Tag Archives: opinion polls

Whither MSZP? It seems to be stalled

Before going into the latest follies of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), I should briefly summarize the findings of the most recent opinion polls in order to illustrate the true state of the party’s popularity among Hungarian voters. All four polls I consulted show Fidesz to have an enormous lead over its opponents. In all four, Jobbik was the second largest party in the country. Third place is occupied by MSZP and fourth by DK. Support for the other parties, with the exception of LMP, hovers around 1%. LMP has 3%.

Since the beginning of the year not much has changed in the popularity of the parties. A couple of percentage point differences here and there, but the ranking has stayed the same and, most importantly for our purposes here, support for MSZP hasn’t grown substantially since January. Combining the four opinion polls (Republikon, Závecz, Tárki, and Medián), the average support for MSZP is only 12% among active voters. In the same category, Fidesz would receive 50.25% and Jobbik 19%. DK’s support is 6%, which is nothing to brag about, but it is still a voting bloc one must reckon with, especially given the low popularity of the socialists.

Republikon also included a question about people’s opinion of the four declared candidates for the post of prime minister. The respondents were offered a choice of three people in two combinations. The first included Viktor Orbán, Gábor Vona, and László Botka; the second, Viktor Orbán, Gábor Vona, and Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd). The result is telling. In the first option Orbán received 38% of the votes, Botka 16%, and Vona 15%. The rest had no opinion. In the second option, where Karácsony took the place of Botka, the results for Orbán and Vona were practically the same and Karácsony received 14%, compared to Botka’s 16%. Not much of a difference. Once Republikon looked at party affiliations, it turned out that, as opposed to Fidesz and Jobbik voters who overwhelmingly support their candidates, only 60% of the left-of-center voters find Botka a desirable candidate. Karácsony, chairman of a party with 1% support, received a fairly impressive 48% popularity rating.

It looks as if MSZP’s leadership is blind to the reality of the numbers presented here. Otherwise, it is inexplicable that the party hasn’t considered changing course. After a while they should have recognized that László Botka’s remedies aren’t working. His “go-it-alone” strategy could have worked only if there was a spectacular growth in MSZP’s popularity, which in turn would have inspired the smaller parties to flock behind him. Since this hasn’t happened, a good politician would have changed strategy. But there was no sign of any soul-searching in MSZP until a few days ago, when Zsolt Molnár, one of the leading politicians in the party, wrote a short article in which he suggested that Botka should start negotiations with Ferenc Gyurcsány of DK, whom until now he had refused even to meet. I wrote about the subsequent unpleasant exchange between Botka and Molnár a few days ago.

When I summarized the Botka-Molnár controversy, I had no idea what the final outcome of this latest party quarrel would be. A couple of days ago there was a glimmer of hope that Gyula Molnár, the party’s chairman, would take matters into his own hands and would initiate some sensible alternative to the present hopeless course. But I’m afraid Gyula Molnár is not a strong leader, and instead of “summoning” Botka and Zsolt Molnár to party headquarters, as he first promised, we learned yesterday that it was Zsolt Molnár who traveled to Szeged. After a two-hour, apparently “amiable meeting,” as Molnár described it, he threw in the towel and assured Botka of his full support.

It is hard to know exactly what happened at this “amiable meeting” because it seems that Molnár either misunderstood what Botka told him or he was double-crossed. I suspect the latter. Molnár was supposed be in charge of negotiations with the other parties regarding the election campaign in Budapest and, as he recalled, this particular topic wasn’t even discussed at the meeting. However, the other politicians in the party already knew last night that Molnár would be stripped of all of his functions related to the elections.

The official confirmation of that fact came today at a press conference Botka gave. There it became clear that Botka had already come to an agreement with József Tóth, the very successful socialist mayor of District XIII, to take charge of negotiating with the other parties regarding the allocation of candidates of the united front of the democratic opposition in all 18 electoral districts of Budapest. These negotiations would include DK as well but, according to Botka’s wishes, without Ferenc Gyurcsány. Good luck to József Tóth, since there is no way that anyone from DK would sit down to negotiate with him if the price of cooperation is the shuttering out of the party’s chairman. And, according to analysts, Budapest cannot be won without DK. Even Tóth’s own very socialist district might be in jeopardy without it.

