public opinion polls

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.

Final polls before the Hungarian election tomorrow

This morning an editorial appeared in politics.hu by a former senior editor of the internet paper who is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Liverpool. The title of his opinion piece is “Forget rigged elections, Fidesz will win because there is no viable alternative.” The core of his argument is that with the exception of Tímea Szabó “the top four politicians are all from the Socialists’ eight year corruption run.” He is not the only one who is convinced that Hungarian politics needs an entirely new cast of characters. András Schiffer of LMP, for example, just yesterday announced that “voting for Gyurcsány is voting for Orbán.” I guess he is offering himself as the only pristine Hungarian politician of the future.

I think it would be high time for these people to learn that one cannot just produce brand new, ready-made politicians out of thin air. One of the handicaps of the first Hungarian democratic government of József Antall was that it was made up entirely of people with no political experience. The other strongly held notion is that just because the leading politicians of the Unity Alliance held office prior to 2010 they are forever unelectable. They should simply disappear, never to be seen or heard of again. I wonder where the Unity Alliance would be standing if they had obliged. I would guess somewhere close to where LMP is today.

I also doubt that the problem of the opposition is that they can offer no viable alternative. If that were the case, why was it necessary for the government and Fidesz to do everything in their power to prevent the opposition from delivering that nonexistent message to the electorate? Why do they need the votes of Hungarians from Romania where, according to the latest poll taken in the Partium, areas closest to the Hungarian-Romanian border, 66% of the voters are Fidesz sympathizers, 13% would vote for Jobbik,  and only 2% for the Unity Alliance? And why does Fidesz need an electoral law that dramatically reduces the democratic opposition’s chances?

Practically all the English- and German-language articles I read are certain of an overwhelming Fidesz victory. Their predictions are based on the numerous public opinion polls that have appeared in the last few months. By now there are mighty few people who believe in the possibility of victory for the democratic opposition. But some suggest that the results will be closer than current polls indicate. They are convinced that in the last four years the political fear that Hungarians were accustomed to during pre-democratic times returned. People who were always somewhat suspicious of poll takers by now are genuinely fearful that the information they share with the pollsters will end up at Fidesz headquarters and that soon enough they or their relatives will lose their jobs as teachers, doctors, or civil servants. Or, if they are small businessmen, that they will no longer receive government orders. Unity Alliance activists claim that they frequently meet people who actually lied to the pollsters because of their fears of the present ruling party. If the final election results are substantially different from the generally predicted ones, perhaps there is something to this explanation.

We may never know how many people misled the pollsters, but we do know that it is very difficult to convince people to answer their questions. Reluctance to participate in a survey is not a new phenomenon, but lately the polling companies are in real trouble. In order to find 1,000 willing participants they have to canvass about three times that number, sometimes even more. Surely, this fact says something about the Hungarian population’s present psyche.

Unity Alliance activists report full houses at their gatherings. They claim that their tables, set up alongside Fidesz posts, have long lines of interested people while Fidesz activists are not at all busy. This description might be a reflection of their bias and wishful thinking but one thing is sure: this morning  the square in front of Debrecen’s Great Church was not even half full during an event Fidesz organized as the last, triumphant stop in Viktor Orbán’s campaign. Is it possible that Fidesz voters have also become apathetic? Are they possibly disappointed? Or perhaps too sure of a Fidesz victory?

But let’s return briefly to the two latest polls. Medián shows unusually high percentage of committed voters (62%), larger than in 2002 or 2006. If these people actually go and vote, that fact itself might help the Unity Alliance, which benefits from high turnout. On the other hand, it was highly disturbing that 2% of these committed voters actually opted for the “Együtt 2014 Párt,” which was created to confuse voters. It is especially easy to mix up the two parties since Együtt 2014 Párt occupies the sixteenth place on the ballot while the Unity Alliance in which Együtt 2014-PM is listed is seventeenth. The Zöldek Pártja (Party of the Greens) received 1% of the sample’s votes, most likely from people who actually wanted to vote for LMP.

