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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

András Pulai: "Fidesz is running as a clearly anti-EU party for the first time in the EP elections."

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

In their own words: Mr Pulai, a political scientist/pollster, argues results of next June's European Parliamentary elections could be close, if the democratic opposition parties can form an effective coalition. That, however, remains rather a big 'if'.

Results of the Publicus poll, undertaken August 30th - September 7th by phone on a sample of 1,000 respondents. The governing Fidesz-KDNP coalition (on the far left of the table) has 27% support of the total electorate. However Fidesz commands a commanding 46% of those who say they would vote in a general election today.

The columns on the far right reveal 'don't knows' or 'unsure' voters now comprise 37% of the electorate.

The leader of the opposition parties is the Democratic Coalition, with (it seems) 11% support of the total electorate, which translates to 15% support of those who would vote if an election were held today.

András Pulai, Director of Strategy at Publicus Research, a Budapest-based polling company, recently spoke to the Hungarian International Press Association on the results of a September survey of voter allegiance in Hungary.

In a wide-ranging presentation, Mr Pulai looked at corruption and party preferences, with particular reference to the local and European Parliamentary elections, due to take place next June.

This post focuses on those aspects discussed which refer to the European Parliamentary elections and expectations based on the current moods in the voting public.

Hungary has 21 MEP seats allocated to it in the European Parliament.

Note: For those who do not normally follow Hungarian politics, the “opposition coalition” referred to in this post refers to the six-party alliance that was formed in 2021 to fight the 2022 national election, with Péter Márki-Zay acting as the common prime ministerial candidate.

This comprised the Socialist Party (MSzP), the Democratic Coalition (DK), Momentum Movement, Jobbik, LMP (Politics can be Different – green) and Dialogue (green).

Since the disappointing result of 2022, it appears unlikely that this broad-based coalition can be re-formed for 2024, in spite of strong voter support for such a coalition.

Márki-Zay's Everybody's Hungary Movement (MMM) has meantime registered as a political party, although it has thus far barely registered on the political radar nationally.

András Pulai, Director of Strategy at Publicus Research (Courtesy Photo)


András Pulai: The European Parliamentary (EP) elections, are a whole different ball game [from the municipal elections]. In the local elections, the mayors, the councils and the local politicians have a lot to lose. This is why they are much more sensible and more pragmatic in their approach.

At the national level, the opposition politician doesn't really have a lot to lose. This is why they play a different game, which means there will be an alliance of the parties in the local elections: the same cannot be said for the EP elections.

There are different dynamics among opposition parties, and parties are seeking for sub-coalitions among the opposition field. It's highly unlikely, as of now, that there will be big coalition of the six parties which formed the coalition in the last general election, but there is the possibility that there might be certain sub-coalitions, and any direction can be imagined as of now.

We could have: everyone bar DK, there's a chance for that, [or] DK, plus the leftist grouping, the Socialists, Dialogue and LMP [versus] the others, like Momentum, Jobbik and MMM, that I can imagine.

Also, there is a chance of the Momentum guys forming a coalition with the Socialists, Jobbik and Párbeszéd against the DK – LMP sub-group. It's really fluctuating day by day.

There was a set of meetings before this summer among the opposition party leaders, or let's say the second-level membership, which was inconclusive, and hasn't continued after the summer. So, there are like bilateral talks among the parties, but no big six-seven party discussion is going on as of now.

Anyhow, should the opposition find a way to unite its forces, it may have a chance of winning, surprise, surprise!

If the parties decide to run alone – only in the EP elections – then Fidesz may get around half of the votes, DK may get between 15 – 20%, and all the others are between 4-8%.

So, [it means] there is a chance of MSzP, Jobbik, The Two-tailed Dog, Momentum and Mi Hazánk – like five parties - to get one or zero MEPs.

Kester Eddy: And Fidesz would get, what 12 seats?

Yeah, around 12. DK may get three, the most likely scenario, maybe four. It depends, Jobbik is on 4% [of the total vote], MSzP is on 5%, LMP is on 3%, Two-tailed Dog Party is on 5%, Momentum is on 6%, and Mi Hazánk is on 6%.

So, they are all in the danger zone, and anything can happen. Obviously some will get a seat, some won't, and it [largely] depends on how many seats DK get.

This is the scenario when they run on their own. Párbeszéd [Dialogue] is on 2%, so I don't really think they will get one, unless they form a coalition. Obviously there is the [spoof] Two-Tailed Dog Party, which is like a family business of the president and vice-president, who are like a couple.

People who vote for the Two-Tailed Dog Party are disengaged opposition voters, this is the exit route for them not to vote for Fidesz, most of them, and it's mostly an urban phenomenon, the Two-Tailed Dog doesn't really exist in the countryside, but the dissatisfaction with opposition parties is so high that they may have a chance of winning a seat.

The same goes with [the radical right] Mi Hazánk, they are on 6%, so it's highly likely that they will get one seat.

What is the most interesting data is if the opposition parties join forces, [then] they have a good chance of winning.

As of now, they [the combined total votes of the opposition, not including Mi Hazánk] are just two percentage points behind Fidesz, 33% to 31% among all respondents, and 46% to 43% among decided voters, which is very close, should they join forces.

