The Electoral Dynamics of the Hungarian Elections 2022
By Jan Philipp Thomeczek, Endre Borbáth, Alberto López Ortega, André Krouwel, Norbert Kersting, Kata Benedek
Introduction: Finally a Chance for the Opposition?
On Sunday, the most unpredictable Hungarian national election since 2006 will take place. After 12 consecutive years of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz majorities, the opposition has a realistic chance of approximating or even surpassing Fidesz’ vote share. Six opposition parties joined forces in the “United for Hungary” electoral coalition. During their primary elections, opposition voters elected a single candidate to face Fidesz in each of the 106 single member districts and united behind the prime minister candidate, Péter Márki-Zay. Mounting a centre-right challenge aimed to convince disenchanted Fidesz voters, Márki-Zay represents a centre-right position within a polyphonic big-tent opposition alliance. The six political parties of “United for Hungary” (UH) come from strongly different political camps: the radical right (Jobbik), centre(Momentum), centre-left (MSZP), left (DK), and ecologism (PM, LMP). As our analysis of the structure of party competition based on PRECEDE data shows, the parties of the opposition alliance are kept together by their strong anti-establishment, anti-Orbán stance.
The Orbán government prepared a referendum on legislation related to ‘child protection’ to confront the alliance in the campaign. The referendum is set to take place simultaneously with the election. The suggestive questions are widely considered as homophobic, as it seems impossible to reject them. This plebicscite seems to lack integrity in different areas, if one would apply the criterium of other referendums. Given the overlap between the referendum and the elections, gender issues became a key issue of the campaign. However, this suddenly changed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The war has forced the Orbán government to change its strategy of fighting the campaign on gender.
After 12 years of investing in a close alliance with Russia, the policies of the Fidesz government came under scrutiny after Russia invaded Ukraine. Those policies include extending the Paks nuclear power plant with Russian loans, hosting the Russian backed International Investment Bank (often seen as a Trojan horse of Russian intelligence operations in Europe), regular Putin-Orbán meetings, and the increasingly close business cooperation with the Russian elite. With NATO and EU alliances closing ranks in solidarity with Ukraine, Orbán partly reversed his government’s uncritical stance on Russia and identified a pro-peace, pro-neutrality position as the electorally least harmful alternative. Meanwhile, the “United for Hungary” alliance consistently represents a political position more closely aligned with the NATO and EU countries against Russia. In the last month of the campaign, the war became a “super-issue”, crowding out the coverage of other issues in the domestic press.
The Positions of the Hungarian Political Parties and Coalitions
Party Expert Position Survey (PEPS) Hungary
Where are the most important Hungarian parties and the new oppositional coalition “United for Hungary” located ideologically? To position the political parties, the PRECEDE project conducted an expert survey among Hungarian researchers who specialised in Hungarian politics. Since experts had to select the parties they wanted to place, the number of responses per party and issue differs, with around 30 placements for the biggest parties. The party positions were identified using the median of the expert placements, as it is less strongly influenced by outliers than the mean. Each of the statements was then assigned to the dimensions of interest. To identify the party positions per dimension, the mean of all statements assigned to the dimension was calculated, as frequently used by Voting Advice Applications based on a two-dimensional space, including other PRECEDE tools. We recently developed several Voting Advice Applications for other countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, and France, using a similar method.
Cultural and Economic Issues
Figure 1 shows the distribution of party positions based on the two most salient dimensions of European party politics, an economic left-right dimension and a cultural/societal GAL-TAN (Green Alternative Libertarian – Traditional Authoritarian Nationalist) dimension. As the dimension on European Integration aligns well with the GAL-TAN dimension, we decided to combine the two dimensions for simplicity, as other Voting Advice Applications such as EU and I have previously done before.
Two aspects of the Hungarian political landscape become apparent by looking at Figure 1. First, the political competition on the economic dimension is relatively centrist. All oppositional groups are somewhat centre-left, thus in moderate favour of a “strong state”. Momentum, part of the liberal ALDE European party association, takes the least leftist position within the UH coalition. Fidesz-KDNP takes the most market-friendly positions, with still relatively moderate positions. Overall, the economic dimension is structured by many valence issues, where parties are rather concerned with the way and intensity an issue needs to be solved instead of its general direction. This is also reflected in economic statements from the pre-selection where all parties were “on the same side” (e.g. increasing the minimum wage or increasing the wage of civil servants). Nevertheless, there may be a discrepancy between the expert assessment and official party communication for some issues.
The second main conclusion drawn from Figure 1 is that political competition is strongly polarised along the GAL-TAN dimension. While all UH coalition parties except for Jobbik, plus satire party MKKP, are located in the GAL quadrant, Fidesz and right-wing populist newcomer Our Homeland are clearly in favour of TAN positions. Jobbik is located somehow in between, quite distant from its other UH coalition partners. By looking at Figure 1, one may wonder why ideological clearly different parties such as Momentum and Jobbik would officially team up in an electoral coalition. The answer to this question can probably be found in Figure 2.
Figure 1. Political Landscape of Hungary based on an Economic and a GAL-TAN Dimension.
Pro vs Anti-Establishment
In Figure 2, the vertical axis is the same as in Figure 1. The horizontal dimension now summarises statements dividing parties into a Pro- and Anti-Establishment dimension. Those statements relate to topics such as anti-elitism, and national-specific political conflicts about the government’s concentration of power (e.g. influence on the selection of the cultural and scientific elite, independence of state media, anti-corruption measures and autonomy of municipalities). The positions of the political parties on this dimension show clearly that the primary purpose of the United for Hungary alliance is to defeat Fidesz. All UH parties are united in their anti-government stances, including Jobbik. The non-UH opposition, in contrast, is divided. While MKKP is strongly anti-government, Our Homeland takes more nuanced positions. Nevertheless, even Our Homeland is located on the anti-government side.
