Tag Archives: Republikon Intézet

From football to fear: Recent opinion polls in Hungary

Today is devoted to polls. Please don’t worry, the post will not be full of numbers. I will concentrate on the big picture.

My first topic is Hungarians’ feelings for football. I think that talking about football today is especially timely because, as 444.hu’s sportswriter put it yesterday, the Swiss team “walked all over the Hungarians,” whose game was apparently full of “glaring mistakes.” It was only during halftime that the Swiss didn’t score a goal, as he put it sarcastically. Hungarian football is apparently not worth watching, and there is a point when even nationalism isn’t enough to keep interest alive. Just as there comes a time when the lure of a better life outside of the country cannot keep an awful lot of Hungarians at home.

Ever since 2010 an incredible amount of money has been spent on sports and sports facilities in general, but naturally  Viktor Orbán’s favorite sport, football, received the most. 24.hu calculated the amount of money spent between 2011 and 2017 on five sports– football, handball, basketball, water polo, and hockey–from just the so-called TAO offerings. Large companies, in lieu of taxes, can donate money to support one of these five sports, but given Orbán’s penchant for football, half of the 415 billion forints of TAO money went to football clubs. And then there are all those football stadiums, 32 of which will be built by 2020 and will cost 215 billion forints. Yet all that money didn’t improve the quality of Hungarian football, and consequently there are mighty few Hungarian fans at games.

Given the enormous outlays for football, does it serve any useful purpose? We know that the quality of play hasn’t improved and that the number of fans who show up in these new stadiums is small. Republikon Intézet conducted a poll to find out how people feel about Hungarian football. The pollsters asked two questions: (1) How true is the following statement: “I follow Hungarian football and I’m proud of it” and (2) Do you think it is worth investing in sports facilities in Hungary? The result most likely greatly saddened Viktor Orbán: the people are not grateful. Even Fidesz voters are not that proud. More than half of them are decidedly not proud, and they don’t follow the games at all. Only 22% are enthusiastic. And if that is the word from the Fidesz voters, you can imagine what the left-liberals think: 73% of them want nothing to do with the sport. Two-thirds of the Jobbik voters are also left cold by Hungarian football.

When it comes to the stadium-building mania of the prime minister, the figures are not at all encouraging. It seems that Viktor Orbán was able to convince 37% of Fidesz voters that investing in sports facilities is worthwhile, but 27% of them think it’s a waste of money. The majority of Jobbik and socialist-liberal voters disapprove of the incredible spending on stadiums and other sports facilities. What’s amazing is that Orbán, who is normally very sensitive to public opinion, seems to be utterly oblivious to the unpopularity of spending taxpayer money on his personal hobby.

Another poll that aroused my interest was conducted by Medián. The goal was to measure the extent of endangerment Hungarians feel when it comes to the perceived threat from the “migrants,” George Soros, “NGOs financed by foreigners,” the European Union, Russia, and the United States. Respondents were able to choose among five possibilities, ranging from “no threat at all” to “very big threat.” I’m sure that no one will be surprised to hear that 49% of Hungarians absolutely dread the migrants, while only 6% are not afraid of them at all. George Soros is greatly feared by 32% of the respondents. Even the mild-mannered members of NGOs are greatly feared by 17% and somewhat feared by an additional 20% of the population. The amazing finding is how successful the Orbán government has been in convincing Hungarians that Putin’s Russia poses no danger to Hungary. This is especially surprising given the recent Russian annexation of Crimea and Russian military aid to the rebels in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Only 9% of respondents consider Putin’s Russia a serious threat, the same percentage that consider the United States a serious threat.

444.hu, which commissioned the poll from Medián, rightly points out that “the government propaganda is working perfectly because people are afraid of exactly those things Fidesz wants them to be afraid of.” Perhaps the most telling proof of the success of the propaganda campaign is a pair of questions. One is about the threat to Hungary from the European Union and a second, from “Brussels.” Since the European Union is popular among Hungarians and because the Orbán government didn’t want to be too blatantly antagonistic to the EU in its anti-EU campaigns, they used “Brussels” instead of the European Union in their propaganda campaigns. And behold, 37% of the respondents are afraid or very afraid of “Brussels,” while only 25% fear the European Union. This is how effective propaganda is.

As for those feared NGOs, László Földi, one of the three “security experts” used by the state and Fidesz media to frighten the population to death, is ready to do them in. Földi, I’m convinced, is not quite of sound mind. He is a former intelligence officer from the secret service apparatus of the Kádár regime who spreads his outlandish views not just on the refugee question but on Hungary’s security in general. In Földi’s view, the world is full of spies, internal as well as foreign, who are trying to undermine the present government of the country.

Well, a few days ago Földi was the guest of Echo TV, which was purchased recently by Lőrinc Mészáros. Mind you, the change of ownership from Gábor Széles to Mészáros made no difference. The station has been a hub of far-right journalists and commentators all along. The conversation was about Islam in Hungary. In passing, Földi talked about the “migrants” and those civilians who try to help them, specifically the Helsinki Committee and Migration Aid. Földi came out with the following absolutely mind-boggling statement: “We are at war and these people are collaborators, war criminals, traitors, and so on. This is a very different conceptual system. A human trafficker in war is not a human trafficker but in effect a saboteur who has no legal status. In brief, they can be freely liquidated. This is what the code of war says: we don’t take spies or saboteurs to court but we immediately eliminate them.” He is an adviser to István Tarlós, mayor of Budapest. Enough said.

