Liberal Party in May 2005 and became Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. Her move allowed the Liberal minority government to survive a few more months. Although the Liberals lost the 2006 federal election, Stronach held her riding as a Liberal by a comfortable margin. She did not run for the Liberal leadership in 2006 and retired at the next election in 2008.
Her father ended speculation about his future in Austrian politics in August 2012, when he announced that he would return to Austria and create his own party – Team Stronach – which was found in September 2012. It was joined by SPÖ, BZÖ and ex-BZÖ defectors. At dissolution, Team Stronach held five seats in the Nationalrat and was recognized as a parliamentary club (seven MPs defected, but two later joined state governments).
Team Stronach ran in the four state elections held earlier this year. In Carinthia and Lower Austria (March 2013), TS took 11% in Carinthia and nearly 105 in Lower Austria (with Stronach himself as their top candidate). It failed to enter the Tyrol Landtag in April 2013, winning only 3% of the vote – hurt by internal divisions and competition from local independent conservative parties. In Salzburg, in May, TS won 8% of the vote and formed government with the ÖVP and the Greens. TS also has Proporz government seats in Carinthia and Lower Austria, although it is not part of the unofficial governing ‘coalitions’ in those states.
TS has been extensively criticized for the lack of details about its policies, as well as how many of their policies came out as random thought bubbles by Stronach. Nevertheless, what is clear is that TS is a right-wing populist party emphasizing strongly liberal/libertarian views on economic and fiscal policy, mixed in with Euroscepticism and opposition to the Euro. On economic issues, TS’s platform emphasized themes such as free enterprise or creating “business-friendly climate”; in concrete terms, this means a 25% flat tax (‘fair tax’), reducing bureaucracy, reducing the debt and eliminating deficits, reducing the size of Parliament (with term limits), flexible opening hours for shops, a reduced 10% tax rate for companies which invest their profits locally and abolishing the mandatory ORF broadcasting fees. It also criticized the pension system as unfair and opaque, arguing for a ‘fair pension’ and motivating people to work beyond 65. It is critical of the Austrian social partnership, particularly of the roles of unions in businesses – it wants to reduce if not eliminate union’s powers and allow employees to share in their company’s profits.
Stronach’s platform said they were pro-European but anti-Euro. It is unclear whether or not the TS wants to leave the Euro and return to the schilling, or if they want a ‘flexible exchange rate’ for the Euro where an Austrian Euro is worth more than a Greek, Portuguese or Spanish Euro.
Unlike the FPÖ, TS is not anti-immigration – it has fairly conservative views on asylum, but supports qualified immigration.
Needless to say, TS is very much a personalist party and one man’s electoral machine. The campaign played heavily on Frank Stronach; specifically his bio as a ‘self-made businessman’ or ‘incorruptibility’. The party’s campaign posters almost all included Stronach’s picture, and often featured short slogans such as ‘incorruptible Frank’, ‘honest Frank’ or ‘social Frank’. The party’s core message was also tailored to reach out to dissatisfied or protest voters, with ideas such as ‘the main parties have divided the country, we need to bring it back together’ or ‘time for change’ (a theme shared, naturally, with the Greens, the FPÖ, BZÖ, NEOS etc…), but also campaigning hard on the issue of ethics and corruption.
Stronach polled up to 12% or so in the polls, and attracted a large numbers of protest voters who had previously considered voting for the FPÖ.
Team Stronach spent nearly €11 million on its campaign (which is more than the €7 million spending limit), but its campaign still ended up as one of the poorest on record. The party was constantly dogged by questions about the ‘details’ of its platform, weakened by Stronach’s poor performance in some TV interviews and debates (his ‘Styrian-Canadian English accent’!) and bizarre thought bubble policies – late in the campaign he came out in favour of the death penalty, before finding out that even his own party colleagues didn’t agree with him on that one.
NEOS – The New Austria (Neos – Das Neue Österreich) is the other newcomer on the Austrian political scene, although much less publicized than Team Stronach. NEOS, which ran in coalition with the remnants of the Liberal Forum (LIF) and the LIF’s former youth wing, the Young Liberals (JuLis), is a centrist party with liberal views on both economic and moral/societal issues.
NEOS was founded in October 2012 by Matthias Strolz, a former member of the ÖVP from Vorarlberg who had been critical of the established parties and political system. It formed a coalition with the Liberal Forum (LIF), the liberal FPÖ splinter which ran in 2008, winning only 2.1% of the vote, and the Young Liberals (JuLis), the former youth/student wing of the LIF which is represented in the student union ‘parliament’.
One of NEOS’ most prominent supporters and financial backers is Hans Peter Haselsteiner, the billionaire chairman of construction giant Strabag and former LIF MP (1994-1998). Haselsteiner started by endorsing the party and funding it, but later accepted to be the party’s ‘top candidate’ although he did not run for office himself.
NEOS is a liberal party, with fairly liberal views on economic and fiscal issues, but also liberal views on moral/societal issues (a major difference with TS and the BZÖ, with whom it shares economic liberalism). The other major difference with TS and the BZÖ is on Europe: NEOS is strongly pro-European, promoting a federal Europe.
The new party presented a “9 1/2 point plan for Austria” – these points are lower and flatter taxes (reducing average taxation from 44% to 40%, simplify the tax system, raise the threshold for the maximum rate, , education reform (more school autonomy, less political interference), pension reform (flexible retirement age, create private pension plans, reduce benefits), debt reduction (less bureaucracy, spending cuts, government pay freeze, reduce grants/subsidies), solidarity (creating a new needs-based citizens’ benefit to replace all social benefits), sustainable businesses (less bureaucracy, more R&D spending, more entrepreneurial freedom, eco-friendly development), childcare/families, electoral/political reform (reducing party financing by 75%, direct democracy, transparency, abolish the Bundesrat, more open list voting, MMP) and European federalism (a more democratic EU, European federalism).
Education and pension reforms ranked high for NEOS, which argued that the current pension system is unsustainable in the long-term. On education, it wants less bureaucracy, political control and ‘paternalism’ and more autonomy for schools. In more concrete terms, its platform called for comprehensive all-day schooling (which is often a left-wing position in Austria, where schools run from 8am to 1pm) and extending compulsory education to the age of 18. On pension issues, it wants to explore private pension plans, introduce a higher and flexible retirement age, equalize the retirement age between genders and reduce benefits.
It takes liberal stances on moral/societal issues or immigration: NEOS supports same-sex marriage and adoption, legalizing soft drugs and is pro-immigration.
Two other parties gathered enough signatures to run in every state: the Communist Party and the Pirate Party.
The Communist Party of Austria (Kommunistische Partei Österreichs, KPÖ) is one of Austria’s oldest party, having been founded in 1918. Unlike communist parties in neighboring Germany and Italy, the Austrian Communists never achieved major electoral successes – in 1945, a peak year for European communist parties, the KPÖ won only 5.4% of the vote.
The party had little influence during the First Republic; already in 1918, revolutionary movements – unlike in Germany or Russia – were unsuccessful outside of a handful of densely populated industrial or urban areas. The party was banned by the Austrofascist dictatorship in 1933, and took part in the Austrian Civil War of 1934. The KPÖ was fairly moderate and avant-gardiste for its time in the 1930s, criticism Moscow’s anti-social democratic (‘social fascism’) phase in the 1920s and early 1930s. Breaking with the Austrian mainstream, the KPÖ opposed union with Germany, claiming that “view that the Austrian people are a part of the German nation” was “theoretically unfounded”.