szavazo fulke

Ipsos, although it predicts a large Fidesz victory, also saw signs that confuse the issue. For example, it is very difficult to judge what the voters will actually do once they are in the voting booth. For example, there are 250,000 Fidesz supporters who think that they might vote for Jobbik while about 100,000 Jobbik voters think they might support Fidesz after all. There might also be some last-minute changes within the anti-Orbán forces. 150,000 Unity Alliance supporters are contemplating switching to LMP and a goodly number of current LMP supporters are thinking about voting for Unity after all. About 10% of the electorate is still undecided and another 10% refuses to divulge. Endre Hann of Medián also points out in his article that one must keep in mind that in the by-elections the opposition did considerably better than in 2010.

And finally, those who are keeping fingers crossed for the democratic opposition call attention to what happened to Slovak prime minister Robert Fico who a week ago was still leading in the polls by a margin of 10%. The next day he lost his bid to become president to a newcomer to politics, Andrej Kiska, a businessman, and not by a small margin. Kiska received almost 60% of the votes against 41% for Fico.

It would be a miracle if something like that were to happen in Hungary tomorrow, but there is a possibility that the Fidesz victory will not be so overwhelming as everybody thinks. As a Hungarian commentator said this morning, if Fidesz won with only a simple as opposed to a two-thirds majority, under the circumstances it would actually mean a victory for the opposition. Tomorrow, after all, might be a more interesting day than the current polls indicate. Let’s hope so.

Two polls, two different results, and disappointing opposition politicians

In the last couple of days the results of two new public opinion polls on party preferences appeared: Ipsos on November 18 and Medián today. According to Ipsos, Fidesz-KDNP and LMP gained and the left lost, both by an inconsequential 1%. Medián’s survey, by contrast, found more substantial shifts, and in the opposite direction. Fidesz-KDNP lost 4% of its support in one month and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, DK, became as strong as E14-PM.

Let us examine these results a little more closely. According to Ipsos, Fidesz-KDNP’s support among the electorate as a whole is 27% while MSZP’s is 15%. As for the other parties, 7% of the eligible voters support Jobbik, 3% Együtt-PM, and only 2% LMP and DK.

As for voter commitment, according to Ipsos only 36% of the electorate is certain that they would cast a vote rain or shine. And that is very low. In this group Fidesz-KDNP leads by a mile: they would receive 51% percent of the votes against MSZP’s 26%. Jobbik voters are also deeply committed to their cause and therefore show good results in this category.

Somewhat larger changes occurred in the last month or so among the 42% of the voters who call themselves undecided. Within that group the size of “the completely passive voters” decreased by 3% while the number of those who have a preference but refuse to divulge what it is grew from 8% to 11%.

And let’s pause a bit to expand on these last figures. According to Tibor Závecz, the man in charge of the monthly Ipsos polls, the pool of “secretive voters” is large, about 900,000. Although these people might not want the pollsters to know their political views, the poll takers ask indirect questions that can be quite revealing. Based on answers to these indirect questions, Závecz claims that at  least two-thirds or even three-quarters of the secretive voters actually sympathize with the left.

Moving on to Medián, I’ll compare the still very sketchy outlines of this month’s results to Medián’s October figures. What we must keep in mind is that the October results reflect the situation before the October 23 mass meeting and the public demand there for unity among the forces on the left. The attendees wanted to broaden the arrangement Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy worked out to the exclusion of other parties and groupings. At that time Fidesz had a 36% share in the electorate as a whole and 52% among those who would definitely vote at the next elections as opposed to MSZP’s 14% and 21%. Együtt2014-PM still polled relatively well: 5% in the electorate as a whole and 7% among committed voters. DK at this point was weaker than E14-PM: 3% among all voters and 4% among committed voters.

red = the whole electorate;
black = those with a party preference;
orange = will definitely vote

And what is the situation today, after the mass demonstration?  Fidesz has a 34% share among all eligible voters and among the sure voters only 48%. That is a 2%/4% loss in one month. MSZP ticked up 2% in the electorate at large and remained unchanged among committed voters. E14-PM’s support eroded by 1%: last month’s 5% and 7% are 4% and 6% today. DK, on the other hand, as many people predicted, inched up and now matches Együtt2014-PM’s levels of support: 4% and 6%. If these numbers are more than a one-off, Gordon Bajnai who just the other day referred to those who were left out of the election agreement as small parties as opposed to his own might have to revise his estimate of the situation.

