After the elections–as often happens–the new government’s popularity soared. In fact, when asked, more people claimed that they voted for Fidesz than actually did. The government’s popularity remained high throughout the summer and received another boost after the municipal elections when practically all cities and towns were painted orange, the Fidesz color. About a month ago Szonda Ipsos reported that Fidesz had gained in popularity. At the end of October Medián’s poll indicated that optimism about the future was growing in Hungary.
A few days after the publication of a flurry of public opinion polls showing stability in Fidesz’s popularity, there were slight, very slight signs of an impending shift. The first article that appeared in HVG described a change in the “net mood.” NRC Market Research found “a significant effect of the raid of the private pension funds” on the mood of people who use the Internet. The NetMood Index fell from 36, about the same level as after the elections, to 29. This drop occurred in one month, November. This was the first instance since 2006 of such a precipitous drop. The details of the survey can be found in HVG.
Another piece of news that caught my eye was a Medián survey that became known on December 11 that specifically inquired about people’s attitudes toward curbing the authority of the constitutional court and levying extra taxes on banks and other mostly foreign companies. I wasn’t terribly surprised that over 70% of the people approved of the tax levies, but I found it encouraging that only 39% of those asked approved of the Orbán government’s attack on the constitutional court. Encouraging because one can read article after article about the uselessness of attacking the government for its undemocratic behavior. After all, the authors of these articles claim, people care only about their pocketbooks. It seems that this is not the case.
After these initial signs of a shift in public opinion, yesterday and today two polls appeared. The first one, Tárki, was the standard monthly survey asking people what they would do if elections were held this Sunday. Tárki’s conclusion is that Fidesz is still leading by a mile but the number of its supporters has shrunk from 49% to 43%. MSZP’s base didn’t change, but those who were unsure or refused to answer has grown from 31% to 35%. So, those who voted for Fidesz in April and most likely in October didn’t move over to MSZP but are sitting on the fence. These figures apply to the whole adult population. However, even among the decided voters Fidesz lost supporters. Last month 71% claimed that they would definitely vote and that they would vote for Fidesz. This month this number is only 67%, a drop that is considered to be statistically significant. MSZP’s devoted voters moved from 14% to 17%, a slight change.
Medián’s questions were perhaps more revealing. They asked people which party they definitely wouldn’t vote for. While six months ago 21% of those asked considered Fidesz the party they would under no circumstances vote for, today it is 32%. Also, it is the first time since the elections that a majority of the people consider the government’s performance weak. In November 51% were satisfied with the government, today only 45%.
Medián inquired about people’s expectations for the future. Two months ago 48% of the people were optimistic, today only 39%. These are very significant numbers and therefore it’s no wonder that Dow Jones Newswire gave the following title to the article reporting on the results: “Popularity of Hungary’s Ruling Party Plummets.”
According to analysts this trend is going to continue, especially when people receive their paychecks for January and it turns out that the “huge tax cuts” amount to practically nothing for about 50% of wage earners. They might be particularly furious if and when they see all the extra money going into the pockets of well-off politicians as a result of the 16% “flat” tax and, in some cases, the very generous deductions for dependents. I doubt that too many Hungarians will see anything close to the 45% monthly windfall that the prime minister is getting.
For those whose Hungarian is not swinging, “bruttó” is gross, “eltartottak száma” means number of dependents, “nettó összeg” is take home pay, and “különbség” is difference.