How to run a successful campaign: Fidesz strategy
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.
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.