Interview with Endre Hann of Medián: Intricacies of poll taking

I was once again lucky enough to receive a bunch of Hungarian newspapers and periodicals, among them the latest  Magyar Narancs (June 13). Most of the articles in this issue are still not on the Internet, so you’ll have to wait awhile to read the full interview with Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, perhaps the most reliable polling company in Hungary. I found the interview absolutely fascinating, so today I’m going to share some highlights from it.

Endre Hann regularly appears on ATV’s “Egyenes beszéd” after Medián’s results on the popularity of parties and politicians are released. But he has only about eight minutes to explain the details of their latest survey. So, he cannot really say more about the results than what can be read in the newspapers. As it is, Olga Kálmán usually urges him to hurry. Well, here Hann has ample opportunity to go into the details of their latest survey based on a large pool of 3,000 voters.

Question mark by Smart / flickr

Question mark by Smart / flickr

What did the researchers at Medián learn from this and previous polls? First and foremost, that today there are considerably more people than a year ago who think that the country’s economic prospects are getting better. They are relieved that the economy survived a possible bankruptcy. This finding doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe in a bright future, but while a year ago optimists accounted for only 13% of the sample this time their numbers doubled to 26%.

At the same time only 33% of the people would like to see this government continue in office after 2014. These are the hard-core Fidesz voters, for whom nothing can shake their trust in Fidesz and Viktor Orbán. They number about 1.5 million. Last June when Fidesz’s popularity hit rock bottom (with a 23% share) it was only voters from this hard core that stuck it out. Today the number of potential Fidesz voters is 2.3 million, defined as people who believe that the present government is on the right track.

But what may cheer the opposition is that 56% of the sample would like to see the Orbán government voted out of office. Out of this group 20% (1.5 million voters) would like a change of government but do not know yet whom they should vote for. For the opposition it is key to attract that large group of people.

Hann talks at length about the phenomenon of “hiding voters” who for one reason or other don’t want to reveal their party preferences. He recalls that as early as 1994 people believed that support for István Csurka’s MIÉP (Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja) was much higher than the numbers pollsters came out with. They were certain that MIÉP voters were too ashamed to admit that they would vote for such an extremist, anti-Semitic party. Hann himself never believed in those “hiding MIÉP voters” and in fact in 1994 MIÉP received only 1% of the votes. However, this time around he is not so sure that one doesn’t have to count on true hiders.

I might add here that in 2002 all pollsters with the exception of Medián grossly overestimated Fidesz’s strength. Some by as much as 10%. At that time polls were skewed because of the fear factor; respondents were worried that somehow the Orbán government would find out if they expressed a preference for the opposition. This time is very similar to the situation in 2002, except to an even greater degree. Therefore, even Hann doesn’t exclude the possibility that the figures arrived at month after month overestimate the strength of Fidesz and underestimate that of the opposition.

How can a pollster notice that the respondent doesn’t answer the questions honestly? Internal inconsistencies usually give them away. Normally the answers to specific questions reflect the person’s stated party preference. Lately, however, this is less and less so. The example Hann gives is the tobacconist shop concessions. According to Medián’s latest poll, only 19% of the electorate approve of the government’s deciding who can sell cigarettes while 73% are against it. When these people were asked whether there should be a re-examination of the concessions, more than 40% of the Fidesz voters answered in the affirmative. Almost 50% of Fidesz voters consider it “unacceptable that a party should intervene with the market processes and should provide business opportunities to its followers. ” Only one-third of Fidesz voters think that the concessions were allotted lawfully. Yet these people say that they will vote for Fidesz. Will these people actually vote for Fidesz even though they don’t agree with its policies? Hard to tell.

This is not the only issue on which the majority of Fidesz voters don’t support Fidesz’s policies. There is, for example, the question of voting rights for Hungarians living abroad, especially in the neighboring countries. The majority of Fidesz voters supported giving these people citizenship but two-thirds of them opposed granting them voting rights. And 58% of Fidesz voters disapproved of the law on religion that allows political interference in the affairs of religious communities. Fidesz voters were also unhappy with the idea of voter registration that eventually was abandoned by the party and consequently the government.

