opinion polls

Hungarians are not happy with the Putin-Orbán agreement on the Paks reactors

Well, it seems that for perhaps the first time in almost four years Viktor Orbán may be running into serious political difficulties on at least two counts. One is the government’s handling of the Memorial Holocaust Year, which has caused an international outcry by Jewish organizations as well as historians of the period. The second is his decision to make a deal with Vladimir Putin for the Russian state-company Rosatom to build two new nuclear reactors in Paks.

The Russian government will provide a loan of 10 billion euros which Hungary will have to pay back in thirty years. Although we know nothing of the details, we are supposed to believe János Lázár’s claim that the agreement just signed in total secret “is the business deal of the century.” In fact, the deal was so secretive that even László Kövér learned about it only after the fact. And to make sure that no one will know any of the details for at least a decade, Sándor Pintér, minister of interior,  immediately declared the negotiations and their accompanying documents a state secret.

Not everybody is happy on the right. Kövér, perhaps the best known anti-communist in the bunch, was apparently disgruntled but, being a good soldier, kept his anger to himself. Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, “the independent” political scientist at Nezőpont, initially said that many of Orbán’s supporters were surprised that the two reactors will be built from a massive Russian loan “because Viktor Orbán for a long time used anti-Russian rhetoric.” But since Kövér said nothing publicly, soon enough Mráz was writing articles supporting the brilliant idea of cooperation with Putin’s Russia.

Heti Válasz wasn’t exactly taken with the deal and rightly pointed out that “Paks is not a simple business deal.” Building the two new reactors “is a geopolitical concern.” And András Lányi, a faithful supporter of Fidesz and adviser to Viktor Orbán, thinks that Paks is “bad business and poses an unacceptable risk.”

At last we also know what Hungarian citizens think because Medián’s poll, taken between January 24 and 28–that is, about two weeks after Viktor Orbán’s visit to Moscow, was just released. The first surprise for me at least was that 82% of the population knows about Paks. One might say that, given the importance of this piece of news, the figure is not all that high. However, given the total lack of interest of the Hungarian population about anything political, I think this is not a bad result and shows the concern of Hungarians over a questionable decision that was thrust upon them.

Half of the population (51%) agrees that new reactors are necessary as a supplement to the existing ones. However, the Russian connection is controversial. Those who oppose it are in the majority (56%); only a third of the population supports it. As shown in diagram #1, half of the Fidesz voters support the Russian deal. (In the summer of 2012 only 25% of them supported a reactor built with Russian technology, which demonstrates the power of government propaganda.)

Paks abra1Diagram #2 shows the results of a question about receiving news of the Putin-Orbán agreement. Were people very, somewhat, or not at all surprised hearing the news? Seventy percent of even Fidesz voters were very or somewhat surprised. By contrast, all of LMP’s (I supposed one could call them naive) supporters were surprised; none thought that such Russian-Hungarian cooperation could possibly occur. Another interesting figure concerns those who are undecided voters (elkötelezetlen;  second from the bottom). Their figures are closer to the responses of the opposition parties than those of Fidesz-KDNP voters, which strengthens my conviction that the majority of the undecided voters leans toward the opposition rather than toward the government party.

Paks abra2Diagram #3 is the most important one. Here Medián asked whether people would support holding a plebiscite on the future of Paks and the further use of nuclear energy. The answer is clear: 59% the population as a whole supports holding such a plebiscite. Even Fidesz voters.

Paks abra3In light of these figures I have the feeling that Viktor Orbán miscalculated the effect of his “business deal of the century” and made a big mistake in forcing it through before the election. He rather cockily told Professor John Lukacs that “I would bet a lot that on the question of Russian relations the day after the election there will be perfect agreement.” Of course, that is, if Fidesz wins the election. But given the significant rejection of the Russian connection and the even larger demand for a popular vote on the subject, the quickly signed agreement might have been a serious mistake from Fidesz’s point of view. The election might turn on the question of Paks. Some observers are already comparing the situation to the Horn government’s decision in 1998 to go ahead with the controversial Slovak-Hungarian treaty that obligated Hungary to build waterworks at Nagymaros after Hungary lost the case at the International Court of Justice. Without going into details, suffice it to say that the treaty originally signed by Czechoslovakia and Hungary played a large role in the political unrest in 1988-89. Some people claim that Horn’s decision to go ahead with the project played a  major role in the socialists’ defeat in the 1998 election. Orbán might find himself in a similar situation, which is largely due to his ever-growing self-confidence. In the last four years he managed to get away with everything and therefore abandoned all caution. But he might be running out of luck.