Botka, at least for now, is holding fast to his earlier position that every democratic politician will have to decide whether his own political future is more important than the removal of the Orbán government from power. He made no secret of the fact that he has Ferenc Gyurcsány in mind. Successfully pinning the blame on Gyurcsány, however, would work only if Botka himself weren’t carrying so much baggage in the eyes of the electorate. First of all, there is the problem of his lackluster support among left-wing voters. His high-handed treatment of Ferenc Gyurcsány also alienated a great number of people. His belittling of the politicians of the smaller parties as dupes didn’t endear him to the ones with whom MSZP is now supposed to negotiate. And finally, his ill-tempered attack on Zsolt Molnár is apparently disapproved of by the majority of the leading MSZP politicians. It can thus easily happen that it will be Botka who will end up being seen as the impediment to unity, not Ferenc Gyurcsány.

August 1, 2017

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

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.

♦ ♦ ♦

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.

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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

It’s hard to get away from football when discussing Hungarian politics

I picked a few topics today that on the surface don’t have much to do with one another, but by the end I trust we will see a common theme. Yes, I know, the title has already given it away.

First of all, we have a public opinion poll by the newly established ZRI (Závecz Research Institute). Tibor Závecz used to be a member of the Ipsos team, but Ipsos stopped doing political polling. Závecz therefore formed ZRI as a kind of successor to Ipsos. The poll, taken between July 10 and 17, doesn’t reveal any dramatic changes in political trends, but the responses to some of the questions ZRI posed may offer opposition party leaders a strategic compass for the 2018 election.

I will spend little time on the actual numbers. In the sample as a whole, Fidesz gained three percentage points, from 24% to 27%, in the last month. This gain, according to Závecz, is most likely due to the intensification of the anti-migrant campaign and the initial success of the national football team at the European Football Championship. All the other parties moved up or down by about a couple of percentage points. However, the weakening of Jobbik over the last few months can by now be described as a trend. In April Jobbik’s share was 15%, in May 14%, in June 12%, and this month 11%. It looks as if Gábor Vona’s new strategy is not exactly a success among the radical elements. Apparently, the losses are especially noticeable among members of the younger generation and in the countryside where the party was extremely strong. As is usually the case in Hungarian polls, the largest group among the respondents, 36%, could not name a party for which they would vote today.

Among those respondents who said they would definitely vote if the election were held today, 49% said they would vote for Fidesz. Yet in the sample as a whole, 43% would like to see a change of government in 2018 and only 32% would like to see this government continue. The problem is that those who would be happy to see the Orbán government go are extremely passive. Only 16% of them would even bother to vote. The task of the democratic opposition, and it is a daunting task, must therefore be to motivate some of those people whose current attitude is, as Tibor Závecz aptly described it, “I want you to vote and get rid of this government for me.” Leaders of the democratic opposition will have to figure out a way to get these dissatisfied masses to the polls since 43% translates into more than 3 million votes.

Fidesz may have benefited in this survey from the performance of the Hungarian national football team, but Hungarian soccer is an unlikely long-term prop for the party. It’s enough to look at the miserable performance of FTC (Fradi) against Partizani Tirana in the Champion’s League qualifiers. The Albanians beat the Hungarian team 3-1. The Hungarian players were so bad that the coach actually apologized, and the fans demanded the resignation of Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz’s campaign wizard and the chairman of FTC. Fewer than 9,000 spectators showed up for the game, played in the brand new Groupama Arena with a capacity of almost 24,000. The game was a reality check. Hungarian football, despite the flash in the pan in France, cannot compete internationally with any hope of success, despite generous financial support from the Orbán government. FTC received close to 1.5 billion forints from the government just this year, and the new stadium cost almost 16 billion forints.

