Tag Archives: Závecz Research Institute

Growing dissatisfaction with the Orbán government

A fascinating study was released today, “Dissatisfied voters in Hungary,” the joint work of Policy Solutions and Závecz Research with the assistance of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Budapest. It is a 35-page report jam-packed with information and data to which I can’t possibly give justice here. Those who know Hungarian can read a summary of it in an HVG article with the catchy title “At last we know who the dissatisfied Fidesz voters are.”

We can learn a lot about the present mood of the country from this poll, conducted during the months of October and November and based on personal interviews with 2,000 respondents. Perhaps the most important conclusion is that although the monthly polls on the relative strength of the parties still show Fidesz way ahead, the Orbán government cannot rest on its laurels. I’m sure that Századvég and Nézőpont Intézet, the two polling companies that provide the government with vital data on the mood of the country, have already presented Fidesz with most of the information we can glean from the study under review.

The message is that 61% of the electorate are unhappy with the performance of the government. This level of dissatisfaction may be behind the sudden decision of the Orbán government to raise the minimum wage. In addition, after some hesitation the government announced that as of January 1, 2017 it will raise old-age pensions by 1.6% as opposed to the planned 0.9%. Moreover, as a “Christmas gift” each pensioner will receive a 10,000 Ft “Erzsébet card,” which is a kind of government gift card.

The public response to these measures was that the sudden “generosity” of the government has something to do with the coming election. I’m not convinced. The announcement is far too early. The 2018 election, if the government follows past practice, is more than a year and four months away. People’s memories are very short, so one would have to question the wisdom of making this kind of an announcement so early in the game. It is enough to recall what happened in 2002 when Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy’s government raised all teachers’ and doctors’ salaries by 50%. They were not grateful for long.

The gloomy picture that emerges from the pages of the Political Solution-Závecz report leads me to believe that Fidesz’s primary consideration in raising the lowest wages and pensions was not so much preparation for the next election as a recognition that dissatisfaction is growing now. This dissatisfaction poses a threat to Fidesz, especially if the opposition manages to show some strength in the coming months.

In the past, polls consistently showed that villages and very small towns were Fidesz strongholds. We were also told that Fidesz voters, by and large, come from the less educated strata of society. Yet this poll shows that people who live in small villages are the most dissatisfied with their lot. A great deal more so than people in Budapest. In the capital only 55% of the inhabitants think that “Hungary is heading in the wrong direction” while in the villages this figure is 63%. This is even truer of pensioners, 68% of whom are pessimistic about the future and only 25% of whom are happy with the present government.

Commentators complain, rightly so, about the hasty manner in which the Orbán government makes decisions, but I’m certain that panic set in when the Fidesz high command realized how widespread the dissatisfaction is, especially in the countryside. It was bad enough that in the past they had to worry about Budapest and the large cities, now they seem to be losing the village folks. In fact, dissatisfaction in Budapest is lower than the national average of 61%.

green = satisfaction; salmon: = dissatisfaction; blue = doesn't know

green = satisfaction; red = dissatisfaction; blue = doesn’t know

Another significant piece of information from the study is that the least-educated people are the most dissatisfied and that university graduates are the least dissatisfied: 83% versus 50%. Clearly, the growing impoverishment and the ever larger gap between rich and poor is taking a political toll. The Orbán government’s conscious decision to enrich the better-off strata of society while exacting a 16% flat tax from even those on minimum wage created a serious social problem, with the number of people living under the poverty line continuing to grow. Whether the latest measures will remedy the situation we of course don’t know, but I personally doubt that the large number of pensioners will be appeased by a 1.6% raise and a 10,000 Ft. gift card.

In addition, the poll produced a political profile of the electorate which I hope the opposition parties will study and try to learn from. Many politicians and commentators are convinced that the opposition can get new voters “only from the center.” Some, like Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, formerly of MDF and DK, are trying to find this center among disenchanted Fidesz voters. Others, however, point out that inveterate Fidesz voters are unlikely to vote for the liberal parties. They may remain at home as they did at the by-elections, which deprived Fidesz of its two-thirds majority almost two years ago. In any case, the number of disappointed Fidesz supporters is relatively small, at 5%.

The answer can be found elsewhere. The data show that the largest group among the disenchanted are the undecided voters (22%). The opposition should target this group instead of trying to court the nonexistent “middle.” I may add that the socialist-liberal camp makes up 17% and Jobbik voters 12% of this large group of people.

