When in the 2009 European Parliament election, the Swedish Pirate Party received an unprecedented 7.1 per cent of the votes, many people saw ,piracyʻ as one of the new hopes of future party politics. However, in the intervening ten-plus years, the Swedish Party was unable to repeat its election success in any other election, whilst the German Pirates lost not only their representation in the European parliament but also their representation in German Land parliaments. With the exception of the continued success of the Pirates in Iceland, and a sudden rise of the Pirates in Luxembourg, there is evident deterioration of this party family.
Compare, then, the Czech 2017 parliamentary election, where the Pirates gained 10.8 per cent of the vote and became the country’s third strongest party. Following this unprecedented success, the Czech Pirates increased their voter support in the 2019 European Parliament election (14.0 per cent). Does their success – and specifically, how they chose to mobilize their preferred type of voters, or how they identified the ideological space in which they found their voters – serve as a “model” for other pirate parties?
In my recent article published in Politics, I test the most important factors explaining variation of the Pirates’ support across the Czech Republic (among more than six thousand Czech municipalities). I ask whether the success of the Czech Pirates in some regions resulted in a transformation of geographical patterns of Czech voting behaviour (for discussion of the spatial patterns of support for the Czech parties, see here and here), and whether the Pirates were able to succeed more in traditionally leftist or rightist regions – or, in contrast, whether their spatial support transcends the left-right model of political competition which had dominated Czech electoral competition since the 1990s.
My findings show that the determinants of the Czech Pirates’ success were not completely consistent with voting for pirate parties elsewhere in Europe. First, we confirmed the expected strong effect of the youngest population (18–24) on success of the Pirates but, at the same time, we also found a positive (although weaker) association between pirate voting and population aged 35–44. As such, the results indicate that the success of the Czech Pirates was not limited to municipalities with the youngest populations and the negative effect of age only existed for the age of 65+.
Second, higher Pirate vote shares in larger municipalities can be linked to the fact that in contrast to Western Europe, larger (and especially the largest) Czech cities comprise long-term strongholds of rightist parties and simultaneously exhibit characteristically high education and low unemployment levels. Furthermore, the negative effect of more leftist electorates on voting for the Pirates, together with higher support in municipalities with more educated populations and lower unemployment suggest an increasing influence of socio-economic indicators on the party’s success. Finally, the Pirates received much fewer votes in areas with stronger Catholic populations, which can be associated with the more liberal views of the Pirates on a number of traditional issues.
Generally, we can conclude that Pirates were more successful in more developed areas (or areas of high development potential) than in structurally disadvantaged regions. This confirms also fact that geographical support for the Pirates was relatively strongly associated with regions and municipalities with previously high support for the right-wing parties, in contrast to negative overlap of the Pirates’ support with a block of left-wing parties.
The Czech example demonstrates that it is the specific situation in a country, namely general dissatisfaction with established parties, that motivates voters to look for alternatives. However, the Pirates can only become that alternative if their programme rises above the “ghetto” of cyber parties – as also shown in the case of the Czech Pirates, who assigned only a minor role to typical “pirate” topics in their broadly conceived programme. Their focus on large cities, mostly strongholds of right-wing parties in the post-1990 Czech context, explains why they differ from most of their foreign colleagues on the right-left axis as well.