The current Hungarian political scene: Three polls full of question marks

It just happened that the three most important polling companies–Ipsos, Medián, and Tárki–released their findings on the popularity of the parties only a few hours from each other. Ipsos and Tárki are pretty much in sync; Medián’s findings diverge from the other two.

Medián acquired its high reputation at the time of the 2002 election, an election that MSZP-SZDSZ won by a very small margin. The loss came as an utter surprise to Viktor Orbán, especially since all other pollsters had predicted a huge Fidesz victory. Medián accurately predicted a narrow MSZP-SZDSZ win.

It may be Medián’s methodology that accounts for its different results. In an interview with Olga Kálmán on ATV yesterday Endre Hann of Medián emphasized that their numbers are arrived at after personal interviews. From this I gathered that perhaps the others contact the voters via telephone. Mind you, if that is the difference, personal interviews, given the atmosphere of fear in the country, might actually distort the findings in favor of Fidesz.  Hann himself admitted that 30% of the people selected as members of the study’s representative pool simply refused to be interviewed.

All three agree that Fidesz’s lead is large, but according to Medián it is so enormous that it is unlikely that the democratic opposition parties can catch up with the government party. In addition, Medián sees a steady growth of Fidesz support while Ipsos and Tárki see no appreciable difference between the numbers today and six or seven months ago. The third important Medián figure that differs greatly from the findings of the other two is the number of those who still don’t know which party they are going to vote for. According to Medián, only 28% of the electorate are either hiding their intentions or really have no idea what they are going to do at the next election. According to Ipsos and Tárki, this number is much higher, 43 and 42% respectively. All three, however, agree that the numbers on the left have not changed. The only shift is that MSZP and E14 have lost some potential voters to DK.

Medián’s finding that Fidesz support among the electorate as a whole is 37% is so different from the 26% and 28% of  Ipsos and Tárki that at first I thought I made a typo. However, when it comes to Fidesz support among those who claim that they will definitely vote at the next election Medián’s 52% is more in line with the figures of Ipsos (47%) and Tárki (48%), which makes the 37% even more difficult to understand.

I decided to calculate the average of the results of the three pollsters and came up with the following figures. In the electorate as a whole Fidesz leads 30.3% to 24.5% for the four democratic parties: MSZP, E14-PM, DK, and LMP. Among the active voters Fidesz support is even greater: 49% as opposed to the democratic opposition’s 33.5%. Fidesz’s followers are ready to go and vote while the sympathizers of the other four parties are a great deal less committed. Fidesz has always had a higher turnout, which is due in part to the party’s ability to organize and motivate its voters. Another party that seems to have the ability to inspire its voters is DK, which resulted in the party’s either catching up to or surpassing E14-PM, depending on the poll.

Although I always follow the polls, I’m not sure how important these findings are when 42-43% of the electorate either refuse to divulge their preference or don’t know how they will vote. Even if we add to these figures Medián’s low 28%, the average comes to 37.6%. That means at least a couple of million people. So, it is important to learn something about this group. Thanks to Ipsos’s research, we have some sense of where these people stand politically.

question mark1

Ipsos defines some subcategories within this group. One is what Ipsos calls the “active undecided.” These people claim that they will definitely vote but they don’t see any party at the moment that they could vote for. These people belong primarily to the 40 to 50 age group and live in smaller towns and villages. Fifty-eight percent of them believe that “the country is heading in the wrong direction.” Thirty-seven percent think that there should be a change of government and only 22% consider the job of the government good or excellent.

Another subcategory is “Unsure voters who can be activated.” This group makes up 9% of the electorate. Currently they say that they will probably vote but they are not absolutely sure. These people haven’t found a party they would vote for. This group consists mostly of 20- to 30-year-olds with at least a high school education. Two-thirds of them are dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Hungary and 45% would like to see Viktor Orbán and his party leave. Only 25% of them think that “the country is heading in the right direction” and a mere 17% believe that “the country is in good hands.”

