This just in: On June 28, 2020, 19.4 million (64.5%) out of 30 million Polish citizens cast their votes in what turns out to be round one of the nation's presidential election. The incumbent moderate President Andrzej Duda won 43.5% or 8.45 million votes. The liberal runner up Andrzej Trzaskowskim took 30.5% or 5.9 million. They will move to the second round.
In a way, the results are disappointing for President Duda. Just three month ago he was on a roll. Polls indicated that the incumbent would sail through the elections achieving over 50% in round one, thus rendering a second bout superfluous. Then came the coronavirus pandemic and the May elections were postponed. Now the liberal contender has a fighting chance. His victory hinges on attracting support beyond the usual leftist cohort.
Of the remaining nine candidates in the first round of Poland's presidential election, seven barely registered any votes. Two other contenders count however: progressive Catholic Szmon Hołownia attracted 13.9% or 2,667,655 votes, while conservative nationalist Krzysztof Bosak won 6.8% or 1,300,923.
Now we can expect a tight race. Duda is an anointed candidate of the ruling populist Law and Justice Party (PiS). Trzaskowski is his liberal competitor of the Civic Platform (PO). They can count on their regular electorates, if they can mobilize them properly. Just 64.5% of people of voting age bothered to cast their ballots. The contenders will have to do better to improve their chances.
Common sense dictates that Hołownia's supporters will cast their votes for the latter in the second round. This will be the case, in particular, when the progressive Catholic endorses the liberal candidate as is widely expected.
It is not certain, albeit possible, that the Bosak fans will hold their noses and cast their votes for Duda. Bosak and his conservative/nationalist/liberatarian/monarchist Confederacy (Konfederacja) party have refused to endorse Duda, though. "Vote your conscience" is their advice. Nonetheless, moderate Duda assiduously has been courting the Confederacy vote and sometimes even manages to sound like a right winger.
His populist message of social solidarity and state intervention rings hollow to most of the Bosak voters. The incumbent therefore must amplify his otherwise very mild social conservative views to score some points with them. In particular, the rightists want re-assurances against the lifestyle socialism of the LGBT movement. Duda should tread very carefully with the Confederacy followers: a big chunk of them is very young, university educated, idealistic, and ideology-driven. No regular demagogic tricks will work on them. The president will have to bend over backwards to sway them.
If he wins the conservatives over, the president should secure his second term. However, shifting too far right, he risks not only coming off as disingenuous, but also alienating his broad, yet ideologically rather tepid, base which is interested primarily in the welfare funds redistribution and agnostic about the sexual revolution.
In light of all that, it is instructive to scrutinize the electoral map of Poland. Unlike in the U.S., there is no "fly-over" country of conservatives vs. coastal liberals. Essentially, there is an ocean of Duda's supporters
in the countryside and small and medium-size towns marred with single islands and small archipelagos of Trzaskowski's stalwarts in major cities and their adjacent regions. Generally, however, western Poland tends to vote liberal, while the rest of the nation, south-east in particular are strongly conservative.
To keep his base happy, the president will continue to harp on the threat of the liberal challenger taking state benefits away from the people. He needs also to stress the value of NATO and the United States to Poland in contrast to Trzaskowski's fawning to Brussels and kowtowing to Berlin. That and an economy that surprisingly continues to perform all right under the pandemic circumstances will be his main strengths.
It also helps that Duda has received quite a bit of assistance in his last minute pre-electoral visit to the United States on June 24. The White House has promised to continue to support our Polish ally in energy security and infrastructure projects and military cooperation. There is even talk about sending some American troops to station permanently in Poland. Law and Justice supporters and many other Poles are very excited.
President Andrzej Duda has all his ducks lined up. Save a last minute government snafu and a liberal surge, the incumbent should squeak through with just enough votes to claim victory on July 12.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports – More Here.
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