ZOiS Spotlight 18/2023

Young Poles’ Political Preferences: A Fresh Wind for the Upcoming Election?

by Hakob Matevosyan 04/10/2023

In the run-up to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Poland, a ZOiS survey shows that the far-right Confederation is especially popular among young voters. A successful result for the party could significantly influence Polish power relations and the country’s future international orientation.

A woman holds a placard with the inscription 'Watch me Vote!' during a rally in Warsaw on 1 October 2023. IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Poland’s parliamentary election on 15 October has significant implications for the country’s political trajectory and international role. At the heart of this election lies the question of Poland’s alignment with Western liberal values, its role in NATO, and its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. The right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party might secure an unprecedented third term in government, raising fears of a further decline in democratic standards. The centre-right Civic Platform (PO) is currently second in the polls and advocates a more liberal and pro-European agenda. However, the outcome of this election hinges on the smaller parties and the possible coalitions. The far-right Confederation has emerged as a dark horse and might become the party with the third-highest vote share.

Of particular significance is Confederation’s appeal to the younger generation, which could influence this election’s dynamics as the active involvement of young voters adds to the overall electoral landscape. To dive deeper into the political identities and attitudes of young Poles, ZOiS conducted a survey in April–May 2023 of over 2,000 respondents aged 16–34. Our analysis reveals that among young Poles, there is a high level of interest in participating in the election. In terms of party alignment, the preferences are divided, but Confederation emerges as the party most favoured by young voters.

An emerging force

Over 69 per cent of young Poles surveyed expressed an interest in the political situation in Poland. Additionally, 54 per cent of this demographic felt well informed about the internal political dynamics of their country, reflecting a notable level of political awareness among the youth.

Almost 75 per cent of young Poles surveyed believed that Poland’s current trajectory is veering in the wrong direction, and this conviction serves as a powerful impetus for their voting intentions in the upcoming election, in which approximately 74 per cent of survey respondents planned to cast their ballots (figure 1). However, the question that will determine the country’s political course is whether such high voting intentions, coupled with deep frustration, will translate into actual votes capable of replicating the record-breaking youth turnout of 67 per cent in Poland’s 2020 presidential election.

Figure 1: Planned electoral participation

Young Poles find it challenging to identify a political party that truly aligns with their interests. This highlights both the promise and the hurdles of engaging the youth in the political arena. Young Poles who intend to vote for Confederation demonstrate the strongest belief that a specific political party resonates with their interests, underscoring the potential stability in their voting choices should they participate in the election.

Roughly 34 per cent of young Poles surveyed found political parties that align with their interests, indicating parties’ successful appeal to the concerns and values of the youth (figure 2). Among those who intend to vote for Confederation, PO, or PiS, young Poles tended to respond rather positively to questions about party alignment. That is to say, they expressed an intention to vote for their preferred party.

Figure 2: A quest for political representation

Conversely, the 45 per cent of respondents who felt unrepresented by any political party reveal a substantial gap in the political landscape. Furthermore, young Poles leant towards an intention to vote for PO, Confederation, or other small parties if they encountered difficulties or refused to answer questions about party alignment. This tendency highlights a degree of uncertainty or hesitation among young voters, with one in five respondents falling into this category.

A dark horse with double-digit polling

Confederation emerged as the front-runner in the survey, with 20 per cent of respondents saying they intended to vote for the party, indicating a substantial following for right-wing ideologies (figure 3). Current nationwide polls indicate that Confederation’s support among the general population is half that level. Following closely behind is PO, which received the support of 17.8 per cent of young Poles surveyed, indicating a backing for a centre-right and pro-European agenda. Polls also rank PO second at the national level, but with 30 per cent. In third place among the respondents was PiS, with 11.1 per cent; at the national level, current polls position the party as the strongest, with 37 per cent.

The data also highlight the plurality of political preferences, with various parties receiving varying levels of support, showcasing the complexity of Polish politics. A striking observation is that 28.3 per cent of respondents either faced difficulties in choosing a party or refused to answer, indicating a degree of uncertainty and frustration with the political situation in the country among young Poles.

Figure 3: Voting intentions

Self-identifying as Catholic is a salient determinant of political preferences, although with varying effects. Catholic affiliation is positively associated with support for Confederation, indicating a resonance with conservative values as well as with PiS. Meanwhile, identifying as Catholic has a negative correlation with support for PO, underscoring a clear divergence between the party and the preferences of Catholic voters.

There are also notable differences in the factors that influence each party’s supporters. Gender emerges as a significant factor for Confederation, with young men showing a strong preference for the party. A higher level of education is positively associated with support for PO. At the same time, there is a link between respondents’ family situation and support for PiS, with those having or intending to have children being more likely to support the party.

These findings suggest that religious values and beliefs play a pivotal role in shaping the political choices of young Poles. This underscores the importance of understanding the role of religion in the broader context of Polish politics and the influence it wields over electoral outcomes. Parties that seek to appeal to this demographic will need to carefully consider their positions on religious and social issues to effectively connect with Catholic voters.

As Poland approaches its pivotal election, the ascent of Confederation as a formidable contender reflects the evolving political landscape. With a substantial following among young Poles and the potential to influence the election’s outcome, Confederation might be a game-changer in Polish politics. Whether this dark horse has the power to alter Poland’s political trajectory will become apparent on 15 October.

Dr Hakob Matevosyan is a sociologist and a researcher in the ERC-funded project Moving Russia(ns): Intergenerational Transmission of Memories Abroad and at Home (MoveMeRU) at ZOiS.