Tag Archives: public opinion polls

Political lethargy in Hungary, perhaps prayer will help

I will cover two topics today. First, the Pew Research Institute’s recent work on political and civic participation, where Hungarians are shown to be apathetic. And second, for fun, a prayer chain for Viktor Orbán, who is responsible in large part for the lethargy Hungarians exhibit nowadays.

Pew Research on political participation

A few days ago I read about a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center that showed an abysmal lack of political participation among Hungarians. The news intrigued me, so I decided to go to the actual study. In reality, it turned out there were two studies.

The first covered only four European countries: Greece, Italy, Poland, and Hungary. The result? Of the four nations surveyed, the Greeks and Italians are the most politically engaged; the Hungarians, the least. Even the gap between Hungary and Poland is dishearteningly large. For example, only 9% of the Hungarian population has ever attended a campaign event. In Poland that figure is 21%. The situation is nearly the same when it comes to participation in a volunteer organization. And it’s no wonder that recent demonstrations organized by opposition forces are so poorly attended. Only 7% of Hungarians have ever bothered to go to a demonstration. In Poland the situation is better (12%), but both pale in comparison to the enthusiasm of the Greeks (29%) and Italians (25%).

Hungarians demonstrated their apathy when confronted with the proposition: “Likely to take political action, such as contact an elected official or participate in a demonstration on ….” followed by the following issues: poor health care, poverty, poor-quality schools, government corruption, police misconduct, and discrimination against disadvantaged groups. In none of the above categories would the majority of Hungarians be prompted to act. Healthcare is the one issue that seems to interest Hungarians: 44% would be willing to demonstrate or complain. But on other issues–like poverty, education, government corruption–only about 30% would be willing to do anything. When it comes to police misconduct or discrimination, their enthusiasm is a very low 20-22%.

The study also found that 67% of Hungarians think that “the government is run for the benefit of only a few groups of people.” The Greeks (80%) and Italians (73%) are a lot more skeptical. Moreover, 61% of Hungarians believe that “ordinary citizens cannot do much to influence the government.” These findings are especially interesting in light of Polish responses to the same questions. In Poland 54% of the population think their government serves only the privileged and 48% think it is worth making an effort to change the status quo. The Hungarian case is typical of a society where people grumble but only a small minority ever bothers to do anything about the state of affairs.

The low participation of Hungarians between the ages of 18 and 34 in the political process is perhaps even more depressing. Here I am relying on a nine-country Pew study that compared political activism in Greece, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Kenya, South Africa, India, and the United States. The study calculated the gap between the political activities of those aged 18 to 34 and those over 50. For instance, in Greece, Poland, and Italy, the young-old gap, as measured by having voted in an election, was -13%, -9%, and -5%. In Hungary the gap was -18%. (Soon Hungary may catch up to the United States, where the gap is a staggering -26%.)

The situation is no better when it comes to 18- to 34-year-old Hungarians sharing their political views online. Here the United States leads the way with almost 50% participation in this age group. And in the U.S. almost 30% of people over 50 are busy expressing political opinions on social media. Hungary, sandwiched between Poland and India at the bottom of the list, has a gap of only 4% between young and old, but that’s because participation overall is so low. Only 11% of the 18-34 group and 7% of the 50+ group have posted their own thoughts or comments about political or social issues online.

All in all, there is nothing to be cheerful about.

But now, something to put a smile on your face.

Prayer-Chain for Viktor Orbán

On October 31 Új Szó, a Slovak-Hungarian newspaper, reported that a Hungarian Benedictine monk who lives in Rome had written a prayer for Viktor Orbán. Those who receive it should spend at least five minutes a day repeating the short prayer. The chain letter was started in Slovakia by a parish priest from Ipolybalog/Balog nad Ipl’om. He apparently received the letter from a sender in Austria.

