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Analysis of the
1999 Parliamentary Elections

0. Preliminary remarks
1. Pre-electoral situation
2. Time of the voting decision
3. Party changers
4. Key motives
5. Socio-demographic groups
6. Traditional determinants
7. Transformation of party system
8. References
9. Authors


5. Voting behaviour by socio-demographic groups

The continuing transformation of the Austrian party system is reflected in significant changes in the voting behaviour of individual population and professional groups. Considering the present data it is no exaggeration to speak of a "realignment", i.e. the reorientation of voting behaviour in Austria. In breaking down the voting behaviour, not only must members of individual professional groups be considered, but also includes gender- and age-specific reorientations. Traditional determinants of the Austrian voting behaviour provide fewer and fewer explanations. Issue-related expectations and general sentiment, on the other hand, seem more and more to explain patterns of voting behaviour.

The reorientation mentioned above primarily affects striking gender-specific differences in voting behaviour: among male voters; the FPO - though by a narrow margin – has become the strongest party among men with a share of votes of 32 percent. The SPO was elected by 31 percent, the OVP by 26 percent of male voters. Five percent of the male voters opted for the Greens, three percent for the Liberal Forum.

The FPO scored particularly high (34%) among the group of men who are not yet employed (mainly younger males who are still in vocational training and/or at school). Twenty-five percent of this population group voted for the OVP, 14 percent for the Greens, and only one out of ten voted for the SPO and the Liberal Forum. As regards male voters, it is only among pensioners that the SPO is clearly in the lead (41%). OVP and FPO have an equal share with 27 percent and 28 percent respectively among male pensioners.

The competitive situation concerning women shows a totally different picture. Among female voters, the SPO remains the strongest party by far with a share of 35 percent. Twenty-seven percent of the women voted in favour of the OVP, 21 percent for the FPO, 9 percent for the Greens and four percent for the Liberal Forum. The Social Democratic Party scored highest with female pensioners. Forty-five percent of the female pensioners voted for the SPO, 32 percent for the OVP and only 19 percent for the FPO.

In addition to the gender-specific differences regarding the voting behaviour, significant age-specific differences became visible. Among the voters below the age of 30, the FPO was by far the strongest party with a share of 35 percent. Twenty-five percent of those belonging to the younger generation of voters made their decision in favour of the SPO, only 17 percent voted for the OVP. Thirteen percent of those under 30 voted for the Greens, four percent for the Liberal Forum.

Among the voters in the age group 30 to 44, SPO and FPO are neck and neck with shares of 32 and 29 percent, respectively, 23 percent of this age group voted for the OVP. Only among members of the older generation of voters (60 years and older), the two governing parties both have an outstandingly high percentage of votes.

Changes, however, can also be seen in the voting behaviour of the traditional core voters of the SPO and the OVP. Among the self-employed and those in liberal professions, the OVP is still the strongest party with a share of 41%, 33% of this professional group, however, turned to the FPO this time. It was only among farmers that the traditional predominance of the OVP was preserved. 87% of Austria’s full-time farmers voted for the OVP.

It is perfectly legitimate to speak of a spectacular development as regards the reorientation in terms of voting among the Austrian blue-collar workers. Forty-eight percent of foremen and skilled workers voted for the FPO. Only 31 percent of the members of this professional group voted for the SPO, the traditional workers’ party. Even among semi-skilled and unskilled workers, the FPO has become the strongest party with a share of 45 percent. Only 40 percent of the members of this professional segment voted for the Social Democrats, a mere 10 percent for the OVP.

The SPO, however, was able to stand its ground regarding its predominance in elections among male and female pensioners: 43 percent of the pensioners voted for the SPO, 30 percent for the OVP and 24 percent for the FPO. The pattern among housewives, however, is less uniform. Thirty-three percent voted for the SPO, whereas the OVP and FPO with 26 percent and 25 percent respectively are de facto on a rather equal footing. Among voters who are still at school or in vocational training, the characteristic features of the changes in voting behaviour have become more obvious: one out of every five in this group of voters opted either for the SPO, the OVP, the FPO or the Greens.

One indication of how dramatic the final phase of the election campaign was, is provided by the data on the behaviour of those voters who – according to their own statements – had made their definite decision only in the last few days before the election. Twenty-nine percent of these "last-minute deciders" voted for the OVP, 22 percent for the SPO, 17 percent for the FPO and 14 percent for the Greens. However, among those voters who - according to their own statements - had made up their minds as to who to vote for as late as in the last one or two weeks before the election – the "late deciders" – the SPO was the strongest party with a share of 30 percent. The FPO came second with a share of 25 percent. Eighteen percent and 17 percent respectively of the "late deciders" voted for the OVP or the Greens.

