Five years ago Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank, published a survey on Hungarian attitude toward conspiracy theories. The result of that study showed that it was mostly Jobbik voters who had a strong predilection for believing in theories suggesting that secret forces are responsible for the state of our world. Publicus Intézet recently conducted a similar survey, which found that the “disease,” most likely due to Viktor Orbán’s consistent, relentless propaganda, has since spread to include a large minority of Fidesz voters as well. Although in Publicus Intézet’s assessment, the typical paranoid who believes in conspiracy theories is someone with a low level of educational attainment who votes for either Jobbik or Fidesz, paranoid impulses are widespread in Hungarian society.
One good piece of news, even though it might be categorized as quasi-conspiratorial, is that 41% of the people surveyed think that it is not the cabinet, the government if you will, that runs the affairs of the country. The spread of opinions on who is in charge is wide. Sixteen percent of the respondents named Viktor Orbán as the sole decision maker, saying that members of the government are powerless tools in his hands. Left-wingers especially (35% of them) think that Orbán is a kind of dictator. But those (11%) who claim that domestic business groups run the country are also most likely not exactly friends of the Orbán government. The same should be true of those who named “a few Fidesz politicians, Habony and Fidesz oligarchs” (7%) as the culprits. Finally, there is another 7% who rather vaguely point to “people, groups of domestic political life.” Forty-one percent is a very high number, especially since 30% of those questioned either didn’t have an answer or refused to respond.
The above group thinks that Hungary is being run by domestic forces, just not the government. There is a second group that accuses foreigners of interference in Hungary’s internal affairs. Thirteen percent are convinced that the country is actually run by international financial circles (13%) which may be a code name for Jewish financiers and businessmen. Six percent believe that the strings are in the hands of the European Union while 4% blame the United States. Specific references to Jews were low (2%).
Once these figures are broken down by party preferences, it becomes clear that Jobbik and Fidesz voters are the most prone to fall for conspiracy theories. The difference between the two groups is marked on only one question: 10% of Jobbik voters are certain that Jews are the ones who actually run the country while among Fidesz voters this number is only 2%.
George Soros was one of the subjects of the survey, which was appropriate in light of the government’s furious anti-Soros campaign of late. Soros became a prominent scapegoat through Viktor Orbán’s mysterious references to “háttérhatalom/háttérhatalmak,” which I translated as “clandestine power/s.” As far as I can figure out, this clandestine power consists of the U.S. government, the Clintons, George Soros, and the civic organizations financed by him. According to government propaganda, Soros is supporting Hillary Clinton financially for the sole purpose of electing someone president of the United States who has an unfavorable view of the Orbán government. This propaganda, interestingly, seems to have fallen mostly on deaf ears. Only 19% of the people think that Soros and unnamed “clandestine powers” influence Hungarian politics, and a whopping 65% think that “this is just a communication strategy to direct attention away from other serious domestic problems.”
Soros’s name came up on two more occasions. The answers to these questions show that about 30% of Hungarians believe that “George Soros personally has something to do with the refugee crisis” as opposed to 41% who believe otherwise. Note that a lot of people couldn’t or didn’t want to answer. The same was true about Soros’s attitude toward the Hungarian government. To the question whether “he intends to overthrow the Hungarian government” 29% answered in the affirmative. These are high numbers, especially since only 40% think that these accusations are bonkers.
General questions about the refugee crisis show the depth of Hungarians’ confusion over the issue. Seventy-one percent of the respondents believe that “the goal of the refugee crisis is the weakening of Europe.” It is equally worrisome that 53% of the people believe that “American interest groups intentionally generated the refugee crisis.” It is also discouraging that 62% think that “a small elite controls the whole world.” Finally, on another level, 25% of the population believe in the deliberate spraying of people with poisonous materials (chemtrails).
It seems to me that Hungarians are more prone to these bizarre conspiracy theories than some other nations. Given my time constraints, I checked only a few U.S. figures on identical questions. A few years ago PPP (Public Policy Polling) found that 28% of American voters believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world. Compare that to the Hungarian figure of 62%. As for chemtrails, only 5% of Americans believe the story of poisonous spraying as opposed to 25% in Hungary. I might add that Republicans are more prone to believe such theories than Democrats, just as in Hungary right-wing voters are more apt to believe in conspiracy theories than liberals and left-wingers.
Although a large majority of Hungarians (79%) admitted that the problem with these theories is that we cannot know how much is true and how much not, still 41% of those questioned think that by “following these theories one gets a more realistic picture than if one tries to get information through official channels.” Decades of government secrecy and disinformation are at the bottom of this skepticism. Unfortunately, the Orbán government’s strategy of blaming “hidden forces” of conspiring against the defenseless Hungarians heightens the paranoid strains that are already strong in the population. The number of believers in these incredible stories has grown in the last five years. The negative effects of the Orbán government’s views can be felt everywhere.