The effects of economic transition on voting patterns in Poland, 1990-1995
Controversy continues over the political economy of post-communist Poland, regarding both the impact of transition on living standards, and the strength of relations between individual and household-level changes and political support for economic reform. The case of Poland is one example of a more general phenomenon in Central and Eastern Europe (e.g. Hungary and Lithuania), in which parties led by former communists have been democratically elected into power. Poland's reforms from the mid-1980s to 1995 developed in four phases: pre-reform crisis, extraordinary politics, post-reform crisis, and recovery. In 1990, the adverse impact of liberalization on households' living standards was partially offset by improved consumer good supply: 'real' wages fell by 30%, but consumption decreased by approximately 15%. In the medium term, the self-employed and unemployed are the clearest winners and losers. Most others are in a middle category; material conditions remained stable - even during the recession of 1990-1991 - and by some indicators improved substantially. One implicit cost of transition borne by individuals and households is the rise in economic uncertainty. Increased unemployment and poverty, indicators of uncertainty, are concentrated in identifiable socioeconomic groups. Labor markets and poverty profiles are converging with those in advanced markets, suggesting that these problems may not be simply transitional. The distributive impact of transition is reflected in voting patterns. The dependent variable of regional vote shares are regressed against independent variables: unemployment, income, urbanization, and farming and trade sector employment. The most important factor behind electoral support for the former-communist SLD is unemployment. Voting is then examined through a simple rational choice model. When parties can be differentiated by the weight of pragmatic versus (identifiable) ideological policy preferences, voters act rationally and choose the party which combines dominant pragmatism with an ideological stance close to their own preferences. Voters punish overly rigid or ideological parties for lack of responsiveness to their economic interests.