In 2014 Freedom Party (FPÖ) has gathered 19.7% of total votes. According to latest estimates (2019), it has gathered 17.2%.

For someone totally outside Austrian politics and hearing only about big things like recent scandal involving the Freedom Party the loss of 2.5% seems rather small. As a comparison in Romania, the ruling party (Social Democrats) has lost about 20% between national parliamentary elections and EU parliamentary elections (~45% => ~25%).

Question: Is there an explanation for Austria's Freedom Party virtually retaining its vote share despite recent scandal?

  • 4
    The FPÖ's slogan for the EU election was "Now more than ever". They say the release of this video was an attempted political assasination (especially as it was released 2 years later), and that Strache took the necessary steps (i.e. resigning). Chancellor Kurz also dismissed Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) from his position as the minister of inner affairs. This resulted in the FPÖ convincing voters they are the primary victim in this governmental crisis and that the ÖVP is power-obsessed. FPÖ voters are more infuriated by this alleged political assasination than the actual content of the Ibiza video. Commented May 27, 2019 at 10:51
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    I feel the need to comment that your percentages are off. A reduction from 45% to 25% is not a 20% reduction, it's 45% reduction (0.45 * 0.55 = 0.25), similarly, a reduction from 19.7% to 17.2% is a 13% reduction (0.197 * 0.87 = 0.172). Note the difference from your original numbers: 20% vs 2.5% is 8x whereas 45% vs 13% is 3x. So the relative loss of the FPÖ is 1/3rd of the relative loss of the Romanian Social Democrats, which is a bit more significant than 1/8th. Commented May 28, 2019 at 6:54
  • @MatthieuM. - yes, you are right. It is just that local media and people do not think in vote count (and in % vote count as a consequence). So 45% total votes for national parliamentary elections, about 25% at European Parliament elections => 20% difference of total votes (which are not the same between elections anyway). Of course, this is not mathematically correct, but politics is not an exact science either :).
    – Alexei
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 7:12
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    To be a bit less pedantic and perhaps more helpful: The way the question compares votes is commonly referred to as "percentage points", for this very reason. Commented May 28, 2019 at 10:26
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    You are comparing the wrong things. If you want to know how much support they lost because of the video, you need to compare numbers from before the video with numbers after the video, not numbers from years ago to numbers after the video. After all, they could have gained 80% since the last elections, then lost 82.5% during the last weeks. Commented May 28, 2019 at 19:50

4 Answers 4

  1. The circumstances of the scandal:

    The video got recorded in 2017, months before the 2017 parliament elections. Somehow it wasn't publicized then. There exist speculations that the video was unusable then as the competing Socialist Party was exposed in an dirty campaigning case after the recording and weeks before the 2017 elections. People understand that the timing of the publication was intentional, weeks before the vote in 2019. People also understand that a lot of effort and money was put in creating this video.

  2. It was empty talk

    While the whole exposure is a embarrassing example of dirty politics the promises/plans in the video never were implemented.

  3. Mentality

    There are historical examples of an "even more so" mentality in Austria, especially on right leaning voters. The last thing they want is to be guided by foreign ("Der Spiegel" and "Süddeutsche" two German, left leaning newspapers received and publicized the compromising material) influences. Perhaps it can be characterized by "he is a bad guy, but he is our bad guy"

  • 3
    Re 2, the main reason that the plans mentioned in the video never got implemented was that the woman in the video was not the oligarch’s niece she claimed to be, and quite likely neither willing nor in a position to offer any financial support.
    – user149408
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 18:34
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    At 2) Strache talked about using charitable associations controlled by the FPÖ to hide money from the Rechnungshof (Austrian Court of Audit). This caused the public prosecutor to start investigations into the finances of the FPÖ. The investigation will show if this was "empty talk" or if money laundering has already occured in the past. Commented May 28, 2019 at 10:51

The FPÖ likely lost more than 2.5% due to the scandal.

Other answers give a good overview why the FPÖ still performed fairly well. They did, however, not perform as well as they could have - comparing to the election results 2014 might be misleading. Polls conducted prior to the publication of the video kicking of the scandal (May 15) consistently showed the FPÖ at 22-24%. The scandal could therefore have cost them up to 7% of votes.

https://europeelects.eu/european-union/austria/ has an overview of pre-election (and, except for the latest, pre-scandal) polls. Based on these, the ÖVP and the Green Party have over-performed on election day, while the FPÖ massively under-performed their polls (again, except for the last which was taken post-scandal).

  • This is I think a huge point. The effect of the scandal isn’t the difference between the FPÖ’s share now and in 2017, but the difference between its share now and what its share would be without the scandal. Of course we can’t know that “would be” exactly — but there are lots of good reasons to expect that its share now would otherwise have been significantly bigger than what it was in 2017: not only the pre-scandal polls, but also the fact that other comparable nationalist parties across Europe all gained vote share in this year’s elections. Commented May 28, 2019 at 19:59

The FPÖ and their voters live in a bubble on social media. No upset reported by other media will deter them from voting for 'their' party, even moreso if it threatened to burst their bubble. The minor loss of voters are probably voters who either vote for the ÖVP or FPÖ on any given day.

  • 9
    Some sources would be nice.
    – Jontia
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 10:28
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    Do you mean that they objectively live in some extraordinary media bubble? Or you mean that they have a different media bubble than you have?
    – Shadow1024
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 11:51
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    They rate communication with party leaders higher than coverage from traditional media. So the answer to both questions is actually yes. Judging from the Ibiza video the party sees traditional media through the eyes of social media experts. It is just about pushing your own content and view. There is no room for discussions or arguments. It treats newspaper outlets like Falter or Der Standard as enemies and works on reducing their influence and gravitas (by reducing public funding, bad mouthing) and instead pushes their own media outlets like Unzensuriert.
    – user26700
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 12:35
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    Follow-up: As a consequence voters see reports from such newspapers as lies, defamatory pieces and at worst messages from political enemies. They have strong ties to the movement "Identitäre". So when Martin Sellner, leader of the movement, promoted voting for HC Strache on FB in EU elections, despite himself admitting errors, Strache took the first place in party results and will likely join EU parliament.
    – user26700
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 12:46

Looking at the last two election results of the FPÖ at both national and EU level, one gets a different picture:

  • 20.51% in the 2013 national election (source)
  • 19.72% in the 2014 EU election (source)
  • 26% in the 2017 national election (source)
  • 17.2% in the 2019 EU election (source)

The 2013 and 2014 results are less than a percentage point apart, so I would assume voter behavior does not differ systematically between EU and national elections. (If there were any systematic variation between national and EU results, other events with an effect on voter behavior between 2013 and 2014 would have countered that.)

The 2017 national election saw a peak (the reasons for which would make for another interesting question). Compared to that, the FPÖ has lost some 8.8 percentage points.

In percentage of votes, they have lost some 33% over 2017—I would not call that “virtually retaining its vote share”. (The quoted example of the Social Democrats in Romania corresponds to a 44% decline. The 2017–2019 decline in FPÖ votes is closer to that than to the 2014–2019 decline, which would be 14%).

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