Tag Archives: Dániel Róna

“Observer”: The heavily biased Hungarian electoral system

I’m truly grateful to “Observer” for this thorough analysis of the Hungarian electoral system. It is a great contribution to our understanding of the electoral chicanery Fidesz politicians devised to maintain their dominance in Hungarian politics.

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With the approaching general elections in spring 2018, this piece focuses on the heavy bias of the Hungarian electoral system (HES) introduced by and often amended by the ruling Fidesz.

Following the victory in April 2010 one of the first acts of the new VO/Fidesz government, after the freezing of all EU financed public tenders, was start building their new political system. The new Basic Law and a bit later the Electoral Law were rushed through with little consideration of and no input from experts, other parties, labor or civil organizations or the public and were approved by Parliament in April and December 2011 respectively. Following which this “chiseled in granite” legislation underwent numerous amendments in the period up to 2014.

Limited by the post format, I will present mainly the criticism of HES and the practical results produced by this system. Many sources offer brief or more detailed descriptions of the whole HES:

More detailed studies are

The main changes the Fidesz HES brought were:

  • One round of voting instead of two.
  • No participation threshold, formerly, a turnout of 50% was required for the first round and 25% for the second.
  • 199 seats parliament, from 386 before,
    • 106 constituency seats, from 176, their weight increased from 45.6% to 53.3% of the total
    • 93 party-list seats, including minority-list seats, down from the 210 (regional list and national list seats), i.e. a decrease from 54.4% to 46.7% of all seats,
  • 5% threshold remains for party lists, 10% threshold for joint list if two parties, 15% threshold for joint list of three or more parties,
  • boundaries of the voting districts gerrymandered to suit Fidesz,
  • the requirement for all voters’ prior registration was later rescinded.

Many critical studies and reports were published, e.g. the Tavares report, the Kim Scheppele studies, the 2014 OSCE report, dozens of articles were written on the new political and electoral systems and on the deteriorating state of democracy in Hungary. Herein I use extensively the analyses of Dr. Zoltán Tóth, considered as one of the best experts on electoral systems with an impressive resume of administrative, advisory and teaching positions in all governments before 2010, as well Constitutional Court advisor and Secretary General of the Association of European Election Officials  1991-2011.

 I’ll also follow the order of Dr. Tóth’s study “By the Force of the Votes – A small study on the elections 2018” (in Hungarian), starting with:

Related legislation

Dr. Tóth draws attention to the fact that “The governing rules are to be found in the Basic Law, in 8 different statutes, 13 government decrees and in 30 National Electoral Commission (NEC) rulings of 3000-4000 pages.”

“The Hungarian parliamentary electoral system is built on parties and is a one-turn, two-way voting system, which favors only the party with the majority of the votes and punishes the others by way of a mathematical solution.” The essence of the legislation lays in the details and the complicated power distribution technique, says Dr. Tóth. The HES consists of at least 100 elements, the combined effect of which should enable the election of a Parliament that reflects all the people’s interests and values.

However, in Dr. Tóth’s opinion “The current law is far from this. We are faced with the fact that the rule of law (including in the elections process) has ceased in Hungary and the crude economic, political and government interests directly affect the outcome of the election.” Notably “All existing legislation was born after 2010, where there was no public, professional or political consultation. The legislation is based on loosely defined legal concepts, the main interpreter of which is the National Electoral Commission* [NEC]… The language of the legislation is far from intelligible, its structure is complicated.”

* NEC and the other election commissions have the primary task to determine the results of the elections, ensure the fairness and legality of the elections and restore its legal order if need be. NEOffice and other election offices carry out administrative tasks.

A study by the ACEEEO  p.138, finds that:

“In the past 25 years the [Hungarian] electoral system has been subject of serious amendments. As described above, the new law adopted in 2011 has brought about significant changes, including the restructure of constituencies, the abolition of regional lists and voter turnout requirement, the introduction of the one-round election, national minority lists, the possibility to vote without Hungarian residence, the winner surplus vote, etc.” “The current electoral law has been modified eight times since 2012, five times within one year prior to the elections held in 2014.”

Proportional or majority system?

From this point of view HES “must be considered against the political system of that state, the number of participating parties.”

Dr. Tóth offers the examples of the very different British/ US two party, the multi-party French or the list voting Belgian systems, which all produce fair, sensible and socially just election results in their own environments. The Hungarian “is a multiparty system with one round voting, which is an irresolvable contradiction resulting in social injustice.” So overall “Hungary currently is neither an equitable nor a socially just state.”

