Home > Uncategorized > How to run a successful campaign: Fidesz strategy

How to run a successful campaign: Fidesz strategy

December 16, 2012

An interesting video appeared today on the Internet, a twenty-minute “top secret documentary” from the infamous Pécs mayoral by-election. Why infamous? Because a year later, in April 2010, a recording emerged from a Fidesz gathering where Gábor Kubatov, the party’s legendary campaign strategist, told the select audience how they gathered detailed and accurate information on the electorate. I spent two posts on the topic. One was written on April 7, 2010 that bore the title “A bit awkward, Fidesz caught red handed” and the other a day later with the title “Further developments in the Kubatov affair.” I strongly suggest reading them again for the necessary background.

In the first post I expressed my belief that campaign laws are far too restrictive in Hungary because they forbid preparing lists of supporters. I argued that a modern campaign cannot be successful using outmoded methods. MSZP was a case in point. Here and there a candidate would stand on a street corner and distribute a few pamphlets. Otherwise the party plastered his name and face in places where campaign ads can be displayed. They also resorted to robo calls, which most people don’t listen to.

We all knew that Fidesz faithfully copied the American method of campaigning, minus registration by party. In the American system the parties are fairly well informed about who their potential supporters are. After all, they have lists of who registered as Republicans, Democrats, or independents. Of course, registration by party doesn’t obligate anyone to vote for this or that party, but at least it is an indication of possible intent. Door to door campaigning is still necessary, however. And on the day of the election party activists must make sure that their supporters actually went and voted. I described in some detail how by mid-afternoon on election day the party representatives at the polling stations who know who did and who didn’t vote start calling the laggards. This is also illegal in Hungary. And it is forbidden to offer someone a ride to the polls. But fret not. As the video I’m sharing with you amply demonstrates, Fidesz managed to copy even the American practice of getting out the vote.

But let’s start at the beginning. “Gery Greyhound” released a documentary he himself took during the 2009 mayoral election in Pécs. “Gery Greyhound” was an ardent Fidesz supporter in those days. He made two videos about the years between 2002 and 2010. One was called “Our Years” and the other “The Best of Gyurcsány.” The former is a collection of shocking and most likely questionable statistics while the latter is an antagonistic caricature of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Both can be seen on Greyhound’s own blog. The former 10-minute video can also be seen on YouTube, and more than 600,000 people have viewed it. Fidesz supporters normally flock to such sites.

So, no question, Greyhound was a Fidesz-Orbán devotee and he belonged to the inner circle. After all, he was entrusted with making a fairly lengthy video that described in detail how Fidesz collected information on the electorate in Pécs. He naturally had to swear to secrecy but, as he tells us, “that was a long time ago, and today the situation is different. I believe that all dirty business (disznóság) must become public and perhaps there will be a few people who after seeing this video will decide to tell the world about all the dirty business that happens in their own pig sties.”

This professionally executed video reveals the details of a highly professional campaign, using the Pécs election as a test case. Gábor Kubatov at the end of the video expresses his satisfaction with the system. Once all the information was gathered it took only 3-4 hours to have the final projected results. They predicted 43,000 votes for Fidesz; in reality the party received 38,700 votes. The Fidesz candidate, Zsolt Páva, got 65.83% of the votes.

The form activists had to fill out. Detailed situation report below

The form activists had to fill out. Detailed situation report below

How did it work? Hundreds of local activists scouted the city for at least two months prior to the election. They had a complete list of eligible voters that was compiled geographically. House by house, apartment by apartment. They also did some telephone campaigning. Once activists from all over the country came to reinforce the local effort the serious ground game began. Activists received a package that included a map and a list of voters living in their district. They had to memorize a one-page questionnaire designed to yield the most information from the potential voters. And they had to take careful notes. Whether the person approached is a devoted Fidesz voter or not; whether he is still undecided; whether the voter is pro-Fidesz but will not be at home on election day. They fed the data into a computer, using a program of their own devising, and out came the projected election results.

In Hungary there is a two-day campaign silence which restricts any last-minute electioneering. That problem was also solved in Pécs. The same activists revisited the Fidesz supporters in their districts on Sunday afternoon with a different set of campaign material. This time they urged people to vote for the European People’s Party in the upcoming European parliamentary elections. They were instructed to state that Fidesz belongs to the European People’s Party but to avoid mentioning the name of the Fidesz mayoral candidate. If, however, activists felt secure that they were in friendly company, they could gingerly find out whether people had already cast their ballot. But, as the activists remarked, one didn’t have to press them; most people happily announced that they had voted, and had voted for Fidesz. As Kubatov says at the end, it was so nice to hear people telling  him that “it was good to be Hungarian on that day.”

