Executive summary of the study of the new electoral system in Hungary

It is impossible to win without a modified voter base and new electoral strategies

Our study examines the possibilities of parliamentarian majority gaining in the newly introduced, 199-representative based Hungarian electoral system, from the viewpoint of the parties of the democratic opposition. All of the 106 new constituencies were typologized, and thus we examined the political conditions of majority forming. The analysis covers three different aspects of the topic: it describes the methods and the potential impacts of the newly introduced parliamentary electoral system, defines the transitions that happened between 2006 and 2012 in the Hungarian political representation and the electoral coalitions, and presents a thorough political research of the individual electorates, based on the multivariate analysis of the electoral districts. The study is mostly based on raw election statistics from 2006 and 2010, supplemented by our analysis of the results of quantitative polls, and our own political observations. Contrary to the previous electoral analyses published by the Patriotism and Progress Public Policy Foundation, the purpose of this piece is not to express the criticism of the new system, but to examine the possibly applicable mechanisms of coping with it. It will present the detailed breakdown of why the democratic opposition not only needs to regain the trust of their lost supporters from 2006, but it is also required to convert even a certain number of those voters, who have never supported them before. The main reason of this can be attributable to two different factors: to the rearrangement of the constituencies according to the electoral law, and to the complete collapse of the center-left’s electoral coalition, that was experienced between 2006 and 2010. The study is not willing to present an answer to that concrete political issue that deals with the identity of that specific political force that could be able to create a victorious counterpole to Jobbik, and to Fidesz-KDNP, by winning individual seats at their expense. From the strict viewpoint of an analyst, the most important argument posed by the analysis of the electoral system is the need for the existence of any kind of political force that can effectively make use of the new vote counting system, and minimize the unnecessary loss of possibly obtainable votes. This force could either be a single party, with sufficient popularity on its own, an alliance of different parties, or an electoral party. These alternatives are also analyzed in the paper in details. The new electoral law describes a mixed, two vote, one-round system, with a slight subsystem of compensation. Under these conditions, the only possible solution for preventing unnecessary vote losses is the maximization of focus and attention on one single political entity (a single party, a united party alliance, or an electoral party). Every other option, including a special tactic of coordinated candidacies (when the cooperating parties do not for an alliance but distribute the constituencies between each other while preserving a more independent party identity by having a separate party list as national list in the proportional arm of the system), beholds a serious political hazard and a real risk of losing votes. This sophisticated cooperation of different opposition parties without joint candidacies, who chose to avoid rivalry on the constituency level, definitely requires political horse trading of the sides on the same level as complete political collaboration, alliance. Therefore, the question is obvious: how could these parties possibly decide to govern together, if they are clearly unable to successfully cooperate on a definitely lower level? And in the case of they are willing to do so, uniting forces during the campaign is the most efficient method for the optimization of votes. The new electoral system does not provide ideal circumstances for preserving the individual image of the candidates, as it no longer allows the distribution of lost votes of joint individual candidate to individual party lists. Therefore, the cooperating sides shall make a prior decision about the image they would like to represent throughout the campaign. If the small or medium-sized organizations decide to nominate independently, they would be unable to acquire more than nine parliamentary seats, and even this number requires certain, very ideal scenarios, such as being able to nominate candidates in every single constituency, and that they can collect at least 5-10 percent of the party list votes, without withdrawing, so therefore they would be able to collect lost votes. This, as a result, would clearly jeopardize the chances of the other candidates representing the other parties of the democratic opposition on the better side of constituency battles. But if these small or medium forces are unable to nominate candidates everywhere, or decide to withdraw them for the sake of other, potentially victorious forces, a 5-10 percent national list result would be translated to only 3-6 parliamentary seats because of the lack of lost votes. This is, without a doubt, a very unfavorable characteristic of the new system for the small or medium-sized parties, which cannot be compensated by the partially eased (but still not too transparent) process of nomination. So what is necessary to gain absolute majority in the new system? This–including the scenarios for the formation of a minority government–was thoroughly discussed and analyzed. In the case