Poland, like many other countries with parliamentary systems of government, has many active political parties, most of which belong to broader coalitions. Five of these coalitions, one on the left and center-left, two in the center, and two on the right, received enough votes to win seats in Poland’s Sejm, its powerful lower house of Parliament. Two additional stand-alone parties together received 3.5 percent of the vote, which was not enough to gain representation in the Sejm. One of these is a hard-right populist party and the other is described by Wikipedia as being on the center-left, although some of its positions are more centrist in orientation.
This post seeks to uncover some subtle aspects of Poland’s electoral geography by mapping the vote-share of each of these seven parties and coalitions in the 2023 Sejm election. For comparative purposes, all of them are mapped in the same color scheme and with the same categories of vote percentage. As a result of their low vote counts, the five secondary parties and coalitions are poorly represented on these maps. I have therefore re-mapped them on their own terms, using different color schemes. On these maps, low votes counts for a given party can still be mapped with dark shades, indicating relative success in that area.
Let us begin with the right-wing-populist United Right coalition, led by the Law and Justice (PiS) Party. Although it suffered a sharp rebuke in this election, United Right still received more votes (35.4 percent) than any of its rivals. United Right was the only organization to receive majority support in any electoral district. As can be seen on the first map below, its support was concentrated in the southern and eastern areas that had been under Russian and Austrian rule before WWI (see the previous post). United Right did poorly in major cities, getting less than 20 percent of the vote in Poznań. This map also reveals, albeit weakly, an electoral gradient in United Right’s main area of support, with its vote share increasing toward Poland’s southeastern borders. As might be expected, its main rival, the centrist Civic Coalition, exhibited an inverted spatial pattern of support, which is revealed in the second map posted below.
The major new player in this election, the centrist Third Way coalition, did not have strong regional patterning. It performed relatively well in some regions that had been ruled by Russia, German, and Austria before the reestablishment of Poland after WWI. Third Way did not do as well in major cities, however, as might be expected for a coalition that has a strong agrarianist bent. The only electoral district in which it failed to gain more than 10 percent of the vote is Katowice III. Although Katowice is not well-known outside of Europe, it is Poland’s largest metropolitan area, with more than three million people living in a group of closely clustered cities. (Metropolitan Warsaw, in contrast, has around two and half million inhabitants, while Krakow and Lodz, the next largest, have only a little more than one million each). Third Way’s vote-share was highest in the Bialystok district in the northeast; as the maps used in the previous post show, it even received a plurality of votes in a few areas in and near the city of Hajnówka, close to the border with Belarus. It is probably not coincidental that Hajnówka has a sizable (over 25 percent) Belarussian ethnic minority, whose members tend to shun the Polish ethnonationalism associated with the country’s right-wing parties.
As the next two maps show, support for Lewica – “The Left” – was strongest in urban areas and weakest in Poland’s more conservative eastern regions. As can be seen on the second map, Katowice III was again an outlier, giving more than 20 percent of its votes to a coalition than failed to crack 15 percent anywhere else in the country. Katowice’s economy has until recently been based on heavy industry, whose workers formed one of The Left’s traditional political bases. But as has been widely noted, that foundation of support has been slipping. As the Wikipedia article on Lewica notes, the coalition has lost votes because its “pro-LGBT rights platform failed to appeal to working class and economically left-leaning Poles, [who] tend to favour a more socially conservative policy (especially as both economically interventionist and social conservative positions were already being provided by the right-wing PiS party).”
The far-right Confederation Liberty and Independence, or simply Confederation, had a low but relatively evenly distributed level of support, receiving between five and 10 percent of the vote in every Polish electoral district. By mapping its results with a finer set of divisions, however, we can see that its support follows the typical pattern of rightwing organizations in Poland, being lower in urban areas and higher in the east. This geographical pattern is not so clear-cut, however, for the newest far-right party, There Is One Poland. Its elevated level of support in Nowy Sącz is difficult to explain. One of Confederation’s component parties is the monarchist and Russophile Confederation of the Polish Crown, which managed to secure two Sejm seats despite receiving less than one percent of the vote.
Finally, we come to the oddly named movement called Nonpartisan Local Government Activists. As its name implies, it is a highly decentralized organization that advocates increased regional and local autonomy. Many of its more concrete proposals have a leftward slant, but others are more conservative. It also has an environmentalist platform. At any rate, Wikipedia describes this organization as follows:
Formerly associated with the liberal wing of Christian democracy, the party advocates for proposals such as free public transport, free lunches for children and abolition of the personal income tax (PIT). The party also advocates for creation of a powerful ecological agency based on the American United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which would protect nature and its resources, prevent pollution environment and combat poaching and illegal hunting. The BS believes that the Polish government became too centralised and became unable to address local concerns; to this end, the party believes that the central government needs MPs who are “local government officials, entrepreneurs and community workers who are not concerned with political lists and agenda.”
As can be seen in the maps below, support for Nonpartisan Local Government Activists varied little across the county. Not surprisingly, it performed best in Legnica, which is located in Lower Silesia, the party’s birthplace. A Silesian autonomy movement has long enjoyed considerable support, buttressed by widespread suspicions about Polish nationalism and feelings of affinity with Germany and Germans. This is a complicated issue, however, that deserves its own post.
The most important aspect of Poland’s electoral geography is weakness of left-wing political parties in all areas of the country. The Polish Green party, for example, received less than one-third of one percent of the vote in the 2023 election, although, as part of the Civic Coalition, it did gain three seats in the Sejm.