The videographer might be outraged, but I think MSZP and the other liberal parties could learn a thing or two from Gábor Kubatov about how to run a campaign.

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  1. gdfxx
    December 16, 2012 at 7:28 pm | #1

    Typical “Get the vote out” American-style. All American parties do this; the Democrats did it with overwhelming success in the recent presidential election.

  2. December 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm | #2

    gdfxx :

    Typical “Get the vote out” American-style. All American parties do this; the Democrats did it with overwhelming success in the recent presidential election.

    Perfect example.

  3. Ron
  4. lallwlwle
    December 17, 2012 at 6:31 am | #4

    The big difference is that in the US you are a registered Republican etc. It is open and you don’t mind people knowing your leanings and you don’t have a lot of legal protection to keep these info private either.

    In Hungary, by contrast, political views are considered by law sensitive private information (similar to sexual preferences or religion). They are also considered private, becaue they can be used, as they have been and are, to fire people wholesale (and there are so many ways these info can be abused). After all, there is a reason why ballots are secret.

    Having said that there is no way to win an election without such data bases and a well-oiled, trained, experienced campaign machinery. Fidesz fined tuned their mighty machinery in a number of election. It is a huge questionmark whether MSZP or Együtt or LMP has such a machinery (and the related leadership, routine etc.). Probably not, so this wil be a huge issue.

  5. gdfxx
    December 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm | #5

    lallwlwle :
    The big difference is that in the US you are a registered Republican etc. It is open and you don’t mind people knowing your leanings and you don’t have a lot of legal protection to keep these info private either.
    In Hungary, by contrast, political views are considered by law sensitive private information (similar to sexual preferences or religion). They are also considered private, becaue they can be used, as they have been and are, to fire people wholesale (and there are so many ways these info can be abused). After all, there is a reason why ballots are secret.
    Having said that there is no way to win an election without such data bases and a well-oiled, trained, experienced campaign machinery. Fidesz fined tuned their mighty machinery in a number of election. It is a huge questionmark whether MSZP or Együtt or LMP has such a machinery (and the related leadership, routine etc.). Probably not, so this wil be a huge issue.

    In the US there is a large block of voters registered as independent. Also, it is very common for people to register as voters of the party they oppose. This is especially the case in states with overwhelming majority of one or the other of the two major parties, because that is basically their only way to at least participate in the primary elections, where the actual winners are elected. In some states the primary elections are open, people can vote in a party’s primary even iof they are not registered with that party.

    Unfortunately, pressures are applied in the US too. For example may large companies have PACs (Political Action Committees) of their own and they expect all employees to contribute to those PACs. Unions support one candidate or another regardless of the wishes of the individual members. And so on. These actions accompanied buy large financial support.

    As the short film shows, organizing such an action is not that difficult, no big amounts of money are needed, it just requires committed volunteers and a few professional organizers.

  6. pun DR
    December 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm | #6

    The Hungarian result is terrible. Orban is a disaster.
    On the other hand, in opposition to my good liberal buddies, I think that the Obama machine is also a transparently failed administration.
    As silly the republicans act, the McCains and Romneys were my preferences.

  7. Some1
    December 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm | #7

    pun DR :
    The Hungarian result is terrible. Orban is a disaster.
    On the other hand, in opposition to my good liberal buddies, I think that the Obama machine is also a transparently failed administration.
    As silly the republicans act, the McCains and Romneys were my preferences.

    …I am sorry but I never seen your posts here, so why would it be of our interest that you preferred the republicans? So, what do you think about Hungarian politics that is very much the subject of the blog?

  8. Madach
    December 17, 2012 at 6:27 pm | #8

    Kubatov certainly has the reputation of being a smart operator, and you may be right that he applies the most recent tricks of the big American parties. But I find it worrying that he and his team consciously appear to elude Hungarian legislation, and in some cases to engage in illegal behaviour. Given that this strategy has already resulted in very negative publicity for Fidesz, I doubt whether it will benefit them in the end. Other parties have been able to win elections in Hungary without using below-the-belt tactics. I would prefer if some other aspects of American democracy would be imported, for example if our political parties would present a detailed and realistic program before every national election. Fidesz won the election with a vague and rosy program; and now look what a mess they make of government.

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