of the national lists, that can result in a maximum of 93 parliamentary seats (the authors did not take into account the possibility of mandates of national minorities, that would decrease this number, realistically by one seat for the roma minority) , the individual strength of the three big political forces will prove to be the decisive factors. If the winner collects 38% of these votes, it can gain 34-36 individual mandates from the proportional arm of the system. If their popularity is higher, and they finish in the 40-45% range, they subsequently increase the number of their seats to 39-43. Regarding the party structure of the parliamentary majority, it is hard to make predictions in the summer of 2012, as it poses serious difficulties to model the structure of the rapidly transforming Hungarian party system, and the exact functioning of the winner-loser based distribution of the surplus votes. The more the system is characterized by the domination of two major parties, or a single big one, the less is the importance of the constituencies in the formation of the parliamentary majority. Nevertheless, even for a party with a 50% overall list percentage, victory in 53-54 individual electorates is needed to achieve simple majority. Therefore, from now on it can be considered as rule thumb, that out of the 106 constituencies, 65-70 is necessary for reaching simple majority, and 80-85 is needed for the two-third, qualified majority. In order to properly classify the 106 new constituencies, a seven-level typology was proposed by the paper, which included the analysis and detailed presentation of the population and settlement structure of the electorates, the levels of participation on the parliamentary elections of 2006 and 2010, the comparison of the mobilization characteristics of Fidesz-KDNP and MSZP, and the 2010 popularities of the opposition parties, additionally supplemented with the 2006 popularity of SZDSZ. This data was also a subject of multivariate correlation analysis. The resulting seven-point scale was divided to the following categories: left-leaning (16), overturnable, bipolar (16), regainable, urban (6), regainable, tripolar (11), conquerable, bipolar (15), conquerable, tripolar (14), right-leaning (28). The typology is structured according to the balance of forces in 2012. This means that the radical expansion of Jobbik’s support nationwide has not been considered as a real option to a level that would potentially result in popularity high enough to be able to successfully challenge the Fidesz-KDNP coalition. In the case of Jobbik the study expects the preservation of the distinct regional patterns visible in the distribution of 2010’s votes, and this prediction is supported by the outcomes of a survey of Medián conducted in the spring of 2012, and quoted in the paper. According to the definition, those constituencies can be considered tripolar, where Jobbik’s popularity is not far behind that of the Fidesz-KDNP, or of the forces of the democratic opposition, while those, where this estimated gap is wider, were named bipolars. Budapest, and the majority of the Transdanubia belong to this category. In the typology ‘overturnable’ means that in the territory of these new constituencies in 2006 the Hungarian center-left had a significant majority, that was just partially affected by the electoral crisis of MSZP and the liberals between 2006 and 2010 ‘Regainable’ stands for those electorates, where, according to the analysts, the challenges that a strong candidate of the democratic coalition face, is strictly quantitative in the respect of vote maximization. In some of these, as a result of the recent tripolarization, this challenge is considerably smaller than in 2006, but in some of the regions it basically stayed the same. The ‘conquerable’ category covers those electorates in which even a popular opposition candidate has to fight qualitative obstacles in addition to the quantitative ones, including the convincement of new voters and the renewal of the support base. According to the typology, the challenge that a strong candidate of the democratic opposition faces in 2014 is especially demanding as it is obliged to collect at least 4-6 seats from the conquerable, tripolar category, on the top of completely sweeping all the constituencies of the other categories, so they would need to be triumphant in all the left-leaning (16), the overturnable, bipolar (16), the regainable, urban tripolar (6), the regainable, rather tripolar (11) and in the conquerable, bipolar ones (15) ones. And in the case of failing to win even one of the above mentioned ones, we need to go one step further down on the list.  Victory in an additional 5-6 right-leaning constituency would be necessary to secure a two-third, qualified majority in the reduced personnel Parliament. The real battlefield constituencies will be those in the two conquerable categories, but there will be still tough fights for the democratic opposition in those constituencies that would be considered to be easier for them according to this typology. Left-leaning constituencies are the majority of Budapest’s seats, and the ones surrounding Dunaújváros, Pécs, and Tatabánya. These are now being governed by right-wing majors and represented by right-wing MPs, therefore the candidates of the democratic opposition have to challenge these incumbents. Overturnable, bipolars are the more balanced areas of the capital, certain cities in the Pest county agglomeration, and some electorates in the Transdanubia region. Regainable, urban tripolar constituencies are situated in