Tag Archives: Medián

Medián: Support for László Botka

In the last few days two opinion polls have been published that focus on the qualities and popularity of László Botka, MSZP’s candidate for the premiership, and Ferenc Gyurcsány, chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. The juxtaposition of the two is somewhat arbitrary because Ferenc Gyurcsány is not a declared candidate while Botka is. The comparison was most likely prompted by László Botka’s steadfast opposition to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s active participation in the political process. Moreover, given the paucity of political talent on the left, Botka and Gyurcsány are the two who stand out in the crowd.

The first poll, conducted by Závecz Research, was published two days ago. In my opinion it was based on a disappointingly simplistic methodology. The pollsters asked 1,000 eligible voters who they find more capable of defeating Viktor Orbán–László Botka or Ferenc Gyurcsány–and concluded that the former is four times (44%) more likely to stand a chance against the strong man of Fidesz than the latter (11%). Forty-five percent of the sample had no idea who would do better.

In the second question Závecz Research wanted to know whether people sensed or didn’t sense a decrease in antipathy toward Gyurcsány. This question reminded me of those food experts of the Orbán government who wanted to assess the differences in quality of products sold to Hungary as opposed to, let’s say, to Austria by relying on tasters’ palates. Or of a relative of mine who decides on the popularity of different parties based on her encounters with acquaintances on the street. Well, 51% of the people surveyed thought that the animosity toward Gyurcsány hadn’t subsided whereas 30% thought it had. Needless to say, this was music to the ears of the anti-Gyurcsány factions.

Yesterday, only a day after the publication of the Závecz poll, Medián came out with a much more sophisticated and revealing poll. First of all, Medián recognized that a poll that samples the entire electorate will give skewed, misleading results about the popularity of opposition politicians. Medián therefore concentrated on those voters who “want a change of government,” i.e., those who would not vote for Fidesz. Moreover, Medián focused on Botka and touched on Gyurcsány’s role only tangentially.

According to Medián, 43% of voters would prefer change as opposed to 48% who would stick with the Fidesz government. This disappointing result may be due in large part to the disarray among the fractured opposition forces.

Only half of the anti-Fidesz group thought that Botka would be a competent prime minister, 21% thought he was unqualified, and 29% had no idea. Botka’s support was of course highest among MSZP voters (70%), but a majority of DK voters were also ready to support him. (The poll was taken at the end of January, so it is possible that the relative enthusiasm of DK voters for Botka has since waned as a result of his categorical rejection of Ferenc Gyurcsány.)

When it came to passing judgment on Gyurcsány, 37% percent of the anti-Fidesz forces thought that his participation in the political process would lower the likelihood of removing Orbán from power, 23% thought it wouldn’t, and 40% were undecided. Among MSZP voters, 30% were against Gyurcsány’s involvement while 29% had no objection to his presence in the political arena. Although Endre Hann in his article on the subject didn’t label the third category, I assume that 41% had no opinion.

According to Endre Hann’s summary of Medián’s findings, Botka is the most popular politician on the left.

Respondents were given the opportunity to describe Botka as a man and a politician in their own words and to judge him on a scale of 0 to 100. Most of the attributes were positive: clever (60%), sticking to his principles (59%), diligent (58%), courageous (59%), strong (55%), responsible (53%), and socially sensitive (52%). However, when it came to whether he would be able to solve the problems of the country he averaged only 44%. This result might not be a reflection on Botka’s perceived abilities but rather the Hungarian public’s assessment of the seriousness of their country’s situation at the moment.

Botka got a surprisingly substantial (36%) approval rating from the electorate at large. Thirty-four percent had a poor opinion of him while 30% had no opinion. When it came to Botka’s ability to govern, Fidesz voters gave him only 35 points out of 100 as opposed to voters of the democratic opposition who awarded him 64 points.

As for the current political situation, it is becoming increasingly evident that there will be no partnership among the opposition parties. Each party seems ready to campaign on its own even though most people in the anti-Fidesz camp are convinced that without cooperation Orbán’s government cannot be removed from power. These people are also convinced that the country will not be able to survive another four years of “illiberal democracy” Orbán style.