The KPÖ played a very active role in the Austrian resistance to Nazi rule during World War II, and could claim that it had done more than any party to fight Nazi rule. Therefore, in 1945, the Soviet Union had high hopes and expectations for the Austrian Communists and other Austrian parties felt that the KPÖ was a force to be reckoned with. The party was represented by seven members in Karl Renner’s provisional government (vs. 10 SPÖ and 9 ÖVP). However, in the 1945 elections, the KPÖ won a paltry 5.4% and 4 seats – this remains the party’s historic high. Despite its weak showing, which led the Soviet Union to lose interest in the creation of a communist state in Austria (or creating a GDR-like partitioned state in the Soviet occupation zone), the KPÖ was still represented by one minister in Chancellor Figl’s government. They were forced to leave cabinet in 1947, the watershed year in which the Italian and French Communists were pushed out of their respective countries’ cabinets.
The KPÖ masterminded and led the August 1950 strikes in Austria, a huge wave of strikes and protests against the conservative government’s post-war reconstruction/economic policies. The KPÖ and strikers received only halfhearted support from the Soviets; the police dispersed the strikers, and the SPÖ-affiliated unions firmly opposed the KPÖ-led strikes.
The KPÖ’s support declined in the 1950s. Unable to push Moscow to accepting a partition of the country (like in Germany), the KPÖ decided to push for Moscow’s preferred option (Austrian neutrality), which was ultimately accepted by the two main parties. The KPÖ’s support fell to 4.4% (3 seats) in 1956, and, hurt by its Stalinist line in the emerging Cold War and the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the KPÖ lost all seats in 1959 (3.3% of the vote). It remained represented in Landtage until 1970, but the party became a fringe party at the national level. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it flirted with eurocommunism – going as far as condemning the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, but then moved back towards dogmatic positions in the 1980s. The fall of communism and the loss of East German financial support led to internal struggles and divisions in the 1990s, which resulted in a near-total loss of support in elections (0.3% in 1994 and 1995).
Since 2003-2005, the KPÖ has enjoyed a brief revival of popular support – although one which is localized and personality-dependent. Under the leadership of Ernest Kaltenegger, the KPÖ have become very strong in Graz (Styria) – councillors donated parts of their salaries to charity and were actively involved in social housing. The KPÖ won 20.8% in the 2003 municipal elections in Graz, and it took 6.3% in the 2005 state elections in Styria, winning 4 seats in the Landtag. Its support declined in the 2008 Graz elections (11.2%) and 2010 Styrian elections (4.4%, but retained their seats), but it won 19.9% in the November 2012 municipal elections in Graz, placing second behind the ÖVP (ahead of the SPÖ, Greens, FPÖ…). The KPÖ also holds a total of three seats in three borough assemblies in Vienna since 2010. At the federal level, its support has picked up somewhat (1% in 2006, 0.8% in 2008) but it remains weak, even in Styria.
The KPÖ leader is Mirko Messner, a Carinthian Slovene. The KPÖ platform calls for a €10 minimum wage, increased unemployment benefits, an active wage policy, a reduction in working hours to 30 hours/week without loss of pay, affordable housing (more social housing etc), nationalization of the banks, reversing pension reforms, comprehensive all-day schools throughout the compulsory education period, elimination of tuition fees, gender equality, same-sex marriage rights and is strongly pro-immigration. The party says that it fights for a ‘caring society’ and criticizes increasing poverty, declining real wage levels, lower pensions and the ‘dismantling’ of the European welfare state.
The Pirate Party (Piratenpartei Österreichs) was founded in the summer of 2006, but this was their first candidacy in a national election. Indeed, the party failed to gather the required number of signatures to run in the 2006 or 2008 federal elections, and its first candidacy in any election appears to have been a municipal election in Bregenz in 2010.
The party has not experienced the same (short-lived) wave of support its German colleagues enjoyed in 2012, but they have met small electoral successes at a local level. It won 3.8% and one seat in the April 2012 local elections in Innsbruck (Tyrol) and 2.7% and 1 seat in the November 2012 local elections in Graz (Styria). It won about 1% of the vote in the Carinthian, Lower Austrian and Salzburg state elections earlier this year.
Like most Pirate parties, the Austrian Pirates are organized along a fairly horizontal, non-hierarchical and grassroots model. The LiquidFeedback software is quite important for internal decision-making and the party has no single leader, it is led by a five-member executive.
Their core issues are democratic reform, freedom, privacy and internet policy. It is opposed to data retention and endorses copyright reform, legalization of private copying, non-commercial use/sharing of digital data, prevention of censorship, patent reform and promotion of open-source materials (notably in education). These traditional Pirate themes are their main focus, but they also have positions on other issues. Some of their more prominent ‘other’ proposals include drug legalization, an unconditional basic income, lower taxes on labour income, higher taxes on speculation and capital gains, same-sex marriage, free public transit and a more flexible education system.
Corruption ranked highly in voters’ minds and was addressed by almost every party. Over the past few years, all major Austrian parties except for the Greens and the new parties (TS) have been hit by corruption scandals or case of woeful mismanagement. Corruption was an even larger issue in two state elections earlier this year (Carinthia and Salzburg).
In Carinthia, the far-right FPK state government and most of its senior leadership were hit hard by corruption allegations. Former FPK leader and Vice-Governor Uwe Scheuch, was accused of granting the Austrian citizenship to Russian investors in return for illegal donations to Scheuch’s then-party, the BZÖ. Scheuch was forced to resign in August 2012 after allegations that he, and other senior Carinthian politicians including the then-leader of the state ÖVP were involved in a kickback scheme to profit from the 2007 sale of the embattled Hypo Alpe Adria bank to a Bavarian bank. The Carinthian BZÖ and ÖVP received millions in illegal money from the scheme. The FPK Governor of the state, Gerhard Dörfler, was accused of using public funds to send out a large mailer to all households in the state before the 2009 state elections. These scandals, first and foremost the Hypo Alpe Adria scandal, led to snap elections in the state back in March.
Federally, senior ÖVP and ex-FPÖ/BZÖ politicians have been caught up in the Telekom scandal, a wide scandal involving bribed politicians and cabinet ministers from Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel’s government between 2004 and 2006. In 2011, FPÖ/BZÖ infrastructure minister Hubert Gorbach was expelled from the BZÖ after it was revealed that he had modified a law in Telekom Austria’s favour in return for €264,000. Former senior managers, lobbyists and independents consultants have been found guilty or or charged with cheating Telekom Austria with hundreds of thousands of Euros in funds, which were paid out to the FPÖ/BZÖ or politicians from the ÖVP, FPÖ/BZÖ and even SPÖ.
From the same era, the Eurofighter scandal has created headaches for the ÖVP and its former far-right coalition partners since 2006, when the SPÖ and the Greens launched a parliamentary investigation into the purchase of Eurofighter planes. Politicians from the then-governing parties are suspected to have received bribes from the contractors.
Former ÖVP interior minister and MEP Ernst Strasser was recently convicted of bribery after a 2011 investigation by the British Sunday Times masquerading as lobbyists caught Strasser willing to accept a €100,000 bribe in return for amendment to EU laws.
Corruption has also hurt the SPÖ. Chancellor Werner Faymann and his former chief of staff were investigated by prosecutors in 2011 on suspicion of embezzlement and abuse of office; one of Faymann’s confidantes is suspected of pressuring the state-owned railways company to begin an advertising campaign for the SPÖ.
In late 2012, the Salzburg state government (then governed by the SPÖ in coalition with the ÖVP) had lost €340 million in public funds by privately speculating on high-risk derivatives. The state’s finance minister (SPÖ) had been aware of the losses since the summer, and had dismissed the employee responsible (but then asked for her help a few months later for a budget presentation). The state employee responsible for the losses, a member of the ÖVP, had started work in 2000, when the ÖVP still ruled the state. She received permission from ÖVP ministers and later SPÖ ministers. Although the state later recouped its loses and actually made a profit. Nevertheless, the behaviour of politicians from both major parties and their perceived incompetence in the face of the scandal seriously eroded voters’ trust and support.