Someone who had already re-sent the prayer-chain to 150 of his friends and acquaintances said he believes that “Viktor Orbán is an exceptional politician who has so many enemies because he is defending Christian Europe against the liberals, freemasons, and the Union. He needs our prayers in order for the Lord to give him strength in his struggle for our real values.”

The Slovak Catholic Church considers the issue a private affair.

prayer-chain

For the sake of accuracy, I should report that the alleged author of the prayer, although a Benedictine monk, was a teacher in the Benedictine gymnasium in Pannonhalma and has never lived in Rome.

And now for the text:

The Lord be before thee to show thee the way!
The Lord be beside thee to embrace thee and save thee from peril!
The Lord be behind thee to defend thee from evil deceits!
The Lord be beneath thee to hold thee if thou fall!
The Lord be with thee to comfort thee when thou art sad!
The Lord be around thee to protect thee when others assail thee!
The Lord be over thee to bless thee!
God the merciful bless thee today, tomorrow, and at all times!
Many of us pray for you, Mr. Prime Minister. God help you!

It seems that this prayer-chain is a variation of the so-called Saint Anthony chain letter, which the Catholic Church disapproves of. So much so, in fact, that a Hungarian Catholic priest, writing on Keresztény Élet, a Catholic internet site, called these chain letters “the work of the devil.” What’s a devout Orbán supporter to do?

November 6, 2016

Orbán and his ministers got their report cards: they all failed

In the last couple of months we didn’t hear much about the teachers’ rebellion against Viktor Orbán’s educational reforms, except that the dissatisfied teachers promised to do something after the matriculation exams ended but before the last day of the school year. Eventually, we learned that the leaders of the “Tanítanék” (I would like to teach) movement were organizing a rally at which they were planning to present the government with their own report cards.

I must admit that I was not at all optimistic that they could pull off another huge demonstration, the kind they staged on March 15. Past experience has taught us how easily enthusiasm wanes. After realizing that street demonstrations rarely have any tangible results, participants soon enough lose their appetite for these gatherings. So, I was very afraid that instead of a mass demonstration only a few hundred people would show up today on March 15 tér and that, with such a poor showing, the whole teachers’ revolt would fizzle out.

Source: Blikk / Photo: Ferenc Isza

Source: Blikk / Photo: Ferenc Isza

I was wrong. To sustain people’s interest protests don’t have to have positive results. On the contrary, a negative outcome might spur even more intensified resistance. If the government had granted some reasonable concessions, the teachers might have been appeased. But Viktor Orbán misjudged the situation and decided not just to ignore the teachers’ demands but to make the state’s stranglehold over the schools and thus over the teachers even tighter. For one thing, instead of a single KLIK, there will now be another layer of bureaucracy–57 little KLIKs.

In the last three years, since the introduction of the centralized system, at least the school buildings and their maintenance remained in the hands of the local communities. The Orbán government, however, in its eternal wisdom, came to the conclusion that they should also centralize the physical maintenance of the school buildings. So, for example, if a window gets broken, the school administration will have to apply to one of the little KLIKs, most likely miles away, for a replacement window.

Source: Blikk / Photo: Ferenc Isza

Source: Blikk / Photo: Ferenc Isza

The reaction in the community was fury. According to the union leaders, the number of people who are ready to actively participate in an anti-establishment movement has grown many times over since the government’s refusal to listen to the initial demands of the teachers. They feel cheated and have come to the conclusion that negotiating with Viktor Orbán’s minions is absolutely useless because the government representatives cannot be trusted. The trade union leaders also realized that the so-called “negotiators” on the government side don’t have a mandate to make decisions or to offer negotiating points. So, Piroska Galló, head of the Pedagógusok Szakszervezete (PSZ), announced that traditional methods of dealing with an employer, in this case the state, are useless in Orbán’s Hungary. From here on, more radical methods must be employed.