Yet there have always been a small number of political scientists who argue that the “party alliance” effort that failed spectacularly in 2014 shouldn’t be repeated. The chief spokesman for this position is Zoltán Ceglédi. At the beginning he didn’t convince me, but I’m coming to the conclusion that, given the unbridgeable differences between the parties both ideologically and in personal terms, perhaps it makes sense to start individual campaigns and see how successful these parties are in the next few months. The really tiny ones with support only in the capital and perhaps in some larger cities will most likely fall by the wayside, while the larger ones can compete for the votes of the undecided electorate. Let the voters see the differences among them and allow them to choose. The parties on the left have to agree about only one thing at the end: there can be only one challenger in each electoral district. And then we will see what happens. If they are incapable of doing that much, then they deserve to remain in opposition for another four years.

March 23, 2017

Momentum’s anti-Olympics drive is already a success

A day after I wrote a post on the anti-Olympics drive there was an encounter at one of the collecting stations which, to my mind, starkly illustrates the attitudinal differences between those young people who established a new political movement called Momentum and the older generation of MSZP politicians.

Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, decided to reap some political benefit by appearing on a news clip as he is signing the referendum petition. Apparently, he informed the Momentum activists of his intentions. When he showed up, cameraman and all, András Fekete-Győr, the president of Momentum, appeared and gave Szanyi a piece of his mind about the do-nothing attitude of Szanyi’s party. Party politicians come here for a media opportunity instead of going out and helping to collect signatures. Szanyi was visibly embarrassed and acted like a little boy who had just been scolded by his father. Once he had recovered from the shock, however, he decided to strike back. In a totally unnecessary retort Szanyi went so far as to compare the leaders of Momentum to Fidesz in their “manipulation of the news.” And he called them “asphalt hamsters,” whatever this term means. Not the best beginning for cooperation between professional politicians and the civil activists. I share Fekete-Győr’s anger when I see MSZP’s total inability (and unwillingness) to engage the population on any level save through TV and radio interviews.

Momentum activists are conducting a campaign that so far has been very successful, especially if one compares it to earlier abortive attempts by parties and individuals. In less than two weeks the Momentum activists, with the help of LMP, collected over 80,000 of the requisite 138,000 signatures. Yesterday László Sólyom, the former president of the country, signed the petition, as was reported by some readers of Index who spotted him.

Source: Pesti Srácok / Photo Péter Gyula Horváth

The conservative József Eötvös Group organized a discussion on the economic effects of holding the 2024 Olympics in Hungary. The main speaker was a “sport economist” who is in favor of the project, yet even he had to admit that if the Olympic Games were held in Budapest, they most likely would not be profitable. In fact, from his speech it became clear that the estimates of PricewaterhouseCoopers are unrealistic because the figures they presented cover only the “organizational costs.” The cost of the actual investments, like buildings, the Olympic village, stadiums, and infrastructure, are not included in the overall cost because, the eager organizers claim, these investment projects would have had to be built anyway and, in any case, they were already included in future plans.

So far Viktor Orbán is putting on a good face about Momentum’s NOlimpia drive. Only yesterday ATV learned from Fidesz sources that he believes that, even if there is a referendum, supporters of the Games will be in the great majority. As one self-assured Fidesz leader told ATV, “for the time being we are just sitting and smiling. We are not afraid.”

Well, perhaps Fidesz leaders spoke too early because today a new Medián poll was released. It shows that Fidesz’s assumptions about a pro-Olympic public in Budapest are based on faulty data. This is what happens when polling questions are being manipulated to achieve the desired results. While all the earlier polls showed little support for the Games, the one conducted by a pro-Olympic group found overwhelming support for holding the Olympics in Hungary.

Yes, there is every reason to believe that if a referendum were held, the anti-Olympics folks would be in the majority. According to Medián, 68% of the people don’t support holding the games in Budapest because it would cost too much and the money should be used for “more useful” things. Only 26% think that, “regardless of the cost,” the Olympic Games would strengthen “the bond that connects members of the nation and national pride.” Nine percent of those polled had already signed the petition, and 33% said they are planning to do so even if the number of signatures collected is multiples of those required. Sixty percent of them support the idea of holding a referendum on the question. If a referendum were held today, 54% of the Budapest voters would opt for withdrawing the Hungarian Olympic Committee’s application. Among those who are certain they would vote at such a referendum, the percentage is even higher, 59%.

