Ahead of planned early elections on April 12, North Macedonia’s main ruling party and its leading opponent are practically neck-and-neck, an opinion poll suggested – although questions have been raised about whether the vote should proceed.
An opinion poll published on Monday by the International Republican Institute, IRI, a US-based democracy development organization, suggested that North Macedonia’s main ruling Social Democrats enjoy a very slight popularity advantage over their bitter rivals, the right-wing opposition VMRO DPNNE party.
The survey carried out in January and February suggested that the Social Democrats led by Zoran Zaev enjoy 17 percent popularity, while the opposition VMRO DPMNE party led by Hristijan Mickoski are on 16 percent, putting them practically neck-and-neck.
In the ethnic Albanian campus, seven percent of respondents said they would endorse the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration led by Ali Ahmeti, five percent opted for the opposition Alliance for Albanians led by Ziadin Sella, and four percent said they would vote for the BESA movement led by Bilall Kasami.
The small Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA garnered one percent support, the same as a leftist party simply called The Left. Two percent said they would support some of the other smaller political groups.
In the survey as a whole, 21 percent said they are yet undecided or don’t know who to support, 12 percent refused to answer, 12 percent said they will not vote and four percent said that they will spoil their ballot papers.
There is a question mark over whether the early general elections will be held or not due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
The survey, carried out just before these concerns grew, suggested that about three-quarters of voters were “very” or “somewhat” likely to vote.
Forty-six percent said they are very likely to vote while an additional 28 percent said it was somewhat likely.
The survey, which follows the EU’s failure to agree to initiate accession negotiations with the country in late 2019, also suggested that there has been a decline in the belief that the country will secure European Union membership in the near future, as well as mounting economic anxieties.
“The breakdown of EU accession talks has dampened the Macedonian public’s hopes for future membership,” said Paul McCarthy, the IRI’s regional director for Europe.
“Citizens are now focusing their attention inward, citing economic issues as the most important problems facing North Macedonia today,” he added.
Although 80 percent of respondents to the survey said they support North Macedonia becoming an EU member, just 28 percent believe that their country will join the EU over the next five years—a seven-point decline since IRI’s last poll in July 2018. Likewise, the proportion of respondents who think EU integration will take longer than ten years has increased by seven points.
Many respondents also suggested that the “integration in the EU” is the top issue politicians “talk too much about”.
Instead of the EU, 59 percent of respondents believe politicians should talk more about economic issues, and 52 percent identify economy-related issues like unemployment, poverty and low or unpaid pensions as the most important problems facing the country.
The survey was conducted on behalf of the IRI’s Center for Survey Research by the Brima market research firm between January 30 and February 10.
The sample consisted of 1,222 respondents ages 18 and over and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent.