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Poland’s Stark Electoral Divide

Submitted by on July 15, 2015 – 8:33 am 14 Comments |  
Poland 2015 Election MapSome observers were surprised by the triumph of conservative candidate Andrzej Duda over incumbent Bronisław Komorowski in Poland’s May 2015 presidential election. Duda’s margin of victory, however, was thin: 51.5 percent of the vote against Komorowski’s 48.5 percent. As is typical of Polish elections, the results were geographically patterned in a stark manner. Duda, like most conservative candidates, won almost every country in southeastern Poland, many by a substantial margin, whereas the centrist candidate Komorowski triumphed almost everywhere in the west and north. The few areas that Duda lost in the “greater southeast” are almost all major cites, such as Łódź, Warsaw, and Kraków, as would be expected, given the general left-voting tendency of urban dwellers (I have added the names of several cities to the Wikipedia electoral map to make this pattern clear.) The northwest/southeast divide, however, is still reflected in the urban sector, as the Duda did much better in such southeastern cities as Kraków and Lublin than in such northwestern cities as Poznań and Gdańsk.

This geographical division in Polish elections should not, however, be exaggerated. Few areas, for example, saw an overwhelming victory of one candidate or the other, unlike the situation found in most elections in neighboring Ukraine. Over large areas of Poland, Duda and Komorowski split the vote relatively evenly, just as they did in the country as a whole. I begin to have doubts about the national integrity of any country when one political faction routinely gains over 80 or 90 percent of the vote over large areas, but that is not the case in Poland.

Poland GDP Per Capita MapPoland’s northwest/southeast electoral divide does not fit very well with the country’s socio-economic and demographic divisions. To be sure, western Poland is more prosperous than eastern Poland, a pattern that is masked on the per capita GDP map by the relatively wealth of greater Warsaw, which makes the voivodeship (province) of Mazovia appear richer than it would otherwise register. But note that Warmia-Masuria in the far north supported Poland Population Density MapKomorowski despite being a relatively poor region, just as Małopolska in the far south supported Duda despite being a relatively well-off region. Population density plays even less of a role. As the map posted here indicates, low-density regions are found in Poland’s center-voting western and northern peripheries as well as its right-voting eastern periphery.

Poland Voting Pre-War Germany Map1Instead, as has often been noted, Poland’s electoral divide is rooted in historical and cultural factors. The regions that generally vote for centrist or left-center candidates had all been part of Germany (and more specifically, Prussia) before World War I, whereas those that vote for center-right candidates had all been part of either the Russian or the Austro-Hungarian empire in the same period. (I have posted two maps obtained from other websites (here and here) that illustrate this pattern from earlier Polish elections.) It is intriguing that this divide persisted after the massive population dislocations that occurred at the end of World War II, when millions of ethnic Germans were expelled from what is now western and northern Poland and replaced by Poland Voting Pre-War Germany Map 2million of Poles transferred from the east. Perhaps political attitudes that had been established among the ethnic Poles who had lived under German rule spread among those who moved into the region after the war. Such a conclusion, however, is little better than a guess; the issue surely calls for more investigation — or clarifying comments from informed readers!


Belarussian Language in Poland MapOne largely rural area of eastern Poland, Hajnówka County, stands out for having strongly supported Komorowski. Hajnówka town is noted as the gateway to Biełaviežskaja Pušča, widely regarded as Europe’s largest “primeval forest.” Its distinctive voting pattern, however, is probably related to its large Belarussian population, which may be put off by the Polish nationalism and Euro-skepticism of Duda’s party. Whatever the cause, this region has voted in the same manner as Poland’s west and north since the transition to democratic rule at the end of the Cold War.

