Shifts in Voting Behaviour

By Julian Dierkes

Much of election-day exit poll analysis in Germany focuses on “Wählerwanderung”, i.e. voter migration. That requires pretty good and representative data to do, something that has never quite been possible in Mongolia. That secret poll data that political parties always seem to be operating with is also unlikely to really make this kind of analysis possible. So, I speculate on the basis of having watched many Mongolian elections. Here, I want to speculate about party allegiances, possibly adding or collaborating on another post that would look at demographic movements.

I suppose that Mongolian voters have five options:

  • Vote U Khurelsukh, nominated by MPP
  • Vote S Erdene, nominated by “DP”
  • Vote D Enkhbat, nominated by Зөв хүн электорат coalition
  • Cast a blank ballot, i.e. don’t mark any of the candidates
  • Don’t vote

Committed Party Supporters

As in any election, political parties will count on some portion of the electorate who are committed party supporters and will vote for a party nominee regardless of who that is.

But there are actually some complicated questions even around this committed core of party support for this election.

MPP

Here, the picture seems clearest. The MPP has around 220,000 members and there is no obvious reason to think that the vast majority of these members will not be actively supporting Khurelsuhk as the MPP candidate.

Yes, there are factions in the MPP (note for example the relative demise of the City faction that supported 2017 presidential candidate M Enkhbold whose support within the MPP was not enthusiastic four years ago), but it seems like Khurelsukh has been fairly firmly in charge of the party through his terms as prime minister and especially his big win in last year’s parliamentary election. But M Enkhbold is not the only example of less-than-enthusiastic MPP support. The most glaring example (certainly in his own mind) was N Enkhbayar in 2009 who felt so betrayed by the party that he spun off his own party. The MPRP seems to have re-united with the MPP for now, but…

MPRP

In some ways MPRP voters have seemed the most fiercely loyal in the past decade, following N Enkhbayar through his trial, conviction and various combinations of candidates. Now, the MPRP seems to have re-merged into the MPP. Should we expect MPRP stalwarts to follow this merger and vote for Khurelsukh?

My guess is that the vast majority of committed MPRP members (just over 30,000) will vote for Khurelsukh. Somewhat oddly (to me), Enkhbayar does seem to have a very loyal following and this re-merger seems to have his blessings. I suspect that Khurelsukh is also a relatively attractive candidate for many MPRP supporters. With his Khentii connections and power base he seems country-side rooted. He is also portraying himself as a bit of a traditionalist.

And here, the obligatory mounted photo:

The twist? S Ganbaatar as the MPRP’s candidate in 2017 received significantly more than then MPRP’s committed core’s votes, his 30.6% nearly equalling M Enkhbold’s share in the first round in 2017. In 2020, Та бидний эвсэл (Our Coalition that MPRP participated in) won 8% of the national vote. Assuming that this also included some swing voters, the overall potential of committed MPRP voters might thus be on the order of 70,000 or so (5% of the 1,475k voters who participated in the 2020 election).

As an aside, note that the Our Coalition included the Civil Will Green Party, the very party that D Enkhbat represented in the 2008-12 parliament.

So, Ganbaatar massively outperformed and was largely supported by non-committed MPRP voters.

Ganbaatar Voters

What will happen to these Ganbaatar voters? The motivation to support Ganbaatar was probably four-fold: MPRP support, anti-MPP desire to balance political forces, personal support for Ganbaatar, frustration with Enkhbold and Battulga as options. On MPRP support, see above, a small portion of the electorate. On personal support for Ganbaatar, while this seemed to be common among Ulaanbaatar taxi drivers…

I probably never quite understood his appeal, but Ganbaatar has now been a member/figure in all four parties currently in parliament. Not a whole lot of political credibility there. I haven’t noticed that he’s actually endorsed S Erdene as a candidate, but I doubt that there is much loyalty among his erstwhile 2017 voters that would “follow” him to support Erdene.

That desire to counter-balance an MPP-dominated parliament with a president from another party will be one of the main dynamics in this election. To the extent that this also motivated many of Ganbaatar’s voters, these votes will almost certainly not migrate to the MPP but instead have to choose between Erdene and Enkhbat to make themselves heard.