The third subcategory of Ipsos is the group whose members “have a favorite party but they are passive or at least they are hesitant about their participation in the election process.” This is a large group, one-fourth of the electorate, which means 2 million voters. Ipsos believes that if this group could be mobilized they would assist Fidesz because 25% of earlier Fidesz voters are passive at the moment. Ipsos calculates 800,000 extra Fidesz voters from this group. According to their calculation, MSZP has 500,000 potential voters in this group, while E14-PM, DK and LMP could gain 100,000 voters each which, if Ipsos’s calculation is correct, means a potential 800,000 voters on the democratic side. In brief, it could be a wash if everyone in this group actually went to the polls–admittedly, an unlikely scenario.

I’ve said nothing about Jobbik, a party that cannot be ignored. Not because it has such a large share of the votes but because it must be viewed as a potential coalition partner or supporter of a Fidesz government if Orbán doesn’t manage to get a two-thirds majority. One must not discard such a possibility. Viktor Orbán is ready to do anything to remain in power. Even a huge international outcry and sanctions against Hungary wouldn’t deter him from collaborating with a neo-Nazi party. As I often say, cooperation shouldn’t be very difficult between the two parties because one doesn’t know where Fidesz ends and Jobbik begins.

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28 comments

  1. All polls are irrelevant.
    After living 40 years in the West, I can see how badly Hungary has fared after the breakup of Monarchy.
    A pool of very bitter and angry people populate the land.
    Many little selfish circles fight doggedly for their separate happiness.
    The common future is taking the backseat.
    The common cause is not a important fact to most.
    I feel that the best ones are just tired of the state of Hungary.
    The young ones are fleeing in droves.
    The best advice is to keep reading the Hungarian Spectrum and nepszava.com.
    We will hear from these sites when the wind begins blowing in the better directions.

  2. Counting imaginary numbers while Hungary burns..

    No polls needed to know that Fidesz will get another thumping win, probably another 2/3 majority, the left will get fewer votes/seats, and Jobbik will get about the same. Smaller parties like DK and LMP will be lucky to get one or two MPs, possibly none.

  3. The situation is NOT hopeless, IF the opposition were able to unite!

    Suppose, Fidesz does not lose popularity from now to election day – it will.

    Here is the scenario:

    —————-
    Say, the 40% who do not answer pollsters now will split their vote in April:
    20% will not vote, 15% for opposition, 5% for Fidesz.

    Fidesz will have 27% from current polls +5%+5% from Romania & Serbia *

    Democratic opposition will have 22% from current polls +15%

    That gives equal number of votes for Fidesz and democratic opposition party lists,
    but more opposition votes for individual district seats *, so Fidesz loses the election.
    (outright electoral fraud will make it worse for Fidesz)
    ——————

    So Gyurcsany and others are absolutely right in this – the opposition must unite.

    Mesterhazy should be pushed aside by MSzP leadership, if he wants to prevent a united opposition.

  4. I am one of 372 Hungarian-American who as of Dec 18 signed up and registered to vote. (You can follow up-to-date information at http://valasztas.hu/ ) Right now I have no idea how I will vote. I will never vote for Jobbik or any configuration that has Gyurcsany in it. For now I am supporting the Two-tailed Dog Party , as a placeholder, but I am anxiously awaiting developments in the next few months.

  5. I said it many times. Statistics, and therefore, polls are not about the result currently, but about the trend. Fluctuations are by definition distorting, as there is always a margin of error build in.

    However, if you follow the trend over a period of time you find that the three parties are more of less the same.

    What i do miss is the question about: Would you vote if the opposition unite? And/or a question about: If the opposition would change only the constitution, change media law, and election law and then dissolved for new elections. Would you vote?

    Without an united front Fidesz will remain in power, directly or indirectly.