German Minority in Upper Silesia MapIn the south center-west, Opole Voivodeship stands out for its especially strong support for the defeated incumbent Komorowski. This region is also ethnically distinctive, as it is one of the few places in western and northern Poland to have retained a sizable ethnic German population. The reason behind the survival of a German-speaking community here is interesting. As noted in the Wikipedia:

Alongside German and Polish, many citizens of Opole-Oppeln before 1945 used a strongly German-influenced Silesian dialect (sometimes called wasserpolnisch or wasserpolak). Because of this, the post-war Polish state administration after the annexation of Silesia in 1945 did not initiate a general expulsion of all former inhabitants of Opole, as was done in Lower Silesia, for instance, where the population almost exclusively spoke the German language. Because they were considered “autochthonous” (Polish), the Wasserpolak-speakers instead received the right to remain in their homeland after declaring themselves as Poles. Some German speakers took advantage of this decision, allowing them to remain in their Oppeln, even when they considered themselves to be of German nationality.

Poland Kukiz Vote 2015 MapAnother possible factor in Opole’s distinctive voting pattern was the strong showing on the “protest” candidate Paweł Kukiz in the election’s first round. Nationwide, Kukiz received over 20 percent of the vote, and in some parts of Opole he won a plurality of the votes. Not surprisingly, Kukiz is a native son of Opole, having been born in the town of Paczków, deemed the “Polish Carcassonne” for its well-preserved medieval buildings. Kukiz is best known not as a politician but rather as a musician and actor. According to the Wikipedia, he performs in the genres of rock, pop, pop rock, and punk rock. (I would be tempted to classify the few songs that I listened to as “folk punk rock,” but I have little knowledge of such matters.)

I initially assumed that Kukiz voters would have gravitated to the centrist Komorowski rather than the right-leaning Duda in the second election round, but that is not necessarily the case. As it turns out, the political stance of Kukiz is difficult to classify, and many of his supporters probably sat out the second vote. As Aleks Szczerbiak writes in a fascinating post in The Polish Politics Blog:

Mr Kukiz stood as an independent ‘anti-system’ candidate. His background is as a rebellious rock singer who performed in a band called ‘The Breasts’, best known for their 1992 anti-clerical song ‘The ZChN (Christian-National Union) is coming’. The now-defunct Christian-National Union was a clerical-nationalist party which, as a member of Polish governments in the 1990s, promoted the Catholic Church’s social and political agenda. However, Mr Kukiz also professes a strong commitment to the Catholic faith, arguing that his best known composition was motivated by a desire to protect the Church from abuse by exploitative clerics.

Indeed, in recent years he has been better-known as an advocate of social conservative and patriotic causes. In 2010 Mr Kukiz opposed a ‘EuroPride’ homosexual march in Warsaw and was dismissive of the election in 2011 of Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transsexual parliamentary deputy, as the product of identity politics rather than ability. His musical recordings have also increasingly emphasised national-patriotic themes and he was at one time involved in supporting the annual ‘Independence March’ held on November 11th, the day that Poles celebrate national independence, which has come to be associated with nationalist groupings. However, describing himself ‘a right-winger with a left-wing heart’, Mr Kukiz also has a very eclectic approach towards socio-economic policy: supporting low taxes while positing an active role for the state in tackling poverty, and enjoying close links with a number of prominent trade union activists and leaders.


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  • Fedor Manin

    It’s not really correct to characterize Komorowski as “left” in any sense. His party is more of a mainstream internationalist business conservative grouping, opposed to Duda’s populist clerical-nationalist conservatives. They are members of the same European political party as Merkel’s CDU etc. The actual left is currently very weak in Poland, though it was winning elections a decade or so ago.

    Anyway, depending on how the population transfers after 1945 were implemented, perhaps the divide might also have to do with the values of those who decided to resettle in a new area as opposed to staying rooted?

    • Felipe

      > perhaps the divide might also have to do with the values of those
      > who decided to resettle in a new area as opposed to staying rooted

      There was some voluntary migration (mostly teachers & middle class), yes, but the huge majority did not decide to migrate. The communists decided their origin and destination and allocated a train to carry them and that’s it. You can take whatever you can carry. No choice involved, just follow orders. Deciding to stay would mean being executed. For example most people in Wroclaw were moved from Lvov. Although some did stay in Lvov this was not entirely a personal choice, the communists simply decided that moving out of Lvov 95% of poles was enough.