Finally, given the dissatisfaction in the countryside and in the agricultural sector in general, the opposition parties should ramp up their efforts in small towns and villages. These people are hard to reach by the media or the internet. It is not enough to give innumerable interviews on ATV. The largest party on the left, MSZP, has completely neglected the countryside. They no longer have activists there, without whom there is no way to establish contact with the most disappointed, poorest strata of society.

Thus, in my opinion, the strategy should be two-pronged. On the one hand, the opposition should try to awaken the apathetic undecided voters and, on the other, they should build a network of activists with whose help they could build support on the local level. Without such hard work they will never be successful.

November 30, 2016

Despite an all-out effort, enthusiasm for the referendum is shrinking

A friend of mine just returned from a short trip to Hungary and phoned to report on her impressions. She is one of those American-Hungarians who closely follows Hungarian news and is well aware of the tremendous effort the Orbán government has put into ensuring that the referendum on the non-existent compulsory quotas will be valid and that it will pass with a very large majority. Even so, she was not expecting the barrage of giant billboards lining the road from the airport to Budapest. “You have to be there to feel the atmosphere this campaign creates,” she said. No wonder. According to reports, there is a billboard every 40 meters.

tudta-kampany

The intensity of the campaign has been growing steadily ever since, at the end of February, Viktor Orbán announced his intention to hold a referendum. For Orbán a successful referendum, requiring the participation of more than half of the electorate, seems to be a matter of life and death. This is not an exaggeration. Only two days ago, at the Fidesz picnic at Kötcse, he used the phrase himself. What is waiting for him is a fight with Brussels which must be won because otherwise the death of the nation will be waiting for Hungarians.

Gábor Török, one of the numerous political commentators, questioned the wisdom of the prime minister for putting so much emphasis on the referendum. What if too few people show up and the referendum is not valid? That would be a real embarrassment.

Why is Orbán trying so hard to get out the vote? Even if he didn’t reach the magic 50% + 1 threshold, polls last month showed that over 80% would vote “no,” as the government wants. This result would still show tremendous support for Viktor Orbán’s migration policies. One possible rationale for Orbán’s frantic scramble for votes is that this referendum is not so much about the migrants as it is about gauging (and beefing up) his current level of support.

Admittedly, if more than half of the electorate were to vote massively in line with the wishes of the government, his hand would be strengthened at gatherings of the European Council. “You see, my support at home is overwhelming.” Moreover, he could rest assured that he will remain prime minister for some time to come. But let’s say that only 37% of the electorate turned out to vote on October 2. Not only would he look weak in Brussels, he would look weak at home as well. Especially since the opposition parties more or less unanimously, if belatedly and in some cases half-heartedly, have finally agreed to support a boycott of the referendum. If 63% of eligible voters stay home, there is no way to know how many of them were just lazy or indifferent and how many were active boycotters.

Last week an article appeared in Élet és Irodalom by Mária Vásárhelyi, who is known to readers of Hungarian Spectrum because we have discussed her sociological studies extensively here over the past few years. It is titled “Népakarat vagy politikai manipuláció” (Will of the people of political manipulation). In it she convincingly argues that “in dictatorships and autocracies referendums are the most effective means of political manipulation,” an assertion she supports by pointing to the frequent referendums held in Hitler’s Germany. One of Hitler’s first moves after becoming chancellor was to change the law on referendums: they could be initiated only by the government. Vásárhelyi calls attention to the fact that the Orbán government in 2010 also changed the law on referendums and since then has done everything in its power to prevent holding any referendums initiated by the public. If a referendum in an autocratic regime is intended to increase support for the regime, the fact that the democratic opposition parties haven’t managed to come together and formulate one common message against the referendum “is an unforgivable sin against Hungarian democracy,” she concludes.

Vásárhelyi wrote those lines before the latest Závecz Research poll about the referendum came out. You may recall that a month ago I wrote an article titled “Orbán’s anti-refugee propaganda is a roaring success,” in which I reported on a survey conducted by the same polling company at the end of July. “The enthusiasm is tremendous,” I wrote. “At the moment the majority of the population (54%) plans to vote. If they actually follow through, the referendum will be both valid and, from the government’s viewpoint, stunningly successful. Only 19% of the population claim they will stay at home. Another 23% haven’t decided yet. Of those who intend to vote, 85-90% will vote ‘no.’”