And this brings me to a couple of interviews György Bolgár conducted yesterday and today. Bolgár’s program lasts two hours and consists of a mixture of interviews and listener comments. Yesterday the whole first hour was devoted to a interview with Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy. Their performances were disappointing. My own feelings were exactly the same as those of Zsófia Mihancsik and Ferenc Krémer in today’s Galamus. Mihancsik’s article was entitled “This way there is no hope,” and Krémer called his “Sadness.” Shall I say more?

Attila Mesterházy took an unyielding position, standing by the arrangement that E14-PM and MSZP worked out. All other parties, including DK that is by now as strong as E14, should be satisfied with their sorry lot and support the two of them. I wonder what Mesterházy will do if in a couple of months it turns out that E14’s support has eroded further while DK has again gained.

I strongly suggest that those who can handle Hungarian listen not only to the interviews but also to the comments that followed. It is strange that these opposition politicians refuse to heed the voice of the electorate. They didn’t believe that the demonstration for unity was genuine and now surely they will say that all listeners of Klubrádió are DK supporters. How long can that fiction be maintained?

The MSZP argument for excluding DK is their conviction that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence on the ticket would take away more votes than it would bring in. However, a September survey, also by Medián, indicates that this is not the case. I wrote about this poll at length back in September. It is hard to figure out why Mesterházy clings to that, in my opinion, mistaken notion.

Today György Bolgár had a shorter interview with Klára Ungár, chairman of Szabad Emberek Magyarországért Liberális Párt or SZEMA, one of the three liberal groups. SZEMA’s support is immeasurably small.

I personally like Klára Ungár, but this interview highlighted the dysfunctions that pervaded SZDSZ (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége). The party fell apart because of internal squabbling, political differences, and personal animosities. Things haven’t changed since. It was clear from Ungár’s interview that she would refuse any cooperation with the other liberals, that is with Gábor Kuncze’s group and Gábor Fodor’s new liberal party. Ungár, who hasn’t been active in politics since 1998, feels very virtuous and insists that other SZDSZ politicians should not only admit responsibility for Viktor Orbán’s rise to power but should simply disappear from political life.

So, this is the situation at the moment. A change of strategy is desperately needed as soon as possible. But after listening to Bajnai and Mesterházy I see no possibility of such a change in the near future. Meanwhile time is running out.

New poll on Hungarian anti-Semitism

In the last few days I have encountered a number of studies, television interviews, and polls on Hungarian anti-Semitism. The inspiration for this sudden burst of information is undoubtedly an international conference organized by the Tom Lantos Institute, which is described as “an independent human and minority rights organization with a particular focus on Jewish and Roma communities and other transnational minorities.” So far their activities have been meager and even their website is unfinished. This conference, held in the chamber of the former Upper House of the Hungarian Parliament, was a closed affair for invited guests only, most of whom were foreigner visitors.

I should actually devote a whole post to the rocky history of the Institute, which is currently an instrument of the Hungarian government whose attitude toward the issue of anti-Semitism is ambivalent at best. On the one hand, the government tries to convince the world of its progressive attitude and fair handling of the issue and, on the other, it promotes the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime in which several discriminatory laws were enacted which eventually led to the horror of the Hungarian Holocaust. Moreover, for political reasons the governing party, Fidesz, usually placates the neo-Nazi anti-Semitic Jobbik party by giving in to their demands, which often entails the rehabilitation of anti-Semitic characters from the past. That’s why Stefan J. Bos of BosNewsLife entitled his article on the Lantos Institute’s conference “Hungary’s Crocodile Tears Over the Holocaust.”