The Salzburg scandal led to snap elections in May 2013. The SPÖ and ÖVP both lost very heavily (-15.6% and -7.5% respectively), with the Greens being major benefactors – the Greens, who ran on a strongly anti-corruption/anti-mismanagement platform, won 20.2% of the vote. The FPÖ increased its vote share and Stronach’s party won about 8%.
Turnout was 74.9%, down 3.9% from 2009. This is the lowest turnout in a national election since the end of the war. The full results were:
SPÖ 26.82% (-2.44%) winning 52 seats (-5)
ÖVP 23.99% (-1.99%) winning 47 seats (-4)
FPÖ 20.51% (+2.97%) winning 40 seats (+6)
Greens 12.42% (+1.99%) winning 24 seats (+4)
Team Stronach 5.73% (+5.73%) winning 11 seats (+11)
NEOS 4.96% (+2.87%) winning 9 seats (+9)
BZÖ 3.53% (-7.17%) winning 0 seats (-21)
KPÖ 1.03% (+0.27%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 0.77% (+0.77%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.25 (-2.99%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Chancellor Faymann’s governing SPÖ won the ‘race for first place’ which pitted them against their coalition partner, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger’s ÖVP. The ÖVP’s objective had been to place first, a result which would have allowed its leader to become Chancellor and senior party in government rather than junior partner. However, neither of these two parties can be counted as the real ‘winners’ in this election. In fact, both party once again won record low results, as in 2008.
Together, the two parties which have dominated Austrian politics since 1945 (and even prior to that, since 1919) won only 50.8% of the vote between themselves; in 1975, the two parties had taken 93.3% of the vote amongst themselves, and in 2006 they had still polled 69.6% together. Once again, it is yet another historic defeat for the two parties at the centre of Austrian politics for decades, and another success for existing ‘third parties’ and new parties.
Although Austria, like Germany, is doing quite well economically and voters are generally fairly optimist about their country’s economic future (likely much more so than in 2008), the two governing parties failed to capitalize on this. Instead, both the SPÖ and ÖVP are associated in voter’s minds with the corrupt, nepotistic and stale political system which has governed Austria for much of its post-war history.
The far-right FPÖ and the Greens both did well, with the Greens winning their best in their short history and the FPÖ breaking 20% for the first time since 1999.
There was much sensationalism in the foreign press about the FPÖ’s result. While this is undoubtedly a strong result for the FPÖ, and a sign that HC Strache’s party is gradually gaining ground and continues eating into the main parties’ electorates, just like Haider had done in the 1990s leading up to the 1999 election. Nevertheless, 20.5% is not the FPÖ’s strongest result – it had done better in 1994, 1995 and naturally 1999 – and both history and polling shows that the FPÖ is far from hitting its potential ceiling.
The FPÖ can be pleased with such a result, considering that its polling numbers throughout most of late 2012 and 2013 were fairly poor (often below 20%). The FPÖ gained ground during the campaign, likely as a result of Stronach gradually losing ground for the original wave of support which greeted his party’s creation. After a strong result in the 2010 Viennese election, things had been looking even brighter for Strache’s FPÖ – the party was polling first in a lot of polls, often polling at or above its 1999 level. In 2012, the FPÖ’s support declined considerably with the creation of Frank Stronach’s party and the damaging corruption scandals surrounding the Carinthian FPK but also the FPÖ at the national level.
The FPÖ has a high ceiling, but as the contrast between 1999 and 2002 showed, it also has a very fickle electorate which is, by and large, not tied to the party itself. While the FPÖ has a fairly robust 10-15% base consisting of ideologically far-right voters, who are more closely drawn and tied to the party; a large part of the FPÖ’s electorate also consists of protest voters, which are less closely drawn to the FPÖ and are theoretically willing to vote for any appealing protest party. Stronach, originally, represented an appealing protest alternative to those voters who aren’t as far-right as the FPÖ itself. Stronach adapted parts of the FPÖ’s traditional anti-establishment/anti-system rhetoric, with some ideological/political differences (more economically liberal, less hostile to immigration), and with his image as a ‘self-made businessman’ and ‘incorruptible outsider’ was in a very strong position to draw on the FPÖ’s potential electorate. Of course, Stronach’s shine wore off quite quickly, especially after a botched campaign which allowed some of those erstwhile Stronach voters to drift back towards the FPÖ.
Without being able to predict the future, the storyline here bears at least some superficial similarities to the 1990-1999 situation. A SPÖVP Grand Coalition, winning reelection despite both parties consistently shedding support to other parties (mostly the FPÖ); a young, charismatic, telegenic and energetic FPÖ leader gradually gaining ground and moving his way up to to the top. Analysts had already noted in 2008 that HC Strache was rather similar to Haider in his style, rhetoric and personality. Now, with Haider (and the remnants of his party) out of the picture and Stronach nearly out of the picture as well, Strache is in a strong position to continue building on the FPÖ’s support.
The Greens performed well, winning 12.4% of the vote, which is their best result in a national election to date. The Greens benefited from the relative unpopularity of the SPÖVP government, and likely from its strong focus on corruption and ethics. However, despite a strong campaign, the Greens underperformed compared to their polling numbers. They had been polling between 13 and 15% in most recent polls. Green support in most countries usually tends to be fairly soft, with a number of potential Green voters changing their mind in the final days or at the polling station, preferring to vote for major parties or other minor parties.
Frank Stronach won 5.7% and 11 seats. This is a disappointing result for Stronach’s new party, which likely hoped to perform much better than that – especially given that it had been polling up to 12-15% support in a few polls last year, and which hadn’t performed too badly in state elections earlier this year. Stronach was still able to draw on protest voters and other disappointed voters, but he fell far short of his potential. Despite spending the most of any other party in this election (about €40 per vote, by far the highest of any parliamentary party), Stronach ran a botched campaign in which Stronach himself performed poorly on TV debates and interviews and in which the party was dogged by questions about his party’s incomplete or insufficiently detailed platform. In the end, a failure for Stronach.
Rather, the main winners amongst the ‘newbies’ were NEOS, the much less publicized (and much less affluent) liberal centrist party founded late last year. Surprisingly, NEOS broke the 4% threshold and won nearly 5% of the vote. The party had seen its polling numbers lift off the ground during the campaign, but it ran a comparatively low-key and shoestring campaign (€900,000, the least of any of the top seven parties). It did receive press coverage (likely more than the Pirates or Communists) and it had the advantage of being financially and politically supported by businessman Hans Peter Haselsteiner, but it did not participate in the major TV debates between the party leaders.
Unsurprisingly, the BZÖ collapsed and the party’s future is extremely dire at this stage, being outside of the Nationalrat and being represented in only one state legislature. Not only was the party badly hurt by the loss of its founder and most famous member, Jörg Haider, only days after its strong showing in the 2008 election, it then collapsed into chaotic internal divisions which led to the departure of its largest, most powerful and dominant state branch (the Carinthian FPK). The party was further hurt by corruption scandals dating back to its days in government (2005-2006) and it was unable to mobilize support on a new platform, less far-right and more liberal, given its divisions, a poor leadership and above all Stronach’s party campaigning on a very similar platform.
SORA is usually the exit pollster which everybody, notably the Austrian media, refers to for post-electoral analyses. One of my readers recommended that I look at another, less prominent, polling institute (Ecoquest, full PDF of its exit poll here) as well.
Ecoquest found that 38% of voters were late-deciders, meaning that they made up their mind in the ‘intensive campaign’, while 58% had made up their mind earlier. This is a significant finding, which speaks to the increasing volatility and unpredictability of Austrian politics, which were, until 1986, so stable and predictable. In 1983, only 8% of voters decided who they would vote for during the campaign and 92% had already made up their mind – a sign of the former pillarization of Austrian politics around two camps. Since then, according to Ecoquest’s data, the proportion of late deciders has increased almost consistently in every election: 16% in 1986, 18-20% between 1994 and 1999, 23-24% in 2002 and 2006 and 33% in the last election.
