• Endre Borbáth , Raluca Toma , Gábor Tóka , Marina Popescu , Valentina Dimulescu

Before the first round of the Presidential Elections next Sunday, this article aims to provide an overview of the published public opinion poll results. There is no doubt that current president Klaus Iohannis, the candidate of the National Liberal Party (PNL) is leading the race. Far less clear is which of the other candidates will be the runner up in the first round. Also unclear is what kind of message these elections will send about the mood and the expectations of the citizens of Romania, after a period of heightened polarization and a campaign that was relatively low on substance.

Iohannis, between 40 and 45% in the polls

Iohannis’ lead is large, stable and undisputed even in the polls commissioned by rival political parties. Some of the data in the figures comes from private polls, leaked to the press by unnamed insiders from parties; in all of them, Iohannis is in the lead. The figure below shows the overall standing of the six main contenders based on the overall trends in public opinion polls published between the beginning of August and end of October.

As the second figure shows more clearly, however, no poll has found Iohannis’ popularity to be higher than 50 percent of the vote. Support for the president has hovered between 40 and 45%, even after the Dăncilă government lost a confidence vote in Parliament. There will surely be a second round, which will include only the winner and the runner up from the first round that takes place on 10 November. This is due in part to the fact that a candidate actually has to be extraordinarily popular to win in the first round. It is not enough to get more than 50% of the vote; he or she must gain a number of votes that represents more than 50% of the people on the electoral rolls.


Dăncilă, Barna and Diaconu, in the race for the second round

Three contenders for the second place appear to have similar levels of popularity: Viorica Dăncilă (Social Democratic Party – PSD), Dan Barna (Save Romania Union and The Freedom, Unity and Solidarity Party – USR-PLUS) and Mircea Diaconu (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats and Pro Romania). During half of the period analysed here, it was not yet clear what the final list of candidates on the ballot would look like because the list was published on September 27. Still, USR had publicly named Barna as their candidate in July, and Dăncilă was officially nominated as the PSD candidate at the end of August. That is also the time when Călin Popescu Tăriceanu pulled out of the race, and after he left the Dăncilă government, ALDE put its support behind Mircea Diaconu, who is also backed by Pro Romania (the party of ex-PSD leader and former Prime Minister Victor Ponta).

Before early September, most polls had Dan Barna going into the second round alongside Iohannis. But during the entire we analysed, Viorica Dăncilă was going up in the polls, and at the beginning of September she overtook Barna. Dăncilă continued to go up in the polls throughout the pre-campaign and the campaign, even after events like the ALDE exit from the government coalition and the success of a motion of no confidence against her cabinet – a steady growth that could be due to PSD sympathizers gradually lining up behind the designated candidate. Barna, for his part, had (small) ups and downs. The downs may be attributed to some less-than-positive coverage in the press – specifically the appearance of an investigation by RISE project (Romanian language article). But the fluctuations are sufficiently close to the margin of error that we cannot be sure how significant they are. Diaconu’s numbers, by contrast, seems to be on steady downward trajectory since the moment he announced his candidacy.

It is essential, though, not to overestimate the importance of small changes, even if the mass media tends to do so.

Dăncilă is best placed to enter the second round, but Barna is not far behind. Besides, there are other factors at play. For example, none of these polls take into account the voters from abroad, who in the past have overwhelmingly supported PNL and USR, so this time they may go for Iohannis or Barna.

In the case of a close election, the diaspora votes may prove decisive in terms of who makes it to the second round. On the other hand, the latest IMAS poll indicates that Mircea Diaconu is the candidate most likely to enter the second round.

Paleologu and Kelemen, neck and neck

Lagging behind the top four but ahead of eight further candidates are Theodor Paleologu, the candidate of PMP – the party of former president Traian Băsescu – and Kelemen Hunor, the candidate of the ethnic Hungarian party (UDMR). During the 2016 Parliamentary Elections, UDMR managed to gain almost one percentage point more than PMP. But in the European Parliamentary Elections this May, PMP finished 0.5 percentage points ahead of UDMR. The polls suggest Paleologu is probably leading Kelemen. However, one should also note that past national polls have underestimated the UDMR vote share, not least due to their difficulty in reaching the Hungarian electorate.

Compared to five years ago, this time there was even less information that could be included in this poll of polls. This kind of data is often both scant and of low quality in Romania, and this time, it was exceptionally limited and it barely met international standards in the field. There is also significant divergence between polling companies, some of which have questionable backgrounds. Verifield for instance published only one poll in this period. At the time, most agencies had Dan Barna leading the pack of would-be second round entrants. Verifield was the first to suggest that Dăncilă overtook Barna, but it is hard to say how much their data could be trusted. The company has no verifiable history of public opinion polling and no website, yet virtually all mainstream media outlets published the poll results. Similarly, political parties circulate and the press picks up alleged results from party commissioned surveys, without specifying which company conducted the study, during what period, with what methodology etc. Considering this lack of transparency in the industry, it is in fact surprising that they estimate similar trends even to the extent presented in this article.

We do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. We are pointing out quality and transparency issues out of due diligence, but we are nevertheless presenting the data because all over the world, such a systematic overview of the polling data is considered relevant information for the voting public. It is an OpenPolitics “tradition” to try to organize, distill and explain information from survey data.

It will be interesting to see who makes it to the second round, but also how the votes are distributed between all of the candidates – a distribution that is important as an indicator of the public’s preferences and the support for the parties that put forward candidates. We will see from Sunday onwards how close the polls got to the reality.

The data, separate trend lines for each candidate, all figures, as well as the computer code for creating the figures are available here.

Endre Borbáth is a postdoctoral researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin and Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung and a Median Research Centre collaborator.

A version of this article appeared on Prof. Gábor Tóka’s blog.