Figure 2. Political Landscape of Hungary based on an Anti-/Pro-Establishment Dimension and a GAL-TAN Dimension.
During the last decade, researchers have observed growing democratic backsliding and the transformation towards an illiberal democracy in Hungary, reflected the many conflicts that the Hungarian government, led by Viktor Orbán, provoked with the European Union. From a Western European perspective, one may think that this stems from or is at least correlated with growing Euroscepticism in Hungary. However, looking at the party positions towards EU membership, this does not seem to be the case. The experts classify only one party, namely far-right Our Homeland, as clearly anti-EU; all other oppositional parties are not Eurosceptic. To external observers, it may be surprising that Fidesz is classified as “neutral” towards the statement that EU membership has “mostly been bad for Hungary”. However, up to date, a potential “Huxit” was officially never suggested by Fidesz. Orbán’s fight with the European Union is primarily rhetorical. A recent poll of 2020 showed that leaving the European Union is only supported by a small minority (17%) of the Hungarian population, suggesting that even Fidesz voters are against this measure. Instead, Western leaders have occasionally suggested that Hungary may be better off leaving the EU. For example, in 2021, after the Fidesz government had passed a very controversial Anti-LGBTQI law, Dutch prime minister Rutte suggested that Hungary may consider leaving the EU if it did not respect EU values.
|Party/Coalition||Overall, EU membership has been a bad thing for Hungary.|
|EM Coalition||Strongly Disagree|
|Our Homeland||Strongly Agree|
Table 1. Party Positions toward European Integration.
While the election outcome remains uncertain, Fidesz is the clear favourite. In recent years, Orbán has successfully shaped an electorate homogenous in its preferences in a highly polarised space, where a defection of Fidesz voters to the opposition parties remains the exception. The opposition took the first hurdle with success by joining forces, giving them a real chance at winning for the first time since 2006. The UH coalition is primarily held together by their strong anti-Orbánism. Nevertheless, the six-party coalition is fragmented both organisationally and programmatically. To successfully face the institutional limits that stay in place even if they win the election and form a stable government, they need to strengthen both their ideological and organisational cohesion. In the last days, a poorly phrased sentence, a picture from the past of a Jobbik politician, or a reminder of the controversial role previous left-wing prime minister Gyurcsány played in the 2006 protest are still able to dissuade voters of opposition parties.
|Quite a few of the people running the government are crooked.||Anti-Establishment|
|The government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.||Anti-Establishment|
|MPs in Parliament very quickly lose touch with ordinary people.||Anti-Establishment|
|Hungary should set up an Anti-Corruption Commission.||Anti-Establishment|
|There is too much political influence on the selection of cultural and scientific directors.||Anti-Establishment|
|The state media should be made more independent from political influence.||Anti-Establishment|
|Municipal authorities need more autonomy.||Anti-Establishment|
|Hungary needs a new Constitution.||Anti-Establishment|
|Government officials use their power to try to improve people’s lives.||Pro-Establishment
|The state should extend the financial support of unemployed workers from 3 to 9 months.||Economic Left|
|The tax rate for the highest incomes must be increased.||Economic Left|
|Wealth should be redistributed from the richest people to the poorest.||Economic Left|
|In general, government spending should be reduced in order to lower taxes.||Economic Right|
|In general, the state should intervene as little as possible in the economy.||Economic Right|
|In order to keep pensions affordable, the retirement age may be raised if life expectancy rises.||Economic Right|
|Workers’ protection regulations should be reduced to fight unemployment.||Economic Right|
|It should be easier to have an abortion.||GAL|
|A party’s seat share should be fully determined on the basis of its vote share (full proportional representation).||GAL|
|The people I disagree with politically are not evil.||GAL|
|Renewable sources of energy should be supported even if this means higher energy costs.||GAL|
|Churches should receive less public funding.||GAL|
|Major government decisions should be approved by a referendum.||GAL|
|Stricter climate legislation must be introduced, even if it stands in the way of economic growth.||GAL|
|It should be compulsory for children to go to school until the age of 18.||GAL|
|Only citizens residing in Hungary permanently should vote in the Hungarian elections.||GAL|
|Women are disadvantaged in our society.||GAL|
|Members of the LGBT community threaten the institutions of the traditional family.||TAN|
|You can tell if a person is good or bad if you know their politics.||TAN|
|Immigration to Hungary should be made more restrictive.||TAN|
|The climate crisis is exaggerated.||TAN|
|Immigrants should adapt to Hungarian values.||TAN|
|Only legally recognized traditional families (married heterosexual couples) should be helped financially by the state.||TAN|
|Criminals should be punished more severely.||TAN|
|It is not possible to integrate the Roma population into Hungarian society.||TAN|
|Sex education is the responsibility of parents, not of schools.||TAN|
|Membership of the EU has so far been mostly bad for Hungary.||TAN|
|Christian values should be given a more central place in political decision-making.||TAN|
|The people I disagree with politically are just misinformed.||TAN|
|The adoption of the single European currency (EURO) would be a bad thing for Hungary.||TAN|
Table 2. List of Statements and Scaling. Statements in Italic are not included in the Tool.