And now let’s move to Felcsút and the findings of Direkt36, “a non-profit investigative journalism center with the mission to expose wrongdoings and abuse of power through fair but tough reporting.” Direct36 works with 444.hu, which yesterday published some details of the Orbán family’s land holdings in Felcsút. The details of the story are not entirely new. In 2013 the late Krisztina Ferenczi reported on how Viktor Orbán, at the very end of 2006, made offers to several homeowners in Felcsút to purchase parts of their large backyards. These parcels of land now serve as the VIP parking area for the Pancho Arena. So, Ferenczi concluded, Orbán already had well developed plans for a large arena at a time when he had just lost his second election in a row. He was waiting for the moment when he would be prime minister and could build his hobby arena from taxpayer money.

csaladi focibusiness

Anita Vorák of Direct36 in the 444.hu article shows that Orbán didn’t fill out the financial statements he submitted to parliament properly. Of course, in comparison to other corruption cases, this “little oversight” is really a small item. But from the way the story of the purchase of these strips of land unfolds, one has the distinct impression that something is very fishy. First of all, it is not at all clear what the connection is between Viktor Orbán’s own holdings and those of the Felcsúti Utánpótlás Neveléséért Alapítvány, a foundation behind the Ferenc Puskás Academy which was established by Viktor Orbán with an initial capital of 150,000 forints. For example, not only Viktor Orbán but also Anikó Lévai, his wife, and Győző Orbán, his father, gave the foundation free use of the land they had purchased for 50 years. The non-profit foundation’s founder has no legal, formal connection with its creation, the Academy. But it’s curious that the founder of the foundation and his family members “lend” land to the foundation, land that will be used by the Academy.

I was astonished to read that the foundation has 110 employees. This is a large tax-free business funded almost exclusively by the state for the pleasure of the founder of the organization. And the wealth of the Academy and therefore of the foundation keeps growing. I really wonder what will happen to this whole edifice when Orbán is no longer prime minister and the flow of money from government coffers comes to an end. Because I assume that the next administration will have the good sense to stop funding this monster and will instead investigate this so-called foundation, what Krisztina Ferenczi called “the Felcsút family football business.”

July 22, 2016

Hungarian success didn’t change opinion of Orbán’s football mania

The Hungarian performance at the European Football Championship created a political controversy at home. Critics of the Orbán regime feared that since Orbán’s name is so closely associated with the game, the relatively good performance, especially in light of the past performance of the national team, would bring added popularity to the regime. Opinion pieces at home and abroad pointed out the political dividend of the fantastic enthusiasm that took hold of the population, especially after the first two games against Iceland and Portugal. Many of the critics bemoaned the likelihood that, with the Hungarian team’s marked improvement, the population would more readily endorse Viktor Orbán’s gigantic spending on football. Perhaps the enthusiastic fans will find Orbán’s unnatural preoccupation with the sport justified. Viktor Orbán himself certainly thought there was a connection between his extravagant spending on the sport and the initial success of the national team when on his Facebook page he said: “You see!” (Na, ugye!) By the way, for Orbán the game is a deadly serious affair, as the picture taken of him during the Austrian-Hungarian game shows.

For Viktor Orbán football is not a game

For Viktor Orbán football is not a game / Getty Images

Some of my friends, who certainly cannot be called supporters of the Orbán government, were furious with those commentators who shared their worries over the political fallout of the Hungarian football success. They foresaw the inevitable reaction from the other side. Indeed, the right-wing media called them traitors to the national cause, spoilers of a giant national celebration. For instance, Tivadar Farkasházy, an avid football fan and humorist, had an interview last fall on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd in which he said “Of course, I always root for the Hungarians. On the other hand, I have another self. When we lose I console myself that we managed to create a bad day for Viktor Orbán.” This statement was subsequently completely distorted, as a result of which someone spat into his face on the street. Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap published long articles about the disloyal left, which cannot be happy over the fantastic performance of the national team. Magyar Idők called it a hate campaign against Orbán and Hungarian football success.