those areas, where Jobbik possesses a significant support even in the predominantly urbanized regions. Eger and its surroundings, Miskolc, Szolnok and Nyíregyháza belong here. Even though the radical right wing party is not supposed to have the necessary supporter base for winning the individual mandates, but they are definitely stronger here, than in the rest of the other county towns. One of the biggest challenges ahead of the democratic opposition are the regainable, tripolar constituencies. These are the ones, where MSZP-SZDSZ won in 2006, but in 2010 Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik slashed a significant size of their supporter base. The authors defined Gyöngyös, Hatvan, Jászberény, Orosháza and the majority of Borsod-Abaúj Zemplén county as a part of this category. The new electorates formed here are more rural and right-leaning than their predecessor, which means an additional burden for the parties of the democratic opposition. Regaining these areas in a ruthless two-front battle is vital in order to secure the majority in the Parliament. Here the main political challenge is quantitative, but mostly concerns those voters, who had parted for Fidesz-KDNP in 2010 from the left, and whose general passivity poses a real risk for 2014. A mandatory registration process would keep them away from the vote easily, and by this the unnecessary registration would limit the chances of victory by the democratic opposition. Conquerable, bipolar electorates are those mandates, where the growth of Jobbik’s support seems to have reached a plateau. Certain areas of Pest county belong here, and many important Transdanubian big-and medium sized cities and their agglomeration: for example Siófok, Barcs-Nagyatád, Győr, Mosonmagyaróvár, Veszprém, Balatonfüred and Szekszárd. These were predominantly social-liberal territories in 2006 (MSZP and SZDSZ had the majority of the votes in the majority of these new constituencies, and Fidesz was only in second place, but the right leaning voters of MDF would have created a more balanced situation in a one round system), and in 2010, Jobbik didn’t manage to make a breakthrough, but on the other hand, all of these electorates became significantly more right-leaning after the restructuring. This poses both a qualitative and quantitative challenge for the democratic opposition, for which these mandates can prove to be a critical factor in order to form a stable, governing force in the Parliament. This definitely requires the partial renewal of the support base in these areas. Conquerable, tripolar electorates are those new constituencies where Jobbik possesses a significant amount of support, and where the coalition supporting the social-liberal government has mainly collapsed by 2010. To name a few, Berettyóújfalu, Hajdúszoboszló, Hajdúböszörmény and its surroundings, Szentes, Hódmezővásárhely-Makó, Nagykáta, Monor, Dabas, Cegléd, Nyírbátor and Kisvárda are such. As stated above, in order to become a governing power, the democratic opposition needs to triumph in at least 4-6 of these electoral seats. This is easier in those constituencies of this category where in 2006 MSZP and SZDSZ had a small majority even according to the new district boundaries, for example Kisvárda and Monor, but in many of these constituencies MSZP had fewer votes in 2010 than Jobbik, and in 10 of these this is true even with MSZP and LMP added together. The right-leaning new constituencies belong to the last category of our typology, which are situated in those parts of Hungary, where right-wing parties are traditionally strong: Bács-Kiskun county, Mohács and its surrounding, Debrecen, Vásárosnamény and Mátészalka fall into this category, that covers almost 25% of all electorates. This makes it clearly visible, that according the new electoral law, the Hungarian democratic opposition only possesses real chances in 75% of all constituencies, as there is basically no possible way to win over right-leaning areas in 2014, not before the radical reform of the political system, only maybe in some limited, special cases with strong local characteristics. The new electoral law possesses a stronger majoritarian character than its predecessor; therefore it provides better circumstances for forming a majority government if a convincing victory takes place. But because of the internal dynamics of the system combined with the electoral landscape of Hungary there is a significant chance of a non-governable situation created by this electoral system. If one party has a lead in general support but cannot win enough constituencies the possibility of a minority government arises. It can also prove to be beneficial for the runner-up, providing it possesses more votes and a more balanced distribution of voters than the third coming party. The explanation for it is that a more equal geographical distribution of votes result in more individual mandates, than a really strong result in some constituencies, but under average performance in others. Thus, the new electoral system can definitely strengthen the second party, but bring about a certain kind of underrepresentation compared to the nominal support for the third party. The voting power of the Hungarian citizen living abroad without a permanent residency in the country is strongly discounted. They only have one vote in the system and their votes have to compete not only with that of the party lists for the respective 93 mandates, but also with all of the lost votes, both winner and runner-up, which are nominally more or less equal to the abovementioned. As a result, the new