Today I would like to cover three opinion polls which, when combined, may give us a better picture of the political situation and the Hungarian population’s frame of mind at the moment. The first one, by Medián, I already touched on. Here I mention it simply by way of a reminder that, according to the company’s February poll on party preferences, for the first time since August-September 2015 Fidesz lost a considerable amount of support. Between January and February 2016 the party’s support dropped from 53% to 46%.
The second poll, by the Republikon Intézet, took a different approach. In addition to the normal questions on party preferences, Republikon asked participants in the survey “what kind of government they would like to see after the next election.” And here comes the surprise. While Republikon found that support for Fidesz was still strong (49%) when people were asked to indicate their party preference if an election were held right now, the result of the question about the political coloring of the next government was radically different. Only 25% of those who had an opinion on the matter indicated that they would like to have a Fidesz government. Mind you, 19% of those who took part in the survey refused to answer the question and 22% had no opinion. Of the remainder, 18% opted for left-liberal governance and 16% wouldn’t mind having Jobbik at the helm.
There were no surprises in the geographic distribution of the responses. In Budapest support for Fidesz was only 18%, while 25% wanted to see a socialist-liberal government. In county seats, the difference between Fidesz and a socialist-liberal party was smaller (19% to 21%), but Fidesz was still in the minority. When it came to less significant towns, Fidesz took the lead (22% versus 17%). Its support was staggering in villages: 37% to 15%. The number of those who haven’t made up their minds is high (41-45%) in cities and towns and lower (33%) in the villages.
Republikon also parsed the respondents’ preferences for a new government based on their level of educational attainment. Among those who finished only eight grades Fidesz support was the highest (31%). This support tapered off the more years people were in school and dropped to 14% among university and college graduates. Interestingly enough, it was in this last group that the number of those who still haven’t made up their minds was the highest (60%).
Finally, Republikon asked people about the refugee question. Its findings were somewhat different from other pollsters who asked a single question: “do you or don’t you agree” with the government’s migration policies. In Republikon’s survey people could respond to the statement “Altogether, the government handled the refugee situation well” in three ways: “No, I don’t agree,” “Partly yes, partly no,” and “I agree.” It turned out that only 57% of the population, as opposed to 84% in some other surveys, were totally satisfied with the government’s handling of the situation while 19% were critical and 21% partially so.
The findings of the third poll, the Standard Eurobarometer 84, reflect Hungarians’ view of the EU. The Standard Eurobarometer was established in 1973 and has since appeared twice a year. The latest edition is based on information gathered between November 7 and 17. The Standard Eurobarometer measures responses in six different areas: (1) the role of the European Union; (2) European identity; (3) migration; (4) common energy policy; (5) media, and (6) expectations. Unfortunately, the section on Hungary is available only in Hungarian, but those who can handle the language should take a look at it. Here I will focus on questions about the EU’s presence in people’s lives.
Although we often hear the complaint that the European Union is too far removed from the ordinary citizens of the member states, that they know little about it and have no informed opinion on it, the findings of this survey suggest otherwise. It doesn’t seem to matter how much Viktor Orbán tries to incite Hungarians against the bureaucrats of Brussels and their evil plans for closer integration, a substantial majority of Hungarians (65%) would like to see a common security and defense policy introduced. In fact, the number of those who would like to see a common EU army is much higher in Hungary than the EU average (61% vs. 53%). Orbán’s talk about sovereignty is meaningless when 62% of Hungarians support a common foreign policy for the Union. Having common defense and foreign policies for all member states would take away a great deal of the country’s sovereignty, which Viktor Orbán finds so important. In fact, in his last speech he divided the people of Europe into two groups: “unionists and sovereigntists.” The unionists want a European United States while the sovereigntists want “a Europe of free nations.” Naturally, Viktor Orbán and his followers are the flagbearers of the latter group. Yet it seems that a large majority of Hungarians would be quite willing to give up a large part of that sovereignty. Hungarians’ opinion negatively differs from the EU average on only a couple of issues: the introduction of the euro as a common currency (49% vs. 56%) and common migration policy (55% vs. 68%). But note that even on the contentious issue of migration more than half of the population would be willing to accept a common EU policy.
Moving on to the question of European identity, I think readers of Hungarian Spectrum will be surprised to hear that while in the European Union as a whole 41% of the people consider themselves to be members only of their own nation, that number is considerably lower in Hungary: 33%. And that’s not all. While in the EU 51% consider themselves to have dual identity (for example, German and European), in Hungary that number is higher: 56%. Even the percentage of those who consider themselves to be exclusively European without national identification is much higher in Hungary than in the EU as a whole (5% versus 1%).
What do these new surveys tell us? First, that in February Fidesz’s support dropped considerably, and since then it has most likely weakened even further due to the teachers’ demonstrations, the MSZP-DK win in Salgótarján, the revelations about Viktor Orbán’s estate, the government’s use of skinheads to prevent a referendum, and the central bank’s attempt to “privatize” about 300 billion forints of public money. We have also learned about long-term support for Fidesz, which is not as rosy as one would think by looking only at the monthly party preferences. A larger segment of society would like a change of government than one would suspect on the basis of other surveys. And finally, that despite all the propaganda, Hungarians are great supporters of the European Union and less keen on sovereignty than Viktor Orbán and his followers. László Kövér may remove the flag of the European Union from Parliament and Viktor Orbán may banish it at his public appearances, but it seems that Hungarians are proud citizens of the European Union. All in all, the Hungarian situation is not as dark as some people paint it.