The government, of course, did its best to make the team’s achievement its own. The initially spontaneous celebrations eventually deteriorated to official ones where the number of people coming out for the team was anything but spectacular. While the state radio and television station talked about 20,000 fans gathering on Heroes’ Square, more modest estimates judged the size of the crowd to be about 5,000. As the Hungarian saying goes, “Every wonder lasts only three days.”

And the football wonder is definitely over. As Publicus Institute’s latest poll shows, Hungarians are not so naïve as to think that the couple of decent showings of the national football team had anything to do with the billions of forints of taxpayer money Orbán spent on his hobby. Or that the half-empty football stadiums have anything to do with the quality of Hungarian football. Reaction to Orbán’s football extravagance is as negative after the European Football Championship as it was before. Eighty-three percent of the adult population still think that Viktor Orbán should spend less or a great deal less on building stadiums. People believe that the money allocated to stadium construction should instead be spent on healthcare, education, the elimination of poverty, employment opportunities, and higher wages in the public sphere, in that order.

There is, however, a change from the December 2015 poll with regard to government support of professional football and NB1 players of the National Championship. Although 63% of those asked would like to see less money spent on football players, eight months ago this figure was 72%. But when the respondents were asked the cause of Hungary’s success, only 10% pointed to the financial assistance the government/Viktor Orbán gave to the national team. Most (42%) said the players themselves and hard work were the source of the good performance. Almost as many (41%) named the two coaches, Pál Dárdai and Bernd Storck, who had coached the team over the last twelve months. So, those who thought that Orbán would reap great political benefits from the performance of the national football team were mistaken.

The future of Hungarian football will most likely depend on those youngsters who are currently enrolled in the 15 football academies. Three years ago MLSZ (Hungarian Football Association) hired an internationally well-respected Belgian company, Double Pass, to evaluate the performance of these academies. Double Pass’s first assessment was published in 2014, and it was described at the time as devastating. Everywhere Double Pass looked it found major deficiencies. The best of the lot, Debrecen’s academy, got a grade of 66%. The Felcsút Academy, which received an incredible amount of financial assistance from pro-Fidesz oligarchs, ended up #9. At that time Orbán boasted that the Puskás Academy was one of the top ten in Europe.

Now, two years later, Double Pass has released its final report, and the results are no better. Népszabadság called the report “Awakening from the EC dream,” emphasizing the poor quality of the players being trained in these academies. Double Pass analyzed strategy, infrastructure, coaching, the study of games, etc. and still found Debrecen to be the best. The richly endowed Felcsút, which just last year received 11 billion from tax-free contributions to sports, mostly football, and which is getting a new indoor football field for six billion forints, did move up in the rankings. Instead being ninth, it is now sixth out of fifteen. The whole report is available online. A good summary appeared in HVG.

One of the criticisms of Double Pass was that the owners of the academies often get personally involved in the strategy and management of the academies. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Viktor Orbán were among these meddlers. If that is the case, he is not a very good strategist or manager because the season results of the Felcsút Academy between 2013 and 2016 were anything but sterling. In the 2013-14 season they were in fourteenth place with a record of 8 wins, 15 losses, and 7 ties. They were tenth in 2014-15 with 10 wins, 15 losses and 5 ties and eleventh in 2015-16, next to last in the National Championship’s first tier (NB I) with 7 wins, 16 losses, and 10 ties. By now, Felcsút plays in NB II. But I doubt that Orbán will take Double Pass’s recommendations to heart. He rarely listens to others, especially if the advice comes from abroad.

July 17, 2016

Hungarians’ fear of migrants and terrorism

A new Medián-HVG poll came out yesterday on the Hungarian people’s attitude toward migrants and immigration. The results were published in HVG‘s print edition yesterday and are not yet available online.