  6. Polls, they think its a game here. The questionnaires are biased, full of double-triple negatives, the data processing can be made into a sham, and even those asking the questions may well be paid for obtaining the ‘right answer’ as desired on a case-by case basis by the polling company and the ‘megrendelő’ (client).

    The concept of Stahanovista (max. producer…) for pay is never far below the surface.

  7. Sackhoes Contributor :
    I am one of 372 Hungarian-American who as of Dec 18 signed up and registered to vote.

    I would participate in an election only if Jobbik and FIDESZ will be banned from the ballots.
    Furthermore, I would visit Hungary only if the many Garda formations, Betyar gangsters, Turul breeders etc. will disappear from the streets.

  8. Orban has always distanced himself from the Jobbik. It is unfair and biased to think otherwise. By the way, the Jobbik would feel quite at home in the US Republican Party. Yet none of you, including Eva, is renouncing his or her US citizenship.

  9. Joe I agree with you: in the past Fidesz has more or less distanced itself from Jobbik. But if the results of the election return Fidesz/KDNP with less than 50% of the seats and they are forced to enter into a coalition, which party would be the least offensive to them? MSzP? DK? E14? Or would it be Jobbik? My bet is that they would choose Jobbik, even while holding their noses. BTW the same dilemma might exist on the other side too. A less than 50% Fidesz victory would mean that all the opposition parties in coalition with Jobbik could form a government if Fidesz s unable to find a coalition partner.

  10. “I would participate in an election only if Jobbik and FIDESZ will be banned from the ballots.”
    I would turn your logic around and vote in order to diminish the strength of Jobbik and Fidesz. You can’t kick a goal from the stands, you’ve got to play on the field.

  11. @Joe Simon,

    Orban created Vona in 2003. (sounds like a sentence from the Bible of Fidesz)

    Fidesz and Jobbik fielded joint candidates at several places in 2006.

    Important:
    Fidesz have erased their own history too – they removed Orban’s old speeches

    from their website recently.

    —————

    I understand Orban’s tactics more with respect to the VAT fraud scandal now.

    Horvath, the whistle-blower, could not reveal the names to the public, because
    he would have been jailed for it.

    He could have disclosed the names to the parliamentary committee, but Fidesz
    prevented it from convening several times.

    After these deliberate stalling tactics, they ordered police to raid Horvath’s home
    and seize the evidence.

    Today an insolent Orban asked why Horvath does not reveal the names.
    Without names, times he cannot do anything, he said.
    Of course, he exactly knows what Horvath had in the “green folder” by today.

    http://444.hu/2013/12/20/orban-torvenysertesre-szolitotta-fel-horvath-andrast/

  12. tappanch :
    I think the raid was another milestone in the rapid decline of Hungary to dictatorship.

    Digitally Documenting the Decline

    Yes, and if Hungarians and the rest of the world sit by passively (or worse) as this all goes on with impunity, we will have a clear lesson in our own times, with all eyes watching, of how evil manages to prevail in human history.

    No more need for historians to hunt and hypothesize…

    It would be illuminating, if it were not so revolting.

  13. Happy to announce that our 1,000th follower just signed up. Someone predicted that we will reach this magic number by the end of the year. Well, we achieved it a bit earlier. Congratulations to all.

  14. Tappanch: the booklet was important only from the point of view of mapping Horvath’s contacts and what he knows, ie. his potential to be dangerous. Fidesz likes to prepare well, one underestimates Fidesz if they think it will let this case just linger on. Fidesz had to act and act decisevely. If Horvath is lucky he will spend the next 7-10 years in front of various courts but get acquitted eventually. That is nowadays the minimum in Hungary for upsetting Fidesz’ detailed election campaign by causing surprizes. Nobody likes bad surprizes, but Fidesz especially doesn’t. I guess Horvath was also a bit naive to keep important info in his apartment, as it was quite likely that he was going to end up the fall guy. Hungary is exactly like Putinland, methods are exactly the same.