What is more, 29% of voters made up their mind in the last few days (9% in the 1-2 weeks before the election). Austrian voters, like voters in other depillarized countries such as the Netherlands, are extremely fickle: their preferences are not set in stone, and they jump around a lot before making their choice. This is, obviously, especially the case for swing voters: Ecoquest found that 58% of swing voters were late deciders, against only 25% of regular voters.
Their breakdown further shows that the ÖVP was badly hurt by the campaign period: of former ÖVP voters (’emigrants’ from the ÖVP), 61% of them were late deciders. NEOS voters, similarly, were largely made up of late deciders: three-quarters of them decided they would vote as they ultimately did during the campaign, including 34% in the final days.
Swing voters also make up an increasingly large part of the electorate: 25% of the voters were considered ‘swing voters’ by Ecoquest, down from 28% in 2008, although the general trendline since 1975 shows a strong increase in swing voters (3% in 1975). Similarly, about half of voters considered voting for another party than the one they ultimately voted for; most wavering was within the same ideological family (SPÖ voters considering the Greens, FPÖ voters considering Stronach and vice-versa etc).
Unsurprisingly, swing voters don’t end up voting for the two major parties. My educated guess is that swing voters tend to be younger voters, with no attachment to either of the two old parties. In this election, according to Ecoquest, 20% backed the FPÖ, 17% voted Stronach, 15% for NEOS, 14% for the Greens and only 11% and 10% for the SPÖ and ÖVP respectively. In 2008, Ecoquest tells us that swing voters had given 28% to the FPÖ, 25% to the Haider BZÖ, 12% to the Greens and 11% and 8% to the ÖVP and SPÖ respectively.
Vote transfers (2008-2013)
If you’ve read my posts on German elections in the past (or the big one just below), you know that I think that vote transfer analyses, albeit certainly flawed, imperfect and to be taken with a grain of salt, are literally the best things to come out of exit polls.
Table 1: Vote transfers since 2008 (SORA)
Table 2: Vote transfers since 2008 (Ecoquest)
SORA’s analysis appears to be the most complete, given that they also estimate the number of votes lost to abstention since 2008 (methodology info in German here).
The Social Democrats held about 1,047,000 votes from 2008 to 2013, losing most heavily (154,000) to abstention, and losing roughly similar amounts to all other parties: 51,000 to the FPÖ, 47,000 to Stronach, 43,000 to the Greens and 35,000 to their coalition partner. According to Ecoquest, which does not seem to have been able to estimate non-voters’ behaviour, the SPÖ held about three-quarters of their 2008 votes, and the FPÖ and the Greens were the two parties which received most of their lost support.
Conversely, the SPÖ drew in a few additional votes from 2008 BZÖ and FPÖ voters (59k and 42k votes respectively), and smaller numbers of 2008 ÖVP or Green voters (34k and 22k), as well as some who had backed other parties (26k) or had not voted in 2008 (28k). Ecoquest found a fairly substantial contingent of 2008 Green voters (8%) voting SPÖ.
The ÖVP held 949,000 votes from 2008 in 2013; like the SPÖ they held about three-quarters of their 2008 voters. It lost most voters to abstention (69,000), NEOS (58,000) or the Greens (47,000). Both NEOS and the Greens, with an electorate similar to parts of the ÖVP’s urban electoral base, are attractive options for centrist or right-of-centre middle-class, well-educated and affluent voters in urban areas (notably Vienna). The ÖVP also lost significant support to NEOS in Vorarlberg, a conservative stronghold. The ÖVP lost fewer voters to Stronach (41,000), the FPÖ (38k) or the SPÖ (34k). It gained a few extra votes from about 38,000 2008 FPÖ voters, 36,000 other party voters, 35,000 2008 SPÖ voters and 31,000 non-voters.
The FPÖ held between seven in ten to three-quarters of its 2008 voters. About 72,000, or 8%, of its 2008 voters did not turn out this year. Some 42,000 backed the SPÖ instead, a similar amount (41,000) joined Stronach’s party this year and another 38,000 voted ÖVP. There were negligible transfers, unsurprisingly, between 2008 FPÖ voters and 2013 Green or NEOS voters. These loses were compensated by heavy gains from the moribund BZÖ; 173,000 of those who backed Haider’s party in the last election (a full third of them) voted FPÖ. About 58,000 2008 non-voters and 51,000 SPÖ supporters further enlarged the FPÖ’s electorate in 2013. Furthermore, 14% of those who had backed other parties in 2008 voted FPÖ this year, worth about 42,000 ballots.
The Greens held between 65 and 70% of their 2008 voters. Those 2008 Greenies who didn’t back the Greens again this year mostly did not vote altogether (9% of them, 48k) or backed NEOS (11% of them, or 54k). The Greens did not lose much support, comparatively, to either of the two major parties and lost almost no votes to the FPÖ or BZÖ. The Greens drew their additional voters from a broad range of horizons: 18% (54k) of other party voters, 8% (!) of BZÖ voters (41k) and 3-4% of SPÖ and ÖVP voters (43k and 47k).
A mere 64,000 (barely 12%) of the BZÖ’s 2008 supporters repeated their 2008 vote in 2013. A third of them voted FPÖ, returning to ideological roots, and 68,000 joined Stronach. Non-negligible amounts of their 2008 vote also flowed to the SPÖ (59k – likely as a result of the SPÖ’s strong performance in Carinthia) and the Greens (41k). NEOS and the ÖVP did not profit much from the BZÖ’s collapse. Finally, a full 14% of them (71,000) did not vote at all this year. The BZÖ did manage to win a few additional votes from voters who hadn’t backed Haider’s party in 2008 – perhaps the loss of Haiderite far-right/protest voters were partially (very partially) compensated by more moderate voters, attracted by the BZÖ’s new ideological orientation? 26,000 2008 ÖVP voters, 18,000 2008 FPÖ voters, 18,000 2008 non-voters and 17,000 2008 SPÖ voters backed the BZÖ this year.
Team Stronach’s drew from the SPÖ, ÖVP, FPÖ and especially the BZÖ. 68,000 of 2008 BZÖ voters backed Stronach, making about a quarter of his total vote. 17.5% of his vote came from 2008 SPÖ voters (47k), 15.2% (41k) from the ÖVP and FPÖ each, 11.9% from non-voters and 10% from those who had voted for other parties in 2008. Only 4.8% of Stronach’s vote came from 2008 Greenies.
NEOS drew mainly from the ÖVP and the Greens. 24.9% (58,000) of its vote came from 2008 ÖVP voters, 23.2% from Green voters, 14.6% from other party voters from 2008 (LIF?) and 11.2% of its 2013 voters had not voted in 2008. Smaller shares came from the SPÖ (9.4%), BZÖ (8.6%) and FPÖ (8.2%).
Sociodemographic voting patterns (exit polls)
The exit poll details by sociodemographics reveal some rather interesting factoids – and disagreements between SORA and Ecoquest’s exit polls.
SORA showed a very big gender gap. The SPÖ did 7 points better with women (29% vs 22%), and the ÖVP did a full 10 points better with women (29% vs 19%). The FPÖ, on the other hand, did 12 points better with men (28%) than with women (16%). That the two main parties did better with women while the far-right was preferred by more men than women is not too surprising. The far-right, in Austria but also in other European countries (such as France), usually performs better with men than women (although 12 points better is a bit spectacular). A variety of reasons have been advanced to explain this phenomenon; including socioeconomic differences (more working-class, blue-collar men in industrial jobs; more women staying at home and those employed tend to work in non-industrial sectors such as services), education (large share of women in post-secondary education and universities), religiosity (women tending to be more religious than men) or different gender reactions to the far-right rhetoric (the far-right’s traditional messages of ‘strength’ and ‘violence’ tend to be associated with masculinity and appeal less to women; both J Haider and HC Strache could be seen as representative of a fairly macho culture, with their personality and behaviour).
