The exit poll for today’s presidential election in Poland shows a narrow victory for the conservative incumbent Andrzej Duda over his centrist challenger Rafał Trzaskowski.
The Ipsos poll, released as voting closed at 9 p.m., puts Duda on 50.4%, ahead of Trzaskowski on 49.6%. However, given the narrow distance between the two, and the poll’s margin of error of 2 percentage points, nothing will be confirmed until official results are announced over the next two days.
Turnout was 68.9%, according to the poll. If confirmed, that would be the highest in any election since democracy returned to Poland after 1989. The previous record, 68.23%, was registered in the 1995 presidential run-off between Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski.
Though Poland’s presidency holds relatively limited powers, these include the right to veto legislation passed by parliament. A victory for the opposition’s candidate, Trzaskowski, would therefore create a major obstacle for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, whose legislative agenda has been mostly supported by Duda, who was a PiS MEP before becoming president.
The National Electoral Commission has said that it expects to announce the official results and turnout on Monday evening, or Tuesday at the latest. Even after the announcement, the result could be challenged in court, with legal experts pointing to a number of irregularities in how the election was organised and conducted.
After the first round, which took place on Sunday 28 June, the official results were announced on Tuesday morning. They showed Duda with a share of the vote (43.5%) that was 1.7 percentage points higher than he had received in Ipsos’s exit poll, while official turnout was 1.6 percentage points higher.
Exit polling was made more challenging at this election by the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant expansion of postal voting, which had previously been tightly restricted and rare but this year was open to anyone who requested it.
Over 700,000 people registered to cast their ballot by post out of Poland’s 30.3 million eligible voters. Almost 200,000 of those were in Poland itself. But the remaining majority were Polish citizens abroad, most of whom were only allowed to vote by post due to local lockdown requirements.
A record number of Poles abroad – over 385,000 – registered to vote in the first round of the election. A further 140,000 or so then signed up before today’s second round, bringing a new record of almost 520,000 overseas voters.
Many voters abroad have, however, reported difficulties using the online registration system (which went offline for two hours just before the registration deadline) as well as delays in receiving their postal ballots.
Trzaskowski, who received twice as many overseas votes as Duda in the first round, appealed unsuccessfully for registration to be extended following the problems.
For those who voted in person today, sanitary measures were in place at polling stations, with staff and voters wearing masks, hand sanitisers available, and distancing expected. Those aged over 60, pregnant women, carers with young children and people with disabilities were permitted to skip queues.
Today’s vote bring to an end a bitter and divisive campaign, which has highlighted the deep enmity between Poland’s two main political forces: the national-conservative PiS, which supports Duda, and the centrist Civic Platform (PO), which Trzaskowski represents.
For the first time in any presidential election since democracy was restored in Poland, the two run-off candidates did not meet in a head-to-head debate. They failed to agree on a format and, especially, a host for the event.
Trzaskowski refused to appear at a debate organised by the state broadcaster, TVP, which has openly supported Duda and attacked his rival. The president likewise rejected an invitation to an event hosted by private station TVN, which favours Trzaskowski.
In the end, the two candidates held simultaneous solo “debates” completely separate from one another, with Duda appearing on TVP and Trzaskowski holding what was effectively a press conference with journalists from a wide range of media outlets.
President Duda and his supporters have repeatedly hit out at what they claim is “German interference” in the election, while more broadly seeking to portray Trzaskowski as representing a “foreign lobby”, “Jewish organisations” and “LGBT ideology”.
“The Germans want to choose the president in Poland,” said Duda. “Today we have the latest instalment of the German attack in this election, a ruthless dirty campaign, this time directed against me.”
A number of leading media outlets in Poland are partly German-owned. One of them, Fakt, was condemned by Duda for a front-page story reporting details of a convicted child sex abuser whom the president had pardoned.
Earlier this week, Poland’s foreign ministry summoned the chargé d’affaires from the German embassy to discuss “a series of articles in German media” containing “manipulations and creating the impression of engagement on the side of one of the candidates in Poland’s presidential election”.
Jarosław Kaczyński, the PiS chairman and Poland’s de facto leader, on Thursday accused the opposition of wanting to turn Poland into “an appendage of Germany” and said that steps needed to be taken to stop the “extremely brutal intervention of the German press” in Polish politics.
Meanwhile, TVP has repeatedly suggested that, if Trzaskowski became president, he would seek to “fulfil Jewish demands”.
Jewish organisations want to “rob” Poland of billions of zloty in restitution claims, suggested TVP. It claimed that Trzaskowski was open to discussing these demands (editing out a section of a clip in which he said he was not) and that only Duda would protect Poland’s interests.
TVP’s news reports also portrayed Trzaskowski as working on behalf of a “powerful foreign lobby” linked to George Soros and the Bilderberg group, which was responsible for bringing Muslim immigrants to Europe and seeking to introduce “LGBT ideology” to Poland.
Trzaskowski, by contrast, has sought to portray himself as the candidate representing a “proud, open, tolerant and smiling” Poland. He has presented a conciliatory image, praising some of PiS’s policies, such as its expansion of social support for families.
This has also, however, left him open to accusations of inconsistency and lack of credibility. He promised not reverse the lowering of the retirement age by PiS, and claimed he had never voted against it and that he had not even been an MP at the time. In fact, he was an MP and did vote against it.
While Trzaskowski has, as mayor of Warsaw, been a supporter of LGBT rights, he has generally sought to avoid responding to Duda’s decision to make opposition to “LGBT ideology” a central feature of his campaign.
Last week, the president proposed a constitutional amendment banning the adoption of children by couples in a same-sex relationship. He described such adoption as “experimentation” on and “enslavement” of children.
In response, Trzaskowski declared that he “agrees with the president in this matter”, saying he is “against the adoption of children by same-sex couples, and it seems to me that this is the position of most political parties”.
Main image credit: Jakub Porzycki / Agencja Gazeta
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.