There is great excitement in opposition circles because today HVG published Medián’s latest opinion poll on the current standing of Hungarian political parties. Medián, which has the reputation of being the most reliable polling company, came out with results that seem to indicate that the solid, abnormally high public support for Fidesz-KDNP has suffered a considerable setback.
Medián’s previous polling results were published on December 13 with a rather depressing title: “The voting blocks are frozen and the opposition is increasingly disliked.” Fidesz at that point had the support of 60% of respondents who were definitely planning to vote. The only bright spot in the poll was that 56% of eligible voters were planning to cast their votes as opposed to the earlier Medián poll, published on November 1, which measured only 52%. The electorate was evenly split between those who wanted the Orbán government to stay and those who wanted a change of administration.
This was the situation in the first week of December, but by January 19, when Medián began its latest poll, “party preferences conspicuously changed.” Jobbik as well as the so-called democratic opposition parties moved up while Fidesz lost. This decline is especially striking among those who were determined to vote for Fidesz at the beginning of December. The earlier Medián poll recorded that 60% of active voters would have voted for Fidesz, but in the last few weeks this number shrank to 53%. That is a significant change.
There is, as the article written by Endre Hann and Zsuzsa Lakatos points out in today’s HVG, “a degree of uncertainty that has set in among Fidesz voters.” At the beginning of December, 75% of them said that they would definitely vote on April 8; today only 70% of them are sure. As for party support, I will include here the most important group’s results: those who have a preferred party and who will most likely vote. Here are the numbers: Fidesz 53%, Jobbik 18%, MSZP 11%, DK 9%, and LMP 6%. The rest: Együtt, Momentum, Two-Tailed Dog, Workers’ Party are all at 1%. (Red = electorate as a whole; green = active voters; yellow = can pick a party; teal = have a party and will vote.)
Endre Hann and Zsuzsa Lakatos believe that “the MSZP-Párbeszéd common list, standing at only 8% among the electorate as a whole, has the largest potential because 14% of those asked are considering voting for the party.” They attribute MSZP’s growing popularity to the party’s decision to ask Gergely Karácsony, the chairman of Párbeszéd and mayor of Zugló (District XIV), to be its candidate for the premiership. In Medián’s interpretation, Karácsony’s popularity and acceptance by socialists (90%), DK voters (81%), Jobbik supporters (42%), and even Fidesz (24%) is a sign that the MSZP-Párbeszéd ticket will be a strong draw. But this is a bit misleading since the same Medián poll shows that although Karácsony leads the popularity list among the opposition candidates, his lead is not that substantial. Karácsony got 27%, but he is followed by Bernadett Szél (22%), Gábor Vona (21%), and Gyurcsány, who is not officially a candidate (19%).
There is no question that Gergely Karácsony, a boyish 42-year-old, is an extremely attractive candidate. He is soft-spoken and, unlike many of his compatriots, is ready for reasonable compromises. MSZP’s “face,” Ágnes Kunhalmi, a 35-year-old energetic woman, who accompanies Karácsony on his nationwide campaigning, is an equally sympathetic person. I admired the leadership of MSZP for realizing that there was no viable candidate within their own ranks to lead the troops into the election campaign and for having the courage to embrace someone from the outside.
I do, however, take issue with Medián’s conclusion that the recent pullback in support for Fidesz is in large measure due to Karácsony’s candidacy. First of all, one can go back as far as October 2017 when Iránytű Intézet spotted Karácsony as the most popular opposition politician. Practically every month and in every poll, he, Bernadett Szél, and Viktor Orbán were in the top three spots. Now that he’s officially MSZP’s candidate for prime minister and is extensively campaigning, he is much better known. With greater visibility (+12%) it’s not surprising that his popularity also went up. As I said, Karácsony is an extremely likable man.
But what really makes me doubtful about the direct connection between Gergely Karácsony’s candidacy and Fidesz’s loss of popularity is that MSZP gained only one percentage point in electoral support between the November and the January polls. It is still languishing at 11% among active voters. If Medián’s interpretation were correct, MSZP should have picked up at least two or three percentage points in additional support. Karácsony’s choice as MSZP’s candidate became finalized on December 12 and he, alongside Kunhalmi, began campaigning right away. Yet, five weeks later, when Medián began its most recent polling, MSZP’s support moved only from 10 to 11% as compared to the November Medián poll. Moreover, the other opposition parties also gained a percentage point or two.
What is dramatic in Medián’s latest poll is the 7% drop among Fidesz’s most active supporters. So, something must have happened on the Fidesz side rather than among the opposition parties. And this “something,” I suspect, was the news that reached Hungary on January 11 that a day before Assistant Undersecretary Kristóf Altusz had revealed in an interview to The Times of Malta that in 2017 Hungary permitted almost 1,300 refugees to settle temporarily in the country. A few days later it became clear that “the government’s communication had collapsed.” Members of the government kept contradicting themselves. And the opposition parties launched a full-court press, attacking the government that for over two years had campaigned on the promise that no “migrant” will ever set foot on Hungarian soil. After a week, on January 16, the government finally made public the exact number and status of the accepted refugees. Three days later, on January 19, Medián began polling.
I propose that it was Fidesz’s propaganda going astray that caused Fidesz voters to have second thoughts about Viktor Orbán and his party. Most of Fidesz voters had believed the propaganda, and now they felt hoodwinked, cheated, taken for a ride. Not an unexpected reaction. And not surprisingly, the number of those who want the “cheating and lying” government out of office has risen. In November the population was equally divided on the subject. The satisfied group was almost as high (46%) as the dissatisfied one (47%). Now, however, 49% would like the Orbán government to be defeated and only 42% have remained faithful to Fidesz.
Of course, all this might be only a flash in the pan, but after months of discouraging sameness this latest turn of events shows the potential vulnerability of the governing party. If everything is bet on one card and something goes wrong, the result can be fatal. And yet the Fidesz strategy is still centered on the same old anti-migrant, anti-Soros propaganda which, I believe, is responsible for the polling setback Viktor Orbán just suffered.