Apparently, the government decision makers were misled by the small number of teachers, only about 20%, who participated in the strike staged by the trade unions in April. Trade union leader Galló maintains that, although relatively few people took part in the strike, the trade unions’ demands were supported by a large majority of the teachers. Also, the government negotiators paid no attention to the protest of the parents who kept their children at home on the day of the strike. Their numbers were in the hundreds of thousands. They are ready to support their children’s teachers and are just as angered by the government’s reaction as are the teachers.

Mrs. Galló was right. Despite rain mixed with hail, thousands showed up in an impressive display of resolve. The government went very wrong here and still hasn’t learned its lesson. The education department, housed in the ministry of human resources, continues to think that the trade union leaders and the civic organizations of teachers will fall for the old line that “the majority of teachers believe in dialogue and not in street action and political provocation.” No, they don’t. If the teachers learned anything in the last few months, it was that negotiation with the Orbán government–alleged dialogue–is a dead end. I also believe that the charge, repeated time and again, that the “teachers are being used by anti-government forces” will only add fuel to the fire. The result is that both the trade unions and the civic “Tanítanék” group are determined to continue the fight, and with even greater force come fall.

The two leaders of the Tanítanék group are born leaders. I’m amazed at their organizational and oratorical skills. If anyone can organize a real mass movement around the teachers it will be István Pukli and Kata Törley. They promise something spectacular once schools open in September. They are already working to establish a nationwide network of activists. They began their recruitment right on the spot

One of the highlights of the demonstration was the handing out of report cards to government officials.  Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources; László Palkovics, his undersecretary responsible for education; János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office; Lajos Kósa, head of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation; Antal Rogán, “propaganda minister”; Szilárd Németh, one of the deputy chairmen of Fidesz; and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán all received failing grades. As the grades were read out, the crowd jeered and shouted “mocskos Fidesz” (filthy Fidesz). Of course, the greatest booing came after Viktor Orbán’s report card was read.

We should keep in mind that the popularity of Fidesz today is not what it was a few months ago. According to the Republikon Intézet, Fidesz’s popularity has fallen 8% in just one month, between April and May, among committed voters. The beneficiaries of Fidesz’s losses seem to be the smaller parties, especially the Demokratikus Koalíció (+3%) and to a lesser extent LMP (+1%) and Együtt (+1%). These results were more or less seconded by Fidesz’s own Századvég. Some spectacular show of force by the teachers might further erode Fidesz’s popularity.

For those who didn’t see István Pukli and Kata Törley on ATV, they also appeared on Egyenes beszéd ráadás (Straight Talk Extra) yesterday.

June 11, 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

The Századvég saga: Largely useless studies commissioned by the Orbán government

In the last three or four days the Hungarian media has been fixated on the “Századvég saga.” Századvég in Hungarian means fin de siècle. It began as a periodical published by the members of a youth organization that later became known as Fidesz. Their first publication appeared in 1985. Among the editors of the early issues were such eventual Fidesz luminaries as László Kövér, Viktor Orbán, Tünde Handó, József Szájer, and Tamás Fellegi. Later came the Századvég Foundation, the Századvég Politikai Iskola, the Századvég Gazdaságkutató Zrt, and the Strategopolis Kft. In brief, over the last thirty years the modest student periodical morphed into a multi-billion forint business venture with a political mission. I think it is not an exaggeration to say that Századvég is Fidesz’s exclusive research institute, with a perhaps more sinister role.

Tamás Mellár, an economist who for a while was considered to be close to Fidesz and who was one of the founders of Századvég Gazdaságkutató Zrt., called Századvég nothing more than “a money laundering device.” Business is especially brisk when Fidesz is in power. A tremendous amount of public money ends up in the hands of the Századvég leadership. Where some of this money ultimately finds a home we don’t know for sure, but many people are convinced that a large percentage of the profit, which is substantial, ends up in the coffers of Viktor Orbán’s party.

Here is the Századvég saga in a nutshell. In December 2011 Századvég Politikai Iskola, Századvég Gazdaságkutató Zrt, and Strategopolis Kft. jointly won a tender to provide political advice, to the tune of 1.4 billion forints, for the next two years. In February 2012 another contract was signed that more than doubled the original amount. A few months later yet another contract raised the amount again, until for two years of political advice Századvég received altogether 4.1 billion forints.

