We have been so preoccupied with the global aspects of the refugee crisis that we have neglected its domestic aspects. We know that Viktor Orbán’s response to the refugee crisis has met with widespread approval and that Fidesz’s popularity has grown. We also have a sense that Jobbik by and large supports the government even if it would introduce even more draconian measures against the would-be immigrants. MSZP, sensing the general anti-immigrant sentiment, is sitting on the fence and refuses to commit itself. The party’s leaders like to describe their position on the issue as “positive neutrality.” The parties that are sympathetic to the asylum seekers and would welcome them as permanent residents and eventual new citizens are Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK); Együtt, headed by Viktor Szigetvári; and Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM), led by Gergely Karácsony and Tímea Szabó. These parties advocate an open door policy. Együtt, in fact, even mentioned a figure: 15,000 immigrants could easily be integrated into Hungarian society.
These are impressions gathered from newspaper articles and interviews. No polls dealing explicitly with the attitudes of Hungarians to the refugee crisis were available until yesterday. Now, thanks to Medián, we have a better idea of what goes on in Hungarian heads when it comes to these strangers who briefly appeared in their country. Twelve hundred interviews were conducted between September 11 and 15 in 100 localities. The margin of error is ±3%.
The poll is very thorough. Almost no relevant questions about the migration crisis were left out, starting with the respondents’ general familiarity with the facts. As usual, they are poorly informed about even such basic facts as the number of migrants who entered and promptly left the country or the number who are currently in refugee camps. Although the poll takers, not having precise numbers themselves, allowed a generous leeway, only 46% of the population had an approximate idea of the number of arrivals, which they greatly underestimated. The same was true about the current inhabitants of refugee camps, except that in this case they grossly overestimated their numbers. But that was expected.
I guess it is again no surprise that while 66% of the population are familiar with Fidesz’s “solution” to the migration crisis, few people are familiar with the proposals of opposition parties. Only 36% of the adult population are familiar with the stance of MSZP and only 34% with the ideas of Jobbik. Among the smaller parties, DK’s proposals are known by 20% of the people, followed by LMP, Együtt, and PM.
Based on this sample, the number of Hungarians who would like to introduce even harsher measures against the migrants is very high: 79% of the population, a figure that has grown substantially since November 2014 when it was only 66%. The number of those who would limit the number of “colored people” (színesbőrűek) has also grown since November 2014, from 47% to 57%. Medián is inclined to look upon this development not so much as racism pure and simple but as a corollary to the general fear of migrants. At the same time homophobia and anti-Semitism have decreased somewhat.
Respondents were asked to grade, on a scale of 1 to 100, the performance of various groups, personalities, and countries involved in one way or the other with the refugee crisis. It seems that people think very highly of the activities of the police (73). They also consider the volunteers’ work admirable (67), while they gave only a 56 to the government’s handling of the crisis. They were also dissatisfied with the role Austria, Germany, and the EU played during the crisis. I was somewhat surprised that while Hungarians had a rather low opinion of the Hungarian Catholic Church’s role (46), they were also dubious about the part Pope Francis played in the crisis (53). One is inclined to think that the respondents had only a vague notion of the disparity between the position of the Hungarian Catholic Church and that of Pope Francis.
One interesting aspect was the general condemnation of the United States, although the U.S. has rarely been discussed in connection with the crisis. The right-wing media does, however, suggest that the whole refugee crisis is the fault of the United States, a country that is not taking its fair share in light of the chaos that followed its occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. They also blame the United States for the civil war in Syria in an indirect way. If Washington hadn’t supported the Arab Spring, then ….
Overwhelmingly, Hungarians fear the refugees. Somewhat irrationally, what they fear most is the possibility of contagion: these strangers will bring diseases that might spread to Hungarians. It doesn’t matter that members of the medical community have repeatedly declared in television interviews that such a danger is practically nonexistent. On the other hand, Fidesz politicians love to frighten people with such illnesses as malaria, which we know is not an infectious disease, or with AIDS, which is not readily communicated. They are also afraid of terrorism, about which they hear a lot in the pro-government media. At the same time they believe that the asylum seekers should be treated humanely (72). But they say that the migrants don’t obey the country’s laws and customs and that they are violent (67).
As far as the population’s opinion of the government’s preparedness and handling of the crisis is concerned, it is not the best. Although the government knew what was coming, it did nothing to prepare for the onslaught (65). How well is the government doing its job? Not very well (54). Sentiment is in favor of making illegal border crossing a crime that merits jail time, not just expulsion as is the practice now.
What should happen to the asylum seekers? Again, on a scale of 1 to 100, the option that they should be settled wherever they want to go scored a 61. So, in this case, all refugees should settle in Germany and Sweden. A second alternative is that they should be settled in all the member states of the Union (50). The idea that immigration is beneficial to Europe for demographic reasons was generally rejected (26).
The Hungarian population is completely divided on the issue of what to do with the refugees who enter Hungary. Thirty-four percent of them would like to hermetically seal the borders; 33% are of the opinion that all refugees should be let go; and 27% believe that refugee camps should be established and that the asylum seekers should be kept there until their fate is decided.
Medián pollsters were also interested in the approval or disapproval of building fences along the Serbian and Croatian borders, broken down by party sympathies. Sixty-eight percent of Hungarians approve of the government’s decision to build a fence. Not surprisingly, support is greatest among Fidesz (87%) and Jobbik (80%) voters, while the least support comes from voters of DK, Együtt, PM, MLP, and MOMA (25%). (MLP is a small liberal party and MOMA is a moderate right-of-center party.) I was surprised to see that almost half of LMP voters strongly support Viktor Orbán’s fence (48%), surpassing the voters of MSZP who are most likely influenced by their party’s cautious attitude, fearing the loss of support if they manfiest too “radical” a solution to the refugee crisis. The attitude of LMP voters suggests a move toward Jobbik and Fidesz instead of toward the liberal bloc’s pro-refugee attitude.
In addition, Medián asked several more questions, refining its overall results. One was whether there is a likelihood that sooner or later the Muslims will become a majority in Europe. Fifty-four percent of the electorate think that this will indeed be the case. Again it is Fidesz (70%), Jobbik (63%), and LMP (52%) voters who are most fearful, while MSZP sympathizers are in the middle with 42% and DK, Együtt, PM, MLP, and MOMA followers are the least worried (17%). Fifty-eight percent of Hungarian adults consider the immigrants aggressive and demanding and only 42% look upon them as peaceful and cooperative.
There is one issue on which I find the results puzzling in light of the rest of the findings. That is, the answers to the question “how much do you agree that it might be advantageous to Hungary to accept the refugees and thus moderate the decrease of the population while at the same time acquiring a larger labor pool.” The answers on a scale of 1 to 100 are inexplicable: Jobbik voters are naturally the least enthusiastic (17), followed by Fidesz (25), MSZP (40), DK-Együtt-PM-MPL-MOMA (40) and LMP (42). LMP 42? Even more liberal than the small liberal parties on the question of immigration?
All in all, this poll indicates that government propaganda has been effective in reinforcing the ingrained Hungarian distrust of foreigners. The government might not be getting kudos for its handling of the refugee crisis, but it is winning the propaganda war.