The Progressive Post

The Polish presidential elections: socio-demographic differentiations

Professor University of Warsaw

Andrzej Duda, the incumbent president, who stems from the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) won his battle for re-election against the opposition candidate Rafał Trzaskowski. With a turnout of 68,18%, Duda won 51,03 versus 48,97 per cent for his rival. It is worth noting that the difference between the winner and the loser is the tiniest in the history of the 3rd Republic.

Some people claim that the support for Andrzej Duda can be explained by the mobilisation of those grateful Polish women, who appreciate the programme 500+ (the programme of direct financial transfers, with which the PiS government pays allowances of 500 złoty  to all the families with children). Generally, it is assumed that the PiS candidate won exclusively thanks to the votes of the rural areas, whilst the cities and towns opted for Rafał Trzaskowski. There is also an unfortunate tendency to believe that Duda’s victory was ensured by the exceptional mobilisation of the older citizens. In fact, none of these opinions is true – even if each of them has a proverbial grain of truth. Let’s see the numbers.

According to the exit polls by Ipsos, the difference in preferences by respectively men and women was very small – even within the margins of statistical errors. Andrzej Duda won among men (51,3 to 48,7 per cent), but Rafał Trzaskowski won among women (50,4 to 49,6 per cent).

Much clearer were the differences between the generations. Among the youngest voters, Rafał Trzaskowski won decisively with 64,4 % of votes. That is more than 2,5 times his result in the same group in the 1st round. This means that the candidate of the Civic Platform was very efficient in attracting young supporters of all other opposition parties. 

Among citizens older than 60 years, Andrzej Duda secured comfortable primacy, obtaining 61,7%? This isn’t however reflecting any spectacular raise in support vis-à-vis what he already had in the 1st round, in which he could count on 59,8% of seniors’ votes. This was double as much as what Trzaskowski noted in terms of the support of these cohorts. 

Among people with middle or high school exam education, the votes spread quite equally. Andrzej Duda was voted by 50,3 per cent, while Rafał Trzaskowski was supported by 49,7 per cent. The opposition candidate was knocked-out by the voters with only primary education (of whom 77,3 per cent voted against him per cent) or vocational training (74,7 per cent against him). At the same time, Trzaskowski decisively won among the highest educated Poles (65,9 per cent among people with BA or more). 

Equally interesting are the results when comparing the outcome in rural areas with those in big agglomerations. On the countryside, where about 40 per cent of all the Poles live, the incumbent President scored with 63,2 per cent in the second round, up from 55,9 per cent in the 1st round. Even though Rafał Trzaskowski almost doubled his result in rural areas from two weeks earlier, this translated into barely more than 1/3 of the votes. Trzaskowski won in the largest cities – agglomerations with 500.000 inhabitants or more – where he reached 66,5 per cent. These agglomerations combined however have less inhabitants than the Polish rural areas.

From the official results, in the communities with less than 20.000 inhabitants, Duda collected 5,38 million votes, and Trzaskowski only 3,3 million. Similarly, in the communities between 20.000 and 50.000 inhabitants – they obtained respectively 1,98 and 1,96 million votes; in the communities with 50.000 to 100.000 – 0,82 and 0,89 million respectively; and in the agglomerations with more than 100.000 inhabitants – 2,15 and 3,55 million respectively.

The candidate of the Civic Platform took the challenge to fight for the electorate of the small and middle cities, which were supposed to be the equivalent of the “swing states”. The assumption was that he could rely on the big cities right from the beginning and he had absolutely nothing to hope for on the countryside. It turned out however that the metaphor of „swing states” has its limitations – it is evidently applicable in the American system, when winner (even if winning by a small percentage) takes all the electoral votes. But although Trzaskowski won minimally among the inhabitants of the towns between 20.000 and 100.000 inhabitants, this was not enough for an overall victory.

What was decisive was the high mobilisation of the core electorate of PiS on the countryside, which surpassed the level of mobilisation of the liberal voters in big cities. 

The myth however that Duda won the entire countryside and Trzaskowski won the cities is a only a half-truth. Perhaps a bit more than half truth – half of all the votes casted for Andrzej Duda indeed come from the countryside, but the other half came from inhabitants of cities.

To sum up, the presidential elections 2020 showed clearly that next to generational differences, a much bigger factor was where people live and what kind of socio-economic status they hold. The electoral result solidified the ongoing tendency of class and political divisions correlating with one another. The popular classes, workers, and lower, middle class voted for the populist right in their vast majority, whilst the cities middle and upper class supported the liberal and left-wing parties.

Professor Przemysław Sadura is co-author of the report: Political cynicism: the
Case of Poland

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