Let’s see the results of some recent studies on anti-Semitism in Hungary. According to the sociologist András Kovács, who conducted about fifteen such studies between 1993 and 2011, the number of anti-Semites has grown over the years, especially since 2009, but he adds that the Hungarian population is quite xenophobic in general, and when they were asked about their attitude towards the Arabs, the Gypsies, the Blacks, the Chinese, the Hungarian Germans, and the Jews, the Jews actually came off best. That is, they were hated the least. Still, the percentage of people who vehemently hate the Jews jumped from 9% to about 20% between 2009 and 2013.

A few days ago a new poll was taken by Political Capital, which focuses exclusively on Internet users. So, the poll is skewed because in Hungary relatively few people over the age of 60 use the Internet. The percentage of young people included in this poll is higher than in the population as a whole. According to Political Capital, those for whom Jews are “antipathetic” make up 28% of the adult population. I tried to use the equivalent of the Hungarian original (ellenszenvezők) instead of “anti-Semitic” (antiszemiták) because the latter linguistic choice would probably have altered the results. “Anti-Semitic” is certainly a more loaded term than “antipathetic.” The team conducting the survey also offered a “sympathetic” (rokonszenvezők) category, and the percentage of the sample who opted for that choice was surprisingly high, 34%. The percentage of those who claim to be neutral is also high, 26%.

Not surprisingly, there are great differences in people’s attitudes toward Jews when it comes to party preferences. Jobbik has the highest percentage of anti-Semites, 75%, while E14, LMP, and DK have the lowest, 14%. Fidesz voters show an interesting pattern: 33% dislike Jews, 27% claim to be neutral, 22% like them, and a very large percentage in comparison to the others simply have no opinion, 18%. Among MSZP voters the percentage of those who find Jews to be an unsympathetic lot is almost as high as among Fidesz voters but at the same time 45% of them actually sympathize with Jews and only 15% are neutral on the issue.

The researchers of Political Capital call attention to the fact that “anti-Semitism is a politically induced phenomenon.” Although in terms of percentages Fidesz and Jobbik voters are very far from each other on anti-Semitism and although the difference is relatively small between Fidesz and MSZP, when it comes to hard-core anti-Semitism (including a belief in theories of an international Jewish conspiracy) Fidesz and Jobbik anti-Semites are very close to one another. Here is the graphic illustrating Political Capital’s contention. In the lower left quadrant are anti-Semites of the parties who don’t believe in conspiracy theories while in the upper right quadrant are the Jobbik and Fidesz anti-Semites who do believe in conspiracy theories.

Fidesz-Jobbik antisemites

That is, the nature of Fidesz-Jobbik anti-Semitism is fundamentally different from that on the democratic side. But why? Political Capital’s researchers claim that anti-Semitism is a politically induced phenomenon. Well, that is quite clear in the case of Jobbik because this party’s messages are unequivocal. The party’s sympathizers are barraged with hard-core anti-Semitic messages. But what’s happening in Fidesz? I suspect that the double talk and ambivalence that can found in Fidesz communication is responsible for the high number of Fidesz believers in an international Jewish conspiracy. Some Fidesz voters view the incessant anti-foreign, anti-capitalism remarks as coded anti-Semitic messages and translate them into unambiguous statements. Moreover, it is often asserted that about 30% of Fidesz voters are already so far to the right that they could easily vote for Jobbik. In fact, many of them indicate Jobbik as their second choice when asked by pollsters.

I think that those who fall for the “crocodile tears” should keep all of this in mind. Viktor Orbán, who is politically very savvy and who has his finger on the pulse of his followers, believes that he cannot ignore the feelings of his flock. Whether he is an anti-Semite or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is his careful tiptoeing around this issue for the sake of his followers whose anti-Semitism is deeply ingrained.

