Strategy debates of Hungarian parties for legislative election 2018

How are political movements positioned? How do they react to changes in the society and with which topics do they position themselves where in the political debate?
In this overview of political strategy debates of political parties in selected European and non-European countries, the authors strive to present political analyses not in text form, but graphically and pointedly. We hope this product contributes to a constructive discussion.

Hungarian legislative election 2018

General election dynamics

In the 2018 General Elections, Hungarian voters decide over the composition of a 199-seat unicameral Parliament, 106 seats corresponding directly to single member districts, and 93 drawn proportionally from party lists. While polls suggest that incumbent Fidesz-KDNP, the conservative-Christian coalition, may hold on to its absolute majority near 50%, there are a number of new developments in the electoral dynamics to point out.

Firstly, Fidesz' law making activity, which included constitutional change in 2011, has been tied to its two-thirds majority in the national legislature. According to recent estimates, a second two-thirds majority is not sure after 2010 and 2014 and the opposition is likely gain more direct mandates. .

Furthermore, a number of new marginal seats emerged since 2014. Turnout is key, and while polls estimate turnout infrequently and inconsistently, recent estimates suggest that this year's figure may surpass 62%, that of 2014.

Secondly, while a broader, left-wing electoral coalition failed to secure the majority vote in more than 10 constituencies in 2014, current developments suggest that opposition parties have grown more likely to make strategic arrangements by withdrawing candidates in key constituencies. Importantly, these arrangements do not any longer exclude Jobbik, formerly described as a right-wing extremist party, currently moving towards the political centre by adopting a number of progressive policies such as women's issues, or advocating EU-wide wage union.

The issue agenda is increasingly set by Fidesz, and remains overwhelmingly symbolic. Migration as a threat dominates campaigns throughout the country, along with the rejection of Hungary's share of the EU quota targets. Opposition parties are discredited via claims of foreign campaign aid from the 'migration lobby'. Against this political climate, the Hungarian opposition finds it increasingly difficult to shift the discussion to government performance in the past 8 years, currently pointing to corruption scandals and the management of EU funds.

Individual Overview

The strategic situation of MSZP-Párbeszéd (MSZP-P)


Following the unsuccessful 2014 'grand' coalition with parties on the political Left, Hungarian Socialists now run with Párbeszéd ('Dialogue'), seeking to gain popularity under Párbeszéd's PM candidate, Gergely Karácsony. Besides this arrangement on the state-wide party list, MSZP plays an active role in making strategic agreements with a number of parties in opposition by offering to support predominantly Democratic Coalition and 'Együtt' candidates. There may be more historic agreements under way with LMP (Greens) and the re-branded Jobbik—these talks are taking place in the height of the campaign, mere days before the election on 8th April.

MSZP currently polls at 13% among the voting-eligible population and far from previous approval rates. MSZP lost its position as the strongest opposition party with the emergence of Jobbik, a trend likely to continue in 2018. MSZP may also be losing its position as the second opposition party to LMP, nation-wide polls being comparable for both parties.

Nevertheless, MSZP continues to lead on a traditional, social democratic agenda, with strong, local figures in a number of constituencies. These are now mainly clustered in the capital region, with one likely victory outside Budapest. Especially in these constituencies, MSZP is also counting on tactical votes, and recent reports suggest as high as a third of Jobbik supporters may be willing to support an MSZP-Párbeszéd candidate to vote out a Fidesz incumbent.

In their campaign materials, MSZP-Párbeszéd attacks Fidesz on a number of issues including their usage of public media and public funds for anti-migration and 'anti-Soros' propaganda, and offers a way out of corruption by re-channelling funds currently offered to Fidesz-friendly corporations. The manifesto, signed off by Párbeszéd leader Karácsony, further prioritises policies appealing to MSZPs traditional support base: pensions, healthcare including wage increases for healthcare workers, and education; hoping to re-gain votes from older voters, many of them previously lost to Fidesz. In most progressive issues such as gender equality or the environment, MSZP has eventually sided with smaller parties in hopes to attract younger voters.

Párbeszéd (P) is a relatively new political formation, emerging as a result of a break within LMP over the prospect of an electoral coalition with left parties in 2014. Besides the current party list lead, Párbeszéd retained key figures from LMP specialising in sustainable development issues. Párbeszéd now has a broader policy agenda, positioning them on the progressive end of the social-economic Left.