The overall frustration with the lack of choices may be significantly lower this time. Khurelsukh is probably a less unattractive candidate than M Enkhbold was, though Erdene seems no more attractive than Kh Battulga was. On the other hand, Enkhbat does represent a genuine alternative given his nomination by KhUN and his own political trajectory.

DP

The DP has been in a very unhealthy spiral for some years now. The embarrassing spectacle around the control of the party seal is only the most recent manifestation of that unhealthy spiral. Longtime leaders like Lu Bold spinning off in 2020 or strange new recruits like S Ganbaatar joining (see above) are not a sign of personnel renewal, but a lack of focus and identity. And, in the meantime, the party remains dominated by the “golden sparrows” of original democracy activists who were young in 1990, but are no longer young nor fresh in 2021.

There are too many factions in the DP for me to really try to attempt to assign Battulga supporters to Erdene, or not, so my best guess would be to think that a significantly smaller portion of the roughly 150,000 DP members will be DP voters than the portion of MPP voters that will support Khurelsukh.

Yet, the DP remains the main contended and even a relatively unattractive candidate like Battulga managed to parlay that rival-to-the-MPP status into a successful election run in 2017. As unattractive a candidate as Erdene seems, I did underestimate that anyone-but-MPP potential in 2017 and thus assume that Erdene might yet collect a largely portion of that potential. If we think of Ganbaatar + Battulga vote shares in 2017 then that was nearly 70% of voters in the first round in 2017! Disregarding voter demographics and assuming some stable voter behaviour (counter the very thrust of this blog post) that would imply that Khurelsukh would have to win the support of roughly 1/3 of the voters who supported non-Enkhbold choices in 2017. That seems like a tall order, even for a relatively more attractive candidate.

KhUN

The National Labour Party does not really have a stable support base. It garnered just over 200,000 (5%) in the 2020 parliamentary election. Some of those voters may have supported specific KhUN candidates in the parliamentary election, but it seems reasonable to assume that most of them would also support Enkhbat as a candidate given how widespread support for him within KhUN seems to be.

Blank Ballot

What about the “white voters”? In the second round of the 2017 election, 8% of voters who turned out did not mark their ballot presumably registering their protest against the choice between Enkhbold and Battulga. That’s almost 100,000 voters. While some of them might have been within-party opposition to the two candidates, it seems fair to assume that the vast majority of these voters will support Enkhbat in part because their effort in actually casting a blank suggests that they are committed voters and will turn out again. I don’t quite see a rationale for casting a blank ballot in an election where Enkhbat does seem to represent a genuine alternative.

The numbers of white ballots might increase significantly if Khurelsukh and Erdene face off in a second round, a situation that would be similar to 2017 and does not seem impossible. For a second round, all kinds of allegiances would shift around in any case.

Non-Voters

And then there are the 31.5% (first round) and 39.5% (second round) of voters who did not vote in 2017 or the 26.5% who did not vote in 2020. I do not have evidence nor a strong intuition of the percentage of those who are committed non-voters, i.e. those who are very unlikely to vote in this year’s election. Presumably, these are the politically disenchanted or those for whom travel to a polling station is too inconvenient. Perhaps also some of the infirm who do not request a mobile ballot box. For those non-voters who see voting is too much of a burden, it seems unlikely that this year’s election will be different. Will one of the three candidates somehow rouse the disenchanted out of their political passivity to cast a ballot? That does not seem likely for Khurelsukh or Erdene with the possible exception of some regional support. Enkhbat? Well, if his campaign develops some momentum and makes a credible claim at a “different kind of politics”, perhaps. But in the end, it might be easier to persuade some swing voters to support Enkhbat, than to lure non-voters out of their gers.

Conclusions

Any predictions that come out of this consideration of possible voter migration? Well, even though Khurelsukh seems the obvious favourite in this election, I did make myself think about the over 900,000 voters who voted against Enkhbold in the first round in 2017 and how many of those voters Khurelsukh would have to persuade to support him to reach a majority in the first round.

And, Enkhbat has a steep hill to clime with his “start” of only the voters who cast a blank ballot as a likely committed voter base.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in Democratic Party, Elections, Mongolian People's Party, Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Presidential 2017, Presidential 2021, Protest and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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