Electoral principles

Dr. Tóth finds that the Hungarian electoral regulations comply with the international requirements for a general, equal, direct and secret vote/voting, except for the equality of voting rights; the problems being the rules for the minorities’ voting and the rules and the practices regarding the voting of the expatriate Hungarians and of those living “beyond the borders.”

The basic principles of the elections are: free, fair and transparent. “The international observers [OSCE] of the 2014 elections identified 36 errors in their preliminary report, all of which were rejected by the Hungarian government.”

The conclusion is that the 2014 elections were half free, unfair and opaque. Notably the English language OSCE report wasn’t officially published in Hungarian.

Eligibility

Dr. Tóth criticizes, along with many others, a violation of the principles of equality of votes, by:

first, the eligibility of the Hungarians living “beyond the borders”, [granted fast track citizenship from 2013 on], but have never lived in Hungary and
second, the different ways the former and the expat Hungarians can vote.

Fidesz gave citizenship, with the right to vote, to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hungarians and later allowed them to vote by mail, so they “didn’t have to travel, moreover you could … hand your ballot to anyone who would turn your ballot in for you. You didn’t even have to vote by mail.”

Moreover the electoral rolls abroad were compiled by local registration and remained valid for ten years without any verification, open widely to abuse, although only 2 or 3 seats were determined by those foreign votes.

Actually “that vote, … went 97-98 percent for Fidesz. That’s like North Korea voting… All the polls that were being taken in Romania, in the community of Hungarian citizens there, showed that Jobbik would probably get 20 percent of the vote, and Jobbik got nothing.” Kim Scheppele observed.

Scheppele also highlights the discriminatory and unfair [or illegal] treatment of the approx. 500,000 Hungarians who “have left the country under the Fidesz watch since 2010… Many of them were voters affiliated with the opposition and Fidesz made it very difficult for them to vote in the election … they exiled the opposition… the émigré Hungarians – people who had lived in the country, still have permanent residence in the country … Those people had to register to vote outside and their registration had to exact match what was back in the office in Budapest.” So, many were rejected because they misspelled their mother’s maiden name, or a minor detail didn’t exactly match the data at home. Compare this with the electoral roles of the “beyond the border” voters which were loosely compiled, largely unverified, valid for 19 years and closed to public scrutiny.

The expats had to go to a consulate or to an embassy to vote, e.g. embassy in London for the 200,000 – 300,000 Hungarians. Kim Scheppele continues: “Then, the National Election Office sent a letter to everyone telling them what address to go to vote… the address was wrong. They sent out the wrong instructions for the British vote. They also sent out the wrong instructions for what day the Americans had to vote… all the mistakes went to suppress the external vote… suddenly people show up and they are told “you need your foreign passport to be able to vote.” A lot of people showed up to vote with the identification they’d use to vote with in Budapest, their address card…”

Electoral constituencies

This element of the HES was also abused, Dr. Tóth notes that the boundaries were gerrymandered twice in the run up to 2014 elections; the ACEEEO study p. 137, counts more: “The current electoral law has been modified eight times since 2012, five times within one year prior to the elections held in 2014 …  affected Annex 2 of Act CCIII of 2011, which determines the constituency boundaries.”

Moreover, as Gábor Tóka’s study concludes, “[HES] clearly favors Fidesz against the leftist parties, but not against Jobbik. The key is the change of boundaries of SMDs. It is not simple gerrymandering: the historically leftist SMDs are in average bigger (approx. 80 thousand eligible voters) than the pro-government constituencies (approx. 75 thousand eligible voters). Thus, the voting power of leftist citizens is somewhat smaller: the difference is about 150 thousand votes.”

Nomination

HES requires a party to field candidates in at least 27 constituencies in order to have a party list; a two or more parties’ common list requires 27 common candidates. This rule poses another formidable challenge to the democratic parties which would like to live-test their national popularity with own separate lists. If they would like to co-operate with each other and field a common candidate in each of the 106 constituencies to face the Fidesz one, each opposition party has to field a candidate in 27 constituencies whereas in some of them two (or more) opposition candidates will have to face each other.

Election campaign

According to Dr. Tóth “Practically there are no rules for the campaign. Practically there are no rules and no limits for the campaign funding.” There are written rules, of course:

But a look into the ACEEEO study reveals what Dr. Tóth means: “The campaign period starts 50 days before the day of voting. The law has special rules concerning posters, election rallies, political advertisements, door-to-door canvassing and exit polls…. In the campaign period the nominating organizations and the candidates may freely produce posters and may place them without restrictions… Government Decree no. 224/2011 (X. 21.) contains special rules and on posters placed next to public roads. .. [which] however, was amended, just before the elections in 2014, extending the applicability to campaign posters as well. As a result, during the election campaign in 2014 … no posters were allowed to be placed to lampposts.” (One of the cheapest way to place posters, heavily used by Fidesz too.)

