The Progressive Post

🇦🇹 Austria – an unexpectedly tight race


FEPS Vice-President
Karl-Renner-Institute Director

For the first time in nationwide elections in Austria, the far-right Freedom Party landed in first place. However, they had performed better in the past and – contrary to what was expected – their lead over both the conservatives and the Social Democrats is marginal.

In the end, the race was tighter than expected. Prior to the elections, all polls had projected the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) becoming the strongest party at the European Parliament elections in Austria with a comfortable lead. The Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the conservative Peoples Party (ÖVP) were predicted to compete for second place. However, the final results show the three parties almost on equal footing within a range of 2.1 percentage points – FPÖ 25.4 per cent, ÖVP 24.5 per cent and SPÖ 23.3 per cent. Two more parties also managed to gain seats, the Green Party and Neos (Liberals) with both just over 10 per cent. The Communist Party, which had made headlines earlier this year for its significant success at the municipal elections in Salzburg, landed with 3 per cent and therefore did not make it beyond the threshold. 

The two most surprising outcomes were the underperformance of the Freedom Party compared to the polls and the relatively stable result of the conservatives, who lost 10 percentage points but came second, close behind the Freedom Party. After the 2019 election victory of the ÖVP, both at the European and national elections, the party suffered a severe crisis. For many months, the pollsters saw the ÖVP with little more than 20 per cent, up to 10 percentage points behind the Freedom Party. Sunday’s result painted a different picture. The conservatives performed significantly better than predicted. At 56 per cent, the turnout was lower than before, but the ÖVP obviously managed to mobilise their supporters, while the far right had problems in convincing their electorate to actually vote. Especially in the urban areas, the Freedom Party’s performance was rather weak. For the first time in a national election, the Freedom Party came first, but it was not their best result ever. Even in the first European election in Austria in 1994, the party scored higher. 

The Social Democrats remained stable and were just 2.2 per cent behind the Freedom Party. This is relevant in the context of the general elections that will take place in September this year. The European election, with its tight race, showed that the outcome of the September election is hard to predict. All three of the major parties in Austria have the potential to come in first. 

However, while the conservatives lost mostly to the Freedom Party, a large share of people who voted for the SPÖ at the 2019 European elections could not be mobilised and stayed at home this time. When examining different electoral groups, we can observe that younger voters tend to support the three big parties less than the average voter and favour the Liberals and Communists at an above-average rate. In contrast, more than 80 percent of voters over 60 cast their ballot for the ÖVP, SPÖ or FPÖ. 

For some weeks, the media was dominated by a scandal involving the Green lead candidate whose fitness for office was questioned by multiple sources that accused her of spreading harmful rumours about other politicians, activists and journalists. Consequently, the Greens lost voters to the Social Democrats and the non-voters, leading to the loss of one seat. 

The most important election motive for voters of all parties was the respective political programme. The most discussed topics amongst the voters during the election campaign were migration, followed by security and war, environment/climate and the economy.

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