Shortly after the contracts between the prime minister’s office and Századvég were signed, Hajnalka Joó, then a journalist with Origo who is by now at vs.hu, sued the prime minister’s office because of its refusal to release documents relating to these contracts. It has taken almost three years, but finally the Kúria, which is the country’s highest court, ruled that there are no legal ways to avoid the release of the documents. In February the prime minister’s office most reluctantly agreed.

Hajnalka Joó received 77,000 pages of documents on 7 pen drives. Either Századvég or the ministry made sure that the studies looked substantial. They used 36-point type instead of the normal 12. Of the 77,000 pages only about 18,000 pages are of any use whatsoever. The rest are “raw data,” which pollsters use to arrive at their results. As vs.hu explained, what researchers at Századvég did was akin to a journalist including his notes in his final article. Again, either the ministry or Századvég made sure that the journalists at vs.hu would have a very hard time with this enormous amount of material. The original documents were written in Word, which they converted to .pdf format in such a way that they were not searchable, not printable, and undated.

Source: Budapest Beacon

Source: Budapest Beacon

Vs.hu’s second article on the subject gives a few examples of Századvég’s so-called research. They asked people whether they frequent a farmers’ market and whether they enjoy its atmosphere. They also asked the same people for their party sympathies. Then they came up with the following nonsense: if someone frequents farmers’ markets and enjoys them, he is most likely an MSZP voter. If not, he might be an LMP voter or sympathize with KDNP. How did they come up with these results? By combining the results of two different series of questions. Vs.hu naturally consulted bona fide pollsters, who explained that this method is called “all by all” comparisons, which takes no work because a so-called SPSS predictive analytics program unearths the patterns.

Naturally, not all of the material submitted is of such low quality. According to experts, about 25% of the material contains useful information. Moreover, from the opinion polls ordered by the government we can now gauge what information the Orbán administration found politically important. They inquired whether people would be willing to give up, completely or in part, free hospital care or their pension in exchange for lower social security contributions. The answer was a resounding “no.” Or, the government wanted to know whether people would be willing to pay higher taxes to ensure the continuation of good service in healthcare, education, cultural activities, and in local government offices. Almost 60% of the people said “no” to healthcare and education and almost 66% were not interested in culture. Well, with these kinds of answers it’s no wonder that the Orbán government is not pouring money into healthcare and education.

From one of the sets of polling data we learn that, despite protestations to the contrary, the government was thinking of setting up state liquor stores similar to the National Tobacco Shops. Sixty percent of those polled were against them. Interestingly enough, the majority of Hungarians, including Fidesz sympathizers (again 60%), wanted Róbert Alföldi to remain the director of the National Theater, but Orbán decided otherwise–a move that created an uproar. It is also somewhat heartwarming that 86% of the people considered political sympathies irrelevant to the value of an artist. Seventy-four percent of the people considered the establishment of highly regulated tobacco shops useless as a deterrent to young people smoking. The government disregarded their opinion. The Orbán government also got a message from the electorate on building stadiums: 56% were totally or somewhat against building all those football stadiums while only 18% supported the project wholeheartedly. Well, that didn’t make a dent with Orbán.

It is clear from the documents that the government learned a great deal about the people Századvég interviewed: age, sex, profession, income, and political sympathies–information it could use to target different groups of people in its political campaigns. That the government, on taxpayer money, underwrote these studies in some instances blurred what should be a boundary between a political party (here, the government party) and the government itself. In fact, just yesterday DK announced that it is suing the Orbán government because, according to its estimate, the government used 1.4 billion forints of public funds for political advertising over the course of two campaigns, touting the accomplishments of the Fidesz government.