How solid is the Bajnai-Mesterházy pact?

It’s time to return to the state of the Hungarian opposition which, given its daunting electoral challenge, should be united and pursuing a politically savvy course. Instead, it remains fragmented and for the most part bumbling.

In late September Medián found that the great majority of left liberals would like to have a single list and joint candidates in each of the 106 districts. So far the opposition hasn’t heeded their call.

Then there was Solidarity’s demonstration at which a styrofoam statue of Viktor Orbán was toppled. Solidarity’s alleged allies, Együtt 2014-PM and MSZP, distanced themselves from Péter Kónya’s “street theater.” They thereby lent credence to the position of Fidesz and KDNP politicians who claimed that this symbolic act was tantamount to an actual assassination of Viktor Orbán. The only opposition politician who stood by Péter Kónya was Ferenc Gyurcsány. As far as I know, Kónya is planning new street performances. Whether Együtt 2014-PM and MSZP embrace these activities or whether Solidarity ends up joining forces on a national level with DK remains to be seen.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s see what is going on within Együtt 2014-PM. First of all, it will soon be called something else, which I consider a blessing as long as they come up with a decent name for a party. Most people, I assume, know that Együtt 2014 was the original name of Bajnai’s group to which PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért = Dialogue for Hungary), another ill-chosen name for a party, was tacked on. PM comprises the ten or so former LMP members and their followers who broke with András Schiffer.

The name change is necessary because Együtt 2014-PM is not a party. The PM people insisted on maintaining their independence, and therefore this cobbled-together creation was a party alliance formed only for the election. But there’s a problem with this arrangement. The threshold for parliamentary representation for a party alliance is 10% as opposed to 5% for a party. And, according to the latest polls, E14-PM has only a 6% share of the votes. Naturally, the party’s spokesmen insist that the polls are all wrong and they have at least twice that much. It seems, however, that their socialist friends take the polls seriously and keep pressuring the Bajnai crew to create a real party just in case. Viktor Szigetvári, co-chairman of the party, just yesterday in an interview with HVG confidently announced that they’re aiming to capture 20% of the votes at the election, but at the moment that goal cannot be taken seriously.

At the same time that Együtt14 is losing support, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció is gaining ground. According to Medián, DK actually surpassed E14 among those who are certain that they will vote at the next election.

HVG, an influential and well-informed media outlet, has been watching the shifts that have been occurring on the left. Within the course of one week HVG published two articles indicating possible changes that might have to be made to the Bajnai-Mesterházy deal. On September 4 the paper reported that its sources in E14 and MSZP admitted that “Gyurcsány revived” even though they tried to minimize the significance of the changes in DK’s standing. They conceded, however, that DK’s momentum highlights “the contradictions inherent in the Mesterházy-Bajnai agreement.”

Meanwhile Ferenc Gyurcsány is taking advantage of the shifting public sentiment and is campaigning aggressively. He promised to continue his nationwide campaign unabated until the Christmas holidays.

You may recall that after the appearance of Gordon Bajnai DK lost about half of its earlier support. András Kósa of HVG wondered whether perhaps these earlier DK supporters, disappointed in E14’s performance, are now returning to DK. It is also possible that some MSZP voters who want a single opposition party list are shifting their support to Gyurcsány, the only opposition politician who insists on a single list, which is, in his opinion, the key to electoral victory.

HVG‘s article also said that DK leaders are ready to recruit new supporters even at the expense of E14 because that would force the renegotiation of the Bajnai-Mesterházy agreement. Gyurcsány, in fact, began to criticize both Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy. A few days ago he complained about the lukewarm campaign style of Bajnai. In a lengthy interview with the Austrian Der Standard he claimed that Bajnai and Mesterházy are the ones who fear competition from him. And only yesterday he said that in the coming campaign one needs not only goalies but forwards as well. This was a reference to Bajnai who plays amateur football as a goalie and who described himself as a political goalie rather than a forward.