The strategic situation of Fidesz-KDNP


The conservative-Christian formation gained support from a broad-based coalition of voters in 2010 and in 2014 as large segments of the rejection of social-liberal government at that time and a party increasingly associated with austerity governance. In 2018, while still leading the polls with an expectation to gather nearly half of the total votes, Fidesz' winning margin or 'supermajority' may be on the decline. Many attribute this to a shift in voters' perception about the viability of opposition candidates - see a recent mayoral election where citizens tactically voted out the Fidesz incumbent. Furthermore, influential media outlets turned away from the government after a dispute between the owner and the government, thus now coverage unfavourable to Fidesz can reach nation-wide exposure, including corruption scandals and more endorsement of opposition candidates, especially Jobbik.

In their current campaign, Fidesz remains the lead on anti-migration and influences from abroad. Its campaign rhetoric points to the undue influence of foreign liberal money and George Soros through financial aid to Hungarian civil society. Fidesz is a vocal opponent of a deepening European integration, party leader Orban seeking more guarantees of enhanced national sovereignty within the EU, building on his strategic coalitions especially with leaders of other Middle-Eastern European countries. On the political landscape, Fidesz has consistently moved towards a nationalistic and populist direction, partially due to its Christian Democratic coalition partner opposing progressive issues such as marriage equality and reproductive rights.

The strategic situation of Politics Can Be Different (LMP)

Politics Can Be Different

LMP (‘Politics can be different’, the green party of Hungary) was formed and gained early momentum during the 2009 European elections season. While running with limited appeal on a green and urban agenda, LMP has consistently attracted votes in the 5-10% region in all subsequent national and local races, despite leadership battles and breaking ties with its own left-wing, currently named Párbeszéd, over the issue of possible cooperation with left parties. During their tenure, LMP politicians gained media attention acting as vocal members of opposition in a context where other parties often chose to withdraw attendance from Fidesz-led assemblies and committee work.

Currently, LMPs cooperation with the political Left remains an ongoing question. Gaining its first constituency seats seems to be entirely conditional upon strategic agreements, as constituency-level estimates suggest that even its strongest candidates would not surpass 12% of VEP support. The LMP manifesto prioritises the fight against corruption, strengthening the civil society, and sustainable development. LMP partially overlaps with Left-wing agendas on a number of progressive policies, including gender equality and solidarity, and is the only major party list led by a woman. In a few policy areas, however, LMP distinguishes itself from the left by taking more conservative or Fidesz-backed positions, such as enfranchising ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries, or preserving national sovereignty within the EU in some areas, which may apply to migration policy and the rejection of quotas.


The strategic situation of Jobbik


In the wake of the economic crisis, Jobbik (‘Movement for a Better Hungary’) emerged as the radical right wing alternative, parallel with similar developments across Europe. Its radical members have routinely used xenophobic and anti-Roma language in the name of criminal justice. There are a number of developments, however, that may have pushed them away from this extreme on the ideological space. Firstly, its sponsorship has changed following disputes between Fidesz leaders and the head of a major corporation, who has now taken to endorse the Jobbik agenda. Secondly, Jobbik needed to distinguish itself from Fidesz on key policies where latter has itself radicalised in the past 8 years, such as migration and EU affairs. Thirdly, Jobbik’s current emergence as the largest opposition party draws significant electoral support from formerly left-wing and centre voters, who would be unlikely to support candidates with radical right-wing agendas.

According to constituency-level estimates, tactical voters may need to vote for a Jobbik candidate in the vast majority of constituencies with a support larger than that of the MSZP-P formation, and there is a tie between Jobbik and the MSZP-endorsed candidate in 17 constituencies. Jobbik’s support remains strongest in the less wealthy Eastern regions of Hungary.

In terms of issues, Jobbik remains tough on migration, tougher than Fidesz on defence and security, and continues to reject multiculturalism. On the other hand, Jobbik adopted key progressive and social policies: e.g. wage union within the EU in the name of fairness, larger autonomy and more funding for education, equality between men and women in a broad sense including equality of wages, an equal distribution of care taking responsibility within households, and equality in terms of political positions in government.