April 12, 2016

The polling game: think tanks in the service of the Hungarian government

A few days ago Index received secret polling data that the Orbán government had ordered from Nézőpont Intézet, one of the two “think tanks” it relies on for information. (The other one is Századvég.) Since it was only yesterday that we talked about Fidesz’s heavy reliance on public opinion polls as a basis for policy decisions, the responsibility of these think tanks is enormous. Their results can make or break the government. If studies are improperly framed or if wrong conclusions are drawn, the government in its currently fragile state could make unpopular decisions and become dangerously vulnerable.

It is for this reason that many of us have wondered in the past about the efficacy of polls produced by Nézőpont and Századvég, whose results, in comparison to the other four or five pollsters, are always way off. Well, now that Nézőpont’s poll on the public’s reaction to amendments to the constitution and the Orbán government’s educational policies is no longer a secret, we understand how the commissioned polling game is played. The modus operandi of at least some of the hundreds of analysts who work at these two institutions can be compared to that of tax evaders who keep two sets of books. They prepare one study for the government that reflects the real state of affairs. Part of that study is then adjusted to take into account political expediencies and released to the unsuspecting public.

A perfect example of this kind of dirty game is the February study ordered from Nézőpont. The Fidesz government wanted to know what the public thought about the two important questions I mentioned above: educational policies and amendments to the constitution in the event of a threat of terrorism. Of course, that information was not shared with the public. Only from a poll by Medián did the public learn that 71% of the population consider the teachers’ demands justified. With a different set of questions Nézőpont arrived at similar results, which indicated that only 33% of the population think that the “educational reforms” have achieved “positive results.” With the exception of introducing daily gym, Hungarians think that the teachers’ dissatisfaction is legitimate and their demands reasonable.

think tank

How much did the public learn about the results of this wide-ranging poll conducted by Nezőpont? Not much. On February 24 Nézőpont released its findings with this headline: “Fidesz-KDNP is securely in the lead: The opposition parties haven’t profited from the teachers’ demonstration.” Századvég came out with the same results. Nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the last few months, Fidesz’s popularity is still soaring.

Other, well-respected pollsters came to different conclusions. Medián’s results were the most dramatic: they measured a 6% drop in support of Fidesz among active voters. Even more importantly, opposition parties gained voters. Publicus Intézet also came to the same conclusion. Fidesz gained considerably before December 2015 but since then has been steadily losing voters. According to their calculations, only 23% of the total population would vote for Fidesz today.

This downward slide is almost inevitable in light of public opinion on education. It is doubly so when we learn from this secret poll that Hungarians were not fooled by the Orbán rhetoric of a terrorist threat. Only 17% of them fully agree that amendments to the constitution are necessary. All in all, the population is divided on the issue. Slightly more (44%) oppose the amendments than support them (42%). Given this split, the decision was made to drop the idea.

But now that Orbán “adopted Brussels’ terror threat,” he decided to try to push through his proposed legislation. The rationale is that “thanks” to the terrorist attacks in Belgium, those who were opposed to the amendments back in February might have changed their minds. It is very possible that Nézőpont is already busily compiling its latest poll to guide the government’s strategy. We don’t know whether public opinion has changed on the subject since the events in Brussels, but the opposition leaders haven’t wavered. They are still united on the issue: no opposition party can ever vote for amendments that will result in what amounts to martial law.

Finally, here is a good example of how government client polling firms try to influence public opinion. We know from two very different sources (Nézőpont and Medián) that Hungarian public opinion is solidly behind the teachers. Yet Századvég about a week ago came out with its findings, which was summarized in the headline as “The majority of Hungarians don’t support the demonstration of the teachers.” Do they cheat outright or do they formulate their questions in such a way as to achieve certain desired results? The answer is most likely the latter.