Another topic discussed in this interview is the relationship between the Fidesz “hard-core” and Jobbik. Medián asked their opinion on a possible coalition between Fidesz and Jobbik if Fidesz gets the majority of votes but not enough to form a government. 51% of the “hard-core” answered in the affirmative.

As for regional differences, everywhere outside of Budapest Fidesz is leading the pack. In Budapest, according to the findings of Medián, the opposition even today “could easily defeat Fidesz.” Jobbik is still doing very well in northeastern Hungary (16%) while nationwide it has only a 10% support.

There is also a fairly long discussion on the “popularity” of politicians. The reporter pointed out that in the last Medián poll Attila Mesterházy was 3% ahead of Gordon Bajnai. Yes, answered Hann, but this result can be misleading. One is not only popular because a lot of people like the person but because he/she is less divisive. Hann checked the popularity of Mesterházy versus Bajnai in different voting groups. Only 5% of Fidesz voters would like to see Bajnai in an important political position, while 10% feel the same way about Mesterházy. The situation is the same among Jobbik voters: 16% of them would like to see Mesterházy in a political position as opposed to 10% in Bajnai’s case. “Mesterházy’s momentary advantage is due to being less rejected on the right.” This result is not very surprising given the aggressive anti-Bajnai campaign, while the government propaganda barely touches Mesterházy.

Bajnai is definitely doing better with the voters of the so-called democratic opposition parties. In all parties he leads over Mesterházy–among sympathizers of Együtt 2014 (89%), of DK (64%), of LMP (56%). Even among MSZP voters 30% think that Bajnai is more qualified for the job of prime minister than MSZP’s chairman. Overall, 51% of the democratic opposition prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (43%). That is not a substantial difference. Translating it to actual numbers, we are talking about 200,000 voters. Among those who are against the present government but are still undecided as far as their party preference is concerned, 55% would prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (33%). The difference here is about 100,000.

Another piece of information I learned from this interview is that 16% of Együtt 2014 voters would in no way vote for MSZP while 20% of MSZP voters hate Bajnai’s party. Despite this, Hann is optimistic about the next election. If the two parties agree on a common candidate he sees no problem with joint support of that common candidate.

And finally a few words about potential voters for Együtt 2014. Medián registered a fairly high voter base for Együtt 2014 of 7%, which means about 600,000 voters.  This is a higher figure than the other pollsters came up with. Of these 7%, 25% claim that they voted for Fidesz  in 2010, 37% for MSZP, 10% for LMP, and 15% didn’t vote in 2010 either because of age or because of general disappointment with politics.

These are highly instructive details. Month after month we hear only superficial descriptions of the results from different polling companies, although it is their in-depth analysis that gives the most food for thought.


  1. Very interesting. I recall, however, that pollsters underestimated Jobbik’s strength in the 2009 EP elections. The polling firms were correct in noting in the run-up to the vote that Jobbik had the momentum, but I don’t recall them publishing numbers that were close to the surprisingly high 15% that Morvai’s list ended up receiving.

  2. I did a bit of digging….in the 2009 EP vote, Medián pegged Jobbik at 4%, when it published its final poll on May 27th, 2009. Századvég had Jobbik at 6% and Gallup at 5%. So it really did outperform the expectations of pollsters. That being said, I know that an EP vote (with a modest turn-out) does not a national election make.

  3. So what is the takeaway here? The opposition still has everything to fight for?

    One of the outcomes that has been interesting me recently is no party or group of parties with an overall majority but with Fidesz the biggest single party. What happens then? Nobody wants to join a coalition with Jobbik. Could Egyutt enter a coalition with Fidesz? Is that why we have this talk about ‘compromise’ recently.

  4. The system is designed and calibrated so that if Fidesz has the biggest block of voters supporting it then it will have a majority (and very easily 2/3 of the seats) in Parliament.