Political advertisements were severely restricted, incredible enough “Act XXXVI of 2013… prohibited the broadcast of political advertisement by private media … The Constitutional Court declared this provision null and void, as an unduly restriction of the freedom of expression and the media.” ACEEEO study p. 140.

“As an answer, the Fundamental Law has been amended … in order to sustain the disputed provision… [and] amended again, the prohibition vanished, but a restriction remained: political advertisements may be published in media services only free of charge. As a consequence, during the campaign in 2014 no private media provider chose to give airtime to political advertisements.”The government extensively advertised in the public-turned-party media which by statute still has to be “neutral” and “balanced reporting.”

In the above scale the vote dispersion trick of funding fake “parties” pales into insignificance.

Who wins?

It is universally agreed that the HES is heavily biased, Dr. Tóth: “In obtaining seats the mathematics of the electoral laws only favor the party with the highest number of votes, everyone else is disadvantaged … In the case of three way votes distribution (Fidesz, Jobbik, democratic opposition), 31% of the total votes can result in obtaining 2/3ds of the parliamentary seats by the winning block” mainly because of the winner’s compensation* (sic!).

Dániel Róna, a political analyst and economist who developed a model to calculate the seats distribution based on the elections results, comes up with somewhat different figures: “In order to achieve a simple majority, leftist parties’ vote share needs to exceed Fidesz’ share by at least 10 percentage points (under the same conditions: Jobbik 25 percent, LMP 6 percent.”

*The HES “winner compensation” is a turbo charger. Traditionally the votes cast in the constituencies for non-winning candidate are “lost” so as compensation they are added to their respective party list.

But now, Kim Scheppele explains:  “[with 300 votes were cast for them]. Fidesz says, “Okay, it turns out that we could have won that seat with 201 votes. So… those other 99 votes were lost because we didn’t need them to win the seat. So we’re going to add those 99 votes to our compensation list on the party list side. They got 6 of those seats just because of this trick. [In] any normal parliamentary system, they would not have their two-thirds..”

Political Capital also calculated the number of seats gained by the “winner compensation” and the “beyond the border votes” amounted to seven crucial seats.

Balázs Horváth of 24.hu concurs:While in 2010 a win of 52,7% of the vote, and 173 out of 176 constituencies brought 2/3 supermajority, in 2014 44,9% of the vote and 96 of 106 proved enough even as Fidesz had lost 564 000 in Hungary and gained only 122 600 votes from “beyond the borders.”

While

  • 2 310 000 votes in 2002 and
    2 270 000 in 2006 mean lost elections,
    2 265 000 total votes in 2014 resulted in 2/3 of seats.

“Without the uncontrolled campaign financing the fake parties most probably there wouldn’t have been a supermajority . . . The redrawn voting districts was not a crucial factor in the 2014 election, as it could have tip the outcome to the right only in the case of closer results.”

Electoral Procedure Rules

Unsurprisingly the “Electoral bodies (national, regional, individual constituencies, seats and counting committees) are appointed by a majority of the MPs on the basis of a proposal by the Minister of the Interior … practically governmental party soldiers dominate the electoral process. Since 2010, the NEC and the NEO[ffice] haven’t ruled in favor of a single petition or motion of the opposition.

The democratic opposition parties cannot delegate a vote counting committee member to each [of the ~10 000] polling station, so in half of the country’s voting districts they can not control in any way the ballot counting carried out by government parties’ people.” states Dr. Tóth.

While the electoral rolls are largely public “the beyond the border rolls are practically secret. Even at 7 pm on election day it’s impossible to find out how many are listed in the rolls” in order to calculate rations, etc.

Add the obvious use of databases, the so called (Fid vice chairman) “Kubatov lists” recording voters’ political preferences, something explicitly forbidden by the law.

Summary

Paul Krugman and Kim Scheppele very well summarize the system and the conduct of the 2014 elections as reflected in the abovementioned OSCE report:

“What is not legitimate, however, is his two-thirds supermajority. Orbán was certainly not supported by two-thirds of Hungarians – nowhere close. In fact, a majority gave their votes to other parties. Orbán’s two-thirds victory was achieved through legal smoke and mirrors.”

