Modern political campaigns and databases

According to Hungarian law no party can inquire about a citizen’s political views and, an especially egregious offense, no one can amass a database. If for one reason or other one compiles a politically telltale list–any list–the data must be destroyed within a certain time. A few months.

There is the suspicion that the Fidesz has a database. The people who go from house to house, from apartment to apartment, write down names and make notations: friend or foe. People who lived in a dictatorship (however mild) don’t like this. They fear the consequences. What will happen if the Fidesz wins the elections? What will happen to those whom the activists marked as "foe"?

Although I understand the fear, I find this particular law (among many others in Hungarian jurisprudence) old-fashioned, and I’m not at all surprised that the Fidesz, a party of modern ideas concerning political campaigns, tries to circumvent it. After all, in working out a campaign strategy one ought to have a good idea of demographic and political realities. It is also very important for a modern party to have a list of sympathizers in order to mobilize its followers.

Before the last elections it came to light that the Fidesz had collected such a database. As usual, nothing came of it because every time the party is caught doing something not quite legal, the Fidesz simply doesn’t respond. One thing is sure. Whatever lists the Fidesz had they didn’t destroy. A week ago the party had no problem collecting 300 some thousand signatures in 48 hours. The party activists went from house to house, and it was observed that they pretty well knew where to go.

As I said earlier, I have no problem with this, and perhaps it would not be a bad idea to rethink this whole question. I very much doubt that the MSZP or the SZDSZ keep such lists (it shows, by the way), but they are in this case at a great disadvantage. I think it would be much better if the parties could collect lists of sympathizers to whom they could turn during the campaign period.

Hungarians are horrified by the American system of voter registration. Here one must register in order to be able to vote–as a Republican, Democrat, or independent. In every community there is a registrar of voters who maintains the lists, which are available to the local parties. Thus the local party officials more or less know what the situation is in their community. These lists are not surefire indicators of the outcome, because registration doesn’t commit a person to voting for particular candidates. A registered Republican can vote for a Democratic slate. But these lists provide guidance to the parties in conducting their campaign. If, for example, I’m registered as a Democrat it is very unlikely that a Republican campaign worker would ask me to put out a poster in my yard for the Republican candidate. It would be a waste of time.

Perhaps one day the fear will dissipate and it will not be a crime to keep lists. It would make political campaigns much easier.