Hungarian Elections: Mobilisation at Home and Abroad

Executive Summary

  • Political Capital and its partners monitored the Hungarian communication campaign conducted on webpages and social media pages between 12 February and 30 April 30, 2022 to understand the strategic communication and leading narratives used to mobilise Hungarian voters along domestic, and foreign policy issues at home and abroad. The research monitored five main narratives concerning: (1) the opposition, (2) minority communities, (3) the Euro-Atlantic Community, (4) Ukraine, and (5) relations with Russia/China to analyse the total number, time-trend, number of interactions, and attitudinal disposition of messages or mentions used for political mobilisation.
  • The timing of the research allowed us to assess from a quantitative and qualitative perspective how the renewed war in Ukraine impacted the political campaign, altered the strategic communication of parties, and ultimately contributed to the crushing defeat of the Hungarian opposition.
  • Among the five narratives monitored the discourse about the opposition unsurprisingly proved to be the most significant, producing altogether 6,586 mentions, 802,647 interactions, and 169,547 comments
  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine had a fundamental impact on the campaign in general, and the communication involving the opposition narrative specifically. Before the war some local “corruption” scandals, past “failures” of the opposition parties dominated the campaign, after the invasion both sides were compelled to abandon earlier communication strategies, even forcing the Fidesz-KDNP to adopt a double-talk on the whole conflict by expressing support for Ukraine and attacking the sanctions regime at the same time.
  • The opposition candidate for PM Péter Márki-Zay (MZP) made a fundamental communication mistake early-on by expressing his support for a NATO-led Hungarian military involvement in the war. Governmental communication seized on his statement using it to formulate a disinformation narrative – about a “peace-loving” government and a “pro-war” opposition - that ultimately won the election for the Fidesz-KDNP. Data reflects the changes in communication with 57% of the opposition’s coverage proving to be negative, most referencing MZP’s communication mistakes.
  • Unlike other narratives the topic of Hungarian minorities abroad did not polarise the Hungarian political campaign; most monitored political actors and media expressed an overwhelmingly positive attitude about the issue. Despite the “political unity,” our monitoring proved that the Fidesz-KDNP successfully mobilised electoral groups abroad by either “exporting” opposition-bashing communication, mobilising local allies, clienteles or exploiting inter-ethnic conflicts. In the case of Ukraine, pro-government communication once again fell for Russian active measures designed to raise tensions between Hungary and Ukraine using threatening text messages sent to ethnic Hungarians living in Transcarpathia.
  • Hungarians’ views on the Euro-Atlantic Community and Russia have equally soured due to the Hungarian government’s continuous negative campaign against the United States (45% negative mentions), the European Union (41% negative mentions) and Russia’s (63% negative mentions) shocking invasion against Ukraine.
  • One exception to the rule proved to be perceptions about NATO that is either viewed in a neutral (47%) or favourable (23%) light by most Hungarians. Still, the qualitative analysis of data revealed that the new and unprecedented debate about NATO in the Hungarian media space is heavily distorted by pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives present in the opinion sections of the pro-government media or the comment sections of social media, threatening social support for NATO in the longer-term.
  • Views on Ukraine are also quite polarised due to attacks levelled against Ukraine or President Zelenskyy by the Hungarian government and pro-government media. Still, the invasion-activated anti-Ukrainian narratives about, for example, Ukraine being a puppet state of the USA, Ukraine committing cultural “ethnocide” against minorities, could not mitigate the continuous flow of information about Russian war atrocities. Consequently, the perception of Ukraine among Hungarians became either positive (29%) or neutral (50%), while other polls show that the government’s anti-Ukrainian slogans impacted mostly Fidesz voters, especially younger generations, 65% of whom would prefer Hungary’s geopolitical orientation towards Moscow over Washington in the current climate.
  • Altogether, Fidesz’ dominance over the Hungarian information space, the anti-West, anti-Ukrainian, and pro-Kremlin lines of communication pushed by the dominant governmental media continues to feed into the Kremlin’s hybrid war and regional destabilisation effort, while making the Hungarian population at home and abroad, Ukraine, European and Trans-Atlantic allies vulnerable to Russian malign influence operation.

 

Lóránt Győri, Patrik Szicherle
Political Capital Policy Research and Consulting Institute

The link to the original publication can be found: here.

 

Read more on the Hungarian elections from the Hungarian perspective:
Hungary 2022 - Campaign Finale: Warmongers vs. Peace-lovers
Hungarian Elections - New Dynamics

 

"Election Monitoring in Hungary and its Diaspora" research is conducted with the support of the International Republican Institute's Beacon Project. It is conducted in Hungary and select countries with a significant Hungarian diaspora: Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not reflect those of IRI.