      • Many thanks for the information. This issue deserves far more attention than it has received in the English-language media and academic literature. Is it covered well in Polish?

        • Felipe

          It is well known in Poland, its referred to as Poland A (west) and Poland B, but there is no consensus as for the cause of the phenomenum. For sure it cannot be attributed to “Prussian values” as the population was not exposed to Prussian values very long (they were exposed to it in 41-44 only).

          The best I can come up with is that the forced migration caused them to become less nationalistic. It cannot work as a general rule, as the chechens didn’t become less nationalistic after their forced migration, but it seams to have had this effect in the poles.

          I don’t claim to be right, but no other explanation seams to make sense. The exact process is still a mistery to me. Stalin wanted to make them loyal to him: You better stick with good old Stalin, or else the Germans will take this land back and throw you out 😉 So in my theory they would therefore be more loyal to communism, which means less religious. After the fall of communism, less religious translated into more liberal. That’s my educated guess about the issue.

          • Fascinating — surely more research is needed on this topic, especially in Poland but elsewhere as well.

          • Alexander Malinowski

            However, the anti-communists riots used to occur more often mostly in “Liberal areas”. Cities, liked Gdansk, Szczecin or Wroclaw were centers of anti-communist opposition. Therefore direct link between Pro-communist and Liberal is impossible.
            Seemingly, it is more related to local society structure, as Eastern Poland allegedly has more cohesive communities with higher social control over individuals, while western Poland is more “society of immigrants”.

            Nevertheless, some areas of Western Poland are not immigrant societies i.e. Poznan or have quite strong local communities like Kashubia or parts of UpperSilesia. There is no simple answer.

  • Many thanks for the clarifying comments. I will edit the post and change “left” to “center.” Excellent point on the post-war change as well.

  • Davidski

    My guess is that the divide is largely the result of migration patterns after WWII. Perhaps a large proportion of the people who moved into the former Prussian areas were of the more adventurous, entrepreneurial, urban, liberal and less religious type, and they passed this on to their descendents?

    I don’t think this has anything to do with Prussian values. The Poles who lived under the Prussians hated them with a passion, and those that didn’t were Germanized, so their descendents now live in Germany.

    • That makes sense. You are certainly right about most Poles living under Prussian rule.

    • Felipe

      @disqus_Og9I1KoklL:disqus You also seam to have the misconception that they migrated voluntarely. There was no choice, it was en-mass and centrally planned.

  • Al Gardiner

    On this issue, I would recommend some of the journal articles by Prof. Donald Pienkos of the Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee written over the years about Poland’s elections. Many have been published in the Polish Review. While I don’t have specific citations, Prof. Piekos has written about how the east and south had fewer big cities and more “one industry towns” and government managed towns under Communist rule. When the ‘Polish People’s Republic’ collapsed after 1989, these “one industry towns” were hit hardest. The combination of a more rural character and more failed urban areas gave a different set of priorities to voters in the South and East. Many Poles refered to these two halves as “Poland A” and “Poland B” even before the electoral trends became visible.

    • Many thanks for the link to Polish Review — interesting ideas.

  • Luke

    I don’t mean to scare anybody, but I happen to live on the very edge of the discussed Poland A & B and my political views are… undefined! One time I vote for the left, another time for the right side of the political scene. It is just too strange and so I propose that the said division is metaphysical in nature… I know my proposal is not very scientific and compared to all the great things people have already written here you could call it a total crap, but it’s true for me and most people I know…

  • blahblahblahblahblahblah

    The leftism of Opole and Silesia might have to do with the area’s heavy concentration of industry. As pointed out here (, 18% of European Union residents employed in mining and quarrying are Silesian.