Endre Hann

Viktor Orbán and Fidesz are in trouble: Record loss of popularity

A few weeks ago Tárki, one of the three or four reliable opinion polls, announced a serious slide in Fidesz’s popularity. HVG introduced the news by calling it an avalanche. The poll was taken between November 13 and 23 and showed that Fidesz-KDNP had lost 12% of its sympathizers within one month. The drop was so great that I’m sure Endre Sík, the lead researcher at Tárki, must have worried whether something went wrong with their methodology. Well, he can relax. Médián came out with its latest poll, and its figures show that no party has lost as much as fast since the change of regime in 1990.

Just to give an idea of the kinds of numbers we are talking about, in a single month Fidesz lost 900,000 voters. Two-thirds of eligible voters think that the country is heading in the wrong direction. For a party that is so proud of its two-thirds majority in parliament, achieved only a few months ago, that is a devastating statistic.

Among the voting-age population Médian, just like Tárki, found that before the attempted introduction of the internet tax and everything that followed Fidesz-KDNP had a comfortable lead: 38% of the electorate would have voted for the government party. That figure by the end of November when the poll was taken had shrunk to 26%. Although 5% of those who abandoned Fidesz are still undecided, others joined some of the opposition parties. There was a 4% rise for MSZP and 2% for Jobbik.

When it comes to those who claim they would definitely vote if elections were held next Sunday, Fidesz-KDNP’s drop of popularity is even more glaring. In October 57% of those asked said that they would definitely vote for Fidesz. A month later Médián measured only 34%.

Médián collected another interesting data point. Fidesz voters’ enthusiasm for voting has waned. The party’s inability to mobilize the troops was especially noticeable in the repeated election in Budapest’s 11th electoral district where the MSZP candidate won with a very large majority. According to Médián, today only 52% of Fidesz voters say they would vote come hell or high water. This figure is significantly lower than for Jobbik (64%), DK (63%), or MSZP (59%). Another telling sign is that 22% of those who voted for Fidesz in April would not vote for the government party today, as opposed to the October figure of 4%. In October only 48% of the respondents thought that the country was heading in the wrong direction. Today that figure is 68%. When it comes to satisfaction with the performance of the government, only 31% of the voters still approve of the government, 14% less than in October.

The popularity of Fidesz politicians also dropped precipitously. The great loser was the prime minister himself who lost 16 points, followed by his closest associates: János Lázár (14 points), Antal Rogán (13 points), and Lajos Kósa (13 points). Even János Áder lost 10 points. Endre Hann of Médián noted in an interview with György Bolgár that even Ferenc Gyurcsány after the introduction of the austerity program after the 2006 election lost only 8 points. At the same time opposition politicians all gained. Not much, but a few percentage points. Viktor Orbán with his 32 points is tied with Gergely Karácsony (Együtt) and Gábor Vona (Jobbik).

Popularity of politicians: October and November

Popularity of politicians: October and November

These findings correspond with anecdotal observations. People openly criticize the government and call Fidesz politicians all sorts of names.

Viktor Orbán yesterday visited Blikk, a tabloid that the prime minister uses for his own political purposes, and agreed to answer questions from readers. Twenty-five in all. This is the second time that he participated in something called Sztárchat. As opposed to last year, this time 95% of the questions were antagonistic. The very first was a whopper from “a former Fidesz voter” who wanted to know about “the useless scrap of paper that was actually full of concrete details,” or what the prime minister thinks of Antal Rogán “conducting business with an ordinary criminal.” Someone wanted to know how it is possible that “the whole country and half the world knows what is going on here, except you. What kind of dimension do you live in that you have no idea about the real world?” Zoltán and his family wondered how “the government has money to buy banks and build stadiums and move [your office] but there is no money for hungry children, pensioners, hospitals.” He was the second person who accused the prime minister “of taking our extra money away for working on Sundays.” Someone asked why Orbán “does not dare to stand in front of people and instead tells his story in an empty studio.” There was a question about whether Orbán’s daughter is studying some manual profession in Switzerland. Sándor wanted to know when Orbán is going to resign, and “ráadás” asked him “why he thinks that the Hungarian people are so stupid” that they believe all the humbug his government feeds them.

It was, in brief, not a friendly crowd. Among the questions I found only one or two that were not antagonistic and only one that supported his anti-American policy.

His drop in the polls and the brutally honest questions addressed to him are not his only woes. Zsolt Semjén, until now a most faithful ally, decided to show his independence. He announced that as far as he knows government officials visited Germany to talk to officials there about their church law which the Hungarians allegedly want to copy. As we know, the present arrangement concerning the churches was not accepted by the European Court of Human Rights and the Hungarian government is obliged to change it. Today Semjén threatened Orbán with the KDNP caucus’s refusal to support the law once it gets to the floor.

To tell you the truth, I have been suspecting for some time that Viktor Orbán’s change of heart concerning the Sunday closing of stores might have had something to do with pressure brought to bear on him by the Christian Democrats. Perhaps Orbán thought that he could appease the KDNP caucus by supporting their proposal to shut all the stores on Sundays. Obviously, he was wrong.