Given the Orbán government’s anti-refugee propaganda, I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn that since September, when Medián conducted a similar poll, Hungarian xenophobia and aversion toward the migrants from the Middle East and Africa has grown substantially. In November 2014 only 66% of the population thought that acceptance of the refugees should be further restricted. By now 80% of the adult population demand such limits. The same is true when the question was about a restriction on the number of “colored people.” The proportion of Hungarians surveyed who would limit their numbers jumped from 47% to 60%. These negative feelings also spilled over to long-time Arab and black residents/citizens. Their acceptance rate dropped fairly significantly as a result of the migrant crisis and terrorist attacks. In the case of Arab residents from 38% to 30% and in the case of blacks from 42% to 37%. The figures on attitudes toward gays and Jews remained fairly stable.

During the same period people’s feeling of security decreased substantially. When respondents were asked what comes into their minds when they hear the word “fear,” more people (23%) named terrorism than illness, crime, or poverty. This fear is widespread and across party lines. Even DK sympathizers, who come from the least prejudiced segment of Hungarian society, shared this feeling of insecurity given the present situation in Europe.

More Hungarians now think that the migrants are more aggressive and demanding than in September. Today 83% of Jobbik, 68% of Fidesz, 65% of undecided voters, 40% of MSZP, and 31% of sympathizers of the smaller democratic parties are convinced that the migrants are belligerent and demanding.

One of the key elements of the government propaganda is the close relationship between terrorism and the migrants. The message has reached the population. The researchers confronted the respondents with two statements: (1) It is most likely the case that the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks came from the refugees arriving in Europe and (2) One cannot claim this; there is no proof. Fifty-six percent of the respondents agreed with the first statement and only 40% with the second. Even worse, 46% agreed with a very controversial claim of Viktor Orbán that “regardless of what anyone says, all terrorists are migrants.”

Government and opposition billboards on the migrants

Government and opposition billboards on the migrant issue

The respondents also had to indicate their feelings on a number of statements and mark the intensity of these feelings on a scale of 0-100. For example, “immigrants pose health risks for the native population” (77), “immigrants substantially increase the danger of terrorist attacks” (77), “those who illegally cross the borders will have to serve a jail sentence” (69). The statement that “immigration might have a beneficial effect on Hungary because it would remedy the demographic problems and would add to the labor force” elicited little enthusiasm (24). The government’s propaganda against quotas, on the other hand, has been successful. While in September the EU proposal regarding quotas received a score of 50, by November that number had dropped to 29. Even the topic “humane treatment of the refugees” suffered a setback (from 72 to 62 points). Moreover, the majority of Hungarians (56%) are convinced that “sooner or later Muslims will be in the majority in Europe and they will force their religion and culture on us.” Here is the breakdown according to party affiliation: Jobbik (71%), Fidesz (64%), MSZP 40%, other opposition parties (28%), and those without party preference (51%).

The fence is extremely popular. In September 68% of the population approved it, but by now 87% of the population stand behind Viktor Orbán’s solution to the migrant problem. The new supporters of the fence come from the left. In September Jobbik and Fidesz almost to the man stood behind the idea of building a fence and keeping out the migrants. The real change has taken place on the left where the number of supporters has grown by 30 percentage points.

Finally, what is the Hungarian public’s attitude toward the cause of the exodus The poll takers offered three different theories: (1) “The terror of the Islamic State and the civil war,” (2) “Growing poverty and hunger,” and (3) “Certain unnamed outside moving forces are behind the mass migration.” The absolute majority (54%) of those surveyed opted for choices #1 (37%) and #3 (37%), and only 18% agreed with the proposition that it is poverty and hunger war that are the cause of the wave of migrants. Besides the 37% who opted for the 3rd choice, for a follow-up question another 26% (thus, overall 63%) suspected that certain interest groups are behind the migration crisis.

