Sought-After Votes: Young Voters and 2022 Hungary Parliamentary Elections

MTI/Balogh Zoltán (June 5, 2021)

In Hungary, the next few months are all about the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on April 3, 2022. Viktor Orbán’s right-wing, Christian-conservative party, Fidesz has been in power for the past 12 years, with a style of governance deemed authoritarian by many, and dubbed “an illiberal democracy” by Viktor Orbán himself.

For the better part of the last decade, Fidesz held a 2/3 majority in the Hungarian parliament, essentially allowing them to shape Hungarian laws — including the voting system and the constitution–, to their image.

Additionally, we’ve lived under a state of emergency for the past two years, which was allegedly instated by the government for more effective crisis management but saw several non-pandemic related rulings which created some favourable opportunities to the ruling party and some interested parties.

With the Hungarian opposition joining under a coalition “Egységben Magyarországért”, and selecting their constituency candidates through a primary election, they’ve managed to level the steep playing field somewhat, and we can expect a much tighter competition between Fidesz and the opposition this year; and with that, the race to convince Hungarians has begun, and both sides are already in campaign mode.

Fidesz spares no expense in this competition, and many Hungarians, such as pensioners, law enforcement, young workers, etc. can expect some sort of extra financial compensation, with the governing party hoping that these groups will warm up to the idea of voting for Fidesz again.

One voter group is particularly interesting: young voters, specifically, voters under 25 years of age. Now, what is so special about this age group? To understand it better, we have to talk about the other end of the spectrum, elderly voters.

The willingness to vote in Hungarian society is high in elderly population, while it’s relatively low in the youngest age group. Because of this, a lot of attention is focused on pensioners in the form of direct campaign promises and PR. This is not surprising, considering that the oldest age group’s votes are the biggest deciding factor in all Hungarian elections.

However, the 2022 elections saw the opposition form their coalition, and with the stakes higher than before, and the race being this tight, none of the sides can rely on a single voter group to help them to victory, instead, they need all-inclusive campaign, and they must reach all voter groups.

Normally, the willingness to vote is relatively low in the age group 18-24, partially because most young people feel that their votes don’t amount to much, seeing how convincing elderly people wins elections for parties. This creates a negative feedback loop: young people perceive that their votes can’t turn the tide, which results in lower turnout, which comparatively gives their votes less oomph.

About 7-10% of voters are under 25, which is about 600,000-800,000 people, and their polled willingness to vote is around 55-60%, compared to a polled willingness of the entire population, which can reach over 80%. It is important to emphasize that this is polled willingness, which is always higher than actual turnout.

For example, willingness to vote in the entire population is polled at 80%, while actual voter turnout is around 70%. As mentioned before, voter turnout is highest in the 60+ age group.

With all that in mind, we can say that roughly 450,000 people under 18-25 vote. If we were to look at voter turnout in the 2018 parliamentary elections, we can see that around 5 800 000 people voted, which means that young voters make up about 7-8% of all votes.

Traditionally, the opposition, and liberal-leftist ideas are more popular among the younger generation, which means that it would be safe to assume that the Hungarian opposition has important vote reserves in this age group. Considering their low turnout, and the high rate of undecided voters in this age group, there are many young people that need convincing.

Tapping into these reserves normally would only award a party 1-2% extra votes, so it is not always worth it for parties to conduct a targeted campaign for young voters. However, this year, with polls measuring differences between the parties as being under +-5%, the time has come for both sides to campaign to young people.

The ruling party recognizes this. Even though the right-wing Christian-conservative identity isn’t generally appealing to young people, and Fidesz’s voter base is generally over 50 years of age, they needed to find ways to reach people under 25.

Certainly, the biggest sales pitch Fidesz has made towards young people is personal income tax exemption for under 25s, effective starting January 1, 2022. It is nothing out of the ordinary for pensioners to get extra pay before elections, as they have in 2018 and will get again this year, with one month of extra pension payments before the elections.

However, what they did for under 25s is unprecedented. Effectively, everyone with a job under 25 just got a 20% increase in their salaries.

Another form of youth targeted campaigning is the robust social media presence of Fidesz’s messages and ideology. Through Hungarian alt-right influencers, the “party directive” makes its way to all young people, with an ad funding of over EUR 1.4 million and steadily increasing monthly across different media platforms. Their messages pierce the social bubbles of even the most dedicated opposition voters.

There is a group of dedicated Fidesz voters in the youngest age group, however there is potential for much more for both political sides. Currently, approximately 30% of young voters prefer Fidesz, and around 40% prefer the opposition.

Around 30-35% of young voters are undecided, and while the ruling party mobilized to get young votes, liberal and progressive values are traditionally more appealing to young people, than right-wing conservativism, or authoritarianism (The latter probably shouldn’t be appealing to anyone).

The Hungarian opposition has a lot of work to do in the remaining 2.5 months to convince young voters and tap into the reserves, as the often overlooked 1-2% can mean loss or victory for either political side, and it is in everyone’s interest to encourage the youngest age group to vote, if we want the next generation to take their civic duties seriously for many elections to come, and to escape the negative feedback loop in which young people feel powerless and unable to affect the political climate.

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Marton Schlanger
Republikon Institute