Why did Poland’s conservatives lose power? New data may reveal the answer

Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, addresses supporters at his party headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
By Grzegorz Adamczyk
4 Min Read

There has been much talk of how the Law and Justice (PiS) party campaign over-concentrated on attacking Donald Tusk, but even if that was the case, the PiS still earned 7.6 million votes and came out on top after eight years in power.  

Power seems likely to have been lost and there were mistakes in the campaign, but they do not account for the huge turnout that Poland witnessed last Sunday. The OGB research indicates that even a more nuanced and positive campaign would not have made that much difference to the final result. 

It shows that voters, when asked for reasons why they voted in the way they did, chose the issue of abortion, the state of the economy, and national security over issues such as migration or the role of the church.

It turns out that these were not the topics that were focused on in the campaign by both sides of the dispute. People did not seem to care about the “visa scandal” or “the role of the Church in the state,” or “immigrants and the relocation of refugees,” but the “economic situation,” “abortion and women’s rights,” “the state security status,” and “judiciary status and rule of law.”

For liberal voters, it was abortion and the rule of law which were the main issues, and for voters of the centrist Third Way, it was the state of the economy and abortion. PiS voters opted for national security as the main issue, which actually shows that the PiS slogan for the campaign, “Secure future for Poles,” was spot on. 

The Constitutional Court ruling on abortion in 2020 led to the first time in which mass protests were joined by the young who were not necessarily committed to the opposition parties. The fact that the protests became discredited because of the radicalism of the Women’s Strike movement does not change the simple fact that these were the biggest protests in democratic Poland. 

The breach of the compromise over abortion, which limited it but did not ban it altogether, led to the first big fall in support for PiS, which the party never fully recovered from in the years that followed the protests. People were not demonstrating in favor of abortion, but against what they saw as a breach of a social contract with regard to the issue. 

The opposition, which is about to come to power, better understand the implications of this sentiment. If they start breaching the social contract over abortion or issues such as the universal child benefit or the retirement age, they will end up in the same place as PiS or much worse. 

It does seem that last Sunday, Poland witnessed the culmination of a rebellion that had been brewing for the last few years. Few saw it coming, and opinion polls in advance of the elections were not showing the kind of turnout that occurred. 

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