When it comes to which “hidden power” is behind this conspiracy, most people suspect the United States, although a fair number pointed the finger at Israel, the Jews, or George Soros. Some of the combinations are really bizarre. For example, some people coupled Israel with the Islamic State as being behind the flow of migrants. It is not surprising that Jobbik voters are the ones who most readily believe these theories, especially when it comes to a Jewish conspiracy. Medián’s summary of their research doesn’t specifically talk about the attitude of Fidesz voters toward conspiracy theories, but given Viktor Orbán’s frequent references to George Soros as a serious contender to be one of the hidden forces behind the flow of refugees I would suspect that Fidesz voters are just as ready to espouse Jewish conspiracy theories in connection with the migration crisis as are Jobbik voters. Anti-American feelings are also fueled by the new government mouthpiece, Magyar Idők, whose editorials are full of vicious anti-American rhetoric.

The Hungarian government is largely responsible for the growth of xenophobia, fear of the refugees, and the spread of conspiracy theories. The result is an immense growth in the Fidesz camp, but at what price?

The attitude of Hungarians to the refugee crisis

We have been so preoccupied with the global aspects of the refugee crisis that we have neglected its domestic aspects. We know that Viktor Orbán’s response to the refugee crisis has met with widespread approval and that Fidesz’s popularity has grown. We also have a sense that Jobbik by and large supports the government even if it would introduce even more draconian measures against the would-be immigrants. MSZP, sensing the general anti-immigrant sentiment, is sitting on the fence and refuses to commit itself. The party’s leaders like to describe their position on the issue as “positive neutrality.” The parties that are sympathetic to the asylum seekers and would welcome them as permanent residents and eventual new citizens are Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK); Együtt, headed by Viktor Szigetvári; and Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM), led by Gergely Karácsony and Tímea Szabó. These parties advocate an open door policy. Együtt, in fact, even mentioned a figure: 15,000 immigrants could easily be integrated into Hungarian society.

These are impressions gathered from newspaper articles and interviews. No polls dealing explicitly with the attitudes of Hungarians to the refugee crisis were available until yesterday. Now, thanks to Medián, we have a better idea of what goes on in Hungarian heads when it comes to these strangers who briefly appeared in their country. Twelve hundred interviews were conducted between September 11 and 15 in 100 localities. The margin of error is ±3%.

source: Cornell University Library

Source: Cornell University Library

The poll is very thorough. Almost no relevant questions about the migration crisis were left out, starting with the respondents’ general familiarity with the facts. As usual, they are poorly informed about even such basic facts as the number of migrants who entered and promptly left the country or the number who are currently in refugee camps. Although the poll takers, not having precise numbers themselves, allowed a generous leeway, only 46% of the population had an approximate idea of the number of arrivals, which they greatly underestimated. The same was true about the current inhabitants of refugee camps, except that in this case they grossly overestimated their numbers. But that was expected.

I guess it is again no surprise that while 66% of the population are familiar with Fidesz’s “solution” to the migration crisis, few people are familiar with the proposals of opposition parties. Only 36% of the adult population are familiar with the stance of MSZP and only 34% with the ideas of Jobbik. Among the smaller parties, DK’s proposals are known by 20% of the people, followed by LMP, Együtt, and PM.

Based on this sample, the number of Hungarians who would like to introduce even harsher measures against the migrants is very high: 79% of the population, a figure that has grown substantially since November 2014 when it was only 66%. The number of those who would limit the number of “colored people” (színesbőrűek) has also grown since November 2014, from 47% to 57%. Medián is inclined to look upon this development not so much as racism pure and simple but as a corollary to the general fear of migrants. At the same time homophobia and anti-Semitism have decreased somewhat.

Respondents were asked to grade, on a scale of 1 to 100, the performance of various groups, personalities, and countries involved in one way or the other with the refugee crisis. It seems that people think very highly of the activities of the police (73). They also consider the volunteers’ work admirable (67), while they gave only a 56 to the government’s handling of the crisis. They were also dissatisfied with the role Austria, Germany, and the EU played during the crisis. I was somewhat surprised that while Hungarians had a rather low opinion of the Hungarian Catholic Church’s role (46), they were also dubious about the part Pope Francis played in the crisis (53). One is inclined to think that the respondents had only a vague notion of the disparity between the position of the Hungarian Catholic Church and that of Pope Francis.