    Since there aren’t too many real parties Fidesz can singlehandidly get anywhere up from 30 % and depending on the results for the other parties, it can still have a majority (yes even with 30%) and with about 36-40% it can have a 2/3s.

    Why do you think Fidesz will not join a coalition with Jobbik? Also, define “joining a coalition”?

    Fidesz, as they have been doing for years in rural municpalities, will work with Jobbik just fine.

    Jobbik may not join the coalition officially (whatever that means), but they will get perks and poistions ane many of their proposals will get approved. This is how they work outside Budapest these days.

    You are being naive if you believe statments that “we will not do this or that”. Fidesz denied joining forces with the Smallholders back in 1998, and then they duly did a month later.

    This is Eastern Europe. Try think like a real Eastern European.

  5. DImsum: “This is Eastern Europe. Try think like a real Eastern European.”

    In the public libraries in my country, books on Hungary are allocated to the category “Central Europe”. I foresee that they will be reallocated soon, possibly jumping two categories.

    When I am trying to think like a real Eastern European my thoughts are not as outrageous as what is actually happening in Hungary. The Middle East is moving in.

    When I am trying to think like a Middle Easterner I cannot see why anybody believes that Orban will let the opposition get seats enough in the parliament to be a nuisance to himself. He can still invent a profusion of “legal” means to prevent it.

  6. Jean P: I guess DImSUm was alluding to the fact that Dan, for some reason, thought that nobody wants to join forces with Jobbik. I guess he thought so based on statments from Fidesz made to foreign politicians, observers etc.

    These foreigners eat Fidesz’ sh*t just because Martonyi or Szájer or even Orbán will talk to them for 20 minutes and have a “civilized personal conversation” with great coffee and pogácsa.

    Fidesz politicians will lie in the face of anybody and have the biggest fun when naive Westerners believe everything. They don’t even have try very hard.

    Westerners will believe anything because they positively want to believe that this time, this time really Orbán will be nice and return to being European. And that they made a good decision to accept Hungary etc. into the club. So they will keep believeing that Orbán is deep down a nice guy, only a bit of a toughy.

    No, he is not a Eurepan sytle politician. He is a wily dictator of a quasi post-colonial state.

    Western naivity and impotence and the fact that they don’t really care, are what makes Orbván and co. strong and powerful.

  7. tappanch :

    For the record:
    Finance minister Varga just announced tax hikes, two days before the EU meeting that is
    expected to approve the lifting of the excessive deficit procedure.

    The tax on your cash will be 0.6%/withdrawal.
    The tax on purchases will be 0.3%. (Plus the 27% VAT)
    The tax on interest will be 22%

    I had my suspicions that the -3% deficit cannot be maintained without a new austerity program. Moreover, I’m not at all sure that this is the end of the story.

  8. tappanch :
    For the record:
    Finance minister Varga just announced tax hikes, two days before the EU meeting that is
    expected to approve the lifting of the excessive deficit procedure.
    The tax on your cash will be 0.6%/withdrawal.
    The tax on purchases will be 0.3%. (Plus the 27% VAT)
    The tax on interest will be 22%

    So, if I take out some money from my bank account to buy a pair of shoes that costs 2000 forints, I will have to pay 120 forints of withdrawal tax, 60 forints for purchase tax, 540 forints for VAT = 2720 forints or 36 % total tax for a purchase.

  9. Some1 :

    So, if I take out some money from my bank account to buy a pair of shoes that costs 2000 forints, I will have to pay 120 forints of withdrawal tax, 60 forints for purchase tax, 540 forints for VAT = 2720 forints or 36 % total tax for a purchase.

    That’s what sounds like it. And the sad thing is that most people don’t even realize the whole horror of it.