  15. One rule of thumb re Fidesz. Fidesz since at least 2002 never averaged below 40-45% nationally. In 2010 it even went over 50% given the backlash (fuelled by Fidesz) after MSZP’s rule. Now the question is more like is there any special reason to think that Fidesz is below its long term average of 40-45%, with which it can surely get 2/3s in the Parliament?

    One can assume that those who voted for Fidesz as a protest may have gotten disillusioned, so Fidesz went back to the long term average. One could also assume that some of the long-term Fidesz supporters moved over to Jobbik (at least one of their votes will go to Jobbik). The question is then can we imagine that those long-term Fidesz supporters who are extremely well-organized and hyped up moved to other parties? I guess not, perhaps some points to LMP, some points to Együtt, but not more than 2-3% altogether. At the same time the electorate changed, because potentially disgrunteled voters left Hungary (are excluded from voting), while happy ethnic Hungarian voters joined and are being actively canvassed by Fidesz’ proxies.

    As a result, I would say Fidesz is well on its way to get 40-45% nationally again. Against Fidesz a joint left may be able to muster more votes, though even that is a a big question, since Jobbik is probably strong with at at least 15%.

    Bottom line: there is still a low chance of an opposition win if the left gets united (query as to whether it could govern effectively) without 2/3s, probably not), but if only MSZP and Együtt join forces, Fidesz likely ends up with 2/3s and surely together with Jobbik. In orther words, my feeling is that MSZP and Együtt cannot prevent a Fidesz – Jobbik 2/3s coalition (they will deny that it is a government, but it will be a coalition in all but name given the importance of 2/3s in the Hungarian constitutional system).

  16. @Bruno

    ” Fidesz since at least 2002 never averaged below 40-45% nationally. In 2010 it even went over 50%”

    Fidesz received the vote of 33% of the electorate in 2010.

  17. wolfi :
    Congratulations, Eva!
    And now I’m maybe your 10001st follower – took me a long time …

    Congratulations too.

    But what exactly is a “follower”? If it means that HS posts appear on your FB, then I am one. If it doesn’t, then I would like to be number 1002!

  18. Joe Simon :
    Orban has always distanced himself from the Jobbik. It is unfair and biased to think otherwise. By the way, the Jobbik would feel quite at home in the US Republican Party. Yet none of you, including Eva, is renouncing his or her US citizenship.

    I would happily renounce it, Joe, but I, like I suspect most of HS readers, am not a US citizen.

    But I appreciate you’ve never been one to let facts get in the way, so don’t let it trouble you.

  19. tappanch :
    The situation is NOT hopeless, IF the opposition were able to unite!
    Suppose, Fidesz does not lose popularity from now to election day – it will.
    Here is the scenario:
    —————-
    Say, the 40% who do not answer pollsters now will split their vote in April:
    20% will not vote, 15% for opposition, 5% for Fidesz.
    Fidesz will have 27% from current polls +5%+5% from Romania & Serbia *
    Democratic opposition will have 22% from current polls +15%
    That gives equal number of votes for Fidesz and democratic opposition party lists,
    but more opposition votes for individual district seats *, so Fidesz loses the election.
    (outright electoral fraud will make it worse for Fidesz)
    ——————
    So Gyurcsany and others are absolutely right in this – the opposition must unite.
    Mesterhazy should be pushed aside by MSzP leadership, if he wants to prevent a united opposition.

    And pigs fly, the tooth fairy exists and Father Christmas is coming down my chimney in a few days time.

    Yes, the situation isn’t hopeless – but it is so close to hopeless for the difference to be statistically insignificant.

  20. Anyone who knows Hungarian, please, please, please, listen to Bálint Magyar on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd. It is so true and so persuasive that even Olga couldn’t interrupt him. I think he is one of the truest and best spokesman of the anti-Orbán forces but somehow I don’t think that Bajnai and Mesterhazy will listen to him. So, the fate of the opposition is sealed. If that is the case, Orbán remains.

    http://www.atv.hu/videok/video-20131220-magyar-balint

  21. Tappanch: 40-45 % of those casting a vote. That is what counts.

    In a democracy nobody cares about those who don’t go to vote, e.g. in US the turn-out ratio is rarely if ever mentioned by the media, only the results.

