Hungary elections: Fidesz Favourites - swing districts eg Nagykanizsa, Szabolcs 2, Key in close race
Updated: Apr 3, 2022
In Their Own Words: András Bíró-Nagy is a political scientest & director of Policy Solutions, a think tank associated with the European Social Democrats. Presented are some slightly edited excerpts of his talk to foreign journalists in Budapest last Tuesday.
Photo: András Bíró-Nagy, Director and owner of Policy Solutions. - Courtesy Photo.
Bíró-Nagy, Introduction: Not all of the polls are wrong, and I would say that the favourites for the election is the current governing party, Fidesz, but this doesn't mean the opposition don't have a chance of winning. Still, an opposition win would be a surprise. According to all the polls of the last six months, regardless of the political orientation of the polling company, from left to right, all show that the most likely scenario is that Fidesz will have a parliamentary majority.
It doesn't necessarily mean that Fidesz will also win the popular vote. One of the key [characteristics] which should be taken into account when we talk about the potential scenarios is that - I wouldn't say it's very likely - but it's a possible scenario that the opposition wins the popular vote, but Fidesz still wins more parliamentary seats.
This will be the first time that the Hungarian electoral system has been [tested] in a close race. This electoral system by Fidesz was set up in 2011, and since then we've had two national elections. In neither was the race really close, so we haven't been able to [assess] how this system functions in a close race.
But now, this is what we will get to see, and the distortions of the Hungarian electoral system would be most visible if the opposition were to win the popular vote but with an [inadequate] margin.
In order for the opposition to win a majority, according to statistical analysis, the opposition needs to win by at least 3-4 percentage points. Later, I will argue that this is not entirely true, because mostly the election will depend upon the single-member constituencies. So, it's not good enough just to measure the state of play at the national level, what really matters is what's going on in the 20 so-called swing districts.
[Editorial note - the Opposition Alliance deem as many as 30 constitutencies "swing seats".]
But let's accept that the opposition has to win by 3-4 percentage points. If this is the case, I can confidently say that we haven't seen any poll in the last six months which would show a potential parliamentary majority for the opposition.
The best time for the opposition was the end of the primary elections [last October], when they were slightly ahead in the polls, but, according to the Hungarian system, still Fidesz would have had more seats in parliament. And none of the polls showed the opposition, let's say 5 percentage points ahead. We've never seen this in recent history.
So my starting point is that Fidesz are still the favourites, despite all the crises [the war, inflation], At the same time, all pollsters say that they've never experienced such uncertainty when it comes to the validity of their data.
My second point, the elections will be absolutely decided in the 106 single-member constituencies, and in those 20 seats considered swing seats. Honestly, I've never seen such a big effort by the current opposition parties in these swing seats previously.
What can be seen is that in the last 10 days of the campaign, they have sent out mini-vans with loudspeakers spreading the opposition message. The activists of the opposition are concentrating in these 20 districts, and prime ministerial candidate Péter Márki-Zay is going not only to these, but to the swing districts as well.
Photo: András Fekete-Győr (of the Momentum Movement) at the March 25th launch of the Opposition mobile campaign designed to reach out to the 30 "swing districts" seen as crucial for election victory. Photo Courtesy of Telex.hu
At the same time, [Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán has only just started to visit the constituencies, I believe two-three days ago, and until then he was really invisible personally at the grass roots activities of Fidesz, campaigning for Fidesz candidates in these constituencies. And with Péter Márki-Zay also going all the time, you can't really know what the dynamics will be in these individual seats.
But it must also be mentioned that the majority of these swing districts are where the rural population are in the majority, and this is a problem for the opposition, because the major tendency of the last parliamentary term has been that the polarisation of Hungarian society when it comes to type of residence has just increased.
The opposition has become more popular in the big cities, especially here in Budapest, where a landslide is expected for the opposition. But when it comes to rural Hungary, my argument is that we just don't see the breakthrough for the opposition. Over the last four years we actually have seen an even stronger hold by Fidesz over rural Hungary.
