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2023 Polish Parliamentary Election Campaigns

Campaign Overview

The 2023 Polish parliamentary election marked a significant moment in the country’s political landscape, showcasing a dynamic shift from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) to the opposition led by Civic Platform (PO). This case study explores strategies employed in the 2023 Polish parliamentary election campaigns, the challenges they faced, and the eventual outcome of the election.

Context and Background

Poland's political environment leading up to the 2023 election was highly charged. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) had been in power since 2015, known for its conservative policies and frequent clashes with the European Union over issues such as judicial independence and media freedom. The opposition, led by Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform, sought to address these issues and steer Poland towards a more EU-friendly and liberal direction.

Campaign Strategy

  1. Campaign Focus and Messaging: Civic Platform centered its campaign on restoring the rule of law and improving relations with the EU. They highlighted the need to unblock EU funds that had been frozen due to the PiS government's controversial judicial reforms. The campaign also focused on social issues such as women’s rights, LGBT+ rights, and media freedom. Tusk promised to overturn the abortion ban and make anti-LGBT+ hate speech a crime​.
  2. Referendum Strategy: Law and Justice attempted to polarize the election by holding referendums on the same day as the election on issues such as migration and retirement age, aiming to remind voters of Civic Platform's past unpopular policies. However, this strategy backfired as most voters boycotted the referendums, rendering them non-binding due to low turnout​.
  3. Coalition Building: Civic Platform formed strategic alliances with other opposition parties, including the Third Way (TD) and the Left (NL), which was crucial in securing a parliamentary majority. This coalition was pivotal in presenting a united front against PiS​.

Key Challenges

  1. Economic Conditions: Poland faced significant economic challenges, including high inflation and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. These issues eroded the PiS government's support base, as many voters were dissatisfied with the handling of the economy​​​​.
  2. Media and Judicial Independence: The opposition had to navigate a media landscape largely controlled by the PiS government and a judiciary perceived as compromised. This environment made it challenging to communicate their message effectively and ensure a fair electoral process.

Results and Impact

The election results were a clear victory for the opposition coalition, with Civic Platform and its allies securing a majority of the seats. PiS remained the largest single party but failed to achieve an outright majority, leading to the formation of a new government led by Civic Platform​​.

  1. Voter Turnout: The election saw a high voter turnout of 74,4%, reflecting significant public engagement and desire for change.
  2. Election Results: Civic Platform and its coalition partners secured a total of 248 seats out of 460 in the Sejm (lower house of parliament), while PiS won 194 seats. This majority allowed Civic Platform to form a new government​.
  3. Youth Vote: Civic Platform's progressive stance on social issues, including support for women’s rights and LGBT+ rights, resonated particularly well with younger voters, contributing to a higher turnout in this demographic.
  4. Middle-Aged Voters: Economic concerns, particularly high inflation and dissatisfaction with PiS’s handling of the economy, played a significant role in swaying middle-aged voters towards the opposition.
  5. Urban vs. Rural: Civic Platform performed strongly in urban areas, where voters were more concerned with liberal values and EU relations. In contrast, PiS retained significant support in rural areas, although not enough to secure a majority.
  6. Counteracting Authoritarianism: The election highlighted the resilience of democratic institutions and the public’s ability to mobilize against perceived authoritarian practices, demonstrating a strong desire for change and adherence to democratic values.

Conclusion

The 2023 Polish parliamentary election campaigns serve as a compelling case study of how strategic campaigning, harnessing of digital and social media, coalition building and addressing key voter concerns can lead to a significant political shift. Civic Platform’s victory not only reshaped Poland’s domestic policies but also had substantial implications for its relationship with the European Union and its stance on social issues.

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