These presidential elections will be different: intrigue awaits

Presidential candidates

More at the polling booths

“Why go if the result is clear anyway?” public opinion and market research company Vilmorus chief Vladas Gaidys summarised voters’ opinions on the last presidential elections.

Mykolas Romeris University docent Saulius Spurga also noted that many saw no reason to vote in the previous presidential elections.

“During the last elections, there was a more or less clear winner. It was the second term and seemingly no doubts arose for anyone. Thus, of course some may not have seen a point to attend voting,” he said.

V. Gaidys guesses that the 2019 elections should feature higher turnout: “I believe that more will come. It is just that two elections in a row, there was a single dominant candidate – Dalia Grybauskaitė, while the others were unremarkable.”

Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) professor Ainė Ramonaitė holds a similar view. Beyond there being more intrigue and rising expectations, she pointed out that it has been long since voters have had the chance to express support for one or another political power.

“There has been quite some time since the Seimas elections and I believe that the time has come when people want to express their changed or unchanged political preferences. The presidential elections are a chance,” the professor explained.

However, according to her, the “Farmers” have yet to nominate a candidate and it is still unclear if the presidential elections will reflect party competition: “The current format that is developing isn’t really partisan.”

The VU TSPMI professor pointed out analysis by her colleague Mažvydas Jastramskis, which showed that part of voters act differently during elections, having irregular attendance.

“If the offerings satisfy them, if they see a new interesting candidate or party, they participate, but if they are disappointed in their choice, they later cease participating. […]

It is interesting, how they will view this situation – whether there are candidates worth their attention or not. Of course, at least the current leading candidates are rather new. […] I would say that there are enough offerings, which could draw the occasional voter back to the poll booth,” she commented.

Even weather matters

However, not everything is equally straightforward. Voter turnout is affected by a number of factors and many of them are still unclear. As S. Spurga mentioned, even such “down to earth” circumstances as the weather on election day matter.

All three of LRT’s commentators mentioned that an important factor will be, who will become the “Farmer” candidate.

According to S. Spurga, the top two candidates – Ingrida Šimonytė and Gitanas Nausėda are very similar and appeal to the same electorate. Thus, a left-wing politician could draw more voters.

According to A. Ramonaitė, G. Nausėda is seemingly seeking to occupy this left-wing niche. “But if we are left with the situation we have now, part of the left-wing voters could feel odd if they have to choose from two right-wing candidates,” she said.

S. Spurga emphasised that no candidate has gathered the prerequisite 20 thousand signatures yet – they can only become real candidates and campaign full strength when they have gathered the signatures.

“no doubt, this [voters activity] is also based on voters’ moods, the catchiness and appeal of the electoral campaign, the selection of candidates. We still do not know many of these factors,” the political scientist said. According to him, a catchy campaign advertises not only the candidates themselves, but also the elections.

A. Ramonaitė also mentioned that desire to actively participate in the presidential elections could also be supressed by the frequency of elections: “We have three elections in a row. This ends up being somewhat distracting.”

Last minute decisions

Based on Vilmorus surveys, V. Gaidys pointed out that the number of undecided or not planning to vote voters is currently 35-40%. The expert finds that overall, this result is not exceptional.

“A truly significant number of people decide on, for example, election day,” V. Gaidys emphasised.

A. Ramonaitė also mentioned that there are a number of voters in Lithuania, who delay the decision of whether to vote and who to vote for until the last days prior to the elections. In this regard, she notes, we differ from countries where democracy has deeper roots.

“In older democracies there are fewer people, who do not know ahead of time, who they will vote for and would make the decision based on the electoral campaign.

But in Lithuania it is becoming increasingly evident. Ever more people have established views and watch campaigning, as well as consult their circle, listen to the surrounding peoples’ moods. Then, as if a wave, they flood forth in the favour of one or other candidate before the elections. I believe this could be the case now as well,” she explained.

S. Spurga saod that given how the list of candidates has a number of new faces, voters’ opinions could shift a number of times in the run up to election day.

One thing is clear when predicting voter turnout during the coming elections – they should be more active than other elections. V. Gaidys stressed that the presidential elections have always been the most active. A significant reason, according to him, is that the presidential elections format is “one on one”, has a second round, all reminding of a sports competition.

“In all countries the presidential elections (if they are direct) are no doubt the most interesting and most emphasised,” he stressed.

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