Závecz Research repeated the survey at the end of August, when the opposition parties’ campaign hadn’t yet started. The hilarious anti-referendum posters of the Magyar kétfarkú kutya párt (party of the dog with two tails) were not yet on the streets. Nevertheless public enthusiasm for the referendum dropped considerably in the past month. Tibor Závecz now feels fairly certain that it will not be valid. The number of people who will vote to support the government has dropped and the number of undecided voters has grown. In July 54% of the electorate was intent on voting while today this number is only 41%. That is a very considerable change.

Here are some details. Support from Fidesz voters is pretty much unchanged. Sixty-four percent of them would go and vote “no.” But the number of those who would vote “yes,” that is against the government, has grown from 5.5 to 8.1%.

The changes that occurred in the month of August are most striking in the case of Jobbik voters, who in July were as enthusiastically supportive of the government’s position as Fidesz voters were (61.8%). That number in August has shrunk to 47%. The number of Jobbik supporters who will go and vote against the government has grown substantially, from 3.8% to 8.5%.

DK’s message has been very effective all along. It was a simple slogan: “Stay at home, stay in Europe.” Their supporters got the message. Seventy-three percent of them will boycott the referendum and 10.8% of them will vote “yes,” which is twice as large as it was in July.

MSZP with its mixed messages managed to confuse its already confused electorate. Their reactions are all over the map, but the upshot is that almost 15% of MSZP voters intend to vote “no,” which must be translated as support for the Orbán government. In addition, 20.2% of MSZP voters indicated that they would vote but claimed they haven’t decided how they will vote, which can easily mean a pro-Fidesz vote. About 20% haven’t decided whether they will vote or not and only 31% say they will stay at home, which is practically the same as it was a month ago. MSZP’s new leadership has proved to be an ineffective lot, perhaps because its members are split on the issue. Some of them share Orbán’s anti-immigrant stance, while others take the position that they have to keep in mind their supporters’ views, which are not exactly friendly toward the migrants. A good summary of MSZP’s attitude toward the referendum can be found in today’s 168 Óra.

A few days ago, in an interview, Richárd Szentpéteri-Nagy, a political analyst with the Méltányosság Politikaelemző Központ (Equity Center for Political Analysis), went further. He suspects that there are “a fair number of people within MSZP who are directly or indirectly maneuvered, instructed by Fidesz.” Mária Vásárhelyi puts forth another hypothesis. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that the “mischievous” MSZP is perhaps already thinking of a possible Fidesz-MSZP coalition.

That’s where we stand at the moment. Only DK and the two other small parties, Együtt (Together) and PM, are consistent and steadfast opponents of the Orbán government which, as a friend told me, is being encircled with “increasingly quiet hatred.” The question is what this currently quiet electorate will do and whether there will be anyone to turn to for leadership when the time comes.

September 12, 2016

Orbán’s anti-refugee propaganda is a roaring success

I think it is time to report on the incredible hate campaign under way in Hungary in preparation for the October 2 referendum on the nonsensical question: “Do you want the European Union, without the consent of Parliament, to order the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?” The outcome of this referendum is of the utmost importance to Viktor Orbán even though it has no tangible consequences. The government is sparing neither money nor energy to ensure that the referendum is valid (that is, that more than 50% of the eligible voters participate) and that the vote is overwhelmingly in favor of the government’s position on the refugee issue.

The official campaign begins on Sunday, August 13, but the government, as usual, has paid no attention to the campaign laws of the country. For months it has been conducting a kind of “informatory intelligence drive” to prepare voters on the subject of the referendum. Of course, this is just a fancy name for illegal campaigning. For months now the government has paid for newspaper ads as well as for TV and radio spots. A month ago several huge billboards appeared in a format similar to the earlier ones that “sent a message to Brussels.”

All “messages,” this time to the Hungarian voters, start with “Did you know?” and end with “Referendum, October 2, 2016.” Let’s take them one by one and fact-check them. (1) “Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis more than 300 people died as a result of terror attacks in Europe?” (2) “Did you know that Brussels wants to settle a whole city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary?” (3) “Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis the harassment of women has risen sharply in Europe?” (4) “Did you know that the Parisian terror attacks were committed by immigrants?” (5) “Did you know that just from Libya close to one million immigrants want to come to Europe?” (6) “Did you know that last year one and a half million immigrants arrived in Europe?”