The same Fidesz informant who told ATV that they were not worried one bit about Momentum’s campaign added that, even if the young activists succeed, there is always the weapon of a government counter-campaign in favor of the games. Of course, this is exactly what would happen. But I’m not at all sure in light of what I am reading about the politics of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) whether it would be worth the effort. I have very little knowledge of the inner workings of the IOC, but according to rumors, the committee “might break with established practice by naming the host-cities of both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games when it gathers in Peru in September.” The reason for such a decision is that, despite the reforms introduced to lower the cost and make hosting the games more attractive, very few cities have applied, and those which had shown an initial interest later changed their minds, like Rome or, after a referendum, Hamburg. Currently, both Paris and Los Angeles are vying for the 2024 games; in fact, Paris is so adamant that at one point the French sports leaders announced that it is either 2024 or nothing. Perhaps, the officials of IOC figure, they could convince one of the two to accept the later date. In that case, Budapest’s chances are close to nil.

The news of the referendum drive in Budapest certainly reached the headquarters of IOC and may have strengthened their resolve to name the host countries for both the 2024 and 2028 games in September. As a sports reporter for insidethegames.biz writes, such a decision would be wise “since it emerged that Budapest, the outsider in what is currently a three-horse race, would not launch its international promotion campaign at the beginning of this month as planned, due to a resurgence of the referendum calls that seem to have been lingering in the background almost from day one.” The author further speculates that IOC’s decision would be made easier “if a handy referendum put a spanner in Budapest’s works.”

So, even though Fidesz leaders might be smiling and feeling very sure of themselves, the Hungarian Olympic Committee (MOB) is a great deal more cautious. Moreover, the very fact that an anti-Olympic drive began in Budapest has already damaged Hungary’s chances. Medián’s poll results will not help the Hungarian cause either. If the inhabitants of both Paris and Los Angeles are so gung-ho, the IOC will think twice before awarding the Games to a city where two-thirds of the population don’t want them.

Momentum’s political success is already palpable. That’s why I can’t understand why the two largest opposition parties on the left didn’t rush to support its initiative. NOlimpia is obviously a popular cause and promotes political action. I think that MSZP and DK made a mistake.

February 1, 2017

October 3 may not be a day of rejoicing for the Hungarian government

Viktor Orbán has put a tremendous amount of energy into having a valid and successful referendum, although it is not clear what he wants to do with it, at least at home. He is certainly keeping his plans secret–if, that is, he has plans. One cannot exclude the possibility that he doesn’t know what his next step will be.

As for his plans for the European Union, the official explanation is that a successful referendum will strengthen his hand in his tough fight with the EU. His latest brainstorm, however–having a giant refugee camp in Libya–was not exactly greeted with enthusiasm at his meeting in Vienna with Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk, Christian Kern, and the prime ministers of the Balkan countries. Moreover, this time the usually silent European Commission also raised objections. Natasha Bertaud, the spokesperson of Jean-Claude Juncker, explained yesterday that the registration of asylum seekers can take place only within the borders of the European Union. Orbán should study the admittedly complicated rules and regulations of the EU a bit more thoroughly before he comes out with his bizarre ideas.

I guess I don’t have to go into the details of Libya’s reaction to Orbán’s proposal. The Libyan Unity Government found Orbán’s idea of a refugee camp for one million people along Libya’s seashore under EU supervision unacceptable since such an arrangement would constitute an infringement of the country’s territorial integrity. So, it is highly unlikely that Orbán will pursue this idea any further.

Otherwise, since the question of compulsory quotas is pretty much off the table, I don’t think that a successful referendum makes any difference in his negotiations in Brussels. Perhaps he just wants to show that he has the whole country behind him. In his interview with Origo he claimed that he would be truly happy only if all eligible voters went to the polls because, after all, this is a national issue that has nothing to do with party politics, which is, of course, a joke.

The effort that is being put into achieving the desired result is phenomenal. The government is pressuring localities to deliver the votes because otherwise they will be the ones stranded with the dreaded migrants. These are mostly communities where the mayor and the town council refused to send out propaganda material to each household. According to 444.hu 11 Hungarian communities with a combined population of 3.68 million have been directly threatened by the government. That is about a third of the population of the country. At least one mayor of a small town near Győr made it clear to his constituents that, with a high turnout, his “managing the applications for EU subsidies currently under consideration” will be much easier. In plain English, if they don’t vote EU subsidies will go somewhere else. So, the generous support of the European Union is being used by the Orbán government to blackmail the population to vote in a referendum that is designed as a club against the EU itself.