The strategic situation of the Democratic Coalition (DK)


Founded and led by former MSZP leader Ferenc Gyurcsany, a polarising figure associated with both the peak and the fall of the political Left. Currently, Democratic Coalition polls are near 5% among the voting eligible population. On the constituency level, DK remains relatively strong above 10% in over 20 electoral districts throughout the country. In a few of them, they successfully made tactical arrangements with the MSZP-P formation putting their candidate into the most favourable position amongst the left-wing opposition, although their ability to gain seats may depend on local agreements with LMP or Jobbik.

In terms of issues, DK is notable for its vocal support for more and deeper European integration, eventually leading to a federal United States of Europe. They call the government to implement EU quotas and abide EU regulations. DK supports economic left-wing and progressive policies overlapping with MSZP. DK opposes voting rights given to ethnic Hungarians without a residence in Hungary.

The strategic situation of the Momentum Movement

Momentum Movement

Momentum Movement is the youngest political formation of national significance. Its activists gained media coverage in 2017 for initiating a referendum to oppose a government investment in the 2024 Budapest Olympic Games. Their activism forced Fidesz to take a step back from the initiative. According to many, this was evidence that Fidesz saw genuine political risk in allowing such a referendum to take place. Since then, Momentum has been preparing for the 2018 elections, currently polling at 1% among all eligible voters, and according to some estimates, 4% among likely voters. Momentum has been a vocal supporter of tactical arrangements within constituencies, ensuring that a viable candidate challenges Fidesz candidates. As an example, its leader recently stepped down in central Budapest in favour of ‘any’ most popular opposition candidate, which, in theory, included Jobbik. Momentum takes progressive and pro-EU positions on most issues, with a comprehensive party platform and like to compare itself to the French movement “En Marche”.

The strategic situation of Együtt (Togehter)


Currently polling near 1%, Együtt (‘Together’) was meant to be a significant part of the 2014 left-wing electoral coalition because of their candidate at his time. Furthermore, they succeeded in integrating civil society protest movements against the reduction of press freedom.

Thanks to agreements, Együtt may provide the lead candidate on the Left in two Budapest constituencies in 2018. Its policies prioritise anticorruption and transparency, and a number of progressive policies, emphasising solidarity in the context of the refugee debate. Együtt is seeking a mid-way in EU policy, acknowledging its democratic deficit, calling for reform.

Methodology and Authors

How were the graphs created?

The graph above displays the positions the main political parties in Hungary on a two-dimensional spatial map, constructed on the basis of 30 salient issue statements related to strongly relevant policy issues in the current political debate. The most salient issues were selected by a team of academics and experts, based on a close examination of the parties' platforms and political (media) discourse. Each of the statements pertains to a policy proposal that can be framed as either “left-“ or “right-wing”, “libertarian” or “authoritarian”. The statement answers are 5-point scales with answer categories ranging from “completely disagree”, to “disagree” to “neutral” to “agree” to “completely agree”. The positions of parties on these statements are coded in accordance with their official stances on the issues, as expressed by their published policies, campaign documents and media appearances. All major parties were also asked to position themselves and provide excerpts from their party manifesto or other formal documentation. These self-placements of parties were subsequently compared with the expert coding. Discrepancies were communicated to parties over several rounds until there was full clarity and authorisation of their final issue positions.

The spatial map is constructed on the basis of the aggregate positions of the parties on the two dimensions (the left-right dimension and the libertarian-authoritarian dimension). The precise party position is located in the centres of the ellipses. The ellipses represent the standard deviations of the party answers to all statements used to construct each axis. Thus, parties in favour of both left- and right-wing policy proposals have a wider ellipse on the left-right axis; parties in favour of both libertarian and authoritarian policy proposals have a lengthier ellipse on the libertarian-libertarian axis.

Who realised the Strategy debates Hungary 2018?

In cooperation with:

André Krouwel - VU University Amsterdam / Founder of Kieskompas BV

Yordan Kutiyski - Analyst - Kieskompas BV

Oscar Moreda Laguna - General operations manager - Kieskompas BV

Project coordination:

Jan Niklas Engels - Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (Hungary)

Oliver Philipp - Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (Berlin)

Arne Schildberg - Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (Berlin)

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