[The OSCE report] was extremely critical of the election. The election monitors found that in many different ways “the main governing party enjoyed an undue advantage.” They reported numerous violations of international standards, including a failure to separate party and state, a biased media environment, a partisan Electoral Commission, lack of transparency in determining the electoral districts, and a generally un-level playing field… the Orbán government went well beyond normal tinkering when it extensively revised the electoral framework during its last four years in office. The new system was designed precisely to give Orbán a vastly disproportionate two-thirds parliamentary majority with less than a majority vote. And it worked.

The international election monitors … concentrated primarily on evaluating the campaign and the election itself … but they also expressed concern about the election framework and how it had been adopted. As the election monitors noted, the governing party’s “undue advantage” resulted in part from a “legal overhaul” that was “unprecedented” and consisted of laws that were “passed and modified without public consultation or inclusive dialogue with opposition parties.” They found that “the manner in which these laws were adopted and frequently amended, including in the year prior to these elections, led to legal uncertainty and did not provide for effective and inclusive public consultation, contrary to national legislation and good practice.”

Gábor Tóka of CEU’s Political Science dept. studied the system before the 2014 elections concluded that: “Among the contemporary electoral reforms in the world’s democracies, the 2011- 13 Hungarian reforms stand out as a one-party imposition that avoided consensus building and followed perceived self-interest. (Renwick 2012)… The negative side is that the system, at least on the short run, will probably distort the expression of the popular will in seat distributions, and thus generate cynicism regarding democratic institutions and a drop in political legitimacy in Hungary.”

Róbert László of Political Capital, in another study, sums up the criticism of the Fidesz electoral system for:

  • increasing the weight of the individual constituencies votes,
  • the abolition of the second round,
  • over-rewarding the party of the winners in the constituencies.

Although the above may benefit other political forces if the winds change, he admits, the system also “narrows down the democratic political competition” by way of:

  • politically manipulated constituency map,
  • procedural anomalies related to foreign voting,
  • several elements of the campaign regulation (or non-regulation)
  • distorted system resulting from the ways of nomination and campaign financing (while the easing of the nomination process wouldn’t be a problem in itself),
  • rules creating preferential ways of seat winning by the ethnic minorities.

The cases of abuse, e.g. where the ballot papers posted to past-away “beyond the borders ”citizens are forged, are probably considered intolerable even within the ruling parties” notes pretty optimistically Mr. László, in view of the organized abuses recorded.

Although these are not strictly part of HES, Dr. Tóth mentions the following factors influencing the election results:

  • the government’s use of the secret services, the police and the prosecution office actions against opposition politicians, [I would add the Tax Office and the State Auditing office AS];
  • it also exerts pressure on the 1.8 public employees existentially dependent on it, including those in the foster work scheme;
  • the government uses extensively and state and local government resources for its political campaigns; [including the public media turned party outlet, I would add].

After all this Dr. Tóth and others still think that Fidesz can be defeated “if six million of 70% of the voters will participate”, or that “the popularity of Fidesz is slightly over-estimated by the polls” or because “Fidesz’s position is … much more fragile than it seems.” But projections and forecasts are another subject.

December 19, 2017

Dániel Róna: Hungarian politics–is the race over?

Dániel Róna is a political analyst whose 2016 book, The Jobbik-jelenség–A Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom térnyerésének okai (The Jobbik phenomenon–Reasons for the expansion of the For a Better Hungary Movement) won the prestigious book award of the Hungary Academy of Sciences. Dániel Róna received his Ph.D. from Corvinus University, where he is an assistant professor. His special field of interest is public opinion polling, electoral politics, and political sociology. As he pointed out in the introductory note to his blog, he was inspired by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website, and between now and 2018 he will focus on Hungary’s forthcoming national election. This article first appeared on Dániel Róna’s own blog.

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Although at this moment it is very likely that the government party Fidesz will win the 2018 national election by a landslide, the race is still open: according to my calculations, it is also possible that no party will hold a majority after the election (thus ending in a ‘draw’). However, the outright victory of the leftist parties, or far-right Jobbik, is extremely unlikely.

In this blog, I advance the mandate calculator program: it assumes that the territorial distribution of each party’s support will remain at a similar level to the 2014 national election. It shows the vote share that is required to win a certain share/number of seats (equal number of seats, simple majority, and super-majority) for each party.

Based on the results of the last election forecasts in 2010 and 2014, and the results of the by-elections in 2015, it seems that the popularity of Fidesz is slightly over-estimated by the polls.