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai They are not such a good friend anymore

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai
They are not such good friends anymore

Today HVG came out with another article based on E14 and MSZP sources. Gábor Gavra, editor-in-chief,  joined András Kósa in taking responsibility for the information gathered. They learned that Együtt 2014 has a solution to the DK problem. If it turns out that because of a strengthening DK negotiations between E14 and MSZP must be reopened, E14 would give up two districts and would expect MSZP to turn over six districts to DK. There was a sentence in the Szigetvári interview that pointed to a potential thaw in relations with DK consistent with such a renegotiation. When asked whether there is any possibility of an understanding between E14 and DK, Szigetvári answered that “There is a chance, and a wide collaboration is in the interest of the opposition. E14 will not stand in the way.”

Unfortunately the hypothetical E14 offer is not as generous as it seems. The two districts they are willing to give DK are Fidesz strongholds. Of the six districts that belong to MSZP at present only two could possibly be won by an opposition candidate. An unnamed DK politician’s reaction undoubtedly reflects the feelings of the DK leadership and the 8,700 party members: “What magnanimity! Two parties with approximately the same popular support and Együtt will keep 29 and will give us two. This doesn’t even deserve comment.” Apparently one DK politician who is a member of the presidium said that they would be happy with a 60-40 split of the 31 districts E14 currently has as a result of the Bajnai-Mesterházy pact. But such a split would deprive E14 of being able to have a separate party list.

Gordon Bajnai immediately denied that E14 has been thinking about reopening negotiations with MSZP. That  may even be true in the strict sense of the word. However, every party has to have contingency plans, especially if MSZP insists on reopening negotiations in the eventuality of a further fall in E14’s popularity.

As far as Gyurcsány’s strategy is concerned, I’m becoming convinced that he is trying to force the hand of the opposition parties to come up with a common list. This may in fact become a necessity if neither E14–or whatever it is called by then–nor DK could have a party list. In this case a single list would be the only option. Polls over the next two months or so will undoubtedly help shape the strategy the opposition parties will have to adopt.

The latest Medián poll: Left-liberal voters want a united front

The democratic parties got a lot of bad news today. Two polls came out, and both show a growth in the popularity of Fidesz and less dissatisfaction with the performance of the government. At the same time, support for the opposition parties is stagnant. The democratic opposition has to rethink its strategy if it is to have a chance of standing up to the Fidesz electoral onslaught we all expect. The setup that was worked out by MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM isn’t attracting voters.

The Tárki poll shows a considerable strengthening of Fidesz support. According to the poll, Fidesz has the support of 50% of active voters. That means that, given the peculiarities of the new Hungarian electoral system, if the elections were held this coming weekend Fidesz would again achieve a two-thirds majority in the new smaller (199-seat) parliament. Among the same group MSZP has the support of 20% and E14 only 6%. That means that E-14 wouldn’t even manage to get into parliament because as a “party alliance” it needs 10% of the votes to be eligible for parliamentary representation. DK has 4%, 1% shy of the necessary 5% to become a parliamentary party.

In case someone thinks that Tárki is apt to overestimate Fidesz’s strength, Medián’s poll, also released today, confirms Tárki’s findings. Based on Medián’s latest poll, Fidesz would win big at the next election. A two-thirds majority is guaranteed. Medián figures 139 parliamentary seats out of 199. According to their model, MSZP-E14 is currently running 9% behind Fidesz. They would need another 450,000 voters in order to win the election.

Medián also asked potential voters about the state of the opposition. The details of the poll are still not available, but I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of the article that will appear shortly in HVG. The title of the article is “Kétséges együttes,” a clever wordplay that is difficult to translate. In plain language, those questioned have doubts about the agreement Bajnai and Mesterházy signed.

What is it they don’t like? Almost everything. The great majority of voters who support the democratic parties are not satisfied with the MSZP-E-14 deal. They don’t like the fact that the two parties decided on separate party lists. They also dislike the arrangement whereby the two parties divided the 106 districts between themselves.