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.

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.

“Budapest is different”: The Republikon Institute’s latest poll

First, a correction to yesterday’s post. My information on Lapkiadó was inaccurate. In addition to Lapkiadó, where Mónika Karas worked, there was another company called Hírlapkiadó. Both were involved in the publication of newspapers but it was the latter that was more closely linked to the upper echelons of the party. Those who are interested in the Kádár regime’s media structure should read a detailed description of what the author himself calls a very complicated edifice. The 2009 article by Róbert Takács appeared in Médiakutató.

Now let’s move on to a poll conducted by the Republikon Institute that describes itself as a liberal think tank.  Republikon decided to conduct a study of Budapest’s social and political makeup, the title of which is “Budapest is different.” It is, of course, well known that Budapest is politically different from the rest of the country. It is enough to recall the 2006 election when Fidesz was leading until the Budapest vote started coming in. Therefore it was somewhat surprising when Budapest voted overwhelmingly for Fidesz candidates in 2010, although by the time the municipal elections rolled around a few months later the MSZP candidate for mayor managed to have a respectable showing.

Although Budapest is not a microcosm of Hungary, it is still worth taking a closer look at the city and its people. The Republikon Institute’s poll was taken between February 16 and March 4. The researchers of the Institute conducted 3,000 personal interviews, on the basis of which they came up with their findings. In early July they conducted a follow-up poll (1,200 personal interviews) on the latest party preferences of the population of Budapest.

Here are a few figures, some of which I found surprising. For example, I didn’t realize that in Budapest 25% of the population have a university degree as opposed to 12% nationwide. I knew that average salaries are much higher in the capital than elsewhere, but I wouldn’t have guessed that 32% of Budapest families take home more than 250,000 forints monthly as opposed to the national average of 14%. And, although I suspected that the people of Budapest are even less religious than the average Hungarian, I was struck by the fact that 50% of them actually admitted that they don’t believe.

The poll takers inquired from people where they would place themselves socially and economically. In Budapest most people described themselves as belonging to the middle class (53%) while nationwide the figure is only 44%. The number of white collar workers (értelmiségiek) is also much higher than the national average: 35% versus 22%. The same disparity is true in the reverse about blue collar workers ( 21% versus 35%) and people who identify themselves as Roma (5% versus 9%).

When it comes to political views, 35% of  the people sympathize with the left as against 25% nationwide. Only 21% describe themselves as conservative as opposed 37% nationwide.

When the respondents were asked about their feelings on liberalism versus conservatism, liberals beat the conservatives 49% to 30%. However, political liberalism doesn’t automatically translate into liberalism in social matters. When it comes to bringing up children, the Budapest respondents stress obedience and a strict upbringing.  A good portion of these same “liberal” people also think that wives should stay at home, looking after the house and the children (34%).

On some other issues, however, they hold more liberal views. They disapprove of the nationalization of schools (48%) and have strong views about the role of the churches. “Churches should stick to their original mission” is the general verdict. Therefore 49% of them don’t like like the idea of parochial schools financed by their tax forints.

After this general probing into societal attitudes, Republikon’s analysts moved on to the population’s political views. They posed two questions. The first was “What kind of government would you welcome after 2014?” In Budapest 47% of the electorate would welcome a left-opposition government (baloldali-ellenzéki kormány) as opposed to the national average of 36%. In Budapest there is a hard core who would like to see the  Fidesz government continue (27% as opposed to 33% nationwide) while 9% would welcome Jobbik. Only 11% didn’t answer the question or didn’t know. Fewer than nationwide (15%). In July when Republikon repeated the question, the answers were very similar.

Which parties' candidates would you vote for? Republikon Institute

Which parties’ candidates would you vote for?
Republikon Institute

Finally, when the respondents were asked how they would actually vote, the party alliance of MSZP, Együtt 2014-PM, and DK came out the big winner: 50% of Budapesters would vote for such an alliance. Fidesz would receive 34%, Jobbik 12% and LMP 4%.

Yes, Budapest is different but will Budapest lead the way once the left-opposition alliance is finally cemented? According to Zoltán Szabó (DK), in the past this was the case. I didn’t try to check Szabó’s contention, but I do share his (and others’) belief that people will be more enthusiastic about voting for the opposition once the parties announce the formation of an electoral alliance. Finishing the current negotiations is of paramount importance.

