PiS is coming for the new middle class

05.05.2018 | By Bartosz Brzyski

PiS is coming for the new middle class

Healthcare system reform is becoming a vital element of the state’s modernisation. Prime Minister highlights the importance of the struggle against smog and promoting the high quality of air, as well as spatial planning and ‘the beauty that will save us’. Having noticed the progressive transformation of the Polish society, PM Mateusz Morawiecki included post-materialist values into ‘the good change’ programme of his government. Law and Justice party (PiS) is coming for the emerging middle class.

Basing on the Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, political scientist Ronald Inglehart formulated the scarcity hypothesis and the socialisation hypothesis. The first one indicates that an individual appreciates most what he/she lacks. The latter describes processes of primary, as well as secondary socialisation that happens in the adolescence. According to the socialisation hypothesis, values are shaped and fixed precisely during this vulnerable period of life, thus are determining what we will appreciate as adults. Even though both hypothesises may seem obvious, they explain changes that take place in developed societies.

Age cohorts who have been brought up with satisfied materialist needs, after transition into adulthood starts to give priority to the superior values: recognition, sense of belonging, higher quality of life. This notion enabled Inglehart to distinguish two groups of values: materialist, such as economic and physical security, and post-materialist, which are gaining importance after meeting basic needs.

Poland is in the middle of this process. On the one hand, groups which did not satisfy their materialist needs are still present in the Polish society. On the other hand, there is a growing number of citizens engaged in non-governmental organisations, especially in big cities, for whom issues such as the struggle against smog and ubiquitous outdoor advertising, environmental demands, and concerns about public sphere play an increasingly significant role. Until now Law and Justice party aimed its message at the first group. Now, Mr Morawiecki is going to take care of the latter. Such ‘post-materialist shift’ may turn out to be particularly valuable, as far as upcoming local elections are concerned.

As a symbol of this shift could be perceived Mr Morawiecki’s gesture–Polish new prime minister expressed his thanks to the NGOs, which in recent years struggled for implementing clean air in the cities postulates into the political mainstream agenda. Mr Morawiecki presented the quality of air as a second of his government’s priorities. It is a dramatic turn, considering claims about ‘theoretical problem of smog’ stated just a moment ago by the former minister of health in Beata Szydło’s government, Mr Konstanty Radziwiłł.

The Polish middle class does not express ‘anti-smog’ demands due to financial reasons. It has become a topic of public debate because of the growing aspirations, which are slowly exceeding the need for having a pothole filled or for a renovated tenement. Ignoring this influential and constantly stronger group is not only a real political loss but also could be perceived as a sign of recklessness. In the end, changing voters’ expectations sooner or later naturally will shape the election manifestos. Before expressing a polemical stance that we ‘will recognise them by their fruits’ and that those announcements will not change anything, it is important to realise that even shift in government’s rhetoric is a significant sign. However, to stay consistent, hitherto ministers, members of Parliament, as well as public television will need to adjust to the new government’s narration. By modifying its communication strategy, PiS can gain a significant advantage over the opposition in the area of post-materialist values.

While the smog problem is an issue that merely cannot be passed over in silence, announced creation of the Institute for Urban Planning and Architecture (since ‘one cannot neglect study of beauty’) is a clear sign of taking into account needs of the middle class, as well as is a reference to the purely post-materialist value: beauty. At the same time, it is a symbol of recognition of urban movements’ concern over the quality of public space and issues such as urban planning, unsightly advertisement and urban disorder.

It seems that Mr Morawiecki understands the ongoing transformation of the Polish society. He cannot, however, neglect the groups for whom materialist values still play the critical role in organising life. This tension was especially striking when Mr Morawiecki said in his expose: ‘We do not want to quit coal–it is essential not only for the regions of Śląsk and Zagłębie, but for Poland in general. Taking the future generations into account, I would like to enable development of alternative energy sources wherever it is economically justified. We can make use of nature’s sources’. Such a rhetorical figure is a clear attempt to reconcile interests of those making a living by working in a ‘black gold’ industry and those demanding to quit coal in the name of the clean environment and renewable energy. This sitting astride the axiology strains the communication’s coherence, however, from the political strategy’s perspective it enables to direct the message to two distinct groups of the electorate.

Strategy pressed by PM Morawiecki has strong points too. He named the healthcare system’s modernisation as a ‘key element of the development’ since health is a marriage of materialist and post-materialist values: the need for security and the quality of life. Emphasising the importance of this sphere by naming it the most crucial challenge for the current government is an attempt to reconcile two opposing social groups.

It seems that Law and Justice has the best understanding of what it means to be a mass party. Mr Jarosław Kaczyński’s organisation is capable of encompassing different kinds of messages, thus convincing the greatest possible auditory. It not only has its welfare face, but also promotes the narration for the entrepreneurs, centred around a newly proposed law, the Constitution for Business. It reaches for ‘economic patriotism’ and fights against the post-communist network of shadowy influencers. It deftly combines leftist and rightist postulates, not neglecting the balanced centrists. Now Mr Morawiecki comes into play – Prime Minister is using the language of the urban movements and post-materialist agenda in an attempt to drag the new Polish middle class closer to PiS. It seems that PiS wants to take it all.

Translation from Polish: Katarzyna Nowicka.