The Greens did 3 points better with women (13% vs 10%), Stronach did 4 points better with men (8% vs 4%). The other parties did not show a pronounced gender gap.
Ecoquest showed a much less remarkable gender gap. The SPÖ did do 6 points better with women (30% vs 24%); but they actually found the ÖVP did best with men (23% vs 21%), and the gender gap for the FPÖ was only 3 points (23% with men, 20% with women). The Greens still did 4 points better with women, the other parties did not show a pronounced gender gap.
SORA showed even more spectacular gender gaps within age groups. Men under 29 voted 32% FPÖ, 19% ÖVP and 18% for the SPÖ and Greens (8% TS, 4% NEOS). In stark contrast, women under 29 voted 27% Green, 26% ÖVP, 25% SPÖ and only 10% FPÖ (nearly tied with NEOS, 9%) and 1% for Stronach. With middle-aged men (30-59), the FPÖ still led the SPÖ by a full 9 points (30% vs 21%), with the ÖVP at 19%, the Greens at 10% and Stronach at 9%. Women of the same age, however, preferred the main parties: 30% SPÖ, 26% ÖVP, 19% FPÖ, 13% Greens, 5% apiece for NEOS and Stronach. Older men (60+), finally, preferred the SPÖ by 11 points over the FPÖ (35% vs 24%) and 12 points over the ÖVP (23%). The BZÖ and Stronach each won 5% of their votes, the Greens only 4% and NEOS only 3%. Older women (60+), however, preferred the ÖVP by 4 points over the SPÖ (36% vs. 32%); the FPÖ took only 14%, against 6% for the BZÖ and the Greens. Older men are probably far more likely to include a large contingent of retired manual workers and other industrial workers, who remain loyal to the old party of the working-class; older women probably include a number of retired women who were employed in secretarial positions, services, non-industrial sectors or stayed at home (I would guess Catholic religious practice should be quite high, comparatively, with older women).
Ecoquest did not provide a similar breakdown by gender/age. They did break down by age. They found that all voters under 30 were nearly split four way: 21% ÖVP, 20% FPÖ, 19% Green, 17% SPÖ – SORA showed an even closer four-way split (23% FPÖ, 22% ÖVP, 22% Green, 21% SPÖ). NEOS also did well (6% Ecoquest, 10% SORA) and Stronach basically at par with his average. Ecoquest showed that voters aged 30 to 44 preferred the FPÖ by 3 points over the SPÖ (27% vs 24%), the ÖVP a distant third with 19% and not too far ahead of the Greens (14%). With those aged 45 to 59, the SPÖ led by 8 – this time over the ÖVP (30 to 22), the FPÖ at 18%, the Greens at 15%. Voters over 60 preferred the two old parties (34% SPÖ, 26% ÖVP), but a fair share (21%) still voted FPÖ, but few voted Green (6%, behind TS, 8%). SORA’s 30-59 sample showed the FPÖ and SPÖ tied at 25%, with the ÖVP at 22% and the Greens at 11%, much lower than with Ecoquest. Stronach, SORA found, also did best with these voters (7%, 5% in the other age groups) and NEOS did just as well with those 30-59 than with those under 30 (6%). Ecoquest, however, found NEOS doing disproportionately well with voters under 30 (10%) and uniformly poorly (3%) with all other ages. They also found that Stronach’s strongest support, at 8%, came from those 60+; polling 6% uniformly with the other age groups.
SORA tells us that the FPÖ beat the SPÖ by 9 points with workers (arbeiter) – 34 to 25, with the ÖVP far behind at 18%, Stronach at a strong 10% and the Greens/NEOS very weak (5% and 3%). It is clearly no secret that the FPÖ has made major inroads, since the 1990s, with working-class voters, largely at the SPÖ’s expense. But did they really win them by 9? Ecoquest tells us that no, the arbeiter and skilled workers preferred the SPÖ by 7 points over the far-right (36 to 29), although they confirm SORA’s findings on the ÖVP, Greens and NEOS support with these voters and come close to SORA on Stronach’s performance (7% they say).
The two pollsters come close to agreement on the voting preferences of employees and officials/civil servants (beamte): SPÖ and FPÖ basically tied (27-25 for SORA, 24-24 for Ecoquest), with a weak ÖVP (18-19%) and Stronach (4% or 3%) but strong Greens (15% or 17%) and NEOS (5% or 6%).
Self-employed persons (selbständige), liberal professions and farmers showed a clear preference for the ÖVP – unsurprisingly. In SORA, the ÖVP won 36% of their support, running miles ahead of the FPÖ (18%), NEOS (13%), TS (13%) and Greens (12%). The SPÖ was extremely weak (5%). In Ecoquest, the ÖVP took 44%, against 16% for the Greens, 15% for the FPÖ, 8% for TS, 6% for the BZÖ and 5% apiece for the SPÖ and NEOS.
Austrian pensioners disproportionately favour the two old parties. In SORA, the SPÖ took 34% against 31% for the ÖVP; the FPÖ took only 17%, with the Greens and NEOS being very weak (6%, 2%). In Ecoquest, the SPÖ won 35% of pensioners’ votes, versus 25% for the ÖVP, 21% for the FPÖ and only 6% for the Greens.
SORA’s detailed breakdown of the vote by education levels was quite interesting. The SPÖ’s support decreased with higher qualifications; the Greens had the exact opposite pattern. The SPÖ did best, with 34%, with those voters who only completed compulsory education. It took 28% with those who followed apprenticeship training in the dual system (Lehre), 24% with those who completed school-based training in secondary technical and vocational schools (BMS), 19% with those with the Matura, the academic high school leaving examination and only 9% among those with a university education. The Greens, on the other hand, won only 8% with those with compulsory education, 5% with those who were in part-time vocational schools for apprentices, 14% with those who graduated from a BMS, 19% with those who obtained a Matura and won the most votes of all parties (30%) with university-educated voters.
The ÖVP’s support had relatively little to do with education. It did poorly with those with compulsory schooling (23%), graduated from a part-time vocational schools for apprentices (20%) or have a Matura (21%); but did quite well both with university grads (29%) and especially BMS grads (34%). From my cursory understanding of the German-Austrian system, BMS schools are focused on fields such as engineering, business, tourism, fashion, social services or agriculture/forestry; the dual system part-time schools provide to more blue-collar or service/retail fields including woodworking, metals, textiles, catering, retail, construction or commerce/transports. This might serve to explain the ÖVP’s results but also the FPÖ’s very strong result with dual system grads (35%) and weaker results with the BMS (21%). The far-right also did poorly with those with only compulsory education (15%) – I might guess these people are disproportionately older/retirees; and about at its national average with those who got the Matura (19%). Unsurprisingly, the FPÖ was extremely weak – only 4% – with university grads.
Stronach did best (9%) with those with compulsory education, but also took 7% with those with the Matura. His support was fairly evenly spread out. NEOS did worst with those with apprenticeships or BMS (3%, 2%), and extremely well with those holding a Matura (10%) and even better with university grads (12%).
Ecoquest’s educational breakdown was not as detailed, but findings were similar. The SPÖ’s support declined with higher qualifications (31-21-14), the Green vote was the opposite (6-24-35), ÖVP support was balanced and the FPÖ did best (26%) with those with compulsory education/vocational-technical education, and poorly (11%) with Matura holders and university grads alike. NEOS did best (10%) with both these groups. Stronach’s support followed a similar trendline than that of the SPÖ.