A day in Hungary: From a small village to the meeting of ambassadors

Today I would like to cover three topics. First, it is D-Day for smokers since as of today only tobacconist shops can sell cigarettes. Second, we have the results of the latest opinion poll on the standing of the parties and politicians. And third, Viktor Orbán gave a speech to Hungary’s ambassadors this morning.

Why do I start with the tobacconist shops? Because I have been convinced for some time that the government’s decision to restrict the number of outlets where tobacco products can be purchased will turn a sizable portion of the population against the government. The adverse effects of the decision will be especially pronounced in those rural areas where Fidesz has traditionally been strong.

Until now one could buy cigarettes in 40,000 shops, from department stores to corner groceries. As of today there are a mere 5,000 outlets. This “downsizing” will create dislocations and inconvenience for smokers. Then, just think of the 4,000 small boroughs where no cigarettes at all will be available.

Until today Hungary’s smokers didn’t feel the brunt of the new system of tobacco distribution because the old outlets were given a two-week grace period during which they could sell down their inventory. But all this ended at midnight. From here on there is no mercy. And for many no cigarettes either.

The first report on the mood of the villagers who have to go as far as twelve kilometers for cigarettes came from Zsolt Kácsor, the Debrecen stringer for Népszabadság. He visited three villages in the County of Bihar where passions are running high against the government. In one of these places the owner of the pub (kocsma) described her customers’s reaction as one of “rage.” The mayor of another village (population 600) delivered the following little speech: “No one ever f..cked the poor people over as much as Orbán and his friends are doing. Write it down word for word. I don’t even care if they hang me. Write it down that I haven’t witnessed such f…ing screwing of the people in 78 years. He even prescribes from which angle I should watch the stork’s nest.” And the public workers around him were nodding in agreement. So, it is not only the lack of cigarettes that bothers the old gentleman but also, or perhaps even more, the government regulations that intrude into his personal sphere. He feels that his personal freedom is being violated.

The mayor doesn't want to watch the stork's nest from the same angle with Viktor  Orbán

The mayor doesn’t want to watch the stork’s nest from the same angle as Viktor Orbán

The reporter visited two other villages in the area that have no cigarette shop. In one of them he talked to guests at the local pub. They are all outraged. It turns out that the closest shop is only three kilometers away, but there the local Fidesz mayor got the concession to run the tobacconist shop. One of the customers swears that he will not buy cigarettes from him. He may not need to since he easily manages to find smuggled Ukrainian cigarettes, which are cheap. He pays 450 forints for a pack; the Hungarian price is about double that.

I think that the Orbán government’s decision to make 5,000 party faithful rich will cost a lot in votes next year. And that takes me to the latest poll by Ipsos, although the numbers are not at all interesting. They are practically the same as last month and the month before. There is, however, a handy Ipsos graph that gives figures for both party preferences and politicians for the past few years that readers of Hungarian Spectrum might find informative.

These latest results certainly don’t deserve the ovation with which Magyar Nemzet greeted them. Their headline reads: “Fidesz devastates its opponents, Bajnai is nowhere.” There is no reason for such exuberance, especially since still only 28% of the adult population want this government to continue in office. But the opposition cannot rejoice either since 62% are dissatisfied with the opposition. So, unless there is some dramatic change in the strategy of Együtt 2014 and MSZP it could easily happen that although the majority of the people wish Viktor Orbán and his government straight to hell, Fidesz-KDNP will still win the elections. Although the Bajnai and Mesterházy teams met today, they seem to be in no hurry to create a viable opposition.

And finally, I would like to focus on a couple of sentences that Viktor Orbán uttered today. He gave a speech to the Hungarian ambassadors who once a year gather in Budapest to hear the prime minister’s words of wisdom on foreign policy. I assume that the complete text of the speech will be available on the prime minister’s website soon enough; a shorter version is already available on orbanviktor.hu. The sentences I’m interested in were not part of the speech itself, which Orbán always reads word for word. Instead, they came as an answer to a question from the audience.

According to Orbán, for the European Union to remain competitive it must find an accommodation with Russia. This is a difficult proposition because Russia is not a democratic country. “However, we must understand that for Russia it is not democracy that is the most important consideration but rather how the country can be kept intact.” Moreover, an alliance between the European Union and Russia is not an easy proposition for the countries of Central Europe because “if one reads about a rapprochement between the European Union led by Germany and Russia then one will go to the window to see whether the children are still playing in the backyard.”  I don’t think I need to add anything here, except to ask why this constant needling of Germany is necessary. Sooner or later German patience will run out.