It is an open secret that some leading European politicians worry about adopting too stringent a stance toward the Orbán government in case of a backlash. Their fear, which is fed by the Hungarian government itself, is that too sharp a condemnation of Viktor Orbán and his regime might actually strengthen the prime minister’s hand and at the same time turn the majority of the population against the European Union.
I always thought that such fears were exaggerated. Viktor Orbán has been waging a war of words against the European Union for more than three years by now and, according to the latest polls, more than 50% of the population still think that there is no life for Hungary outside of the European Union. If the hard propaganda of recent years didn’t manage to make a greater dent in the EU’s popularity in Hungary, it is unlikely that a continuation of the same will greatly change the public mood.
Now thanks to Medián, perhaps the most reliable Hungarian polling firm, we have a more detailed description of Hungarian attitudes toward Viktor Orbán’s “war of independence.” Or perhaps one should describe Orbán’s attitude toward the outside world not as a single war of independence but rather as several wars directed against different entities, the European Union being just one of them. Admittedly, perhaps it is the most important target because the Union does have the power, however limited, to have a direct say about the governance of a member country.
Endre Hann, the CEO of Medián, just released a poll taken in June that shows that only 24% of the adult population think that these wars of independence are necessary. Most likely people would find it surprising, given Jobbik’s vehemently anti-Union rhetoric, that only 26% of Jobbik voters consider a war against the Union either necessary or desirable. The majority of Fidesz voters support their leader, but 32% of them still doubt the efficacy of such a strategy. So, says Hann, it is unlikely that this latest assault on the European Union in Strasbourg will translate into more support for Viktor Orbán.
Let’s look at some details of this poll. First, Medián listed seven potential “enemies” of Hungary: the IMF, international financial circles, international credit rating agencies, the European Union, multinational companies operating in Hungary, the United States, and Germany. Among these seven the least popular is the IMF. Almost half of the population (46%) think that Hungary must defend itself from the IMF. The nearly one-year-long “peacock dance” with and against the International Monetary Fund obviously made an impression, especially since government propaganda tried to convince the population that the IMF made all sorts of demands on the country. Medián also broke the figures down further. They ascertained that among those who support Orbán’s war of independence 71% percent considered the IMF the chief enemy. International financial groups and the international credit rating institutions followed close behind. And then came the “lesser” enemies.
As you can see from the first graph, 70% of Hungarians are opposed to Orbán’s war against Brussels. It is perhaps even more significant that half of those who in general support a forceful defense of Hungarian national interests think that the European Union should not be the target. When it comes to the United States and Germany, the numbers who support Orbán are insignificant.
Finally, Medián broke down the data by party preference. It was to be expected that Fidesz voters, on the whole, would support Viktor Orbán in his fight against the enemies of Hungary, but even they are not wholehearted supporters of the idea. The size of the group that has no opinion is fairly high, which might mean a degree of hesitation on their part.
There is nothing surprising about the voters of MSZP, Együtt 2014, and other smaller parties (which also includes DK), but the figures for those “without party” is highly significant. It is unlikely that Fidesz could get much support from this group at election time. The percentage of those who oppose Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy–if you can call his war of independence a foreign policy– is very close to the figure for voters of the opposition parties. That doesn’t bode well for Fidesz.
In brief, this poll shows that the European Union, which has every reason to regard Viktor Orbán as a menace and a danger to the democratic governance of the European Union, should not be fainthearted. It should stand up for democratic principles and not buckle under because of a fear of adverse repercussions in Hungary. Fidesz supporters are often loud. But decibels don’t always correlate with actual strength. Over a wide range of issues there are anti-government rumblings among the large bloc of unaffiliated voters, even some among Fidesz voters. And as far as Orbán’s fight with the outside world is concerned, it has only slim support at home. In his attempt to isolate Hungary he may be isolating himself.