This was already very visible at the time of the local elections in 2019, when it's true that in Budapest and some large cities the opposition had some remarkable success, but at the same time, in rural Hungary, it was a huge landslide for Fidesz. If the dynamics of the 2019 municipal elections are repeated in the national election, then it's a Fidesz majority, because we have more rural than urban districts in the Hungarian electoral system.
And one more factor, which might be important for the swing districts, what we have to check in each of them is whether Fidesz has incumbent candidates there, whether the opposition candidate is a newcomer, or someone who is well known locally, because in many cases [without this check] one can have a [false] impression.
What Viktor Orbán did before the elections is that he carefully measured in all districts whether the Fidesz candidate can out-perform the Fidesz party list or not. This was based on previous election experience. Where Fidesz found that where the local candidate was weaker than the party list, then in many places, they changed the candidate.
Where the local Fidesz guy was stronger than the Fidesz party list, of course there was no need to change anything, and he is very likely to perform for some extra votes for Fidesz as well.
In the swing districts, if the local Fidesz candidate is an incumbent who has regularly out-performed the Fidesz list, and we have an inexperienced newcomer opposition candidate, then the situation could easily be that we, from Budapest, count on that district as being a swing district. But in reality, it's not really, because Fidesz could be ahead by 5 points, because there is an incumbent Fidesz guy fighting against a newcomer.
This is why we should be careful with the national, aggregate data when it comes to guessing the chances. And I believe the major obstacle for the opposition currently is to overturn these swing districts, mostly in rural Hungary.
Journalist Question: Can you give sopme examples of these 20 swing-seats?
Nagykanizsa [in south-west Hungary] is clearly a place where you have a formerly industrial town which normally votes for the left, at least historically, but the constituency has many villages surrounding the city. This is what makes the entire district as a swing seat.
If the opposition can win there, I would say this is a crucial win. According to the list of winnable districts, it's somewhere around number 50, so it's very close to the parliamentary majority line, because in order to have a parliamentary majority, the opposition has to win at least around 55 seats [of the 106 individual constituencies].
If they win Nagykanizsa, I would say it will be a close race for sure [nationwide].
The same is true for Tiszaújváros, Borsod County 6, in eastern Hungary. This has already been a territory for experiment, because there was a by-election there last year. There was a close race, and Fidesz won by five points, but this is a must-win for the opposition.
Another example in eastern Hungary is Szabolcs county district 2, which includes some suburbs of Nyíregyháza.
The city itself, Nyíregyháza, is a must win for the opposition. If they don't win Nyíregyháza, then even a two-thirds Fidesz majority is in sight. That's Szabolcs district 1.
Szabolcs 2 is a master example of gerrymandering by Fidesz, because it has some parts of the city, but the big majority of the district is the surrounding villages and small [municipalities]. As far as I remember, approximately 70% of the district is made up of villages and towns surrounding Nyiregyhaza. So Nyiregyhaza [urban part] is only 30% of the constituency, while we have the 100% urban district in Szabolcs 1.
Journalist Question: That's the way of 'losing' those opposition votes?
That's the way to waste them, to put those left-wing votes into a rural constituency. Or, to put it a better way, they could have made two districts out of Nyíregyháza, where the urban populations would be in the majority, but they decided to create one big opposition 'ghetto', in the city, [an example of] let's waste 80,000 voters there on one seat, and put 20,000 other voters among rural-type districts.
But Szabolcs 2 is still considered a swing district, because of the 30% urban population. At the same time, it's very rural, and if I had to guess, I'd say this will go to Fidesz, because of the major tendencies of the past four years.
Editorial Note: In response to a later question, Bíró-Nagy said the opposition candidate in Nagykanizsa was a member of the Democratic Coalition, while the candidates in the two eastern constituencies are both Socialist Party members.