Hungary is at stake! Online roundtable discussion report

 
 
Feb
09.

Hungary is at stake! Online roundtable discussion report

Republikon Intézet
 

On February 4th, 2021, Republikon Institute organized an online roundtable discussion titled "Hungary is at stake!". The event’s opening remarks were delivered by Gábor Horn, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Republikon Foundation, while the discussion was moderated by Dániel Mikecz, Chief Analyst at Republikon Institute. The participants of the discussion were experts from social and political research institutes: Balázs Böcskei, Research Director at IDEA Institute, Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, Head of Nézőpont Group, Andrea Virág, Strategic Director at Republikon Institute and Tibor Závecz, Founder-CEO of Závecz Research.

The experts discussed the potential central figures of the 2022 national elections, campaign opportunities for both the opposition and Fidesz, as well as current projections for the outcome of the elections. Since these think tanks use different methodologies in their analyses and hence their results often diverge considerably, a lively discussion developed between the discussants. Some of them were more, others were less optimistic about the chances of the opposition in the next elections, and due to their different research findings, they saw the opposition’s best bet in different campaign themes. However, they all agreed on one thing: the results of the 2022 elections are going to be extremely close, and the opposition’s only realistic chance for victory is through close cooperation and joint candidates.

According to Balázs Böcskei, although support for the joint opposition list can still change, his institute measured 44% support for Fidesz and 47% support for the opposition. He believes party preferences will not change considerably in the near future, even though anti-government and protest sentiment may intensify, which will favor the opposition. Böcskei thinks vaccine procurement and the handling of the coronavirus are going to be important campaign themes, which the government can heavily influence by its upcoming national consultation. In his view, it remains an open question whether the government can bring about tangible welfare changes that enable them to retain peripheral voters, and whether Fidesz can address voters from other parties with its vaccine policy. Mr Böcskei believes that in case of some of the opposition parties, the party itself might be more popular than their candidates, which is the reason why politicians are hesitant who they nominate for the joint list – it will be an interesting question of the elections whether individual candidates or the popularity of the party will prove to be more important. With regards to the outcome of the elections, he attaches great importance to social media and news coverage in the opposition campaign, as these could have a chance to address moderate Fidesz supporters. He believes the stakes are high, since in case the opposition loses again, that will call the capabilities of opposition politics in general into question.

According to Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, it does not make sense anymore to measure the popularity of opposition parties separately as the party system is currently transforming and their only chance lies in close cooperation. Nézőpont Institute projects more support for the government – according to their analysis, the number of firm Fidesz voters is over 50%, while 57% of Hungarians are currently satisfied with Viktor Orbán. The presence of Ferenc Gyurcsány decreases the opposition's chances. Mr Mráz believes it is a major problem for the opposition that even some of their voters sympathize with Viktor Orbán, and that a unified opposition voter identity has not yet developed. As long as Viktor Orbán remains active in politics, his person will hold the Fidesz voting bloc together. He agreed with Mr Böcskei that the handling of the coronavirus and the related protest sentiment will be important themes in the 2022 elections. Mr Mráz believes the opposition has not showed why they could better deal with the virus situation in their campaign yet – in his opinion, Fidesz is currently winning on the vaccine issue.

According to Andrea Virág, it is still important to measure the opposition parties’ popularity separately, as these results could be important during the primary elections. She believes the coronavirus will play an important role in the campaign, although other campaign themes might as well arise in the coming months – it mostly depends on how much opposition and pro-government politicians let the campaign narrow down to this specific area. She noted that neither side is thematizing politics at the moment: it is dominated by the virus. In her opinion, the virus deprived Fidesz of controlling public opinion; the major themes of Hungarian politics are no longer decided in Viktor Orbán’s office. In this regard, she thinks the opposition has a novel opportunity, and considers it important for them to find new thematizing instruments such as the primaries, which worked well in the 2019 municipal elections. Since the details of the primaries are not yet clear (for example, it is not yet obvious how many rounds there will be), the parties do not have specific candidates announced yet. In her view, the hesitation of opposition politicians about running is therefore understandable.

Tibor Závecz believes that the opposition electorate is held together by their intention to change the government and remove Viktor Orbán from his office as prime minister. According to him, many people support the joint list because they believe it has a realistic chance, hence they have already moved beyond the problems of Ferenc Gyurcsány and Jobbik. However, in his opinion, Fidesz will continue to be more successful in bringing their supporters together, and they will try to regain lost voters through their agricultural policy, and their handling of the coronavirus. He added that apart from their disapproval of Fidesz, the opposition will need other instruments to improve their group cohesion such as future in the EU, the rule of law, social issues, or the eradication of corruption. As the election indicators are very unstable for the time being and a very close result is expected, politicians are wary of who will run for the position of the joint candidate for prime minister – so far, only Péter Jakab signaled his intention to do so. However, Mr Závecz thinks the opposition parties should decide this by springtime in order to have enough time for their campaign. According to current surveys conducted by his institute, there are no prominent prime ministerial candidates among the opposition, and there is no major difference in voters’ support for Klára Dobrev, Gergely Karácsony or Péter Márky-Zay. Mr Závecz believes that if the opposition loses the elections, the dividing line between parties of the 20th and 21st centuries will sharpen – if Fidesz loses, they will try to aggressively hinder the activities of the new government.

At the end of the roundtable discussion, experts answered two questions from the audience. Andrea Virág responded to the first question, which inquired about the possible expansion of the opposition coalition. In her view, no additional parties will join, but she sees an opportunity in joining forces with independent candidates. The second question concerned the possible beneficiary of a higher voter turnout. According to Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, this depends on where higher turnout will appear – in cities or in the countryside. Tibor Závecz also emphasized that mobilization in individual constituencies will have a very significant impact on the election results.