The voting behaviour of the party changers is also most telling: 37 percent of the party changers voted for the FPO and 17 percent for the Greens. The OVP was able to attract only 16 percent , the SPO only 15 percent of the party changers. Switching parties, of course, only partly explains the shift in votes. Due to the strong decrease in the voter turnout, the number of those who abstained from voting as a sign of protest also contributed to the losses that the governing parties, in particular, had suffered. However, as only those who voted could be interviewed within the scope of an exit poll, the following data do not provide any indications for the quantification of the non-voter effect.

The comparison of a series of five representative exit polls so far offers insight into long-term changes of selected groups of voters. Compared to the 1995 parliamentary elections, the SPO had done slightly better among white-collar workers, the OVP slightly worse. Compared to the parliamentary elections of 1986, the SPO lost four percent, the OVP lost 13 percent and the FPO won nine percent.

The reorientation in the voting behaviour of the Austrian workers is far more dramatic. While in 1986 the SPO was still elected by 57 percent of Austria’s workers, this figure decreased to a mere 35 percent in 1999. In other words, the Social Democratic Party has lost 22 percent points in its core group within the last 13 years. In the same period, the OVP’s share among workers was reduced by 50 percent. In 1999, a mere 12 percent of the workers voted for the OVP, whereas the FPO has become the strongest party among workers. While in 1986 only ten percent who voted for the FPO, 47 percent did so in 1999. Within a period of 13 years, not only did the FPO quadruple its share of votes among the workers but also became by far the predominant workers’ party since the 1999 parliamentary elections.


Table: Changes in the voting behaviour of selected voter groups: blue-collar workers

In percent






Parl. El. 1986






Parl. El. 1990






Parl. El. 1994






Parl. El. 1995






Parl. El. 1999






Changes (1986–1999)






Source: FESSEL-GfK, exit polls (1986–1999).

Due to strong gains in other professional groups, the proportion of workers (blue-collar) among the FPO voters has at the same time diminished overall. Twenty-seven percent of the FPO voters now come from the working class, while in 1995 35 percent were from this group. The rise of the FPO to become the predominant workers’ party indicates deep changes in the social basis of the Austrian parties. The political reorientation of the workers is unprecedented in the extent of the change when compared to the situation in Western Europe. Twenty years ago, four percent of Austrian workers voted for the Freedom Party, while in 1999 47 percent did so. This means that the FPO share has risen more than tenfold during this period.

By contrast, the voting behaviour of working women has only slightly changed as compared to 1995. The SPO lost about three percent, and the OVP was able to maintain its share of votes, while the Greens managed to win five percent among female workers.

However, the attractiveness of the governing parties among the younger voting generation has continued to decline. Only 25 percent of the voters under 30 voted for the SPO, and only 17 percent cast their vote for the OVP. With a 35 percent share of the votes, the FPO is by far the strongest party in this age group. The Greens, however, also made an above-average showing in this age group with a share of 13 percent.

There are striking changes in the voting behaviour of the civil servants and public-sector workers. In 1995, the SPO posted its strongest gains especially in this professional group, appealing to 48 percent of this voter group, whereas in 1999 its share of votes dropped to a mere 33 percent. On the other hand, the OVP posted an increase of some 10 percent among civil servants and public-sector workers, following close behind the Social Democrats at 30 percent.

As in the preceding parliamentary elections, the gender-specific composition of the party constituencies partly shows significant differences. Once again, the structure of the FPO constituency is predominantly male: 62 percent of the FPO voters are male. On the other hand, women predominate among the voters of the Greens: 63 percent of the constituency of the Greens is female. Thus, the Greens have a larger proportion of women among their voters than the Liberal Forum.

The age-specific differences in the 1999 parliamentary elections remained unchanged. Middle-aged voters and those of the elder generation make up the majority of the voters of the two governing parties. The voters of the three opposition parties, by contrast, are comparably younger. Three out of four voters of the Greens, for instance, are under 45, as are about 60 percent of the FPO voters.

As regards the level of education, the differences are similarly significant. Nearly three quarters of Liberal Forum voters have at least completed secondary higher education, as have two thirds of those opting for the Greens. Graduates from secondary schools or university graduates make up 41 percent of the OVP voters. The proportion of SPO and FPO voters with a higher educational level is 30 percent each.

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