  10. Back on the coalition thing again, I suppose what you may have – given the scenario that Fidesz or the opposition minus Jobbik does not have an outright majority – is a minority Fidesz government being supported on key issues like the budget from the outside by Jobbik. That’s a pretty horendous prospect. Is that possible? I just don’t think they can enter into an open coalition with Jobbik. You’d have a Haider situation where people start recalling their ambassadors. That really would be one step too far for the EU and I think you’d see far more appetite to suspend Hungary’s voting right. I also don’t see a reason at this point not to take at face value Fidesz’s statement that they wont enter into a coalition with Jobbik, if only becuase it would cross a line internationally. What I’m curious about is whether any of the other opposition parties could enter a coalition with Fidesz in the event of a tied election. That would seem unbeleivable for the MSZP and especially DK. That leaves Egyutt. I’m not suggesting an answer to this as I genuinely have no idea, maybe I’m just showing my ignorance of Hungarian politics.

  11. @Some1

    Do not give ideas to Fidesz….

    You will pay 2,552 forints for the pair of shoes from August 1.(unless they charged you an extra 0.3% for receiving your paycheck too. In this case, you paid 2,558 forints)

  12. Let me give you the full picture how the banks and the government have divided vs will divide the profit from the transaction fees using the example of a specific bank.

    Let W be the money you withdraw from the ATM, G be the government’s share, B the bank’s share of the fee.

    Between January 1 and August 1:

    If 0< W <= 70,000 HUF, then G= 0.3%*W and B= 210- G.
    If 70,000 <= W = 2,000,000 then G= 6,000 and B= 0.3%*W – 6,000.

    From August 1, possibly,

    If 0< W <= 70,000 HUF, then G= 0.6%*W and B= 420- G.
    If 70,000 <= W = 2,000,000 then then G= 0.6%*W and B= 0.

    The difference is that banks have made handsome profit on large withdrawals,
    now the government takes over 100% of the doubled fees from August 1.
    (unless the banks change the fee structure. In that case Orban can proffer himself again
    as the champion of the customers against the banks.)

  13. Eva S. Balogh :

    Some1 :

    So, if I take out some money from my bank account to buy a pair of shoes that costs 2000 forints, I will have to pay 120 forints of withdrawal tax, 60 forints for purchase tax, 540 forints for VAT = 2720 forints or 36 % total tax for a purchase.

    That’s what sounds like it. And the sad thing is that most people don’t even realize the whole horror of it.

    Just this afternoon I wanted to write about this:

    More and more of our friends (and other people around Hévíz) regularly travel to Austria to do some “heavy shopping” – just as in the last days of the Kadar regime …

    Because VAT/Afa in Austria is lower and competition is much stronger we see a lot of Hungarian cars when we buy at or just pass (on our way to/from Germany) the Austrian Lidl, Aldi, Interspar etc near the border.

    Now of course the crazy thing about this:

    Only “rich” people with a car and some money to spare can afford this – the relly poor have to do their shopping at he local CBA with its inflated prices!

    A friend of my wife (her pension can’t be so high) always pleads with us to bring her mineral water and other things from the Tesco or wherever – she can carry only one or two bottles – and the CBA price is at least 50 % higher …

    So the Fidesz logic is again:

    Steal from the poor to give to the rich!

  14. Eva S. Balogh :
    The Christian Democrats are upset about Gyurcsány’s criticism. They demand an apology

    I don’t give a damn about the “Christian Democrats,” but Gyurcsány’s praising Kádár’s “courage” in front of the house that had once belonged to a man whose execution Kádár ordered (especially on the 55th anniversary of said execution) was indeed tasteless.

    I’m referring to the following sentence: “Kádárnak volt bátorsága szabadabb levegőt csempészni a diktatúra egyébként dohos és bűzös falai közé és milliók úgy érezték, hogy egyre jobban élnek.”

  15. @Tyker: He wasn’t praising Kadar per se, you need to put this into its original context of Gyurcsany’s speech. Gyurcsany’s main idea was that Kadar, who was a dictator, smuggled small freedoms into the dictatorship in his later years, while Orban, who became PM of a democratic country, smuggles dictatorship into democracy.

    I think he did attribute too much goodwill to Kadar, though, in these “small freedoms” that were characteristics of the 80s in Hungary.. I’m not sure these were really Kadar’s intention or making, or he was just way too old to really control what was going on in the country.

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