There’s trouble everywhere. I wonder how he can escape from the hole he dug for himself and his government with his shoddy governance, his irresponsible foreign policy, his taxing the population to death and not producing sustainable economic growth. Hungarians are getting more and more fed up and antagonistic. If Orbán continues down the same path he has been following in the last five years, the end might not be pretty.

Electoral mathematics: The Demokratikus Koalíció’s position

Only yesterday an article appeared on Galamus by Tamás Bauer, vice-chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. It is well reasoned argument for why DK should be allowed to present candidates for parliament in the next election.

On the basis of past elections we know that in order to win the next election the democratic opposition needs at least 2.7 million votes.

According to opinion polls, MSZP can count on 1-1.2 million votes, which is about half of the 2.3 million the party received in 2002 and 2006. At that time the rest of the votes necessary for a win came from SZDSZ. As things stand now, Együtt-14’s voting base doesn’t exceed the number of SZDSZ voters (about 400,000) in previous elections. And that is not enough, says Bauer. The hope is that once there is an agreement among the parties about a common candidate for prime minister and a common list, people’s lethargy will be replaced by enthusiasm because then there will be some hope of removing Viktor Orbán’s government.

Mesterházy insisted that he as the chairman of MSZP, the largest party, be the next prime minister. At the same time Bajnai felt that “the two largest parties” should agree first on the fundamental questions. Bauer believes that neither position, given the current Hungarian situation, is valid. It doesn’t matter that these two parties are larger than the third; together they still cannot deliver the necessary votes. At the moment, together they don’t have as many votes as Fidesz has alone. Therefore they need every extra vote they can get, including from those who would like to see Viktor Orbán go but haven’t yet decided to vote for MSZP or E-14. As well as those who haven’t yet chosen a party. And yes, adds Bauer, they need DK’s 200,000 voters.

At this point Bauer did some calculations on the basis of the average results of three independent polling companies: Medián, Szonda, and Tárki. Bauer looked at two sets of figures: the three parties’ standing among the electorate as a whole and the figures that reflect the situation that would result if we count only those who are certain about their participation in the next election. Calculating on the basis of the whole electorate, MSZP would receive 68, Együtt-14-PM 24, and DK 8 districts. Among those who are certain at the moment about their participation, MSZP would receive 65, Együtt-14-PM 26, and DK 9 districts.

Source: The Aperiodical

Source: The Aperiodical

Thus, Bauer argues, if MSZP receives 75 districts out of which it gives up four to DK, the liberals, and the social democrats, MSZP will have 71 districts and E-14 31. (I might add here that neither the liberals nor the social democrats are measurable in nationwide polls.) Thus both MSZP and E-14 will be over-represented. This is especially true about E-14. Its voting base may be three times greater than DK’s, yet it will have eight times more districts than DK if DK accepted MSZP’s offer.

Bauer continued his calculations by trying to figure out how many seats the democratic opposition would need for a two-thirds majority or a simple majority as well as what the composition would be if they lost the election. He came to the conclusion that in all three cases, given the present support for DK, the party would be able to form its own parliamentary caucus and therefore could represent its own political ideas in parliament.

One could argue that Tamás Bauer’s argument is based on an overly static view of electoral sympathies. One cannot simply add up polling preferences and come up with a grand total. Moreover, the argument continues, it is possible that by giving DK 8 or 9 districts the democratic opposition would lose voters because of some people’s intense hatred of Ferenc Gyurcsány. These people further argue that the DK people have nowhere to go, and after all they are perhaps the most consistent critics of the present government. So, surely, they wouldn’t vote for Fidesz or boycott the election even if DK got practically nothing. Yes, this is true, but it is also true about those E-14 voters who currently swear that they wouldn’t vote for a democratic opposition in which Gyurcsány’s party is more visibly represented.

There have been polls that indicate that the supporters of the parties on the left are quite open. They don’t particularly care who the prime  minister will be, although Gordon Bajnai has more support than Mesterházy, but I don’t think that too many people would vote for Fidesz just because they don’t like Mesterházy, Bajnai, or Gyurcsány. If they do, they deserve another four years of Viktor Orbán’s exceptionally bad governance.

At the moment I’m trying find out whether there are any polls that tried to measure the loss that might be incurred by the democratic opposition were it to give a fairer share to DK in the next elections.

Another thought. Medián’s CEO, Endre Hann, called attention to the fact that although in the electorate as a whole Mesterházy and Bajnai are neck to neck in popularity, in fact Mesterházy occasionally surpasses the popularity of Bajnai. But this result is misleading because of Bajnai’s greater rejection by Fidesz voters. I wonder whether Medián ever conducted a poll that would allow us to gauge Gyurcsány’s popularity or unpopularity among those voters who will actually vote for the democratic opposition next year. Such a poll could be very useful in deciding what the best strategy would be.

In any case, tomorrow I will give a short list of DK’s positions on certain issues that are different from those of either MSZP or Együtt-14.

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.