voters

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.

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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.