And in this case, Mi Hazánk and the Two-Tailed Dog will both lose one or two seats. It would then be highly unlikely that MKKP would get any MEPs, and it's also quite unlikely that Mi Hazánk would get any. So, as of now, it's [almost] a tie between the opposition and Fidesz.

Should this scenario [become reality], and should the voters believe it is a real coalition, in this case it's an open-ended race.

This theory is supported by social-demographic changes among the part supporters and the changes of the policies of certain parties.

Fidesz is running as a clearly anti-EU party for the first time in the EP elections. In previous elections it was an EU-critical party, now it is clearly far more than merely EU critical, and it's not that easy to mobilise the mostly pro-European Hungarian voters for an anti-European mainstream party.

And Fidesz voters are completely divided on this issue, around half are pro-EU, and half not pro-EU, whereas 80 – 90% of opposition and the undecided voters are pro-EU. Even Jobbik voters are pro-EU, who were not, let's say 5-6 years ago.

So, this is the first hardship for Fidesz.

The second one: the EP elections and the local elections are sort of an urban game.

This is why Fidesz has set a bit of a trap for themselves, but putting the two elections for the same date. I'm quite sure that when they planned it, they thought it would be in their favour, but it may turn the other way round, and mobilise the urban voters who are more pro-European than the rural voters.

And this has a sort of effect on the local elections as well, [because] the EP elections will mobilise the urban voters, obviously to a lesser extent, but still it exists, and since they are there, they will vote for the opposition candidate.

So, this cross-mobilisation, I pretty much think that it will help the opposition, and the opposition voters.

These are the most important factors why I think the two elections, held at the same time, in the end, despite the wishes of Fidesz, in the end it will help the opposition. Actually, this is why I think that they haven't announced it properly that these will be held at the very same time.

Kester Eddy: You say that Fidesz is clearly an anti-EU party now, and you as an analyst may say that, but of course PM Orbán and some of his leading lights, for example Minister Tibor Navracsics last year told us that Fidesz is a “loyal EU party”. So you have this double speak.

So, the question is, you may say this, but what does Mr Lajos Kovács in Kecskemét think this? Do [ordinary folk] think Fidesz is an anti-EU party? And have you done surveys to support this thesis?

AP: Yes, we have. A few months ago, we've had a series of surveys on that issue. The first time that most people thought that Fidesz was an anti-European party, was January, 2022, a few months prior to the general election. That was the first time when a majority of Hungarians thought that Fidesz is an anti-EU party, and Fidesz may prepare Hungary to leave the EU, or if they don't want Hungary to explicitly leave the EU, it may drift out of the EU because of how the government does its job.

And we've done two other surveys on that topic since then, and these pretty much came to the same conclusion, that a majority of Hungarians think that Fidesz is now an anti-EU party and how the government manages things is anti-EU.

Obviously there is this double speak between certain members of the government. Mr Navracsics is obviously a pro-EU guy, he was a teacher of mine a long time ago, he was a pro-EU guy at that time, he's got a PhD in European studies …

KE: Yes, but Mr Orbán himself also says we are in the EU, whether we like it or not.

AP: Yeah, but they don't like it. I truly believe that Mr Navracsics may like it, but Mr Orbán and [House Speaker] Mr Kövér and whoever, who are making the decisions on this point, and .. What you may see is that at the rhetorical level, there is the sort of preparation for Hungary to leave the EU.

“We have to get used to not receiving funds from the EU: We have to learn how to live with this situation.” And such sentences like this appear daily.

This is fairly obvious not only to me as an analyst, but to the majority of Hungarians, that this is the clear intention of Fidesz.

Polish Embassy: Have you observed that after the war started in Ukraine that there is a group of Fidesz voters [for whom] this was a red line?

AP: Yes, there were quite a number of Fidesz voters [for whom] it was a red line, but they didn't desert Fidesz because of this. Fidesz voters are very loyal.

KE: So it was more of a pink line?

AP: Yes. It was a pink line. However, some Fidesz voters have started to desert in the last two-three months, around 3 - 4 percentage points, which is below the margin of error in terms of three months, but not because of the war. I know it would be unimaginable in Poland, and in some other CE countries, but we are in Hungary.

Obviously, Orbán was anti-Russian until 2009, you may know about the St Petersburg event, and since then he is obviously pro-Russian, and it didn't really affect Fidesz voters, which is especially interesting given what happened in '56 and '45 and all the other historical elements of the Hungarian past, and these stories resonate among Fidesz voters, yet they did not defect because of this.

But they started to defect because of the high inflation, increasing living costs, and the drastically worsening social situation, and the increasing living expenses and the relative increase of the utility prices, not only relative, but obviously there was a clear increase last October, but it relatively increased because of their …. disposable income, that's the word I was looking for.

This is why they have defected from Fidesz. Obviously not the core voters, but those that are responsive to social issues, which is obviously quite a lot, because you may know that 70 – 80 % of Hungarian voters are responsive to the social issues, this is most important for them, let them be left or right-wing voters.

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