Election Fever in Vienna

As the city prepares to go to the polls, the streets are plastered with party propaganda posters. Michael Ludwig will almost certainly remain mayor, but his potential partners are pitching for a piece of power.

Defacing the posters of controversial candidates is as old as electoral politics. Usually it is hard-right personalities who get their faces X-ed out, eyeballs blackened or adorned with clown noses, but in this year’s Vienna state elections, message sabotage has become more inclusive: The resolutely left-leaning Grünen are getting their share. In an election driven by candidates’ personalities rather than their policies, the Green leader Birgit Hebein’s often abrasive style has proved provocative. Ads for two of the smallest parties, the liberal NEOs and the young socialist Links remain largely unscathed. This is less a compliment, than a sign of their insignificance.

Michael Ludwig (SPÖ)(C) Simon Ballam

The principal result is not in doubt: The present mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) maintains a comfortable 40% in the polls, his personal rating nearer 70%. The real issue in not who will preside in the Rathaus (City Hall), but who will be his (necessary) coalition partner. Ludwig’s ad campaign stresses the “safe pair of hands”, unexciting but most likely the right route. The next strongest candidate is Gernot Blümel (currently polling at 20%), Türkis/ÖVP and Finance Minister in the federal government. He has stated clearly, that his goal is to be partner in the next Vienna government. However his attempt to personify dynamism by taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves for the cameras doesn’t differentiate him from the incumbent.  

Gernot Blümel/(C) Simon Ballam

The most likely future Vice-Mayor is also the present one, Grünen leader Hebein, whose party is polling at 13%, enough to lift the SPÖ over the 50%.  Responsible for traffic and city planning, her impulsive and often controversial ideas (pop-up bike paths and inflatable paddle pools straddling major intersections) have both polarized voters and irritated the pragmatic Mayor. But the mathematics of coalition politics are inexorable: Ludwig knows that a partnership with arch rival ÖVP would cause uproar in Vienna’s old Social-Democratic Party – and even the thought of political intimacy with the hard right FPÖ is out of the question.  Almost certainly he will grit his teeth and continue with the annoying Hebein. 

FPÖ(C) Simon Ballam

But no Vienna election review can ignore the antics of the FPÖ, resolutely and unapologetically anti-immigrant. Despite the double-whammy meltdown of 2019, the Ibiza scandal video and disgrace of their charismatic leader HC Strache, they are still an important factor in Vienna politics. Their somewhat colorless Strache-replacement Dominik Nepp (which translates literally as “rip-off”) is polling at 11% and Strache himself with his split-off list at another 6%.  This is well behind their pre-scandal standing, but is still solid support for their often virulent demonization of Islam and law-and-order populist platform.  

October 11 is likely to confirm a solid business-as-usual local government in our city, but with enough personality-driven friction to keep things interesting.  Stay tuned!

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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