One of the six billboards carrying anti-refugee messages

One of the six billboards carrying anti-refugee messages

As is obvious, government propaganda used a number of tricks to scare the population. For example, how big is a city? Hungary has a very long list of settlements designated as cities. Balatonföldvár with a population of 2,064 is a city, and so is Budapest with 1.75 million. I couldn’t find any with a population as small as 1,300, the number of refugees Hungary would have to take in.

One can also find outright lies among these assertions. For example, between November 2015 and July 14, 2016 there were 259 terror victims in Europe, not more than 300. I suspect that the government propagandists included in their number the victims of the terrorist attacks in Turkey. As for how many Libyans want to come to Europe in the future, this is mere speculation.

And a takeoff "Did you know that they consider you 100% stupid?

And a takeoff:  “Did you know that they consider you 100% stupid?”

The accuracy of these slogans, however, is irrelevant as far as their effectiveness is concerned. A year and a half has gone by since Viktor Orbán began a concerted hate campaign against “the migrants.” His efforts have been spectacularly successful. In Hungary 76% of the respondents now link refugees with terrorism. Moreover, 82% of Hungarians surveyed are convinced that refugees will be a burden on the social system. Viktor Orbán can be proud of his propaganda.

It has never been in doubt that those who vote in the referendum will overwhelmingly support the government position. The only question is whether the referendum will be valid. It was for this reason that some of those opposing the government and Orbán’s handling of the refugee issue urged a boycott of the referendum. Unfortunately, as usual, there was no cohesion among the democratic parties. Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció sent a clear message from the beginning. All of its leading politicians spoke with one voice: a boycott is the only reasonable reaction to this totally useless and misleading referendum question. The others were less explicit. MSZP politicians are well known for airing their personal opinions without taking into consideration the party’s official position. Or, often, the official position comes too late and by that time voters have heard three different opinions coming from three different MSZP politicians. Then there is LMP. In her incredible performance at the Fidesz-organized Bálványos Summer Free University, Bernadett Szél supported Fidesz’s call for a ‘no’ vote. By now, the party has settled for the position that “they have no opinion on the subject.” Their followers can vote (or not vote) their conscience.

At the beginning of August Závecz Research conducted a telephone survey to find out whether people intended to vote in the referendum. The enthusiasm is tremendous. At the moment the majority of population (54%) plan to vote. If they actually follow through, the referendum will be both valid and, from the government’s viewpoint, stunningly successful. Only 19% of the population claim they will stay at home. Another 23% haven’t decided yet. Of those who intend to vote, 85-90% will vote “no.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the survey is a table that links voter intentions  to party preference, especially those who decided to boycott the referendum. It looks as if only DK’s message was effective in that respect. Almost 70% of its supporters got the message and will boycott the referendum; another 20% are still undecided. MSZP with its mixed messages only managed to confuse its followers: 30% will boycott, 37% are still undecided, 17% will go but don’t how they will vote, and 11% will vote and will vote “no.” One commentator went so far as to state that “Orbán can win this referendum only with MSZP votes because there are not four million Fidesz and Jobbik voters.” But “other parties,” where LMP most likely figures large, may also contribute. Only 23% will boycott, 27% will support the government’s position, and 36% haven’t yet decided whether they will go to the polls.

Závecz Research’s survey most likely underestimates the size of the number of voters on October 2 because, for obvious reasons, they couldn’t conduct a poll among ethnic Hungarians living in the neighboring countries, among whom fierce government campaigning is taking place at present. Perhaps 100,000 ethnic Hungarians will vote on October 2 in addition to the bona fide inhabitants of the country. In 2014, 128,378 of them voted in the national election and they overwhelmingly (85.49%) supported Fidesz. The government has made it extremely easy for them to vote in Hungarian elections and referendums. Without much oversight they can vote by mail while Hungarians born in Hungary but currently working somewhere in Europe, the Americas, or Australia can vote only at Hungarian embassies or consulates, often very far from their home. The Orbán government is adamant on the subject. It even used its overwhelming majority in the Constitutional Court to support the indefensible: to maintain a distinction between Hungarians depending on their domicile. They must know what they are doing.

August 9, 2016

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