So, let’s see how these pollsters go about their “task.” Századvég wanted to know what Hungarians think of the quality of education and came to the conclusion that “the Hungarian adult population is divided” on the issue. Forty-one percent think that it is “közepes,” a grade of C, and only 34% would give it an F, while 23% percent think that it is good (B) or excellent (A). Even Századvég felt that it had to say that “the majority thinks that there is plenty to change in the system.” But, according to Századvég, the overwhelming majority of the population “disapproves of the methods by which [the teachers] want to push through these changes.”

It is at this point that Századvég’s analysis becomes murky. It looks as if Századvég researchers reached the above conclusion based on answers to a question concerning the participants’ approval or disapproval of the decision of some parents to keep their children home as a sign of support for the teachers. This seems to me to be intentionally misleading because this particular issue was quite controversial at the time. A lot of people, although they wholeheartedly support the teachers’ demands, were against or ambivalent about involving students, especially small children, in the struggle of the teachers. A negative answer to this one question cannot be generalized to an overall disapproval of the “methods” the teachers employ.

Another misleading question dealt with the negotiations. As Századvég put it: “The percentage of those (78%) who think that results can be obtained only at the negotiating table and not on the streets greatly outweighed the 21% who believe that only demonstrations and ultimatums can achieve results.” The false dichotomy here is, I think, obvious at first glance. Everybody knows, including the teachers, that results can be achieved only at the bargaining table, but it is also clear that without pressure the government will either not negotiate or, if it does, it will do so on its own terms.

These kinds of misleading questions and conclusions are the daily fare of these polling clients of the Orbán government. This is especially so when they add that “these results tally with what László Palkovics and János Lázár said: that difficult technical questions cannot be discussed on the streets.” The conclusion? The government’s position perfectly reflects public opinion. Perfect harmony exists between the government and the governed. That’s why “think tanks” like Nézőpont and Századvég are at their core propaganda instruments of the Orbán government. Moreover, both are described as money laundering vehicles into which billions are poured from taxpayer money.

March 27, 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

Is Viktor Orbán’s edifice starting to crumble?

I know many people in Hungary and elsewhere are certain that Viktor Orbán is a political wizard who always wins. I concede that he is a skillful political strategist, but it is simply not true that all of his political moves have met with success. A year and a half ago he didn’t win when he had to scrap his ill-conceived internet tax. In 2002 he lost the election, due primarily to his inability to govern the country effectively. And it didn’t matter how viciously he attacked the Gyurcsány government and Gyurcsány personally, he lost the election again four years later.

Admittedly, the situation is different today. Orbán is running the show, and he has done everything in his power to guarantee that he can remain prime minister of Hungary (or perhaps, later on, president) until his last breath. Yes, everything is stacked against the democratic opposition, which is weak and fragmented. But there are times when a structure can collapse without much help from the outside. The beams give out and the roof falls in because the whole structure is rotten.

collapse2

Something like that is happening today in Hungary, but I don’t think that Viktor Orbán realizes the gravity of the situation.

Let’s start with Medián’s latest poll, which shows that, for the first time since August-September 2015, Fidesz lost a substantial amount of support last month. After the fence went up in September 2015 Fidesz’s popularity soared. And it stayed high throughout late 2015 and into January of 2016. In February, however, it dropped. The change was especially large among the “active voters,” i.e. those who faithfully cast their votes at every election. In this category Fidesz’s 53% dropped to 46% within a single month. And what may be even more worrisome for the government party is that those who think that Hungary is heading in the wrong direction grew from 54% to 60%. Moreover, every tenth person who remembers voting for Fidesz in 2014 now says that there is no way he/she would vote for the party again.

As I emphasized in my post on his speech to the faithful the other day, Viktor Orbán went “all-in” on a single hand: fierce attacks on the European Union for its refugee policy. These verbal assaults have been intensifying, to the point that a growing number of people fear that Viktor Orbán’s real goal is to leave the Union altogether. Turning against the European Union, however, is probably a dead end. Seventy-three percent of the population support Hungary’s EU membership. EU bashing will not quell the rising domestic unrest.

