Governing, Not Winning, Seen Greater Test for Hungary’s United Opposition

Hungary survived the spring wave of the virus virtually unscathed, with very low casualties, though at a high economic price. Polls in the summer showed that Fidesz actually increased its support by 5 per cent, or 400,000 voters. However, it all fell apart in the autumn, when voters found the government’s response to the second, more serious wave wonting.

Polls on the government’s performance during the third wave – the deadliest so far – are not yet available, but according to the latest March 11 survey by Zavecz, the opposition is leading by 37 per cent to 36 per cent, with 24 per cent of voters undecided.

“The real game changer is the unity of the opposition parties, not the pandemic – at least for the time being,” argues Zavecz.

United we stand, divided we fall

In December, opposition parties – ranging from the former extremist far-right Jobbik to the Socialists, with the left-liberal Democratic Coalition, Green LMP, Dialog and centrist newcomer Momentum in between – announced they would form a united list to challenge Orban’s Fidesz and coordinate candidates in all constituencies ahead of the 2022 election.

The united list became an instant hit with those who were dissatisfied with the government but had either no party preference or were undecided, giving it a boost of an extra 500,000 votes. It also challenged the basis of Fidesz’s core strategy to dominate the political centre and prevent parties on its left and right cooperating on an ideological basis.

“It could be a very close race, ” Andras Biro-Nagy, director of the left-leaning think tank Policy Solutions, tells BIRN. “Geography will be decisive: in the end, it is no use beating Fidesz by 20 per cent in Budapest, but losing the rural constituencies by a few hundred votes.”

Current polls reveal a deepening geographical divide – an urban-rural gap in voting patterns similar to that in Poland or the US. In Budapest, for example, the united opposition leads by a margin of 52 to 30 per cent against the governing party and there is a slight lead of the opposition in other large cities, whereas in rural areas Fidesz’s dominance remains unshakeable by a wide margin of 46 to 31 per cent, Zavecz tells BIRN.

The governing party can count on a rather monolithic voter base of around 2 million people, who show unswerving support for Fidesz policies in all areas, ranging from international affairs to family and economic issues. For these people, Orban remains the saviour of Hungary, who fights for the country’s national interests, protects Hungarian families, roots out international conspiracies and safeguards the country from the mismanagement of the previous socialist-liberal governments.

“This is a homogenous group that is hard to break, but the opposition has reserves it can mobilise in the undecided camp,” Biro-Nagy says.

He thinks a serious social crisis is looming and the big question is whether the government can alter its economic policies to help those falling behind, though currently he has yet to identify any signs of such a paradigm shift. “The main concern of Hungarians is no longer migration or corruption, but rising living costs. This government is leaving too many people behind,” he says.

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