* Public Opinion and Shifts in Political Parties Preferences

Undoubtedly, party preferences are an indicator (and, from the point of view of media discourse, the most rewarding one) of political moods in the public. Why is it precisely party “popularity” that lays in focus of attention of laymen and expert public alike? Without the need to plunge into theoretical enumerations of functional lists of political parties, it is beyond discussions that political parties represent – along law-making bodies, government, and bureaucracy – the main structural component of the political system and create its institutional and relational environment.

They belong to formal organisations, through which authoritative – i.e. binding – decisions are adopted. They are the cornerstone institutions of representative democracy (and this is not a hyperbole). The main difference as opposed to other types of social associations of citizens is that they struggle for support of the general public in elections (Dalton; LaPalombara, Weiner). And it is exactly through elections that decision on the selection of government administration is taken in democracy.

Many post-election investigations show that the basic configuration of party-political arrangement remains unchanged for Czech public opinion. Only preferences of the two strongest parties on the political spectrum, the ČSSD and ODS, continue to be dynamic parts in the structure and post-election development of party inclinations of the population. Despite that, we may express a hypothesis that momentary turbulences in party preferences do not erode the existing basic bi-polar format of the party-political competition with focus on the centre. This is especially the case with the maintaining of current ghettoisation of KSČM and its exclusion from government coalition combinations (Fiala, Strmiska; Sartori). ODS and ČSSD continue to be the two gravitation poles with long-term competitive potential and chance to appeal to the most significant segments of the voter market. Therefore, the assumption that the perspective of social democracy as a dominant entity on the left-wing political spectrum remains incontestable is justified. ODS and ČSSD are perhaps the most universal parties – concerning the ideological load, lesser focus on particular interests, attention focused not on narrowly defined collectivism but to the individual voter (“national clientele”) and offering access to various interest groups. Both parties are simply best predestined to be all encompassing, integration parties (for more details on the notion of the catch all party, see Kirchheimer, Klíma 1996).

KSČM and KDU-ČSL maintain quite stable voter support. KSČM represents a strong extreme-left pole of the party system. However, its representation in the Parliament or voter potential is no longer sufficient to exclude the alternation of the government parties without participation of KSČM in practice. The solidity of preferences of KDU-ČSL is not surprising either. KDU-ČSL profits from its specific role as a country, socially integrative, denominational party with firmly anchored core electorate. Moreover, its expectations are reinforced by the strategic importance, which political centre has in Czech party system, based on the centripetal character of the political competition (Sartori).

With the exception of the existing parliamentary parties, only Association of Independent Candidates (Sdružení nezávislých kandidátů) and the Green Party (Strana zelených) regularly show certain, at least minimum gains in preferences (both 1 to 2 percent). The new political formations or formations not present in the Parliament face an extraordinary difficult task: to break certain conservatism of Czech voters. Various investigations show that the undecided voters oftentimes either choose not to take part in the elections or they do not cast their vote (fictitious as far as preferences are concerned) in favour of the party corresponding to their interests and expectations in reality but they select one of the relatively closer, “least unacceptable” main political parties. The voters, it seems, instinctively look for major power poles of the political spectrum and prefer strong, tried-and-true, and familiar political party “branches”. Moreover, the current relevant parties have already created a living tradition, stability, and party loyalty among large segments of the society.

Having said there were no substantial transformations in the basic contours of the party system, we do not mean to suggest that there are no shifts in party preferences in time.

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