How Do Young Poles Vote (and Why Not for Liberals)?

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The year of 2019 is a time of double election in Poland – European election in spring and parliamentary election in late autumn. Everyone fills the ballots – at least theoretically, as in practice the turnout in Poland usually oscillates around 50% (and less than half of that for the euro-election). A noticeable part of that 50% group is the youth. So how do they vote? And why not the way we expect them to?

One of the most dangerous cognitive errors is the bubble effect, present both in the physical and virtual environment. We’re closing ourselves in our own safe space. We talk with people who agree with us. We submit ourselves to conformity, because it’s a guarantee of our peace of mind. Even you, reading this article, are probably pumping your own bubble right now.

Voices from outside the bubble reach us rarely, being suppressed by its thick walls of reluctance for everything that is incompatible with our worldview. For this reason, the liberals, in Western Europe supported largely by the youngest electorate (vide FDP or Greens in Germany), expect similar support in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The year 2015 showed, on the Polish example, how wrong they were. For over three years we have been suffering from a one-party, conservative, populist, and constitution-denying government. Over 37% of support gave Law and Justice’s (PiS) camp over half of the seats in the parliament. But what if we only consider votes cast by the 18-29 age group?

The situation would not have been any better: over two-thirds of all seats in the parliament would be held by a conservative or “anti-system” right-wing parties – the first place among the youth would still be PiS, the second on the podium would be Kukiz15 (an anti-system and conservative party focused around former musician Pawel Kukiz), and the third best result would be achieved by Janusz Korwin-Mikke (famous for chauvinism, racism, and homophobia) with his party KORWiN.

After these calculations, you can see how much the middle-aged and older electorate stabilizes the Polish political scene. Why, however, the Polish youth did not more willingly vote for the leftist Razem, Greens or liberal Nowoczesna?

It seems to me that there are two answers: Firstly, the Polish youth is fascinated with anti-system parties. The very idea of “combating the system” is more attractive than the other points of the program. In the previous parliamentary election, the third strongest party was Palikot Movement – also supported by the youth, also anti-system, but  in this case – leftist and liberal.

Secondly, in 2015, conservative youths went on to vote more willingly and in bigger number than their liberal colleagues. After eight years of the Civic Platform’s stable government, balancing between the center-right and the center, nothing foretold such a sharp change in the political course that began after the PiS took power.

Liberals and the left underestimated the dissatisfaction of Poles and the strong PiS election campaign. What is more, the votes caught by the left were wasted, as United Left did not reach the electoral threshold, and those given to the center were not enough to maintain the Civic Platform government.

It is already visible by now that currently, young voters are getting closer to the left again. There is a lot of interest in Robert Biedron’s Spring party – which, by the way, is ruthlessly gathering program points from the parties present in the parliament right now. These, however, dominated by the PiS, have not been able to implement their programs since 2015.

For the disillusioned youth, such powerlessness is enough – it is time to find someone new. Will it be Biedron? We shall see.

The local elections of 2018 showed that the balance of power is slowly returning to Civic Platform and opposition, and soon it may tip in their favor.

Currently, the opposition is uniting itself for the European election. Spring, however, announced an independent start. The way youth’s votes will break between the opposition’s coalition and the Spring party may significantly affect the electoral programs and election campaigns of the autumn parliamentary election.

In the meantime, we’re still in our bubble. It seems to us that if our friends from work or school are voting for the same liberal or leftist parties as we do, they are supposed to win. Simply because, and believe me –  that’s what I keep telling myself in 2015 – “I do not know anyone who voted for PiS!”.

And yet, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s party won previously. And it will win again if we remain unable to get out of our bubbles. And the first people that we should talk to, and talk with, after doing this – are the young. To show them that anti-system parties are doomed to become fully integrated with the system, and to encourage them to vote on those parties that share their values. If we do it right – I’ll eat my hat, if the right is going to win the elections.

Kacper Aleksander Czechowicz
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