Even so, there have been signs in the last few days that, despite all the propaganda and threats, enthusiasm for the referendum is waning. This is especially surprising because, as a result of all this effort, today Hungarians believe that the “migrant question” is one of the most important problems the country currently faces. Deficiencies in healthcare still leads the list, but second place is shared by the migrant issue and corruption (35%). It’s more important than the state of the economy (30%). In the last three months, while they were preoccupied with the “migrant question,” Hungarians marginalized the problems of education (11%).

One of the earliest hints of the government’s concern about achieving a valid referendum (a turnout of 50% of the electorate plus 1) was something Undersecretary János Halász in the prime minister’s office said a few days ago. Halász claimed that those who are urging a boycott and plan not to vote in fact would like to say “no” but “don’t dare admit it.” There is another interesting bit of news about ballots arriving from Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and a few from western countries. There are 274,000 eligible voters in this group, and so far 73,000 ballots have arrived. But, of the 15,601 ballots that have already been counted, only 12,835 or 82% were valid. Almost every fifth ballot will be added to the invalid pile. Of course, we have no idea whether these ballots were spoiled on purpose or not, but in the final analysis it doesn’t matter. They will end up in the pile of protest votes.

Finally, in its latest poll Medián suggests that the referendum might not be valid because only 42% of the sampled population are sure they will vote. Almost a fourth disapprove of holding the referendum. Of this group 36% will remain at home, 18% will spoil the ballot, and 18% will vote yes. In addition to Medián, Publicus Research and Závecz Research will release polls between now and October 2.

An invalid ballot

An invalid ballot

Some of the opposition parties, most vocally Jobbik and the Demokratikus Koalíció, are demanding Viktor Orbán’s resignation in the event of an invalid referendum. Of course, he would not resign, but a failure would definitely be a political setback for Viktor Orbán. The more people stay home, the more people vote “yes” or spoil their ballots, the more embarrassing the whole affair will be. Orbán is in a high stakes game with, as far as we can see, a very small pot. Lots of risk, very little reward. If the referendum is invalid, Orbán’s reputation as a miracle worker will vanish. It will become clear that, after all, he is not unbeatable.

September 28, 2016

How do Hungarians see Viktor Orbán’s political system and its corruption?

I don’t know whether you have ever encountered people from Hungary, mostly those who are no friends of Fidesz and the government, who tell you that this government is thoroughly disliked by a large majority of the population. They know this to be the case because they talk to a lot of people who all have devastating opinions about the performance of the Orbán government. The standard reaction to these claims is that such stories are anecdotal. Moreover, our friends and acquaintances usually come from a well-defined circle whose social standing and political views more or less resemble our own. We are apt to point to all the monthly polls that attest to the fact that Fidesz is still the most popular party and that, if national elections were held today, Viktor Orbán’s party could win easily and even regain its supermajority. So, those people who claim that “everybody hates this government” are wrong. They merely project their own dislike of the present regime.

Well, today we received data from the highly regarded Medián polling company suggesting that our acquaintances’ description of the mood on the street is not just wishful thinking. The poll that was made public today by Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, shows that the Hungarian people are not blind to the fact that the present political leadership is robbing the country blind. Moreover, a majority of Hungarians don’t consider Orbán’s Hungary a democracy.

Most of the questions centered around corruption, which in at least one of the questions was defined as “visszaélések” (abuses), which apparently most of the respondents found too mild a description of what’s going on in Orbán’s Hungary nowadays and used stronger words instead: “korrupció,” “családi összefonódás” (nepotism), “állami  bűnszervezet” (a state directed criminal organization, using mafia methods).

When asked about “financial abuses” characteristic of the Orbán government, respondents could choose from five categories: (1) in very great measure, (2) in great measure, (3) in small measure, (4) not at all, and (5) doesn’t know. Among the respondents only 6% think that Fidesz is in no way tainted by corruption. On the other hand, 67% think that the present government is in very great or great measure corrupt. Even a large minority of Fidesz voters (37%) believe their favorite party is corrupt while only 15% think that Fidesz is pure as the driven snow. Jobbik voters are just as skeptical about Fidesz (86%) as are voters from the democratic opposition (88%).

Questions and answers about the extent of corruption

Questions and answers about the extent of corruption

The next question was about the nature of corruption. Respondents were offered two choices: (1) private actions of dishonest civil servants or (2) systemic corruption centrally directed from above. This is a crucial distinction because the corruption that beset Hungary between 1990 and 2010 was of the first kind while the corruption Viktor Orbán introduced is of the second variety. While the former type of corruption can, to a greater or lesser extent, be found in all countries, the latter kind is encountered in countries with a strong central power without any possibility of legal or civic oversight.

