Political scientists love simulations, graphs, and PowerPoint demonstrations to explain political phenomena. I'm always a bit skeptical about such exercises, though I know they've been used to craft election strategies for some time in the U.S. At any event, a recent study of the parties' chances at the next Hungarian national elections aroused my interest. The study was done by the researchers of the Republikon Institute, one of the many think tanks. Republikon is known to be close to SZDSZ. Or should I say the fomer SZDSZ?
The conclusion of the study was summarized by Csaba Tóth, "strategic director" of the Institute. Whatever that means. The title: "Antidote for the two-thirds." In other words, how can the parties left of Fidesz prevent Viktor Orbán's party from achieving a two-thirds majority that would empower Fidesz to change the constitution at will?
The political scientists of Republikon are 100% sure that Fidesz will win easily. Their only question is by how much. Gábor Török, a political scientist who is closer to Fidesz, interestingly enough is more cautious and, in my opinion, rightly points out that according to most analysis "those who feel an aversion toward Viktor Orbán entertain 'a wait and see' attitude." This opinion is shared by Gerely Karácsony, a pollster working for Medián.
The researchers of Republikon are less cautious. They take the present situation and, extrapolating from it, are certain that Fidesz will have the much desired two-thirds. In fact, according to their calculations a 60% share of the votes will be more than enough for that kind of majority. The Hungarian electoral system, apparently the most complicated in the whole world, leads to disproportionate results. For example, in 1994 MSZP received one-third of the votes but more than half of the parliamentary seats. It was in that same year that the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition reached the much coveted two-thirds with only 52% of the votes. Republikon claims that the 2010 election will resemble the situation in 1994.
So here is Republikon's simulation that predicts that if Fidesz wins 60% of the votes it will easily achieve the two-thirds majority even if the party's candidates lose in thirty individual districts. But, the researchers add, in case of such overwhelming support it is impossible that they would lose that many districts. However, if Fidesz's lead is under 60% then the two-thirds majority is much less certain. At 55% the loss of twenty districts could prevent them from achieving their goal. If Fidesz has only 50% of the votes then the two-thirds goal depends on the fate of the individual districts. If Fidesz wins in all 176 that would translate into 260 parliamentary members, but if they lose in ten or twenty districts the two-thirds majority is gone.
Republikon's conclusions hinge on their firm belief that Fidesz's support will not fall under 50% and therefore the possibility of a two-thirds majority remains real. And here comes these political scientists' solution. The strategy should be to prevent Fidesz from winning in all 176 individual districts.
Republikon argues the following way. They took a look at the 2006 results and found the district where Fidesz did worst. In that particular district Fidesz received 26% of the votes instead of the national average of 42%. At 60% it means that in the same district, all things being equal, they would receive 46% of the votes. If nationwide Fidesz gets 50% then in this particular district they will get 34%. However, they continue, there is a big difference this time: there is Jobbik that will receive at least 10%. Republikon's assumption is that in this case the Jobbik votes will go over to Fidesz in the second round: Fidesz will receive, in the end, ten percent more votes than in the first round. Thus a Fidesz win is inevitable.
Then comes Republikon's solution: in the weakest Fidesz districts the anti-Fidesz forces should develop a strategic alliance and agree to one person representing MSZP, SZDSZ, MDF, and LMP. This way, they claim, Fidesz most likely would lose the district. Their concrete example is Újlipótváros (New Leopold Town, XIIIth District) in Budapest. This was Fidesz's worst district in 2006. According to their calculation, MSZP would do better here than its nationwide average but because of the large liberal voting population in this particular district MDF, LMP and SZDSZ would also do well. Because of the split socialist-liberal votes among the parties Fidesz most likely would do better than MSZP in the first round. At the same time MDF and LMP most likely would beat Jobbik. Thus, in the second round we would have one socialist, one Fidesz, and one LMP or MDF candidate. The result is clear. After the first round Jobbik voters would vote for Fidesz, by now alone on the right, while MSZP and the other smaller party would split the left-liberal vote. Fidesz would win.
However, if MSZP, MDF, SZDSZ, and LMP together support one common candidate the situation would be different, Republikon claims. If Fidesz's national average were under 55% the left-liberal candidate could even win after the first round. But surely he/she could win in the second round when the left would not be divided while the right would split between Fidesz and Jobbik.
According to Csaba Tóth the deal among the parties could be left to the last minute, and the parties could explain to their voters that naming a common candidate is only a tactical step and doesn't mean everlasting alliance or merging into one party.
All this statistical modeling is foreign to me, but I do agree with the proposition that the only way to stop Fidesz from winning or winning very big is to join forces.
By the way, I was somewhat surprised to read in Tóth's article that Fidesz leaders are trying to underplay their chances of winning more than 66% of the votes. Admittedly, here and there Orbán says that such a result would be a "miracle," but Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz's managing director, only a few days ago claimed that Fidesz will surely win all 176 electoral districts. It will be a first in the history of the Hungarian Republic. Yes, yes, but I would be cautious if I were Kubatov. After all, Mihály Varga's recent references to Fidesz's resolve to introduce the Swedish pension model might mobilize some of the undecided to vote against Orbán and Fidesz. And who knows how many more mistakes will be committed between now and April.