In order to prevent Fidesz gaining a majority, the opposition needs to win 35-40 Single Member Districts (SMDs, e.g. individual constituencies) out of the 106 available. Although mathematically speaking this does not seem impossible, the irrational and unpredictable behavior of the opposition begs the question whether they are really motivated to achieve this.

At this moment in time (beginning of March 2017), all polling companies show that Fidesz has as many supporters as the opposition combined: the government is in an even better position than it was before its landslide win in 2014. Under these circumstances, what good is a mandate calculation, or political analysis, for that matter?

First of all, Fidesz’s position is – as I will demonstrate – much more fragile than it seems. Secondly, at times both the average voter and political actors can be unaware of the probabilities of various outcomes. Instead of the unsubstantiated claims that ‘Fidesz will win easily no matter what,’ it is worth examining what each side could achieve, and what chances they realistically possess.

Hungary has a mixed electoral system with two tiers: party list vote and votes for individual SMD-candidates. 106 seats will be obtained in SMDs (‘first past the post’) and the remaining 93 seats will be allocated by proportional representation from national lists. Overall, due to the dominance of the SMDs, it is a disproportionate electoral system which benefits the victor.

I advanced and designed the mandate calculator ©, a program that predicts the seat share of the parties based on their estimated vote share (language switcher is on the top right corner). As a first step, the user needs to estimate the popular vote share of each party: both domestic and out-of-country votes (that is for dual citizens living in the neighboring countries). Then, the program calculates the seat distribution which would be – under certain assumptions – the result of the input given by the user. There is also an opportunity to create simulations: here – after the user provides his or her estimates – the program draws charts which show the relationship between votes and seats. The program will calculate what an increase in vote percentage (by 1 per cent) will look like in terms of number of seats: it also shows the vote difference (between the first and second party) required for a simple majority or a supermajority (see chart). I created this software to help the public understand the Hungarian electoral system: so that everyone can see and comprehend the correlations between votes and seats. The program is completely transparent: each step is shown, explained and replicable. The detailed explanation can be found here at the methodological description.

In this study, first I introduce the basic assumptions of the mandate calculator. Then I delineate the various scenarios and their possible probabilities. I shall also elaborate on why I think Fidesz’s popularity is overestimated by the polls. In the final part, I will evaluate the room for maneuvers and constraints each player has to face.

Main assumptions of the model

  • The mandate calculator assumes that, similarly to the 2014 national election, four party lists will enter the parliament and receive the overwhelming majority of the votes (95-97%): Fidesz, leftist parties (probably the Socialist Party and Gyurcsány’s party, DK), Jobbik and maybe the green LMP. It is also possible that instead of LMP, the newly founded Momentum movement, liberal-leftist Együtt (’Together’), green-left Párbeszéd (’Dialogue’), or frivolous Kétfarkú Kutyapárt (’Two-tailed Dog party’) will pass the five-percent threshold (or some combination/alliance of these). It is highly unlikely, however, that more than four (five with DK) lists will enter the parliament: these small parties’ constituencies overlap each other. All of them are concentrated on Budapest and relatively privileged citizens. So LMP can be substituted with each small party in the model.
  • The territorial structure of each party’s popularity will remain unchanged in 2018. If the user doubles a party’s national popularity, then this party will receive twice as much vote share in every SMD.
  • In principle, the Hungarian electoral system permits minorities to be represented in the parliament. It is, however, very hard for them to receive a sufficient number of votes for that. The model assumes that, similarly to the 2014 national election, no minority representatives will receive this number.
  • The user is required to give an estimate of the number of out-of-country votes (that is for double citizens living in the countries that neighbor Hungary). Out-of-country votes, however, have a very limited influence on the results: they can change only one seat.

Here is a detailed explanation of the Hungarian electoral system and here you can find the detailed methodological description of the model. Of course, these assumptions are not to be regarded as certain outcomes: this calculator provides an estimation, it is not a fortune-teller. We may estimate – based on the available information, such as polls – what will be the distribution of seats under a possible distribution of vote shares (given by the user). If it comes to the substitution of polling data into the model, it only makes sense without undecided voters. Figures should be based on all adults naming a party.

