An absolutely fascinating poll was taken by the Publicus Research Institute at the request of the Progressive Institute, a political think tank. The Progressive Institute had an ambitious goal: to give an accurate map of the Hungarian population's political views. I must say the researchers of the Progressive Institute with the help of the Publicus Research Institute succeeded admirably in the task.
Between October 1 and 9 a fairly long questionnaire was distributed to a representative group of 1,196 people over the age of eighteen. The results are stunning. It is now well demonstrated, as I suspected all along, that today's Hungarians are deeply conservative in social and cultural matters while they demand a high level of social services from the state. The scatter plot below shows that an overwhelming majority of the population (88%) falls within the two left quadrants (those who believe in a paternalistic state), while 68% (the bottom two quadrants) are socially and culturally conservative.
The scatter plot is color coded to reflect gradations that don't fit neatly into a Cartesian world. A significant percentage of the group on the left, colored blue, is fairly liberal in social matters. This 40% of the population is more open to the world of ideas than the 37% below them (in green) who are nationalistic, against globalization, believe in the supremacy of Hungarians, and are antagonistic toward anyone different from them. Interestingly enough, this group demands the most state assistance. The smallest cluster (23% in grey) is the traditional, conservative group that believes in the market economy, accepts globalization, is not ethnocentric, but at the same time is very conservative. They want to send women back to the kitchen and are for the reintroduction of the death sentence. They are fiercely homophobic.
One of the more surprising findings of the study is that educational level, age, and income seem to make no difference as far as political outlook is concerned. It seems to be immaterial whether one is old or young, lives in Budapest or in a village. Most want a strong and providing state and most are socially conservative. So what is it then that determines who votes for which party if the population is so homogeneous? According to the Progressive Institute the most important "fault line" is people's attitude toward the Kádár regime. What is important to them is not their attitude toward economics or social and cultural matters but their emotional tolerance or rejection of the former socialist regime. A paradoxical situation in this case is that those who would most love to replicate the security of the Kádár regime are the very same people who show the greatest hatred toward that regime.
This map presents party strategists with a serious dilemma: how can they appeal to a fairly homogeneous group of voters? According to Publicus Fidesz in 2006 was much closer in program and thinking to the average voter; it promised a great deal more from the government than MSZP. And yet MSZP won despite the fact that the party was outside the ideological mainstream. Less reliance on the state and more liberal in social and cultural matters than the average voter. Were voters simply tired of the government and desirous of a change? Did they vote based on personality rather than policy? Whatever the case, it is worth noting that by 2008 MSZP moved over to the left side of the graph and by now the two leading parties are close to each other and to the electorate as a whole.
SZDSZ and MDF remained steadfast–SZDSZ way up in the liberal corner and MDF in the middle. The problem is that in these spaces there are hardly any voters. If people voted according to their ideological preferences neither SZDSZ nor MDF would be represented in parliament. Mind you, such an eventuality is not out of the realm of possibilities in 2010.