Readers may remember the first attempt to hold this year’s Polish presidential election, which fell apart due to Covid-19. The official date for the first round passed on 10 May with no polling: it was unsafe to open polling stations, and the government had been unable to organise a postal vote in time.
The opposition, which had been trailing badly in the opinion polls, was pleased with the postponement, and the main opposition party, Civic Platform (centre/centre-right), took the opportunity to switch candidates. Previous nominee Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska withdrew and was replaced by Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw.
Whether it was the change that did the trick or the government’s incompetence over the election timing, Trzaskowski is now doing much better in the polls against incumbent Andrzej Duda, of the governing far-right Law & Justice party.
Now there’s a new election date: the first round has been set down for Sunday 28 June, with the runoff, if required (and at this rate it almost certainly will be), a fortnight later on 12 July. Poles will have the option of voting in person or by post; Law & Justice dropped the idea of a postal-only election in return for quick passage of the legislation through the Senate, where it lacks a majority.
The polls suggest that Duda, facing ten other candidates, still has a comfortable first-round lead, but having topped the 50% mark in April he is now back to the low 40s. Politico’s poll aggregator has him at 43% to 27% for Trzaskowski, with independent Szymon Hołownia, a TV personality and humanitarian activist, in third place with 11%.
The only others likely to make much impact are Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, of the agrarian People’s Party, and Krzysztof Bosak, of the far-right Confederation – both polling in the high single figures. The centre-left’s Robert Biedroń has dropped to about 3%.
Apart from Bosak, none of the other candidates are likely to deliver many votes to Duda in the second round. So while hypothetical second-round polling needs to be taken with some caution, there’s nothing implausible in the polls that show Duda and Trzaskowski almost neck and neck in the runoff: Politico gives Duda just a slight edge, 52-48.
Clearly the government is worried. Instead of trying to defend its handling of the health crisis, it is working hard to turn the election into a battle over gay rights. Trzaskowski is notably liberal on the issue, having supported sex education in schools and civil partnerships for same-sex couples, while Law & Justice depends heavily on conservative rural voters.
The rural and religious vote has done the trick for it at the last three elections – the presidential election in 2015, when Duda was first elected, and parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2019. But each time it has been close. Duda only got 51.5% in the runoff last time, and in last year’s parliamentary election the combined opposition actually led the government by five points.
So even if (as is sadly likely) the majority of Polish voters don’t much like gay people, it’s very possible that they may give that second place to their dissatisfaction with the government, and refuse to be distracted by a scare campaign. It’s going to be an interesting few weeks for Poland.