It seems that an overwhelming majority of the population has grasped the difference between the ordinary garden variety of corruption and the systemic corruption that analysts like Bálint Magyar have been talking about. That recognition takes a certain amount of political sophistication, which it seems the Hungarian population has managed to acquire. Sixty percent of people of different political stripes think that Viktor Orbán, sitting at the top of the pyramid, is systematically organizing the plunder of the country for the benefit of himself and his supporters. Almost 40% of Fidesz supporters consider corruption as it exists in Hungary to be systemic.  Jobbik (67%), the democratic opposition (77%), and even undecided voters (70%) are convinced that Orbán and his minions are heading a criminal organization for their own benefit.

Answers about the nature of corruption

Answers about the nature of corruption

Although commentators often complain about the general lack of attention to politics and the dearth of information that reaches the population, in large measure because of the filters imposed on news by state television and radio stations, 56% of the population have noticed that corruption cases involving Fidesz politicians and government officials are swept under the rug. Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt, perhaps the most important man in that “criminal organization,” makes sure that the chief actors of the “mafia state” will not have sleepless nights even as prosecutors over the last six years have dragged politicians active in the MSZP-SZDSZ government through the mud, most of the time without any cause. This is how the government managed to convince the population, at least initially, that the corruption of socialists and liberals was sky high while Fidesz was a party of upright citizens. By 2014 the public was convinced that MSZP was at least twice as corrupt as Fidesz. This perception is changing. By now Fidesz’s score is slightly higher than that of MSZP, and I assume that as time goes by the gap between them will widen further.

Perhaps the most astonishing finding of the poll is the population’s opinion of the enrichment of Viktor Orbán. It widely believed that the extremely successful businessmen around Viktor Orbán, like István Garancsi, Lőrinc Mészáros, and Andy Vajna, are actually “strómanok” (front men) of Viktor Orbán who hand over a large portion of their profits to the prime minister. The question posed was whether the respondent found this proposition (1) probable, (2) conceivable, (3) inconceivable, (4) doesn’t know. Only 15% of the respondents believe that Viktor Orbán is not the personal beneficiary of the profits these men have acquired through his good offices. Almost half of the population (47%) find it conceivable and 31% probable that Viktor Orbán is getting rich, mostly from EU money filtered through his favorite oligarchs.

Amswers concerning Orbán's personal corruption

Answers concerning Orbán’s personal corruption

Finally, a question was added to the questionnaire that has no direct connection to corruption per se. Medián wanted to find out how people would describe the political system in which they live. The respondents came up with six different labels: (1) diktatúra (20%), (2) democracy (18%), (3) autocratic regime (18%), (4) mafia state (15%), (5) system of national cooperation [NER] (9%), (6) illiberal democracy (8%).  The rest, 12%, either didn’t answer or chose some other label. NER (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere) is the official name of the political system Orbán announced in April 2010.

People's thoughts on the nature of Orbán's political system

People’s thoughts on the nature of Orbán’s political system

Endre Hann, in his article on the poll, speculates on some of the conclusions one can draw from these labels. Those who think that Hungary is still a democracy and those who describe the country’s political system as a structure based on national cooperation are most likely Fidesz supporters. There is no doubt that those who consider Orbán’s world a dictatorship or a mafia state belong in the anti-Fidesz category. It’s harder to place those who describe the government as an “autocratic regime” or an “illiberal democracy.”

What I find important is that only 18% of the population think that Hungary is a democracy, while 53% consider Orbán’s system either a dictatorship, an autocracy, or a mafia state. So, it’s time for foreign newspaper editors to change their own labels when talking about Orbán’s Hungary. Let’s not pretend that Hungary is still a democratic state, let’s not talk about a right-of-center or conservative government. Let’s believe the people who live under Viktor Orbán’s system.

July 28, 2016

Despite massive government propaganda, Hungarians support further European integration

It was heartwarming to read the latest Policy Solutions study, “The Hungarian Public and the European Union,” by András Bíró-Nagy, Tibor Kadlót, and Ádám Köves. The 40-page study, chock full of data, was published with financial assistance from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany.