Main results of the calculations

  1. In order to achieve a two-third majority, Fidesz’s vote share needs to exceed leftist parties’ share and Jobbik’s share by at least 19 percentage points simultaneously (one is not enough). This is the most likely scenario based on the available current polling data. These numbers are based on the assumption that the fourth party (likely LMP) will receive 6 percent of the votes, the third party (the weaker party among Jobbik and the leftist alliance) will receive 25 percent, and three percent will be cast to parties outside the parliament (and no out-of-county votes are included in the model). The lower the vote share of the third party, the easier it is for the victor to obtain a super-majority.
  2. In order to achieve a simple but absolute majority, Fidesz’s vote share needs to exceed leftist parties’ share by a margin of at least 5 percentage points, and Jobbik’s share by at least 7 percentage points
  3. Equal number of seats (‘a draw’) between Fidesz and leftist parties can be expected if leftist parties were to receive 2-3 percentage points more votes than Fidesz. Equal number of seats between Fidesz and Jobbik can be expected if Jobbik will receive 1 percentage pointless votes than Fidesz.
  4. In order to achieve a simple majority, leftist parties’ vote share needs to exceed Fidesz’s share by at least 10 percentage points (under the same conditions: Jobbik 25 percent, LMP 6 percent). In order to achieve a simple majority, Jobbik’s vote share needs to exceed Fidesz’s share by at least 5 percentage points (under the conditions that leftist parties got 25 percent, LMP 6 percent).

These results are replicable on the simulation menu. Based on the same conditions, the following chart visualizes the correlation between seat distribution and vote difference between Fidesz and leftist parties.

The main results are to be found on the next table (percentage points). For instance, Fidesz needs a 5 percentage point advantage over leftist parties and a 7 percentage point advantage over Jobbik for the absolute majority.

But why is it that leftist parties need to receive a higher vote share in order to achieve the same result as Jobbik and Fidesz? It is because the electoral system (introduced by the Fidesz government in 2011) clearly favors Fidesz against the leftist parties, but not against Jobbik. (Overview about the various aspects – including partisan bias and Constitutional Principles – of the electoral system can be found here). The key is the change of boundaries of SMDs. It is not simple gerrymandering: the historically leftist SMDs are in average bigger (approx. 80 thousand eligible voters) than the pro-government districts (approx. 75 thousand eligible voters). Thus, the voting power of leftist citizens is somewhat smaller: the difference is about 150 thousand votes). Jobbik has no such disadvantage – this is perhaps why it was Jobbik who has become the target of Fidesz’s high-profile negative campaign in the past several months.

The next table summarizes the current polls (only the face-to-face one, because this method is more reliable than the telephone-interviews). Popularity of the leftist parties is to be found combined – although it is questionable whether all of them will endure each other or not. Figures are based on all adults naming a party.

Considering the current polling data, it quickly becomes obvious that a leftist or Jobbik victory is unrealistic – even the ‘draw’ (e.g. equal number of seats) seems unlikely (it is worth putting this number into the mandate calculator). In my opinion, however, the popularity of Fidesz is significantly (by 4-6 percentage points) overestimated by the polls – thus, a ‘draw’ is not impossible.

Why is the popularity of Fidesz overestimated by the polls?

First of all, Hungarian pollsters are reliable: it is very rare that there is a major difference (e.g. bigger than the margin of error) between polls and actual election result. The only party, whose popularity is systematically overestimated, is Fidesz. Being the dominant party, its supporters are more prone to declare their preferences – or give an interview – than other voters. The partisan and non-response bias is in accordance with the spiral of silence theory: opposition voters are slightly less likely to express their preferences because it’s socially less ‘desirable’ (this is the most frequent source of polling error world-wide).

In 2010, the polls had Fidesz’s popularity 6 percentage points higher than its actual result in the national elections, and in 2014 it was 5 percentage points higher than the eventual election results. Of course, pollsters are well aware that they may overestimate the dominants party’s popularity: sometimes, based on their own judgements, they alter the results of their last survey before the election. According to the Hungarian experience, this ‘expert judgement’ usually has led to more precise predictions. Fidesz should also be careful because the majority of undecided voters are dissatisfied with the government – they just haven’t found a viable alternative party (yet).

Furthermore, Fidesz had considerably worse results in the two by-elections in 2015 than the polls expected. In February 2015, Fidesz had 33.8 percent in the Veszprém district (leftist alliance won with 42.6 percent of the votes); in April, Fidesz reached 34.3 percent in Tapolca district (Jobbik won with 35.3 percent). In the 2014 national election, Fidesz had similar results in these SMDs as it had nationwide (43 percent in Tapolca, 47 percent in Veszprém). Thus, these are not even strongholds of the opposition parties: in both SMDs, Fidesz won by 20 percent in 2014. Hence, Fidesz could not have been able to achieve an absolute majority during these months. According to the mandate calculator, if in February 2015 Fidesz had had 33.8 percent in Veszprém, and in April 34.3 percent in Tapolca, then it must have been at 31 percent in February, and 34 percent in April nationwide. And yet, the polls showed 38 percent in February and 37 percent in April. Thus, in the Spring of 2015, Fidesz’s popularity in these SMDs was overestimated by 7 and 3 percent respectively.