system basically halves their already weak political influence, by limiting their representatives to a maximum of one or two mandates (until their number does not exceeds 250 000). In addition to presenting a complex data- and political analysis of the electoral system, this study also aims to overview the major characteristics of the alterations observed in the behavior, the self-positioning and the support base of the main political forces between 2006 and 2012. Historically, its main elements are the radical strengthening of Fidesz-KDNP, resulting in the conversion to a governing force with definite majority, and later, its subsequent loss of popularity, the appearance of Jobbik and LMP, the fragmentation of the support base of the center-left, including the fall of SZDSZ, and the slight growth of MSZP in 2011-2012. By 2010, MSZP has evolved to be a middle-sized party, based on an unevenly distributed, nationwide supporter base. Speaking of the two newcomer parties, in the time of the last elections, Jobbik’s voters were even more dispersed than the socialists’, while LMP  came through like a smaller force, with an ability to attract voters nationwide, although with significant differences between the regions, similar to SZDSZ’s results in 2006. After the elections in 2010, the support behind FIDESZ has significantly decreased; with its 49% popularity shrinking down to 21% by June 2012. This means that instead of the 3 300 000 people backing them in 2010, in the time of writing, only 1 350 000 voters declare themselves as being in the favor of the incumbent government. In the meantime, MSZP managed to hold firm to its supporters, in the spite of the split within the party that resulted in the formation of the Democratic Coalition (DK). It even experienced a considerable rise of popularity in the spring of 2012 that brought about a 5% expansion compared to the 14% collected in 2010. That means an extra 300 000 supporters, adding up to the historic low of 2010. The voter base behind Jobbik has stayed more or less stable, despite small occasional fluctuations, with currently measuring 11%, 700 000 voters. According to 2012 summer surveys, LMP attracts 450 000 voters, 7% of the voting population. As a new party, DK is currently above the statistical limit, but below the entrance level, regularly scoring around 2-3%, and having 150 000 active supporters. It is important to mention that the number of undecided voters is currently at historical heights, well described by a study published this spring by the Republikon Institute. In the new electoral system, individual mandates play a significantly more important role than before, which require the parties to create a stable and balanced support base all over the country, in order to enhance their chances of victory. This inspired us to analyze the regional support base behind the parliamentary parties, based on the methodology of a representative, quantitative survey conducted by Medián in the spring of 2012. It became clear, that in the spite of the great losses Fidesz’s popularity has suffered recently, it can still be considered as the strongest party nationwide-although in certain electorates, it is being outnumbered by the cumulated percentages of the democratic opposition. For example, in the Northern-Hungary region, MSZP and LMP is supported by 28% of the population, while Fidesz standing at 22, and Jobbik at 16, with a 3% confidence interval. It is still evident though, that those geographical inequalities that posed a great challenge for the MSZP campaign strategists in 2010 are still active and present, and not even the cooperation of the forces of the democratic opposition can overcome this obstacle yet. While MSZP is supported by 22% of the voters in Northern-Hungary and 15% in Middle-Hungary, these numbers fall between 8 and 14% in several regions of the Transdanubia. Although these electorates are historically considered to be weak areas by the socialists, the inequality was considerably less definite in 2006. In the meantime, it is remarkable to observe that in the more developed, middle-class Transdanubia region Fidesz lost a significant amount of voters by 2012, more than anywhere else in the country. While its popularity standing at 26% in the Middle-Hungary region, and also high in the majority of the Northern-Plain, its support in the Transdanubia, which has been traditionally considered as of their region of great interest, has fallen down to between 19% and 24%. Also, while the number of undecided voters in Northern-Hungary and in the Northern-Plain is stagnating at around 30%, it has already surpassed the 50% limit in the Transdanubia. Without the announcement of new political paradigms and the establishment of strong political alliances, it is highly unlikely that the democratic opposition would be able to form a stable and sustainable government. If its strongest, leading forces are incapable to create an evenly distributed support base, and if they preserve the dramatic inequalities observed in 2010, it will be impossible to collect the necessary amount of individual mandates, that is needed for victory. The microanalysis of the electorates most importantly presents its impacts on a greater, macro-level. Instead of targeting potential voters based on a pattern of purely individual, regional, strategies, the final goal has to be the complex, nationwide redefining and restructurement of the political climate, including the formation of new strategies, new programs, and the alteration of the existing ideological characteristics and promises. In order to