Ecoquest reported interesting results on unionization and religiosity. With union members, the SPÖ won 36%, a full 16 point lead over the ÖVP (20%), the FPÖ (17%) did quite poorly too with unionized voters, as did Stronach (4%). With non-unionized voters, however, the SPÖ placed third with only 21%, the FPÖ led with 24% to the ÖVP’s 23%. The Greens (13%) and Stronach (7%) did quite well too.
Religious practice still plays an important role in vote choice, as Ecoquest found. Among all Catholics, results were of course similar to the national numbers, but with ‘core’ Catholics (those attending mass every Sunday or regularly), the ÖVP won 46% to the SPÖ’s 24% and the FPÖ’s 12% (Greens and Stronach: 7%). With Catholics who seldom attend services, the ÖVP fell into third with only 20% against 26% for the SPÖ and 25% for the FPÖ. The Greens won 12%. The SPÖ won 36% with Protestants, against 17% for the Greens, 13% for the ÖVP and 10% each for the FPÖ and BZÖ; but the sample size is very small. With irreligious voters, the SPÖ led the Greens by 8, 30 to 22, with FPÖ on 19% and the ÖVP irrelevant at only 10%.
Ecoquest found that while only 36% of Austrians regularly used the internet for their political news, NEOS and Green supporters were far more likely to use the internet for political news: 45% used it daily or several times a week for political news. On the other hand, the FPÖ and Stronach’s supporters rarely use the internet for that purpose (72% and 80% rarely/never use it for that).
Voter motivations, major themes and issues
SORA and Ecoquest both asked why a party’s voters voted the way they did, and both used different perspectives/angles on the question.
Table 3: Vote motivators (SORA)
In Ecoquest, 46% of ÖVP voters said they were loyal ÖVP supporters and/or liked its platform, 24% said the party had done a good job/had good candidates, 35% cited economic/fiscal reasons (good for business, low taxes, controlling the debt), 21% said the party was honest or represented stability, 10% voted strategically against a red-green coalition and 13% cited Spindelegger.
In Ecoquest, 50% of SPÖ voters said their party represented ‘the common man’, workers or social groups along those lines, 44% said they were loyal SPÖ voters or liked its platform, 29% said the party had gone a good job/had good candidates/they were happy with the party, 16% said they were responsible and/or honest or represented stability, 11% voted strategically to prevent a black-blue coalition and 10% cited Faymann.
No one reason clearly came out of FPÖ voters’ motivations – not a surprise, given that as a protest party they attract a more diverse base than either of the two major parties. 35% of the FPÖ’s voters cited disapproval/protest against the Grand Coalition or saw the FPÖ as a lesser evil, 31% cited approval of the party’s immigration policies, 28% liked the party because it brings ‘a breath of fresh air’ or took daring/brave stands, 22% said they were regular FPÖ voters or liked its platform, 14% cited Strache, 12% cited its EU/Eurozone policies.
For the Greens, the environment and the party’s energy/climate/environment policies were cited by a full 45%, 39% cited corruption/the Greens’ anti-corruption stances/disapproval-protest of the Grand Coalition, 28% said they were happy with the Greens’ performance or brought new ideas, 20% liked their platform or were regular Green voters, 17% cited education polices and another 17% cited Green top candidate Eva Glawischnig.
SORA has no details on TS or NEOS voters’ motivations, but Ecoquest cited a few reasons. For Stronach’s party, Frank Stronach himself was cited as a reason by 29%, 15% said the party brought a ‘fresh wind’, 10% said it was a protest vote and 7% cited Stronach’s economic competence. Half of NEOS’ voters said it was a protest vote, 29% said they hoped for change, 13% cited liberalism or the platform and 9% cited NEOS candidate Haselsteiner.
In SORA’s results we can point out: the weaker impact of the platform for FPÖ voters, the importance of voters’ appreciation of a party’s performance for the SPÖ and ÖVP, the major importance of the Greens’ role in controlling abuses in their voters’ eyes, and a ‘candidate bonus’ for all candidates except ÖVP leader Spindelegger.
Table 4: Top issues (SORA)
|Cost of living||32%||34%||28%||42%||28%|
|Housing and rent||21%||28%||16%||29%||17%|
In terms of issues, SORA found that SPÖ supporters were most concerned by social, economic and daily life issues such as jobs, pensions, healthcare, cost of living, housing or taxes. No one issue, however, clearly stood out. For ÖVP voters, no one issue stood out as particularly important – in fact, no one issue was cited above the national average by ÖVP voters. FPÖ voters rated a whole lot of issues as very important – jobs, taxes, economy, pensions, corruption, cost of living, housing and above all immigration and safety/criminality. Green voters were very much concerned about education, the environment, corruption and to a lesser extent transportation. Some of the top SPÖ socioeconomic concerns were notably less important for Green voters.
Ecoquest and SORA asked additional questions related to political dissatisfaction, the country’s direction or Europe. FPÖ voters, unsurprisingly, showed higher than average rates of annoyance/disappointment with parties, the state of political debate, the country’s direction, the benefits of EU membership and dissatisfaction with Austrian and European policies. According to SORA, the FPÖ won 35% with voters who felt Austria has gone in the wrong direction since 2008 (only 9% with those who felt it has gone in the right direction), 40% among those who disapproved of both Austria and the EU’s response to the economic crisis (vs 9% with those who approved of both Vienna and Brussels’ reactions).
Stronach and NEOS supporters also expressed deep dissatisfaction with political parties.
Ecoquest found a sharp drop in positive perceptions of the EU since 2008: those saying it has brought more advantages dropped from 65% to 47%, those who said it has brought more disadvantages increased from 32% to 41%. 71% of FPÖ are in the latter side, as are 60% of Stronach’s voters. About three-quarters of Green and NEOS supporters, however, expressed positive views of the EU.
SPÖ voters were upbeat and positive about the country’s direction and its response to the crisis, but were split in their attitudes towards the EU’s policies, albeit half of them expressed positive views of the EU. ÖVP voters were fairly optimistic and happy about the country’s direction and its response to the crisis, but also more strongly pro-EU than SPÖ voters.
The SPÖ was the strongest party in ‘Red Vienna’, the red state of Burgenland, Upper Austria and… Carinthia. The ÖVP predominated in conservative Tyrol and Vorarlberg and topped the poll in Lower Austria and Salzburg. The FPÖ was the strongest party in Styria. It also placed second in Carinthia, Tyrol, Vienna and Vorarlberg.
On the one hand, general patterns of Austrian electoral geography held tight. The SPÖ found its strongest support in industrial neighborhoods or towns, railway towns, the Upper Styrian steel districts, Viennese hinterland/commuterland and the old SPÖ stronghold of Burgenland (governed by the SPÖ since 1964). The ÖVP did best in Catholic and clerical rural areas (parts of Lower Austria, Tyrol/East Tyrol etc) and more affluent urban or suburban areas. It remained weak in most of Vienna, the Upper Styrian districts, Carinthia and industrial towns.
The SPÖ and FPÖ are usually the strongest parties in industrial, working-class towns or neighborhoods. In the manufacturing centre of Steyr (Upper Austria), the SPÖ won 38% to the FPÖ’s 21.6%; the ÖVP placed fourth (12.4%), behind the Greens (12.9%). Of course, 38% for the SPÖ in Steyr isn’t exactly strong; as recently as 2006, the party won over 50% of the vote there. In the former industrial town of Wels (Upper Austria), the SPÖ won 32.5% to the FPÖ’s 27.1%, with the ÖVP a very distant third with only 14.4%. The SPÖ did well in the old industrial towns (salt mining, soda works) in the Salzkammergut: 44.1% in Ebensee, 44.8% in Gosau, 42.9% in Hallstatt and 37.2% in Laakirchen (these are old Socialist strongholds, of course: the 1934 civil war extended to Ebensee, also in Steyr etc). The FPÖ placed second in Laakirchen (20.9%), Ebensee (16.8%) and Bad Goisern (20.4%), but their results were not exceptionally strong; likely due to the importance of tourism in the region and an older population.