On the education front the government is getting nowhere. László Palkovics, undersecretary in charge of education, keeps inviting organizations representing the disaffected to the roundtable, but one after the other refuses to participate in a process they consider to be a charade. By now the government even appears to be ready to give up KLIK, the giant state employer of 140,000 teachers and other school workers, which was supposed to be sacrosanct only a few days ago. Zoltán Balog is also prepared to allow 10% autonomy, even in matters of curriculum. But nothing doing. Those who started the movement for fundamental change in education are not ready to negotiate with the authorities because they don’t trust the government.

The government and Viktor Orbán personally are being viewed as cowardly because they are so afraid of a referendum on the issue of Sunday store closings that they sent skinheads to physically prevent István Nyakó (MSZP) from turning in his referendum question. Even Fidesz bigwigs consider what happened in the building of the National Election Office a dangerous precedent and a disgrace. The husband of the woman whose nonsensical referendum question, with the help of those 200 kg football hooligans, was accepted is in some trouble. He is the mayor of Herceghalom, and the members of the town council, including Fidesz members, are demanding his resignation. If he doesn’t leave on his own, he will be recalled.

Then there are the problems at the Museum of Fine Arts, one of which involves lending five or six baroque paintings for practically peanuts to friends of the mysterious Árpád Habony. Átlátszó asked the museum to provide a list of all the artwork currently out on loan. The museum director, a Fidesz favorite, instead of quietly obliging, demanded 600,000 forints for the list. When Átlátszó complained, they were told that 450,000 would do. At this point someone from above must have told the politically insensitive museum director to cease and desist. Suddenly, Átlátszó could receive the list free of charge.

The Fidesz-majority Hungarian parliament wanted to restrict access to public information about the state-owned postal services as well as businesses and foundations established by the National Bank. Attila Péterfalvi, head of the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, whose past judgments didn’t go against the Fidesz government, rejected Fidesz’s attempt to justify the constraints by claiming that public funds given by the central bank to its foundations “lose their public nature.” This morning Magyar Nemzet learned that János Áder might refuse to sign this disgraceful piece of legislation. I’m almost certain that Magyar Nemzet’s information is correct, especially since László Kövér announced a few hours ago that the Hungarian National Bank’s money is public money. Period.

Finally, another piece of news from today. Until now the government refused to admit that anything is wrong with Hungarian healthcare. The usual mantra has been that all of the hospitals outside of Budapest are in great shape. The capital needs a new hospital, as Orbán said in his speech, but it will be built by his government soon. Well, today one of the assistant undersecretaries in charge of healthcare policy in the ministry of human resources admitted that there is a shortage of physicians. He openly talked about the crisis that has developed in the sector. “It doesn’t matter what we do when there aren’t and there won’t be enough doctors to keep up the present healthcare structure.” The only solution, he said, is to produce as soon as possible a number of “physician assistants” who can take care of some of the less serious cases. The number of doctors and nurses leaving the country is alarming. A very large raise in salaries, he suggested, could slow down the process.

In brief, the structure Viktor Orbán built is falling apart at the seams. But what is Viktor Orbán’s response? He is building a new stadium. This time a 800-seat stadium in Kozármislény, a small town in Baranya. At least this one will be relatively inexpensive, only 440 million forints. Since 2014 the Orbán government has spent a staggering 225.5 billion forints on stadiums. It’s no wonder that people are fed up and are no longer so afraid to stand up and be counted. There will be a breaking point, and it may be sooner than we think.

The mood of the country is changing. Here is a good example of what I mean. Yesterday a very critical article was published by Mandiner, a conservative internet site, on György Matolcsy’s attempt to “privatize” public funds by hiding them in foundations established by the Hungarian National Bank. The articles that appear on Mandiner are not as extreme as those in Magyar Idők or Magyar Hírlap, but the comments consistently show a right-wing, pro-government bias. This time, however, almost all of the readers agreed with the author and were highly critical of Matolcsy. Something has changed. Something fundamental, which will be difficult to contain.

March 2, 2016