How to Implement Successful Austerity Policy without Negative Reactions from Voters: Estonian Experience 2008–2011
In Europe, austerity policy was considered the ideal model for the stabilisation of states with payment difficulties during the global financial crisis which began in 2008.
However, in spite of their economic reasonableness austerity measures were seldom applied in the Member States of the European Union because of the social pressure and political risks that accompany them. The main justified fear of the governments not implementing these measures was not that the austerity measures would not work, but rather the opinion that austerity policy would bring along the displeasure of the voters and that would result in losing the elections.
The government coalition of Estonia, who already had the experience of abrupt economic reforms, was one of the few in the EU who decided to implement austerity measures to the full extent, with all their social and political results. Contrary to the widespread opinion, the government coalition managed both to meet the purposes of austerity policy and to win the parliamentary elections of 2011.
The aim of the article is to analyse the reasons and logic behind this somewhat unexpected voter behaviour, to study which factors influenced the behaviour of Estonian voters in the situation where the budgetary decisions proceeding from the austerity policy of the government caused social pressure but – unlike the theoretical predictions – were not followed by the negative reaction of voters at the elections.
The analysis showed that, first, the ideological gap between the parties of the coalition and the opposition was too wide for the so-called punitive vote. Second, the loyalty of citizens to both the government parties and the austerity policy was high. But the most important aspect was the calculated reputation management of the government which showed austerity policy as the only most moral and sustainable solution, and where the role of the government was depicted as implementing the necessary policy and not as choosing between several possibilities.