Medián conducted personal interviews with 1,200 people between September 6 and 10. Only 23% of those interviewed were completely satisfied with the arrangement while 22% were totally dissatisfied; 41% said that the agreement is good but that it could have been improved by having a common list and a common candidate for prime minister. Even supporters of E-14 are not totally satisfied, although one would have thought that they would be pleased with the agreement that greatly favors their party. Only 37% of them are totally satisfied with the agreement as opposed to 26% of MSZP supporters.

As for the person of the potential prime minister, the supporters of the democratic parties still prefer Bajnai as they did earlier, but the difference in popularity between Bajnai and Mesterházy is smaller today than it was in July.

Median gyurcsanyPerhaps the most interesting question posed in this month’s Medián poll concerned the left-liberal voters’ assessment of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The question was: “There are those who claim that for the replacement of the Orbán government every opposition force is needed including Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, the Democratikus Koalíció. Others maintain that Ferenc Gyurcsány is so unpopular that many people would rather not vote because they wouldn’t want to vote for a political alliance in which he is included and therefore it would be better if the parties’ collaboration would exclude him. Which viewpoint do you share?”

Support for the first viewpoint is colored in orange on the chart, support for the second in blue, and “no opinion” in light orange. The first line represents the replies of MSZP voters, the second E14 voters, the third “all left-wing voters,” the fourth “without a party,” and the last those who will most likely vote but who at the moment are unsure of their party preference.

I think this poll somewhat favors DK, although some people might counter that DK’s inclusion wouldn’t garner a lot of extra votes because his support is the lowest among those without a party. But considering Medián’s finding that support for MSZP-E14 hasn’t increased since an agreement was reached between the two parties, they probably don’t have anything to lose by including DK in a joint effort. I suspect that the potential upside reward outweighs the downside risk.

And if I were Bajnai and Mesterházy I would seriously reconsider the present arrangement of having two or three party lists. The majority of their voters prefer one common list and common candidates. They could run as a coalition called, for instance, Democratic Front or Fórum. And yes, one common candidate for prime minister candidate is a must. If they are serious about removing Orbán and making an effort to restore democracy in Hungary, they must come up with a winning strategy. Truly combining their efforts in a united front is what their voters want them to do.

Ferenc Gyurcsány the campaigner in his element

Ipsos was the first company to release its monthly poll on the electorate’s preferences for parties and politicians. As far as the two large parties, Fidesz and MSZP, are concerned, the changes are minimal and most likely insignificant, Fidesz’s 27% is one percentage point higher than it was a month ago; MSZP lost one percentage point and now stands at 14% in the electorate as a whole. In the case of the three smaller parties, the changes may be more significant. Jobbik lost 2% of its followers, which means that only 6% of the electorate would vote for this far-right party. Együtt 2014-PM lost a point and by now is the second smallest party in Hungary, with 3%. DK is still the smallest political formation with 2%, but this number is nonetheless something of a breakout for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party which this year never had more than a 1% share of the electorate. In a month–at least according to Ipsos–the Demokratikus Koalíció doubled its support. Mind you, Ferenc Gyurcsány, the party’s chairman, declared only yesterday that support for the party is much greater than the polls indicate although he would hate to guess how much greater. It could be 4% or even 12%.

One reason for the upsurge might be the incredible energy of Ferenc Gyurcsány who, realizing that elections are closer than most people think, moved into high gear. Here are a few numbers. In August Gyurcsány’s name appeared in the news 72 times, fewer than Viktor Orbán, Gordon Bajnai, or Attila Mesterházy, but it was Gyurcsány who had the most air time. He spoke on TV and radio for 2,218 minutes as opposed to Mesterházy’s 1,367, Viktor Orbán’s 683, and Gordon Bajnai’s 353 minutes.