Of course, it is debatable what conclusions can be drawn from the results of two SMDs (each is around one percent of the full population). A skeptic may argue that the opposition can mobilize and prepare for one SMD but are not strong enough to do the same for the whole country. This is, however, just as true for Fidesz as for the opposition. What cannot be questioned, nonetheless, is that the turning point was the migrant crisis in the summer and autumn of 2015: it made the position of Fidesz much stronger.

What are the chances now?

If the argument holds, we will assume that Fidesz’s popularity is overestimated by the same degree now, as it was in 2015. That means that it should be around 44 percent instead of 49 percent, whereas its rivals are a little underestimated as well. It is therefore realistic to assume that the actual popularity of Fidesz lies around the 44 percent mark, Jobbik 19 percent, leftist parties 28 percent and LMP 5 percent. This would still lead to a two-thirds majority for Fidesz, but it would also lead to a more precarious position for the government. If a small fraction of its support base would become uncertain (by about 6 percentage points), and leftist parties (or perhaps Jobbik) could capitalize on this and gain some new voter, this will mean that the loss of the absolute majority for Fidesz is within the margin of error. This much change in a campaign–when usually uncertain voters become active, and whose majority are against the government in the first place – does not seem impossible. Moreover, the opposition parties had managed to appeal too many of these uncertain voters during the spring of 2015 – in the upcoming election they would just need to ensure they get them back.

According to the mandate calculator, Fidesz needs to win around 67-70 SMDs in order to ensure its absolute majority. Hence, all the opposition has to do is prevent Fidesz from winning in 36-39 SMDs. Since there is a great degree of continuity of voting behavior between subsequent elections, it is already pretty obvious which SMDs are the “battleground states.” Both Jobbik and leftist parties should concentrate their resources on these districts.

Finally, it goes without saying that my model could not take into account everything. The individual candidates are not yet known for most of the SMDs. There is always some chance that something totally unexpected will occur, even in Hungarian politics: no one could have anticipated the breakthrough of Jobbik in 2009, or LMP in 2010. Nor was it expected that Momentum movement – which was a totally unknown organization two months ago – could collect 266 thousand signatures within 30 days for a referendum against Budapest’s 2024 Olympic bid, and thus force the government and Budapest to withdraw the city’s candidate status. Should the political landscape fundamentally change, I will alter my model accordingly. The above mentioned numbers reflect the current state of politics, as of beginning of March 2017.

♦ ♦ ♦

To sum up, according to my calculations, the race is not yet decided in terms of mathematics. Thus, there is no guarantee that Fidesz will obtain an absolute majority and the next prime minister will be Viktor Orbán.

On the other hand, electoral mathematics depends on the rationality of each player and fair and undistorted circumstances of the race. The opposition has serious difficulties regarding campaign regulations and media-balance: the media is dominated by pro-government channels and outlets. Even more worrisome for opposition supporters is the fact that their own politicians seem to have a wrong perception about their chances. Gábor Vona, party chair of Jobbik, stated a few weeks ago that he will immediately resign if Jobbik cannot beat Fidesz by at least one percent. This is highly unlikely at this moment. Instead of complacent optimism, pusillanimity characterizes the thinking of many leftist politicians. They often accuse each other of not doing enough to beat Fidesz. Their seemingly low enthusiasm is explained by the misbelief that “Fidesz will win the next election no matter what.” Ironically, it is more likely this pessimistic attitude than the actual electoral mathematics which could ensure Fidesz’s next victory.

March 8, 2017

Medián poll on Hungarian anti-Semitism

A while back Medián conducted a survey on anti-Semitism in Hungary. It just made its findings public. The document is almost forty pages long, full of tables and graphs, and defies being summarized in a few paragraphs. Here I will concentrate on a couple of areas of the study I personally found interesting and/or significant.

The research project, which is available online, was commissioned by the Tett és Védelem Alapítvány (Action and Defense Foundation), which is connected to the Egységes Magyarország Izraelita Hitközség (EMIH), itself closely linked to the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Hasidism. The study, titled Antiszemita előítéletesség a mai magyar társadalomban (Anti-Semitic Prejudice in Present Hungarian Society), was written by Endre Hann and Dániel Róna.

