Year before the elections: What do ratings of presidential candidates mean?

Author : Oleksandr Shulga

Source : 112 Ukraine

Latest polls show that there are many candidates, and the gap between them is only a few percents
23:12, 24 May 2018

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The presidential race has not officially begun yet, but all the applicants have already entered it. There is less than a year left before the presidential election but we cannot speak of some sort of hierarchy of candidates, who have the greatest chances to go to the second round. But the latest all-Ukrainian polls show that there are many such candidates. Moreover, the gap between them is only a few percents.

We can make at least three conclusions from the recent studies.

The first of these is that Petro Poroshenko has passed all three phases of voters’ relations, as it happened with the previous Ukrainian presidents: "support" – a very short period of several months after the beginning of the cadence, "parity of confidence/distrust" – this period is even shorter, "degradation of the support" - a period that stretches for several years and is characterized by a constant decline in the rating of the incumbent head of state. Poroshenko has already passed through these periods and stopped at the last, so to say, "terminal" phase, which affects the absolute rating of distrust (more than 70%) and a relatively small positive rating (around 10%). The same path was passed, for example, by Viktor Yushchenko, who approached the "terminal" phase even more quickly and lost power in a "traditional" way. As well as Viktor Yanukovych, who lost his power not through elections, but according to polls, including closed ones, he was consistently losing in the second round to Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk (at the end of 2013).

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Poroshenko has 13% of confidence against 82% of mistrust (data by Rating group) and 10% of positive attitude versus 71% of negative (KIIS data), in the imaginary second round of elections, he is also losing to virtually all of its main competitors and even to singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. Therefore, under the current conditions, Poroshenko’s chances for re-election are not very optimistic. Actually, that is why this phase was called "terminal".

The second conclusion from the latest polls is close to the first one, but is more optimistic. The gap between all probable candidates is not so great. I mean, in the first round. The president is now at the "terminal" phase of his rating, and, it would seem that defeating him should not be a difficult task. But we see that the negative towards Petro Poroshenko does not turn into trust and support to those who criticize and oppose him: a few percent of the gap does not mean victory, but rather a sign of the fatigue of the voters and of the "oppositionists".

Consequently, the third conclusion follows from the previous two: neither the president nor comparatively rated candidates gain the majority of votes due to lack of trust and fatigue from them: citizens do not see any new faces in these lists (except for extravagant variants –Vakarchuk or Zelensky). There is a contradiction - the negative attitude to the power team does not turn into a high rating of "oppositionists." The request for new faces has been lasting for a year; it resulted in a very concrete result: half of the voters either do not plan to take part in the elections, or have not yet decided. An amount of the so-called "electoral swamp" is really huge. Moreover, there is not much time left until the elections. Thus, these voters are not yet ready to vote for those candidates who are represented in the media and political field, because they are all "old" persons. On the other hand, this "electoral swamp" will be the key factor to candidate’s winning.

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If we look at the latest ratings and hypothetical polls in the second round, according to which Petro Poroshenko loses to all his rivals, it is too early to call him a "lame duck", they say, he repeats the fate of Viktor Yushchenko, who came to the end of his cadence without any chance of re-election. The "distrust" circle includes not only current president, but all of its main rivals in the presidential race.

And besides the comparatively low level of trust and support not only from the president, but also from his main rivals, it is worth constantly remembering one simple fact: Poroshenko is still the head of state, and a huge number of levers are still in his hands.

Therefore, if (and this is very likely) he decides to fight to the end, despite all the ratings, forecasts and attempts by the allies to go to the camp of a likely winner, before it is too late, the incumbent president has all the chances to change the course of the campaign or substantially reformat it .

So now let us think about, so to speak, the "scenario A".

According to all representative researches of the recent years, three main problems for Ukrainian society are the war in the east, a bad economic situation (including high prices, communal tariffs and relatively low salaries and pensions) and corruption.

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Obviously, Petro Poroshenko will not be able to appear as a good economic manager before the voters. Just remember about Ukraine's obligations to international partners and creditors. Moreover, the firm desire to replace Arseniy Yatsenyuk with Volodymyr Groysman cost the head of the state a traditional fuse, when the majority of the negative reaction for the economic failures lay with the government and its leader. For several years this fuse has not been working, which, in particular, played a role in the transition of Poroshenko's rating to the "terminal" phase.

Even more obvious was the fact that Poroshenko, will not be the anti-corruption president in the eyes of the voters. The Anti-Corruption Court has not been founded, whose creation, although towed by the Verkhovna Rada, is still reasonably attributed to the presidential team. Not to mention the lack of real terms for a large number of detentions of top officials and deputies.

As the election date approaches, voters will also actively demonstrate that the president is involved in corruption actions and has initiated them himself. It can be predicted that the most interesting facts would appear by the beginning of the voting itself.

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From this we can conclude that the most effective and probable will be the positioning of Poroshenko as the "president of the war". This is not about the end of hostilities in the east, or at least the introduction of peacekeepers there. Both options seem too doubtful at the beginning of 2019. Intensification of hostilities, several settlements returned to the control of Kyiv in the gray zone, the new decisive / aggressive / effective de-occupation strategy for Donbas, presented to the public, could be a platform for trying to consolidate around the incumbent president a large part of the "electoral swamp" under the general slogan "It is too risky to change the leader in such hard times." It is important to note that these cases are only examples. However, such information campaigns, political technologies, and programs will be based on the issue of war and its solution. This includes strengthening the defense capability of the state and ensuring security (together with the prevention of serious terrorist attacks).

The creation of a single local Orthodox church in Ukraine did not have the expected effect. This is not the right issue that can become the central slogan in its election program. We can also state that liberalization of the visa regime cannot become this marker too. This positive a event, albeit is not relevant for the majority of the society, and it is devoid of the dramatic nature that could justify the re-election of the incumbent head of state.

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The described "scenario A" has a great potential in case everything goes "according to plan". However, there is a possibility that due to the very ratings, the existing chess game will simply be swept off the table and the figures will take some new places.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.

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