    The rest is just number magic, but really makes no difference.

    I personally worked for a polling company and also did political polling although only for a short period of time. But I gave it up quickly exactly because it was almost impossible to get into people’s houses, at least in Budapest. Even Endre Hann plays with words, I think it is inceivable that Median’s people can get into the homes of 70% of the target population. If they are successful at 10% of the addresses, even that is a great achievement, and out of those many will say that they do not tell the favoured party (but at least it will end up a finished questionnaire, if they answer at least a couple of questions). The country side is even worse from this perspective.

    I do believe that the inherent selection bias is very significant these days, much bigger that what is acknowledged. That said, am I not sure that Fidesz is so unpopular all around, surely it is even more unpopular with the non-Fidesz supporters than it was in 2010, but with the core 40%-ish supporter base nobody changed their minds in my environment (relatives, acquaintances). One can still wait for a miracle and I think it would be crazy to want more of the same, but average voters are not like the readers of HS.

  22. Nobody knows beforehand whether a victory is good on a long-term or not. See if Gyurcsany had not won in 2006 or SZDSZ had not gotten into Parliament (both depended on a couple of points only), Fidesz would not have received 2/3s in 2010 and its opportunities would have been limited to dismantle democracy and wreak havoc on the economy.

    Similarly, it is not sure that Fidesz’ victory would be a good thing for Fidesz, especially if it was clear that they received low figures and only won because of the arithmetics. That said i think for Fidesz the main strategy is to entrench itself, to create a new normal, a new baseline, to consolidate its power, a disruption would be disadtrous from this point of view. Btw Jozsef Debrecteni has an interview in Magyar Narancs and I find most of his points true.

    Politics is always at least as much about the opposition than it is about the incumbent. There is no cure for stupidity and especially there is not one or the stupidity on the Hungarian left, it is seemingly in their DNA. I also wonder for example that SPD’s teaming up with CDU is good or not, it is their future after all, but I think it was probably a bad move for the SPD. Junior partners always take the blame and senior partners always take the credit, that is the golden rule of any coalition which even a first grader should know.

  23. If, if if. We don’t know. But we know what would have happened if Viktor Orbán became prime minister in 2006. Yes, you would say but he would have had 2/3. We are apt to forget what happened between 1998 and 2002. What we see now was there already.

  24. “In a democracy nobody cares about those who don’t go to vote, e.g. in US the turn-out ratio is rarely if ever mentioned by the media, only the results.” Very true, Bruno… but in the US we elect representatives not party lists. It’s a winner-take-all system. In Hungary it is different. Parliamentary seats are distributed (partly) based on percentages.

  25. Stevan Harnad :

    tappanch :
    I think the raid was another milestone in the rapid decline of Hungary to dictatorship.

    Digitally Documenting the Decline
    Yes, and if Hungarians and the rest of the world sit by passively (or worse) as this all goes on with impunity, we will have a clear lesson in our own times, with all eyes watching, of how evil manages to prevail in human history.
    No more need for historians to hunt and hypothesize…
    It would be illuminating, if it were not so revolting.

    The rest of the world seems less passive than Hungarians themselves. Even my well educated Hungarian friends only shrug their shoulders whenever the polical situation in Hungary comes up. Always the same retorical question: what can we do? Like tomorrow’s fate is already sealed and nothing can be done to change it. It’s incredible how much this gloomy sense of self-pity seems to be a part of the Hungarian dna.

    To quote the (beautiful, I must say) Himnusz:

    Bal sors akit régen tép,
    Hozz rá víg esztendőt,
    Megbűnhődte már e nép
    A múltat s jövendőt!

    Well, I guess future Hungarians also need something to weep about…

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