One interesting aspect was the general condemnation of the United States, although the U.S. has rarely been discussed in connection with the crisis. The right-wing media does, however, suggest that the whole refugee crisis is the fault of the United States, a country that is not taking its fair share in light of the chaos that followed its occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. They also blame the United States for the civil war in Syria in an indirect way. If Washington hadn’t supported the Arab Spring, then ….

Overwhelmingly, Hungarians fear the refugees. Somewhat irrationally, what they fear most is the possibility of contagion: these strangers will bring diseases that might spread to Hungarians. It doesn’t matter that members of the medical community have repeatedly declared in television interviews that such a danger is practically nonexistent. On the other hand, Fidesz politicians love to frighten people with such illnesses as malaria, which we know is not an infectious disease, or with AIDS, which is not readily communicated. They are also afraid of terrorism, about which they hear a lot in the pro-government media. At the same time they believe that the asylum seekers should be treated humanely (72). But they say that the migrants don’t obey the country’s laws and customs and that they are violent (67).

As far as the population’s opinion of the government’s preparedness and handling of the crisis is concerned, it is not the best. Although the government knew what was coming, it did nothing to prepare for the onslaught (65). How well is the government doing its job? Not very well (54). Sentiment is in favor of making illegal border crossing a crime that merits jail time, not just expulsion as is the practice now.

What should happen to the asylum seekers? Again, on a scale of 1 to 100, the option that they should be settled wherever they want to go scored a 61. So, in this case, all refugees should settle in Germany and Sweden. A second alternative is that they should be settled in all the member states of the Union (50). The idea that immigration is beneficial to Europe for demographic reasons was generally rejected (26).

The Hungarian population is completely divided on the issue of what to do with the refugees who enter Hungary. Thirty-four percent of them would like to hermetically seal the borders; 33% are of the opinion that all refugees should be let go; and 27% believe that refugee camps should be established and that the asylum seekers should be kept there until their fate is decided.

Medián pollsters were also interested in the approval or disapproval of building fences along the Serbian and Croatian borders, broken down by party sympathies. Sixty-eight percent of Hungarians approve of the government’s decision to build a fence. Not surprisingly, support is greatest among Fidesz (87%) and Jobbik (80%) voters, while the least support comes from voters of DK, Együtt, PM, MLP, and MOMA (25%). (MLP is a small liberal party and MOMA is a moderate right-of-center party.) I was surprised to see that almost half of LMP voters strongly support Viktor Orbán’s fence (48%), surpassing the voters of MSZP who are most likely influenced by their party’s cautious attitude, fearing the loss of support if they manfiest too “radical” a solution to the refugee crisis. The attitude of LMP voters suggests a move toward Jobbik and Fidesz instead of toward the liberal bloc’s pro-refugee attitude.

In addition, Medián asked several more questions, refining its overall results. One was whether there is a likelihood that sooner or later the Muslims will become a majority in Europe. Fifty-four percent of the electorate think that this will indeed be the case. Again it is Fidesz (70%), Jobbik (63%), and LMP (52%) voters who are most fearful, while MSZP sympathizers are in the middle with 42% and DK, Együtt, PM, MLP, and MOMA followers are the least worried (17%). Fifty-eight percent of Hungarian adults consider the immigrants aggressive and demanding and only 42% look upon them as peaceful and cooperative.

There is one issue on which I find the results puzzling in light of the rest of the findings. That is, the answers to the question “how much do you agree that it might be advantageous to Hungary to accept the refugees and thus moderate the decrease of the population while at the same time acquiring a larger labor pool.” The answers on a scale of 1 to 100 are inexplicable: Jobbik voters are naturally the least enthusiastic (17), followed by Fidesz (25), MSZP (40), DK-Együtt-PM-MPL-MOMA (40) and LMP (42). LMP 42? Even more liberal than the small liberal parties on the question of immigration?

All in all, this poll indicates that government propaganda has been effective in reinforcing the ingrained Hungarian distrust of foreigners. The government might not be getting kudos for its handling of the refugee crisis, but it is winning the propaganda war.