Growing dissatisfaction with the Orbán government

A fascinating study was released today, “Dissatisfied voters in Hungary,” the joint work of Policy Solutions and Závecz Research with the assistance of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Budapest. It is a 35-page report jam-packed with information and data to which I can’t possibly give justice here. Those who know Hungarian can read a summary of it in an HVG article with the catchy title “At last we know who the dissatisfied Fidesz voters are.”

We can learn a lot about the present mood of the country from this poll, conducted during the months of October and November and based on personal interviews with 2,000 respondents. Perhaps the most important conclusion is that although the monthly polls on the relative strength of the parties still show Fidesz way ahead, the Orbán government cannot rest on its laurels. I’m sure that Századvég and Nézőpont Intézet, the two polling companies that provide the government with vital data on the mood of the country, have already presented Fidesz with most of the information we can glean from the study under review.

The message is that 61% of the electorate are unhappy with the performance of the government. This level of dissatisfaction may be behind the sudden decision of the Orbán government to raise the minimum wage. In addition, after some hesitation the government announced that as of January 1, 2017 it will raise old-age pensions by 1.6% as opposed to the planned 0.9%. Moreover, as a “Christmas gift” each pensioner will receive a 10,000 Ft “Erzsébet card,” which is a kind of government gift card.

The public response to these measures was that the sudden “generosity” of the government has something to do with the coming election. I’m not convinced. The announcement is far too early. The 2018 election, if the government follows past practice, is more than a year and four months away. People’s memories are very short, so one would have to question the wisdom of making this kind of an announcement so early in the game. It is enough to recall what happened in 2002 when Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy’s government raised all teachers’ and doctors’ salaries by 50%. They were not grateful for long.

The gloomy picture that emerges from the pages of the Political Solution-Závecz report leads me to believe that Fidesz’s primary consideration in raising the lowest wages and pensions was not so much preparation for the next election as a recognition that dissatisfaction is growing now. This dissatisfaction poses a threat to Fidesz, especially if the opposition manages to show some strength in the coming months.

In the past, polls consistently showed that villages and very small towns were Fidesz strongholds. We were also told that Fidesz voters, by and large, come from the less educated strata of society. Yet this poll shows that people who live in small villages are the most dissatisfied with their lot. A great deal more so than people in Budapest. In the capital only 55% of the inhabitants think that “Hungary is heading in the wrong direction” while in the villages this figure is 63%. This is even truer of pensioners, 68% of whom are pessimistic about the future and only 25% of whom are happy with the present government.

Commentators complain, rightly so, about the hasty manner in which the Orbán government makes decisions, but I’m certain that panic set in when the Fidesz high command realized how widespread the dissatisfaction is, especially in the countryside. It was bad enough that in the past they had to worry about Budapest and the large cities, now they seem to be losing the village folks. In fact, dissatisfaction in Budapest is lower than the national average of 61%.

green = satisfaction; salmon: = dissatisfaction; blue = doesn't know

green = satisfaction; red = dissatisfaction; blue = doesn’t know

Another significant piece of information from the study is that the least-educated people are the most dissatisfied and that university graduates are the least dissatisfied: 83% versus 50%. Clearly, the growing impoverishment and the ever larger gap between rich and poor is taking a political toll. The Orbán government’s conscious decision to enrich the better-off strata of society while exacting a 16% flat tax from even those on minimum wage created a serious social problem, with the number of people living under the poverty line continuing to grow. Whether the latest measures will remedy the situation we of course don’t know, but I personally doubt that the large number of pensioners will be appeased by a 1.6% raise and a 10,000 Ft. gift card.

In addition, the poll produced a political profile of the electorate which I hope the opposition parties will study and try to learn from. Many politicians and commentators are convinced that the opposition can get new voters “only from the center.” Some, like Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, formerly of MDF and DK, are trying to find this center among disenchanted Fidesz voters. Others, however, point out that inveterate Fidesz voters are unlikely to vote for the liberal parties. They may remain at home as they did at the by-elections, which deprived Fidesz of its two-thirds majority almost two years ago. In any case, the number of disappointed Fidesz supporters is relatively small, at 5%.

The answer can be found elsewhere. The data show that the largest group among the disenchanted are the undecided voters (22%). The opposition should target this group instead of trying to court the nonexistent “middle.” I may add that the socialist-liberal camp makes up 17% and Jobbik voters 12% of this large group of people.

Finally, given the dissatisfaction in the countryside and in the agricultural sector in general, the opposition parties should ramp up their efforts in small towns and villages. These people are hard to reach by the media or the internet. It is not enough to give innumerable interviews on ATV. The largest party on the left, MSZP, has completely neglected the countryside. They no longer have activists there, without whom there is no way to establish contact with the most disappointed, poorest strata of society.

Thus, in my opinion, the strategy should be two-pronged. On the one hand, the opposition should try to awaken the apathetic undecided voters and, on the other, they should build a network of activists with whose help they could build support on the local level. Without such hard work they will never be successful.