What first struck me was that although 32% of the Hungarians surveyed hold strong or moderate anti-Semitic attitudes, Hungarians on the whole pay scant attention to events related to the Jewish community. Almost 70% of the people knew about the erection of the controversial monument commemorating the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, but only 5% knew anything about the issues involved. As for the size of the Hungarian Jewry, 43% of Hungarians don’t have even a rough idea of the number of people of Jewish ancestry and only 8% got the number more or less right.

Hann and Róna distinguish between cognitive and affective anti-Semitism. In the first category we find the usual assertions leveled against Jews in general. Such as the belief that there is a secret Jewish conspiracy (31%). Of those surveyed 37% think that Jewish intellectuals have a predominant position in the media and culture in general. A rather large minority (20%) think that Hungarian Jews should emigrate or that one ought to restrict the number of Jews in certain professions. That one in five Hungarians hold such extreme views is cause for alarm about the state of Hungarian society.

March of the Living 2016

March of the Living 2016

I personally think that affective anti-Semitism is more intriguing, especially since it rose significantly between 2003 and 2014. We must keep in mind that Medián has been doing surveys on the topic for a number of years. In 2003 only 9% of the population felt antipathy toward Jews. That number didn’t change until 2010, when Medián measured an almost unbelievable 28%. Since then this aversion toward Jewish Hungarians has subsided somewhat, but today it is still 23%. So, what happened in 2010? I just heard Endre Hann today on ATV’s Start where he expressed his belief that Jobbik’s spectacular success at the 2010 election had something to do with the sudden jump. He thinks that with Jobbik’s appearance in parliament this kind of anti-Semitism gained acceptance.

Hann is most likely right, but from another chart it looks as if Hungarians just don’t like “others.” It matters not whether it was in 2006 or 2014. When asked about their attitudes toward different ethnic groups Hungarians disliked all of them to a greater or lesser degree. Of course, they hate Gypsies the most, but Arabs and the Chinese are not far behind. Here the Jews actually fared relatively well. They were tolerated just a little less than Germans who settled in Hungary at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Even more explicit were the answers to the question “Would you agree to having [a member of a group] move next door?” The most rejected are the skinheads (76%), followed by Gypsies (73%), but gays are not far behind (61%). Arabs and the Chinese are liked even less than blacks (59%), closely followed by Romanians. In case any American thinks he would be a welcome neighbor in Hungary, he is wrong. Thirty-three percent of Hungarians wouldn’t want him anywhere close. And if you think that it is better to be a Transylvanian Hungarian in Hungary you are wrong again. Thirty-seven percent of Hungarians wouldn’t want their brethren so favored by the Orbán government as their neighbors. Given the ethnic nationalist government, this is an interesting finding. In this group Jews are somewhere in the middle of the pack, being rejected by 44% of the respondents. In 2013 that figure was 38%. So, regardless of who the “others” are, xenophobia is a powerful force in Hungary, which most likely also has an impact on the extent of anti-Semitism.

Medián tried to answer the question: “Who are the anti-Semites in Hungary?” The results are surprising. The common wisdom is that anti-Semites are numerous among poorer people whose life hasn’t worked out the way they hoped. And indeed, several international surveys attest to this belief. But this isn’t true in the Hungarian context. Medián’s surveys of the last two years show no significant correlation between anti-Semitism and educational attainment or social status. In fact, when Medián distinguished between groups according to income level, the financially best-off group had the greatest number of anti-Semites. One would also think that inhabitants of villages or small towns are more prone to hold anti-Semitic views, but Medián found that there are relatively more anti-Semites in Budapest and other larger cities.

On the other hand, there is a strong correlation between authoritarian-conservative views, nationalism, homophobia and anti-Semitism, which should surprise no one. Medián distinguishes between strong anti-Semitism, moderate anti-Semitism, and freedom from such prejudice. In the population as a whole Medián found 21% strong and 11% moderate anti-Semites. The figures for Fidesz-KDNP are just a little over this average while Jobbik’s sympathizers and voters are overwhelmingly anti-Semitic. The percentage of strong anti-Semites in Jobbik is 54%; 15% are moderately anti-Semitic. This single statistic explains why Jobbik’s political leadership has been so singularly unsuccessful at transforming the party into a middle-of-the-road conservative party. Followers of parties on the left predictably scored under the national average. Nonetheless, there are a few oddities. Among Együtt-PM supporters 23% are strong anti-Semites. Among LMP sympathizers there are no strong anti-Semites but 23% are moderately anti-Semitic. The least affected party seems to be DK, with 5% strong and 10% moderate anti-Semites.

I could cover only a fraction of the study results today, but I will find time to return to the subject sometime in the future.

April 20, 2016