construct a strong, dominant support base, the convincement of other population groups, in addition to the traditionally left-leaning sympathizers, is of vital importance. In certain parts of the country, it is necessary to extend the outreach towards the voters even further than that was done in 2006 by the Gyurcsány-led forces; with special regards to those critical, yet democratic masses, who are unsatisfied with the status quo of the post-transition system. This move obviously does not require the abandonment of the present ideology, usually labeled as left- or center-left, but rather its enlargement to fit those voters, mostly from Central-Hungary and the Transdanubia, who possess a modernized worldview, and who were one of the main targets of the socialists’ 2006 campaign, but whose brief cooperation fell victim to the storm following the speech of Öszöd, to the street movements of 2006, and to the shock of the crisis. In order to become a victorious force in 2014, it is necessary to retain the loyal, or reappearing left-wing supporters, but the importance of convincing the centrist, mostly undecided voters, the currently politics-wise homeless liberals, and those with a clear mindset on modernization has never been of higher importance. Geographically thinking, it means the rebalancing and regaining of the previously dominated electorates, and conquering some new, strategically important Transdanubial regions. This is clearly implicated by the new electoral law, but also by Jobbik’s growing domination on the northeast, and by the arising opportunity of convincing Fidesz’s abandoned voters in the Transdanubia and in Central-Hungary. Until the next elections, the biggest challenge for Fidesz could be to cope with the further fragmentation of its support base, with the potentional strengthening of Jobbik, or with the rebalancing of the MSZP support camp, that could be combined with a succesful cooperation of the forces of the democratic opposition. For Jobbik, on the other hand, further growth greatly depends on Fidesz’s ability to attract far right wing voters, and on its success to collect individual mandates- as, in the present situation, a breakthrough in Central Hungary (with the exception of the underdeveloped areas in Pest county), and in the Transdanubia is greatly unlikely without a serious collapse of the Fidesz camp. In the case of not collecting enough individual mandates, the new electoral system could be unfavorable for them, and would result in a relatively lower parliamentary representation compared to their overall popularity. This would pose a real chance of extensive internal conflicts, and many other political and strategic difficulties. For LMP, the biggest obstacle is the fact that even if it cooperates with others or not, the number of its newly elected representatives will be definitely lower than right now. This, mostly in the case of smaller parties, seriously puts a limit to the number of personnel, therefore enhancing the fights for positions, and weakening the motivations of the rank-and-file politicians of the party. Another serious risk factor could be that the voters would decide to make the strategic step of taking sides instead of the undecided, lackluster party elite- and they would vote with their feet. MSZP has to tackle the challenge posed by the still uneven distribution of its voters, as in the case of it staying permanent, the 2014 election would cement the socialists as the second strongest political force, with small chances to win important electorates, but still being a strong force in the capital and in the northeast. In order to convince the sceptical masses in the Transdanubia, it is of utmost importance to develop an open, modernized, middle-class approach on politics, while also staying attractive to the traditional, left-leaning sympathizers. On the other hand, the newly introduced electoral system can prove to be beneficial also for the runner-up, for instance, the socialists could be able to gather more individual mandates and form a bigger parliamentary fraction than in 2010 and still loose to Fidesz, but it is a risky venture to separate such a campaign strategy from the one that would repeat the disastrous collapse seen in the last elections, and would conserve the uneven structure of the supporter base on the long run. Even the takeback of the so-called easier contituencies, that they used to easily dominate in the past, is definitely a challenge, because convincing the disappointed voters require a serious amount of self-criticism and strategic planning from those politicians, who would want to adapt to this significantly altered situation. In order to establish a successful, governing force from the representatives of the democratic opposition, the criteria of the collection of the majority of individual mandates requires the quantitative expansion and qualitative restructuring of their supporter base. Despite the admittedly difficult circumstances, it is far from impossible, as the number of disillusioned, yet interested population has expanded to a historical height. In addition, those areas, that are the country’s leading powers with regards to investment and modernization, are abandoned by the governing forces to an extent that was last seen in 1998. This could form the basis of that cohesive voter base that MSZP, the Hungarian center-left, and the entire democratic opposition needs to create in order to triumph according to the rules of the new electoral system.

Viktor Szigetvári – Vető Balázs

Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2013 09:11