Sunday’s referendum asked the Greek people a very specific and complicated question: Whether voters agreed to accept the proposal the country’s creditors had made on June 25, 2015. But everyone understood that the vote would have much wider implications for Greece’s membership in the euro and the European Union.
What exactly these implications would be, however, was highly contested during the one-week campaign. The government argued that a no (“OXI”) vote would give Greece a better negotiating position, which would let it quickly secure a deal that would end austerity. The “yes” camp, in contrast, warned that a no vote would lead to “Grexit,” or Greece’s departure from the euro zone and possibly the E.U., and therefore even worse economic hardship in the months to come.
The referendum result was much more definitive than expected: more than 61 percent voted “no.” But Greece’s future is now highly uncertain. Euro-zone and E.U. politicians have made it clear that Prime Minister Tsipras’s promise of a better and quickly negotiated deal isn’t forthcoming. No one knows what will happen next.
Who voted yes, and who voted no?
What were the Greek people thinking as they went to the polls, and what does that imply for future negotiations?
We fielded an original telephone survey on Greek public opinion on Saturday, the day before the referendum, asking 989 respondents how they intended to vote, what they expected from a no vote, and what they believed should happen in Greece’s future. The survey was carried out by the University of Macedonia Research Institute and identified respondents through multi-stage stratified sampling.
The results give us a unique glimpse into the deliberations of the Greek people about to vote on the country’s future. They show that the referendum question split Greek society along sociodemographic and partisan lines. “No” was strongly favored by younger, less educated, and unemployed voters, who have been heavily hurt by austerity politics. Voters favoring the governing parties, Syriza and ANEL, or the radical right party Golden Dawn, were significantly more like to vote no.
“Yes” was favored by older and more educated voters, and by those who had voted for the more moderate opposition parties (Nea Democratia, PASOK, and To Potami).
What did they expect from their vote?
But knowing who voted no doesn’t tell us why. What did they think would come of their vote?
An overwhelming majority of those who voted no– about 88 percent — believed that, as a result of an OXI vote, negotiations would continue, as you can see below. Only 5 percent believed that a no vote would mean Greece would exit the euro zone.
By contrast, those who voted yes were much more worried about Grexit. In fact, 61 percent of them believed that would be the most likely outcome of a no vote.
Voters’ beliefs thus mirror the narratives of both camps, emphasizing the importance of partisan cues in the referendum campaign.
No-voters’ high hopes for a better deal may soon turn into disappointment, however. European policymakers have been reluctant to discuss a new and substantially better deal with the Greek government in the past days. The odds of Greece leaving the euro zone have clearly increased.
This puts the Tsipras government under pressure at home. Our data show that an overwhelming majority of Greeks want to keep the euro: 76 percent of all respondents think that this is best for Greece’s future.
What is more, support remains strong when respondents consider the costs of euro membership. To better understand how voters’ evaluate the trade-offs associated with keeping the euro, we ran a survey experiment in which we randomly informed one group about the potential costs of remaining in the euro.
We first asked a randomly selected control group whether it would be better for Greece to keep the euro or to introduce a national currency. Fully 78.5 percent chose the euro. We then informed another group that experts said that staying in the euro would require a few more months of pension cuts and tax increases. Support for the euro dropped to 75.6 percent. A final group was informed that staying in the euro would require 4-5 more years of austerity. In this group, support for the euro dropped to 72.7 percent.
It is possible that the high level of support for the euro reflects Greek worries that a Grexit would also end Greece’s membership in the E.U. To disentangle these fears, we finally asked respondents what they personally would choose regarding different possible combinations of euro and E.U. membership.
As you can see below, opinions divide strongly by party. There is overwhelming support for E.U. membership across all parties. But voters of the governing parties Syriza and ANEL are far more interested in leaving the euro while staying in the EU than are voters of the moderate opposition.
As Grexit risks have increased over the past days, this may indeed be a path for the Tsipras government to choose.
Although the majority of government voters does not want Grexit, the move to leave the euro zone would still be endorsed by about one-third of the government’s electorate. Moreover, the bank holiday and capital controls have already materialized some of the costs associated with Grexit.
If the Tsipras government additionally manages to convince voters that Grexit is mainly the euro zone’s fault, the government may be able to survive such a development. Incidentally, the sizable support for euro exit in the government’s camp might also provide a rationale for the argument that Grexit was Tsipras’s preferred outcome from the start.
Taken together with the strong popular no to more austerity in Greece, these results echo my own research on other balance of payments crises. In crises such as the Greek one, where both austerity and structural reforms and the alternative of an exchange rate devaluation (in this case Grexit) are costly, voters prefer a financing of the status quo. But when exchange-rate stability increasingly comes at the price of painful internal reforms, public opinion can switch from a preference for stability to one for devaluation. As a result, such crises often end in devaluation, but only after considerable delay.
For Greece, this means that despite years of trying to keep Greece in the euro, a Grexit is now less than just a theoretical possibility.
Stefanie Walter is a full professor for international relations and political economy at the University of Zuerich.