World

Poland’s New Government Faces Challenges

by Cynthia English

Discontent with national government suggested mandate for change

Polish citizens were poised for change. On Oct. 21, Poles turned out in record number -- the most since communism ended in 1989 -- to oust the populist nationalist Law and Justice party in favor of the more moderate, pro-European Civic Platform party. This election outcome ends the tenure of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski whose twin brother, Lech Kaczynski, will continue to serve as Poland's president until 2010. Poles' high voter turnout likely reflects a continued undercurrent of discontent with the country's leadership. A Gallup Poll conducted in Poland earlier this year found just 19% of Polish citizens expressing confidence in their national government -- while dismal, this percentage is up from the 7% confidence Gallup measured before Polish elections in 2005.

Poland's most dissatisfied citizens may have been among the most likely to vote. According to the National Election Commission of Poland, rural residents, who are generally less critical of the national government, came to the polls in much smaller proportions than did urban residents. The Law and Justice party tends to appeal more to residents of rural areas. Gallup did find that confidence in the national government is somewhat higher among those who say they live in a rural area (21%) than among those who say they live in an urban area (15%).

The Civic Platform party ran on a pro-business platform promising to usher in a "new" Poland with renewed and stronger ties to Germany and other economic partners in the EU. This promise may have resonated with Poles, more than half (52%) of whom tell Gallup that the economic conditions in their country are not good, while a third say they are good (32%). When Gallup asked respondents to look toward the future, 51% say economic conditions in the country are getting better, and 26% say they are getting worse. These numbers, and a GDP growth forecast of 6.5% for 2007, suggest Poles will look to the new leadership to build on or maintain positive economic growth.

Religion is important to many Polish citizens, about 90% of whom are Roman Catholic. When Gallup asked Poles whether religion plays an important part in their daily lives, 72% say "yes" and among this group, only 21% express confidence in the national government. Although generally more liberal than Law and Justice, Civic Platform may have won some of these discontented voters over because it maintains somewhat conservative views on social issues.

Despite strong discontent toward the national government they ousted, Poles do express confidence in many of their institutions, particularly the military (66%), religious organizations (65%), banks and financial institutions (60%), and the honesty of elections (48%). They are less confident in their judicial system (38%) and integrity of their media (38%). Taken together, results from the Gallup Poll and the election demonstrate Polish voters were ready for change. With Poland's president already promising to stymie the incoming prime minister's efforts, time will tell if confidence in the national government will change.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted in April and May 2007 in Poland with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older. For results based on each total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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