Source: Policy Solutions

Source: Policy Solutions

It doesn’t matter how hard Viktor Orbán has worked to poison the hearts and minds of the Hungarian people regarding the European Union, he hasn’t succeeded. His agitation against the EU, which has been going on for the last six years, has barely made a dent in the Hungarian people’s assessment of the European Union and its institutions. “Trust in the European Union” among Hungarians is still considerably higher than the EU28 average. It is true that in 2010 it was extremely high, 55% as opposed to the EU average of 42%, but five years later the majority of Hungarians still believe in the future of the European Union, which is quite a feat after years of government propaganda.

Hungarians overwhelmingly support the EU and its institutions and most would gladly see further integration, from a common foreign policy to a common defense. Almost 50% of Hungarians would like the euro to be the common currency of all 28 countries, as opposed to the Poles (34%) and Czechs (20%). Sixty-two percent would like to see a common foreign policy. (So, Hungarians don’t want to be a bridge between the EU and Russia!) A common defense is supported by 65%. Although Hungarians are less enthusiastic about a common immigration policy than the EU average, the majority (55%) still support it. And that means that the majority of the Hungarian population want more, not less integration, while the Hungarian government is moving in exactly the opposite direction.

And that’s not all. Despite Viktor Orbán’s nationalistic propaganda, merely 33% consider themselves to be only Hungarians, while the European Union average in this category is 41%. What a pitiful result after the hundreds of speeches extolling the primacy of the nation as the solution for all Hungary’s ills.

This last data point comes from an equally important, uplifting public opinion poll published by Medián, “The opinion of Hungarians and other Europeans about the Union” (Budapest, Spring 2016). It found, most importantly, that 77% of the population support Hungary’s membership in the European Union and only 19% oppose it, and–here comes the surprise–these are better figures than Medián reported in February 2015 (75% versus 24%). After a whole year spent on the migrant crisis, which, thanks to Angela Merkel and the bureaucrats in Brussels, the Hungarian government argued, would result in the disintegration of the European Union and its Islamization, these disobedient or perhaps “deaf” Hungarians still support the European Union.

Only 29% of Hungarians see any reason to hold a referendum on EU membership, as opposed to 58% of Italians, 55% of the French, and 40% of Germans. I wonder whether this also indicates that a large majority of Hungarians might not vote in the referendum that is being held on a bogus question, the compulsory settlement of migrants. If that is the case, “the message” Hungarians are supposed to send Brussels might not be the one the government wants.

At the same time, Hungarians’ trust in their own parliament has declined considerably. It is worth taking a closer look at this phenomenon. In 2010 only 46% of Hungarians had doubts about the competence of members of parliament, as opposed to the EU27 average of 60%. I assume this optimism had something to do with the great expectations that preceded Fidesz’s enormous electoral victory that year. But look at what happened five years later: 60% of Hungarians today have no trust in the parliament. The same is true about “trust in the national government.” Between 2010 and 2015 the percentage of those who have no trust in the Orbán government has risen from 41% to 61%. These are dramatic changes, especially if we look at the EU average for those two years, where there is no appreciable difference. The percentage of dissatisfied citizens was large in 2010 and it is large now (65%). The dramatic change that occurred in Hungary speaks volumes about disapproval of the Orbán government, something that has yet to show up in the monthly opinion polls.

As for European-wide institutions, Hungarians on the whole have greater trust in them than in the Hungarian parliament and government. In fact, when it comes to the European Parliament, 43% of the people think that in the future it should play a larger political role than it does currently. Although enthusiasm for the European Parliament was much higher in 2010 (61%), Hungarians are still more positive regarding it than are the citizens of other countries in the region (Slovakia 37%, Poland 40%).

As for optimism concerning the future of Europe, again, Viktor Orbán hasn’t succeeded in changing the opinions of Hungarians. The figures between 2010 and 2015 haven’t changed at all. About 50% are optimistic and 47% pessimistic, while the rest have no opinion.

What can we learn from all this? First,  the Orbán government’s propaganda against the European Union hasn’t succeeded. Second, dissatisfaction with the current government would seem to be much greater than what we see on the surface. But dissatisfaction may not translate into change. The electoral law that Orbán’s government enacted to ensure its longevity will make that exceedingly difficult. Moreover, and even more important, as long as there is no viable alternative–just a fractured opposition–by default Hungarians will vote for the only force that, for better or worse, seems to be in a position to carry on with the affairs of state.

June 5, 2016

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

New polls challenge Fidesz’s political and ideological hegemony

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.

european union flags2

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.

March 12, 2016