Another reason might be that his message is the simplest and the most uncompromising as far as his attitude toward the Orbán government is concerned. Many voters who want change find Együtt 2014-PM’s messages confusing and the latest declarations of Gordon Bajnai, Viktor Szigetvári, and Péter Kónya worrisome. Bajnai’s mysterious reference to an offer that Fidesz will not be able to refuse led some people to think that Bajnai may be thinking in terms of a grand coalition, an idea that sent shivers down the spines  of members of the anti-Fidesz forces. I also suspect that Gyurcsány’s shabby treatment at the hands of MSZP politicians will only help’s DK’s fortunes. Next month’s polls will reveal whether or not my hunch is correct. I might also add to the list of reasons for increased DK support Gyurcsány’s superior oratorical skills.

I assume that the above figures regarding Gyurcsány’s media exposure did not include the speech he gave on Saturday when he, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju attracted about 5,000 people. Or his recent long interview with HVG. Or another interview that MTV’s Híradó published only a few hours ago.

Here I would like to say a few words about the HVG interview. It is about twice as long as my average-length post. Although it is upbeat, it also includes a level of self-criticism that one couldn’t hear from Gyurcsány before. He came to the realization, he said, that in 2004 he “became prime minister without the necessary experience or wisdom.” Today he knows that to be beaten once or twice, or to be in opposition, are perhaps prerequisites for success as prime minister.

Gyurcsany HVG

He then returned to the subject of Őszöd because he wants to “rehabilitate” that speech, portraying it as the first attempt on the left to depart from the kinds of economic policies for political gain that led to the economic decline of the country. A lot of people said at the time, including President László Sólyom, that Gyurcsány should have resigned right then and there. Gyurcsány disagrees. In that fateful speech he told his audience that if the reforms he was planning to introduce fail, he will resign. He should have resigned, however, he admits, in 2008 after the reforms were roundly rejected by the disastrous referendum on the 300 forint co-pay and the introduction of a small tuition fee. He “missed the tempo.” Instead of resigning, he attempted to scale back the reforms, which he now calls “reforms light.”

As for DK’s chances, Gyurcsány thinks that the party will be able to get 7-8% of the votes, plenty to become a parliamentary party. If DK doesn’t manage to qualify for parliamentary representation, then the party is finished and with it Ferenc Gyurcsány as a politician.

If the democratic side loses the election and DK is in opposition, he will be the head of the DK delegation “to show how one ought to speak and act in opposing Viktor Orbán.” If the current democratic opposition wins, he will not occupy the post because he doesn’t want “the new prime minister to feel his presence in his back.” He is optimistic. “According to public opinion polls, 53% of the electorate want to see Viktor Orbán’s government go and only 31% stick by it. One can go back as far as 1990: no government could remain in office with such a level of rejection.”

And finally, the conversation turned to his person as an obstacle for the unity of the left. MSZP maintains that Gyurcsány will take more votes away from the opposition than he will bring to the opposition. (Vera Lánczos in today’s Galamus argues that the poll the Republikon Institute took in the spring doesn’t support that claim.) Gyurcsány in this interview gives new polling figures that I was not familiar with. He claims that 60-70% of left-liberal voters like Bajnai, Mesterházy, and him equally well, although he admits that he is less popular among the undecided.

The Demokratikus Koalíció has embarked on a membership drive and is also in the middle of amassing a database. The party called 550,000 households, using Gyurcsány’s voice, asking for support. Apparently in 14% of the cases people showed a willingness to allow DK to collect their personal data.

Gyurcsány might yet surprise us all, especially if the extreme right-wingers spit in his face a few more times as happened yesterday inside and outside of the courthouse where he went to show his solidarity with the two police chiefs who are facing charges in connection with their alleged negligence in the September-October 2006 disturbances. By the way, the court procedure, for which 100 days were set aside, was scheduled to begin on September 18, the exact day when the one or two sentences from the long Őszöd speech were read on the Hungarian public radio and prompted, with lots of help from Fidesz, the siege of the Hungarian Public Television station. The choice of the date cannot be an accident. The Orbán government has a sense of the dramatic.