November 30, 2016

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22 Comments on "Growing dissatisfaction with the Orbán government"

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2016
Guest

Little bit sad.
Hungary can not overcome the continuing Russian plots peppered with disinformation.
Probably, all Hungarians can see clearly that the regime failed them, but there are enough confused ones, who will vote for jobbik/fidesz to block any decent future developments.

petofi
Guest

I think you’re on to something, 2016. I’m starting to think that the basement-brigade has discovered how to sow mass psychosis: the system involves total media control and then systematic disinformation and lying that confuses and exhausts the populace. After a while, the populace accepts the government line without question. People employing the Big Lie, or, Repeated Lies, seem to be popping up all over–Putin, Orban, Trump, Erdogan seem to be employing that set formula…

webber
Guest

The Bakers Union has announced that the price of bread will be raised by 30% in 2017. Inflation is already raging, and runs between 5 and 6% in basic goods by my calculation.
If people at Fidesz think that a “Christmas gift” of 10,000 forints, and a 1.6% raise in pensions is going to increase their popularity, they are either completely out of touch or insane.

pappp
Guest
I think the situation is worse for Fidesz better for the opposition. For example I refuse to believe that 45% of the people of Budapest are OK or ambivalent about the direction Hungary is heading or the interpretation that this means they at present could support the government. It’s way too positive a figure and is fully inconsistent with my experience. My view is that way too much emphasis is put on polls and “data” (of questionably quality) which I guess stems from the rational choice theory which is ingrained in the minds of liberals. In many cases just as in business one has to go with his or her guts, needs intuition and leave numbers aside. The message is clearly that people are dissatisfied any further conclusion is questionable because – if history is any guide – the data are not reliable enough (and probably show more Fidesz support than what exists in reality). My intuition tells that people all over Hungary are dissatisfied and they want a change – but they will vote for change only if a new power can show credible leadership and can look almost equally strong as a force as Fidesz is. People especially… Read more »
Guest

A few additional remarks:

First re taxes.
Even worse than the flat income tax is the extremely high Afa/VAT of 27% even on basics. From experience I see many people trying to avoid this by going back to bartering like thousands of years ago. We buy a lot of stuff from our neighbours: Chicken, eggs, meat, sausages, honey, fruit and vegetables and there’s always a big laugh when I ask for a “számla” aka bill. Even repairmen are happy when I tell them “No bill needed” – heating, car repairs, new winter tyres …

Re unhappiness in the country:
Yes, people are unhappy, but they don’t know or don’t want to accept that their government is responsible – it must be someone else, as always in Hungary!
The big bad international companies, the EU, the Jews, the immigrants – anybody but ourselves!
Conceding that It’s the government’s fault obviously would lead to the question:
Who elected this government …

webber
Guest

Wolfi,
People who blame others for their own suffering can easily blame the government without even thinking of blaming themselves for voting for it.

ferenc
Guest

One thing I have sensed, and just let me put it blunt:
Hungarians are too proud for their own good.

e-1956
Guest

True Hungarian puzzle: To proud to admit their failures!

webber
Guest

All the data above – all of it – is falsified to make Fidesz look better. For instance, I do not believe for one minute that Fidesz is more popular in Budapest than in the countryside. The situation is surely much, much worse for Fidesz than published data shows.

Guest

The good news for Fidesz, they will still win the 2018 election.

pull
Guest

OK, let’s remember that pronouncement.

petofi
Guest

Fidesz will win as long as Putin is in power…

ferenc
Guest

“announcement is far too early……..2018 election …. is more than 1 year and 4 months away”
Just wondering, fearing if ‘democratical practice’ will be be kept really, could OV/Fidesz may be have ideas about putting elections earlier?
No idea myself, just curious about opinions here.
Furthermore wanting to be prepared and having ideas what’s best to be done, if in an un- or semi-democratic way elections will be organised earlier than 2018.April?

Istvan
Guest

Can the 10,000 Ft Erzsébet card be used for alcohol and cigarette purchases? If not it’s worthless, if it can be used for those prevailing Hungarian vices then it could be seen as a real perk at least by some older members of my extended family. Although they will bitch that its marhaság all the while they drink the non-homemade stuff and smoke away.

Guest

Effectively it’s just 10 000 HUF more in your pocket – so of course people will use it on whatever, one carton of cigarettes (they’ve become expensive …) or 4 liters of moonshine …
Enjoy!

Guest

Totally OT (or not) but clearly showing the dysmal state of the Hungarian health services:
The story of a dead woman found in a hospital’s toilet – after several days …
You couldn’t make this up!
http://budapestbeacon.com/news-in-brief/body-discovered-in-budapest-hospital-bathroom/42540
We’ve hears and read a lot of horror stories about Hungarian hospitals but this …
I deleted my wife’s comment on this …

ferenc
Guest

for who undestands hungarian, actual interview with Minister of State for Healthcare Zoltán Ónodi-Szűcs responsible a.o.for hospitals
http://www.atv.hu/videok/video-20161202-onodi-szucs-zoltan
seems best to stay as far away as possible from any (state) healthcare

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