In Linz, overall, the SPÖ placed first with 33.8% against 19.4% for the FPÖ, 17.1% for the Greens and 15.2% for the ÖVP; similarly to Vienna, the SPÖ and FPÖ did best in traditionally working-class and low-income neighborhoods, while the Greens were very strong in the inner-city area, including some affluent areas.
The FPÖ did much better in the Innviertel in northwestern Upper Austria, a region which has close cultural and economic ties to Bavaria, winning over 25% in all three districts in the regions. These districts were amongst the FPÖ’s best districts in the country. In the very famous industrial town of Braunau am Inn (which is not famous for economic reasons!), the SPÖ won 33% against 26.2% for the FPÖ and 16% for the ÖVP. The far-right even topped the poll in Ried im Innkreis and Andorf.
Another closely disputed state was Lower Austria, an ÖVP stronghold at the state level but often quite marginal in national elections. This year, the ÖVP won the state with 30.6% to the SPÖ’s 27.6% and the FPÖ’s 18.8%. The diverse state includes both SPÖ bastions and some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria. The SPÖ does best in industrial centres such as Sankt Pölten, which it won with 37.6% to the ÖVP’s 20% and the FPÖ’s 17.9% (again, the SPÖ was over 50% as recently as 2002); Wiener Neustadt (33% vs 23.5% FPÖ, 17.4% ÖVP) and most of the industrial areas in the Industrieviertel, located south of Vienna. The SPÖ also performs strongly in isolated industrial or railway centres, such as the railway town of Gmünd on the Czech border (40.1%); Amstetten, another railway junction town (34.4% SPÖ, FPÖ second), St. Valentin (40.8%), Stockerau (32.5%). On the other hand, the ÖVP polls very well in rural Catholic areas: the party won nearly 50% in the district of Zwettl, and over 40% in Horn and Waidhofen an der Thaya.
Styria had a very sharp swing away from both governing parties, which both 5% of the vote compared to the 2008 election. The FPÖ gained 6.7% and won 24% of the vote, placing 0.2% ahead of the second-placed SPÖ. Frank Stronach’s native state was also, by far, his best state: Team Stronach won 10% of the vote in Styria, only 0.6% behind the Greens. He won 15.8% in Weiz district, where he was born (about 20% in the town he was born, and he won 25% in the town next door). At cause for this sharp swing against the SPÖVP in Styria seems to be a local reaction to the SPÖVP state government’s unpopular municipal reforms, which led a number of rural SPÖ and ÖVP mayors to call on their constituents to boycott the election or vote for parties other than the SPÖVP. The FPÖ did very well in Leibnitz and Graz-Land district, winning about 27% of the vote; both in places which had voted ÖVP and SPÖ in 2008. The SPÖ saved face – barely – by placing first in Upper Styria, a solidly leftist industrial area (steel, mining, industries etc). The SPÖ won 48% in Eisenerz, 34.5% in Leoben, 40.7% in Mürzzuschlag, 40.4% in Kapfenberg and 36% in Bruck an der Maur. Keep in mind that while the SPÖ won over 35% in the districts of Leoben and Bruck-Mürzzuschlag, it had won over 50% in both as recently as 2006.
Graz, the Styrian capital and Austria’s second largest city, the Greens topped the poll with 21.7% against 19.3% for the FPÖ, 18.5% for the SPÖ, 17.1% for the ÖVP, 7.3% for Stronach and 7% for NEOS. As an industrial centre with a large working-class population, Graz used to favour the SPÖ – not anymore. The FPÖ and the KPÖ have taken a lot of the SPÖ’s old blue-collar support, while the Greens have polled well with middle-aged middle-class voters and academics in this university town. The results by borough in Graz shows a city split by the Mur river: the FPÖ won the poorer, working-class districts on Graz’s west side, while the Greens won the downtown core and the wealthier districts on the east bank of the river. Compared to 2008, you can notice that the FPÖ won all but one of the districts which the SPÖ had carried, while most ÖVP districts went Green except two affluent boroughs which stayed black.
The Greens did best (31.3%) in St. Leonhard district, a trendy university district which they had already carried back in 2008. The FPÖ did best (31.5%) in Puntigam, a young low-income district. They also did well in working-class districts such as Eggenberg (26.8%) or Liebenau (26.5%).
While the FPÖ did very well in Styria, it did poorly in Carinthia. The FPÖ won only 17.9% of the vote in Carinthia, hurt, it is true, by the BZÖ still pulling 10.8% in Haider’s home state. However, the FPÖ/BZÖ total fell far short of the FPÖ/BZÖ total from 2008, which allowed the SPÖ to record fairly substantial gains (+4.3%) and place first, as it had in 2006. The ÖVP also increased its vote share by 0.7% and the Greens increased theirs by nearly 5% (with nearly 12%, this is a very strong performance for the Greens). The Carinthian far-right is still reeling from the spectacular collapse of the ‘System-Haider’ back in March, a shock defeat which led to public divisions in the FPK/FPÖ. The SPÖ did best in the Carinthian Slovene towns along the Slovenian border, Villach (35.5%) and old industrial or mining towns such as Sankt Viet an der Glan (37.9%) or Hüttenberg (41.3%). Josef Bucher, the BZÖ’s (now former) leader will be happy to know that the BZÖ topped the poll in his hometown of Friesach (with 31.6%).
The ÖVP won the states of Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg; the latter two of which are conservative strongholds in which the ÖVP polled over 50% in better years for the party. The SPÖ narrowly won the city of Salzburg itself (23.7% to the Greens’ 20.7% and the ÖVP’s 20.3%); the SPÖ and FPÖ won a few towns in the Salzach river valley; in some of those places there’s a lot of tourism and skiing, but also, I think, some old industries or railway towns in places such as Lend, Saalfelden, Bischofshofen. The ÖVP did best in mountainous or rural areas.
In Tyrol, the Greens won the university town of Innsbruck, taking 24.2% against 21.2% for the ÖVP. The ÖVP and SPÖ both increased their vote shares since 2008 in Tyrol, the ÖVP vote was up 1 point and the SPÖ vote by a tiny 0.3%. At cause is the disappearance of a local conservative list, led by Fritz Dinkhauser, who had run in the 2008 federal elections fresh from his big success in the 2008 Tyrolean state elections (second place, about 18%); he was unsuccessful federally (1.8%) but he still won nearly 9% in Tyrol, most of those votes from the ÖVP (which had won 44% in 2006). The Greens did well in Innsbruck suburbia while the SPÖ and FPÖ won a few industrial islets in the Inn valley (FPÖ won Kufstein, Wörgl; SPÖ won Kirchbichl). The ÖVP did very well in more mountainous and remote towns, notably in the exclave of East Tyrol, a district where the ÖVP won 40% of the vote.
Similarly, in Vorarlberg, the ÖVP did well in mountainous villages and ski resorts, but the vote was far more divided in the densely populated valleys which include the state’s three major cities (Bregenz, Dornbirn, Feldkirch).
NEOS won 13.1% of the vote in Vorarlberg, something which nobody saw coming. Was it largely a favourite son vote for the party’s leader, Matthias Strolz? NEOS won 14% in his hometown of Bludenz but topped the poll in three towns nearby. NEOS’ success in the state was a major drag on the ÖVP and Green vote, the ÖVP’s support dropped by 5 points from 31% to 26%, while the Green vote fell back 0.2% to 17%.
The FPÖ, historically strong in Vorarlberg (which has the highest foreign population outside of Vienna), did quite well – gaining 4 points to reach 20.2%. The party won a number of suburban towns outside Bregenz and two old textile towns in Dornbirn district (22.2% in the district).
