Commentary

The race is on to publish the first poll results about the war – and the results are even more unreliable than usual

Whoever delivers the first results about Hungarians’ supposed opinion about Putin’s war on Ukraine will influence public opinion more than it surveys it. This is why it is so worrying that the first polls are even more unreliable than usual.

Everyone wants to know what everyone else thinks right now. This is why polls became the shapers of public opinion, more than they are an imprint of them. People may or may not still remember what their own, individual opinions are – but they are always ready to shape them based on what the polls are saying about others’ views. Or the majority’s, as they like to say.

The Russian war is no exception. It is even more poignant since it is not strictly speaking a domestic partisan issue – so the results might be a bit more reliable than election forecasting polls. On the other hand Putin’s war really is a domestic partisan issue due to Orbán’s reputation being burnt to Putin’s.

What does Putin’s war mean for Orbán’s reelection?

There is no reliable poll available yet so the road is all clear for the least inhibited spin doctors to saw the seeds of Putinism through fake poll results. By “showing” that the majority is still behind Orbán (on whatever Orbán is for) Orbán’s propaganda machine can suck the air out of any dissent. Even if those results are completely made up or utterly unreliable. And they need to retake the shaping of the agenda, now more than ever, because Orbán is in a terrible situation, right before the elections. They just have to wait until it is even remotely believable that they completed an actual survey. And that moment might not be here yet.

But the independent media is also hungry to find out (and spread) what the majority is supposedly thinking. I have just read the first results that the independent media presented and immediately saw the problem with it.

Euronews came down with a quick poll that showed that the majority of Hungarians are behind Orbán (on not letting military supplies through Hungary). “The majority supporting Orbánthen became the headline taking the Hungarian news sites by storm. They also claim that a majority still blames Russia for the aggressions and the more educated a Hungarian the more hawkish he is she is against Russia.

This result is just about believable – Hungarians are not completely ignorant about the war – but stretched far enough in Orbán’s favor to make someone feel hopeless about resisting him.

Now this may be the actual truth – I just don’t believe this particular poll. And not just because it was so quick.

Because the poll was done not by a pollster, but an app. An app that has a grand total of 10k+ users who downloaded it from the G app store, not all of them Hungarians. (Some are complaining that they can’t set the app language to English and the support cheerfully thanks them in Hungarian.)

From this incredibly dodgy sample of 10 thousand people who 1) still believe that they can scrape together a meaningful side hustle from answering questions on apps in 2022, and/or 2) who can really not use their time better to earn money, and who 3) may or may not be Hungarians, the app-makers claim to have assembled a totally representative sample. For this particular app this was their biggest boost of advertising to date. They may attract new users now and build a bigger (albeit still dodgy) sample – but whatever they had so far was less than convincing.

But the damage is already done. The influence of these “survey results” is oversized considering their quality. And it didn’t even come from open Orbánists, the news-Hungry independent media brought it upon us voluntarily.

Speaking of which, Euronews has recently gained some new majority owners (88%) who are very close to Orbán. A “majority stake in the pan-European news network had been bought by Portuguese investment firm, Alpac Capital. … CEO of Alpac, Pedro Vargas David, is well connected in Hungary and is the son of Mario David, a former MEP and an unpaid advisor on European Union issues to … Viktor Orbán. … Orbán and Mario David have reportedly known each other since the fall of the Berlin Wall and, in April 2016, Orbán called Mario David a “true friend” when he awarded him the Middle Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit in Lisbon. The Portuguese politician received the award for “supporting Hungarian interests”.

According to RFE/RLWhen Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited Budapest in summer 2020, Mario David attended the meeting as part of the Hungarian delegation, Portugal’s online publication Observador reported.

“Pedro Vargas David, who was educated at Harvard and has worked for the McKinsey & Company management consulting firm, has many ties to Hungary, and according to a profile in the Hungarian-based Index magazine lived in Budapest in 2019.

“Pedro Vargas David founded a joint investment fund in 2017 with EXIM, Hungary’s official export-credit agency. He also has a 5.25 percent stake and seat on the board of directors in 4iG, a Hungarian communications giant that has won numerous state contracts in the IT sector and whose owner, Gellert Jaszai, is considered well connected to Orban.

Just a quick reminder: the EU may have had enough of overt Russian propaganda like RT and Sputnik, but it doesn’t help Hungary. Not jus because the covert operation is still on and an army of fake profiles appear like a Putinist peace machine united behind Orbán, but because we never had RT or Sputnik in Hungarian. The Orbánist media, including the public broadcaster and Orbán’s massive media holding, does it for them, translating and adopting Putin’s talking point to Hungarian. How do you switch that off?

Political Capital, a think tank following influence operations by the Russians have concluded that the Russian propaganda machine is louder than ever in Hungary.

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