Hungary Election Countdown
Neck-And-Neck Race: Analysing Voting Patterns in Hungary

Victor Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a press conference

© picture alliance / AA | Ercin Top

Dániel Róna from the 21 Research Center explores the tactical aspects of the next election, Andrea Szabó from the Research Institute of Social Sciences presents her research on uncertain voters, and Andrea Virág from the Republikon Institute showcases the Institute’s latest research on liberal voters in Hungary. Here are the main takeaways from the conference “Who Should Liberals Vote for in 2022?”, organized by the Republikon Institute with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Mathematical Value of a Vote

Dániel Róna from the 21 Research Centre explained that in the Hungarian electoral system, which has 106 individual and 93 list mandates, individual votes are worth more and that the individual vote is even more valuable thanks to the single transferable votes and winner compensation. The 21 Research Centre has developed an application called VoksMérleg (VotesMeasure), which gives the mathematical value of each voter's vote.

In an election, around 100,000 votes represent a seat and up to 500 votes can tip an individual constituency, with no more than 10-20,000 votes usually separating the two camps in individual constituencies. The single-member constituencies clearly have a much greater potential to tip the balance than the list. Depending on the constituencies, some are six times more likely to swing a mandate than a list, and others are 100 times more likely. These conclusions were developed using a mathematical model based on data from Závecz Research. However, Róna also said that elections are not just maths, the model only tells us the statistical probability of a constituency being flipped. The model follows from the specificities of the Hungarian electoral system.

Róna argued, that the swing seats are mainly in the northern counties of Borsod and Heves, while in the Budapest there are safe seats for the opposition. The swing seats will be decisive in the election, since if Fidesz wins most of them, it will win the whole election, and vice versa.

Róna also spoke about further disproportionalities in the electoral system. He said that the failure to change constituencies despite the ageing of the electorate was a violation of the law. Moreover, while the average population of 38 opposition constituencies is 77,000, the average population of 38 Fidesz constituencies is 71,000, which shows that the opposition constituencies are 8 percentage points larger. This implies that more people elect the same number of MPs, so the mathematical weight of voters in opposition constituencies is smaller, and the election of people from the governing party is worth more. This is a deliberate move on the part of the government, resulting in an unfair imbalance.

Dániel Róna, Ph.D., political scientist, the director of the 21 Research Center

The Sociology of Uncertain Voters

According to Andrea Szabó from the Social Science Research Centre, there are 3-4 groups of undecided voters, which can be clearly separated.  Szabó drew conclusions from the results of a survey of a sample of 7,000 people. She found that the share of undecided voters is highest in the period between elections. A correlation can be seen that as Fidesz's support has decreased, the number of undecided voters has increased.

Nevertheless, these voters who left Fidesz are of unknown preference. As the elections approached, the data clearly showed that the number of undecided voters decreased and Fidesz support increased. Szabó also said that the 2014-2018 cycle differs from the 2018-2022 cycle. From the end of 2021, however, Fidesz's support starts to increase again and the number of undecideds to decrease. Fidesz has regained all the undecided voters it lost, the only question is whether the remaining undecideds will vote for Fidesz or the opposition.

Szabó added that reaching passive voters is the hardest part, requiring a large infrastructure and serious resources, which even Fidesz does not necessarily have. For the group of active party voters, it is clear that they will vote for their own bloc. Those described in the survey as active secret voters are undecideds who will be at the polls but do not know which party they will vote for. They will not act as a homogeneous group, but will make an emotional decision in favour of one of the major political blocs in the last two weeks before the election.

Szabó said that Hungarian social science could not adequately assess the financial situation of voters. The key is the subjective sense of income, which tells us that voters in the two blocs experience their financial situation in roughly similar ways. The researcher concludes by saying that the undecided should be considered as having an unknown preference, with a share of between 10 and 15 percent. They are not a homogeneous group, they do not move in the same direction. The current war could change all assumptions, but Szabó says we are past the psychosis and campaign themes are more likely to return to domestic politics.

Andrea Szabó, Ph.D., sociologist, political scientist, a senior research fellow and deputy director at the Institute for Political Science, at the Centre for Social Sciences (Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence)

How Do Liberals Vote?

Andrea Virág from the Republikon Institute gave a presentation on the profile of liberals in Hungary. Virág spoke about their characteristics on the basis of a survey of a large sample of 5,000 people conducted in early 2021. She argued, that the left-wing, left-liberal label attached to liberals in Hungary is not appropriate, as many liberals are right-wing, even some Fidesz voters.

According to settlement type, liberals are mainly from Budapest bigger cities and, but more than 10 percent in villages also said they were liberal. There is no such difference between rural and urban areas, with only one fifth of Budapest residents, for example, identifying themselves as liberal.

Liberals' secondary values are not dominated by right-wing values. It is interesting that Fidesz is the most popular party among liberals, which shows that they are not so bothered by the illiberal nature of Fidesz, presumably because of the liberal elements of Fidesz's economic policy. So it is not true that liberals are clearly oppositional. Fidesz, however, does not engage much with this group of voters. Momentum is apparently popular among voters with a liberal classification.

Liberals support free higher education and there does not seem to be as much support for economic liberalism among liberals in Hungary. Culturally, it is interesting that many Hungarian liberals are conservative on issues such as homosexuality. On foreign policy, liberals are more positive about the European Union and the introduction of the euro currency. Sixty per cent of respondents prefer a Western orientation to an Eastern one. In conclusion, liberals are not a homogeneous group

Andrea Virág, political scientist, Director of Strategy at Republikon Institute

About the authors

Republikon Institute is a liberal think tank organisation based in Budapest, focusing on analysing Hungarian and international politics, formulating policy recommendations and initiating projects that contribute to a more open, democratic and free society. The goal of the Institute is to promote discussion and implementation of liberal ideas, approaches and policies.

Péter Láng is an intern at Republikon Institute and BA graduate student at Corvinus University of Budapest, majoring in International Relations. His main areas of interest are the enlargement policy of the European Union and the rule of law and democracy in East-Central Europe.

For more information on the upcoming parliamentary election in Hungary, follow our focus "Hungary Election Countdown".