The city of Innsbruck’s report on the elections analyzed the results by precinct in the city from various interesting angles. Breaking precincts down by sociodemographic ‘type’, we find that the Greens did best in downtown precincts, with a high proportion of students and middle-classes (31.7%) and in highly-educated, affluent residential areas (29%). With the exception of the downtown-type precincts, which are strong only for the Greens, the Greens did well in areas where the ÖVP also did well, showing the relatively high socioeconomic status of many Green voters.
The FPÖ did well in the same kind of places where the SPÖ also did well, but poorly in places where the Greens and ÖVP did well. The FPÖ’s best results came from high-density residential precincts with ‘ordinary people’ and large apartment towers or social housing (29.2%, these were also some of the SPÖ’s strongest areas, with 30% of the vote).
I am quite sure these observations in Innsbruck also apply to other cities in Austria. The correlation between SPÖ and FPÖ strength certainly applies in Vienna as well.
The SPÖ won ‘Red Vienna’, albeit with only 31.6%, down 3% since 2008. The Greens and FPÖ have, over the years, seriously weakened the SPÖ in its old stronghold. The FPÖ placed second with 20.6%, but this will be a disappointing result for HC Strache, who had won over 26% in the 2010 state elections and was likely hoping for a strong result in his hometown. The FPÖ has always been banging on the red-green government which governs the city since 2010 and which has attracted some controversy for its transportation policies.
One of the more interesting aspects of Viennese geopolitics is the correlation between the SPÖ and the FPÖ’s support in the city: the FPÖ’s strongest districts tend to be some of the SPÖ’s strongest districts. The FPÖ’s best result this year came from Simmering (31.1%) in southern Vienna, a working-class district with a substantial immigrant population (but not huge; it also has white low-income areas where I suspect the FPÖ does best) which was also the SPÖ’s best district this year (39.9%). The FPÖ won its second best result next door in Favoriten, winning 28.7% to the SPÖ’s 39.8%. The FPÖ (and, you guessed it, SPÖ) also did well on the other side of the Danube, in Donaustadt (36.5% SPÖ, 26.8% FPÖ) and Floridsdorf (37.2% SPÖ and 28.6% FPÖ); two low-income and traditionally working-class districts, with a fairly low immigrant population. Both parties again did well in Liesing, Meidling and Brigittenau; working-class districts close to large concentrations of immigrants or immigrant-heavy themselves.
The FPÖ’s support, however, has declined in the most immigrant-heavy parts of the city; notably Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, where the FPÖ won 25.7% in 1994 but only 18.3% today (the FPÖ vote citywide was about 2% lower in 2013 than in 1994). This is also the case in Margareten (24.5% in 1994, 15.1% today), Ottakring (25.5% in ’94, 20.1% today) or Leopoldstadt (25.3% in 1994, 16.7% today). These districts have some of the highest immigrant populations in Vienna, and parts of Leopoldstadt, Ottakring and Margareten have seen gentrification in recent years, which has brough along stronger Green support. FPÖ has indeed fallen off since the ’90s in the Greens’ inner-city districts, their weakest terrain. On the other hand, their results in the outer blue-collar suburbs aforementioned are nearly all-time highs – in fact, the FPÖ vote in 2013 in Simmering and Floridsdorf was even higher than in 1999 (even if city-wide support was down 4% on 1999).
The Greens won 16.4% in Vienna, up 0.5% and enough to take third place ahead of the ÖVP (14.5%, down 2.2% and winning their worst Viennese result in any national election). Both parties were hurt by NEOS, which won 7.6% of the vote in Vienna. Indeed, the Greens’ result is mediocre considering their national average; in 2006, the Greens won 17.3% in Vienna.
NEOS did best in the Innere Stadt, an extremely costly and affluent professional district in the heart of Vienna (it has a small population, but in the daytime its population swells due to the government and business centered here) which is the city’s ÖVP stronghold. The ÖVP won 30% of the vote in the Innere Stadt, down nearly 9% on 2008 (the ÖVP won 42.9% in 2006…). The Greens’ support declined as well: down nearly 3% on 2008, to 17.2%. NEOS won 15.6%, and the results clearly confirm that NEOS hurt the ÖVP and the Greens without having much effect on the SPÖ (its weak support up 0.2%) and likely no effect on the FPÖ.
NEOS did very well in the rather affluent, very well-educated and ‘bobo’ inner-city Green strongholds (which form a ring around the Innere Stadt): 13.3% in Josefstadt, 12.8% in Alsergrund, 12.3% in the Neubau, 12.1% in Wieden and 11.8% in Mariahilf; all of which were won by the Greens (as in 2008). The Greens lost votes in two of their inner-city strongholds: -1.4% to 28% in Josefstadt, -0.2% to 32.4% in Neubau; and they were stagnant in Alsergrund, Wieden and Mariahil. And in any case, they fell short of their 2006 levels.
NEOS also did well in more suburban affluent districts, which are also good for the ÖVP. NEOS won 13% in Währing (24% ÖVP), 11.9% in Döbling (24.7% ÖVP) and 11.9% in Hietzing (27% ÖVP). The swing against the ÖVP and the Greens were even larger in these districts than city-wide.
On the results of this election, a continuation of the SPÖVP Grand Coalition which has ruled since 2006 is by far the most, if not only, realistic option for forming a government. In fact, even before the election, most people thought that the Grand Coalition would be renewed for another go-round after the election. The SPÖ and ÖVP have their disagreements and during the campaign both parties made sure to make voters think that they hadn’t actually governed together for seven years. Yet, no other option had the numbers and/or was acceptable enough to the parties involved.
Black-blue and red-green both fell short (especially the latter), and a black-blue coalition was unlikely even if it did have the numbers. The ÖVP has said that the FPÖ will need to change its positions on the EU and be less hostile towards immigration if they want to serve in government with them. A right-wing government made up of the ÖVP, FPÖ and TS do hold an absolute majority, albeit pretty thin to make it vulnerable to defections. Anyhow, that option hasn’t even been considered seriously by the parties involved. Red-blue, which is not as ‘out there’ as some foreign observers might assume, is still even less likely.
There were talks of extending the Grand Coalition into a Super-Grand Coalition with the inclusion of the Greens and/or NEOS, but nobody seemed to take that too seriously or be overly keen on it.
In conclusion, this election will likely bring about very few changes in governance: the main changes could be in the attribution of cabinet portfolios, with a rumour that Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP) might switch from foreign affairs to finance, removing the rather unpopular ÖVP finance minister Maria Fekter. The ÖVP’s extremely popular Sebastian Kurz, the 27-year old state secretary for integration (Kurz received more preferential votes than Spindelegger) will likely receive a major promotion.
Nevertheless, with the continuation of the Grand Coalition – once again made up of parties which ‘lost’ the election (as Strache was quick to point out) – means that Austria seems to be, again, on route to a 1999-like election with a very strong FPÖ.
The FPÖ will be helped by the fact that the BZÖ is now basically dead and by the rapid implosion of Team Stronach. TS was always destined to be a flash in the pan, because Stronach is quite old and already is too busy living most of the time in Canada to actually lead a political party on the other side of the pond (he can’t stay over 70 days in Austria because he’d need to pay all his taxes in Austria). Since the election, Stronach, who has run TS with an iron hand, has already sacked three TS state leaders, other state leaders are angry at Stronach, the Carinthian TS wants to split from the federal party, the Vorarlberg TS has basically imploded and Stronach has moved back to Canada and let the new TS parliamentary leader, Katrin Nachbaur, to deal with the mess. TS has seen its support collapse to 2% in post-election polls, while the FPÖ has already been pegged at 25% in one poll (tied for first). In the meantime, NEOS’ support has steadily increased to 6-8%… a new political force to reckon with?
Thanks for bearing with me as I try catching up on backlog… stay tuned for Nova Scotia (Oct 7) and Luxembourg (Oct 20) coming up next.