Gloomy Hungarians, a survey

Given Hungarian pessimism and the tsunami of frightening assessments coming from economists and politicians I'm not surprised that sentiment is downbeat. Medián, a respectable public opinion polling firm, released the results of its latest surveys on attitudes to the economic crisis and reactions to the proposed remedies. Medián wanted to know two things about the programs. First, people's familiarity with them and, second, their opinions about the programs' effectiveness. For the second question respondents were supposed to grade the programs on a scale of one to five, just like grading in Hungarian schools.

The most amazing finding, to my mind, is that 51% think that Fidesz has a program and that it is the best of all. The best is not very good, only kind of middling (3.1). One can fairly safely assume that the people who claim to know the program are Fidesz voters by and large. If that is the case, 51% is not a large number in comparison to the results of opinion polls on party preferences where the Fidesz percentage is well over 60%. But it is interesting that half of the population sees a program where there is none. The attractiveness of the Fidesz "program" lies in its vagueness and its Pollyanna assessment of the situation. The program of the Reform Alliance is also familiar to 51% of the people but it scored only 2.5. (Considering that 1 is failure, this is not exactly a ringing endorsement. In the American grading system a D+ or C-.) The government's program is the best known: 60% of the people claimed knowledge of it and it got the dismal score of 2.4. [I'm a bit puzzled that Medián in addition to the government's program also specifically mentioned the program of MSZP because I for one am not aware that MSZP has a program different from that of the government. Perhaps this was just a way of giving respondents the opportunity to compare party programs–apples to apples. Whatever the case, 46% of the sample claims to be familiar with the MSZP program. Not surprisingly, it got the same grade as the government.] Respondents think that MDF and SZDSZ also have programs distinct from the program of the Reform Alliance these two parties support. People think even less of these programs: they are barely passing with a grade of 2 (D).

As of the beginning of March 75% of the respondents considered the economic crisis the dominant public issue. In February, people's interest was still equally divided between the economy and the murder of Marian Cozma. Moreover, the number of pessimists is growing. In January only 60% thought that the crisis would last longer than a year but by now an additional 10% has joined their ranks.

People were both pessimistic and self-serving in their responses to proposed remedies. About the same number of people support tax cuts as reject any reduction in expenses. Overwhelmingly popular are cuts in personal income tax for the middle class and raising taxes on the wealthy. Almost everybody rejects the idea of raising VAT (value added tax) to compensate for the losses created by lowering personal income tax. More than 50% of all questioned think that it really doesn't matter what kinds of changes are introduced, people won't be better off and the number of people paying taxes won't be higher. So basically it doesn't matter who does what, nothing will be better. When people were asked which reform program they found most attractive the answers followed the general Fidesz vs. "the others" split in the survey. Almost half of them (49%) didn't like any of them. Twenty-four percent preferred the government's program, 12% sympathized with that the Reform Alliance, and only 5% with the very radical ideas of Bokros, while 10% had no opinion.

As far as personalities are concerned, there is no star. On a scale of 100 Orbán received 38, Gyurcsány 26, and Bokros 24. Both Orbán and Gyurcsány still have large followings among the party faithful: Orbán received 70, Gyurcsány 65. Three-quarters of those surveyed heard of Viktor Orbán's speech but most of them considered it lacking in concrete proposals. I assume that even Viktor Orbán realized that this vagueness is not to his advantage and in the last few days he made his rounds on different TV programs. Each time he dropped a few hints of a possible austerity program, always overshadowed by positive messages. At one point he said that eventually perhaps even a fourteenth month pension might be possible! Yesterday Péter Szijjártó came out with a proposal for cuts in sales and excise taxes: only five percent of VAT on basic food items and lower taxes on gasoline. A winning political formula–lower taxes and more government benefits. The economics are something else.