Europe Elects produces a monthly projection on how voters in the European Union would vote, should there be an EU Parliament election today. When comparing the seats and the popular vote projected in this article, we contrasted them to the EU27 scenario—meaning we excluded the United Kingdom.
The Corona pandemic has affected European voting behaviour—mostly in favour of incumbent governments. How can this be explained? Electoral science emphasizes that voters tend to support their government if they feel like they are attacked from the outside. Terrorism, Brexit, trade wars, violent conflict with (perceived) external aggressors and pandemics tend to increase voter support for government parties. Europe Elects has gathered data from across the continent that underlines that the Coronavirus pandemic in Europe also triggers this electoral reflex. Such reflex favours Europe’s incumbent national government parties, most of which are organized in EPP and S&D groups.
Our projection for March 2020 shows that the centre-right EPP Group in the European Parliament would remain the largest bloc in the assembly if there was an EU Parliament election today, with 188 seats out of 705 post-Brexit and a popular vote share of 24.1%. In the EU election last May—discounting the United Kingdom and adding the post-Brexit MEPs around the EU—EPP finished with 187 of seats and a popular vote share of 22.6%. The current level of support for centre-right parties in Europe is the highest since December 2017. This trend has been continuous over the past months. In the past four weeks, however, it has been mainly driven by Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU (EPP), as our polling average for Germany shows that CDU and CSU have nationally risen from 25.9% (21 seats) at the end of February to 34.1% (25 seats) in our March projection. Other EPP parties in major member states, like the Italian Forza Italia (FI) and the Spanish Partido Popular (PP), have remained fairly stable.
The centre-left S&D would come second with 135 out of 705 seats and 18.2% of the popular vote. This would be 13 seats and 0.7 percentage points less in the popular vote than in the 2019 election—again discounting the UK and adding the post-Brexit MEPs. The S&D Group hosts Socialist and Social Democratic parties like the German SPD and the Swedish Social Democrats (S) in the EU Parliament from across the continent. While Europe’s centre-left remains in a deep crisis, they also moderately profit from voters “rallying ‘round the flag” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Europe Elects’ polling average for Italy shows that the ruling centre-left PD (S&D) has increased its vote share from 20.8% to 21.9% since February. Selected polls from Portugal, Finland, Malta, and Denmark indicated similar trends towards the end of March.
Europe Elects’ projection of seats of European Parliament in March 2020
Trailing the two frontrunner groups by some margin, the third biggest European Parliamentary group in our March’s projection is the liberal RE Group with 92 seats, down from 97 seats in the 2019 EU election sans the UK. In terms of vote shares, the RE Group receives 10.7% in our projection. That is 1.6 percentage points less than in the EU election last year. Much of the recent losses for RE this month can be attributed to the fact that Italia Viva (IV) dropped from four seats in our February polling average to below the four-percent-electoral threshold for European elections in Italy. The RE Group hosts political parties such as the French LREM, the Dutch VVD, and the German FDP. While no fresh polls have been recorded for LREM in March, President Marcon’s (LREM-RE) approval rating has skyrocketed during the Coronavirus pandemic. This is a soft indicator that RE is doing better than projected.
The ID Group in the European Parliament is projected to get 83 out of 705 seats, a vote share of 11.8% and be the fourth largest European Parliamentary group if there was an EU election today. This is seven seats and 0.6 percentage points more than in the EU election minus the UK and adding the post-Brexit MEPs. Election systems around the continent seem to produce unfavourable results for the ID, as they would receive nine seats less than their counterpart RE with a vote share that is 1.1 points higher. The moderate losses compared to February 2020 can be associated with the fact that ID parties in Europe are in almost all cases not part of the national government. When voters rally around the flag, the right-wing ID—in most nations without the flag, i.e. not in government— suffers. The German AfD (ID), for example, has declined from 12.7% (13 seats) in February to 10.9% (11 seats) today in Europe Elects polling average. LEGA (ID) in Italy has similarly declined from 30.2% to 28.8% over the past thirty days. Similar trends can be observed in Finland and Croatia.
Europe Elects’ projection of popular vote in the EU in March 2020
The ECR Group is projected to get 72 seats should an EU election be held now. The group—which amongst others includes the Polish PiS and the Italian Fratelli d’Italia (FdI)—received 62 seats in the pre-Brexit 2019 EU election, discounting the UK and distributing the post-Brexit MEPs. Across the EU, the national parties affiliated with the ECR Group have a combined EU popular vote share of 10.0% in March, which is 1.9 points above ECR’s 2019 election result. The rise of the group has been driven by rally-around-the-flag-effects in favour of the Polish government party PiS (ECR) and a resilient growth over the past months for Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (FdI-ECR) as well as the Spanish VOX (ECR). FdI alone increased from 10 seats (or 12.2%) in Europe Elects’ February seat projection for the EU Parliament to 12 seats (or 13.3% in the popular vote) in March. PiS increased from 21 projected seats (or 41.9%) to 24 (43.1%).
The left-wing GUE/NGL is projected to be the sixth-largest bloc in the European Parliament, should there be an election today, rather clearly behind the five biggest groups. The Europe Elects March projection predicts the group would receive 57 out of 705 seats, up from 40 in the EU election 2019 sans the UK. In the popular vote projection, the party stands at 8.5%, up from 7.0% in the 2019 election. Notably, LINKE Germany—one of the largest left-wing parties in Europe by the number of European Parliament seats—drops from 9.6% (10 seats) in February to 8.3% (8 seats) in March. This can be explained with voters shifting their attention from the events around the regional election in Thuringia to the COVID-19 crisis. LINKE was able to present itself as a reliable government alternative and a firm opponent of the right-wing AfD (ID) during the Thuringia government crisis, which increased its electoral support in Germany as a whole. This effect has now faded.
Greens/EFA was the fifth-largest parliamentary group in the European election in May 2019 without the UK but has since slid to the seventh position. In terms of seats, Green/EFA decreases from 68 seats and 11.5% in the election night to only 51 MEPs and 8.0% in Europe Elects’ March projection. The “Green wave” of the European election continues to cool off, combined with the effect of green parties doing generally better in European elections compared to national ones. This trend has been accelerated by the Coronavirus pandemic, which has pushed climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and environmental degradation off the newspaper front pages in March.
The Non-Inscrits—those parties left without a parliamentary group—would send 21 MEPs with a 3.8% vote share in the popular vote to the European Parliament with March’s projection. New unaffiliated parties would receive six seats with a 4.9% vote share in the popular vote. Two of these six seats would go to the new party ITD by entertainer Slavi Trifonov in Bulgaria, another two seats would go to Miroslav Škoro’s right-wing party DPMŠ in Croatia, and another seat would go to the national-conservative TT in Lithuania. The final unaffiliated seat could go to either the centre-right Romanian UDMR (27% chance), the Slovak centre-left party Dobrá voľba (11% chance), the centre-right Czech party TOP 09 (20%) chance, or to the Czech right-wing party Trikolóra (20% chance).
Disproportionate or sometimes opposite developments in the popular vote share and the seat projection can be explained with the slight disproportionality of the electoral system for the European Parliament.
Europe Elects’ projection of seats of European Parliament in March 2020 without the United Kingdom
Visit our European Parliament projection site for a more in-depth overview and the methodology behind the monthly projection.
Julius Lehtinen contributed to and edited the piece.