October 8, 2017

The Hungarian opposition shows signs of life

Momentum’s victory

The major news of the day is the overwhelming success of Momentum’s signature drive for a referendum on holding the 2024 Olympic Games in Budapest. They needed 138,000 signatures; they collected 266,151. Although the young leaders of the movement don’t seem to be overly grateful, about 60,000 of these signatures were collected by political parties on the left. LMP and Párbeszéd were especially active.

Momentum’s plan at the moment is to become a self-sufficient party. But I wouldn’t be surprised if closer cooperation among Momentum, Párbeszéd, and LMP would materialize, especially now that Párbeszéd has withdrawn from negotiations with MSZP and DK.

Viktor Orbán, who a few months ago considered hosting the 2024 Olympic Games “a matter of national significance,” a couple of days ago instructed the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary delegation to refrain from any comment in the event that Momentum gets the necessary number of signatures. His position now is that the central government supported the idea only after the Budapest City Council, including opposition members, voted to submit an application to the IOC.

Budapest mayor István Tarlós, although initially against holding the Olympics in Budapest, now stands by Viktor Orbán. He complains about “the betrayal of the opposition,” which a year and a half ago supported the idea heart and soul and now portrays itself as the defender of the people and the country. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth in this charge. Csaba Horváth (MSZP), József Tóth (MSZP), and Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd) supported the application. Even Erzsébet Gy. Németh (DK), who verbally disapproved of it, had the courage only to abstain. The sole person to vote against it was Antal Csárdi (LMP). Bravery and consistency are not the strong points of the Hungarian socialists and liberals.

Granted, given government pressure and the general Fidesz enthusiasm for the project, it was guaranteed to sail through the Budapest City Council. Still, those opposition city fathers who have been so loud of late in their disapproval of the project would look a great deal better if they had not bent under pressure and had instead voted their conscience. MSZP is especially hesitant to take a stand when its leaders believe, rightly or wrongly, that its voters might not approve of the party’s actions.

Tarlós indicated that once the final verdict on the number of signatures is announced, he “will think very seriously about withdrawing the application.” Given the enormous number of signatures collected, there is no doubt that the referendum request will be valid. And if the referendum were actually held, the “no’s” would carry the day. Tomorrow Publicus Intézet will publish its latest poll, according to which 76% of the total population would use the money for something much more important. The respondents could pick from several categories and obviously, since the numbers add up to more than 100%, could choose to allocate the saved funds to more than one urgent need. 65% of them opted for healthcare, 32% for education, 16% for the elimination of poverty, 11% for the creation of new jobs, and 8% for better infrastructure.

András Fekete-Győr proudly displaying the fruit of Momentum’s labor

The leaders of Momentum will embark on a two-month tour of the countryside where they plan to establish local party cells. András Fekete-Győr announced a few hours ago that the new party will have candidates in all 120 electoral districts. It intends to compete against the other opposition parties, although we know that fracturing the anti-Orbán forces is political suicide. Under the current electoral law, which is designed for a two-party system, a divided opposition can only lose. Nonetheless, for the time being Momentum is planning to follow in the footsteps of LMP, which doesn’t bode well for either Momentum or Hungarian democracy. László Bartus of Amerikai Magyar Népszava has already written an opinion piece in which he expresses his fears that Momentum is glossing over the distinction between Hungary prior to and after 2010.

László Botka’s program is shaping up

The anti-Orbán forces got some good news yesterday when Republikon Intézet published its poll on the popularity of current candidates for the post of prime minister. Viktor Orbán and László Botka are essentially neck to neck. Botka is only two percentage points behind Viktor Orbán (46% to 44%). What is especially significant is that Botka is by far the more popular candidate among undecided voters, 44% against Orbán’s 29%, a result that didn’t surprise me as much as it seems to have surprised the media. I have been convinced for a long time that if someone could inspire this group to vote, the majority would vote for a candidate on the left.

Many voters who sympathize with the “liberal” democratic parties in Hungary have been impatient with László Botka’s relative inaction since he announced that he intended to throw his hat in the ring. For example, although he promised to visit the chairmen of the smaller parties, he hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Yesterday I read that the first party he will visit will be LMP, an odd choice, I would say, since LMP’s willingness to negotiate with Botka is about zero.

On the other hand, Botka at last came out with an article, published in 168 Óra, in which he spells out at least part of his program. He embraces the idea of introducing a guaranteed basic income on an experimental basis in the most underdeveloped and poorest regions of the country. I assume that would be the northeastern corner and the County of Baranya along the Croatian-Hungarian border, both with large Roma populations. He also envisages introducing a supplement to pensions that do not provide enough income for survival. He would like to alleviate the difficulties younger people have in gaining access to affordable housing. He proposes that municipalities build apartment complexes, with apartments to be rented out at reasonable prices. He wants to change the flat tax system introduced by the second Orbán government to a progressive one. Moreover, he wants to introduce a property tax on high-priced real estate and luxury cars. In addition, Botka emphasized that education and health will his government’s priority.

I am curiously awaiting the reaction of the media and the general public. I’m sure that most of these goals will meet the expectations of the majority, although I don’t know how people will feel about the idea of a guaranteed basic income. I assume that MSZP will fully support these goals, but they will also have to be approved by those parties that are ready to stand behind Botka. The way things are going, very soon it will be only DK that Botka will have to negotiate with.

We already know the reaction of the government media to Republikon Intézet’s poll on Botka’s popularity. Here are some headlines: “Few people support László Botka on the left,” “Botka is not supported even on the left,” “László Botka is not popular.” The source of this information? Fidesz’s own pollster, Századvég.

February 17, 2017

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