Hungarians who have emigrated abroad could decide the fate of as many as 14 electoral districts in a close competition on April 3 – if it were easier for them to vote. 80,000 of them are expected to vote this year, but this number would be three times higher if they could do it online. This mostly younger group tends to be strongly critical of the government, and could tip the balance towards the opposition in many districts, a new study by a research group shows.
21 Research Center announced the results of their study on February 16, the goals of which were to compare the social attitudes and values of Hungarians both abroad and at home, examine the effects of these on their party preference, and assess the extent to which emigrants can influence parliamentary elections both in the present situation and if they were able to vote online or by absentee ballot.
Some of the key findings from their analysis were the following:
- 43% of Hungarian émigrés would vote for the opposition, while only 12% would cast a vote for Fidesz-KDNP
- As many as 230,000 of them would vote in the election if it were easier, compared to the 80,000 actually expected to vote this year
- The lack of online voting or an absentee ballot option makes it difficult for many of them to exercise their right to vote abroad
- Hungarian émigrés are much more critical of the policies of the Orbán government than those still living in Hungary
- Hungary’s exit from the European Union would negatively impact their willingness to move home
- On a 10-point scale, Hungarians abroad give the Orbán government a score of less than 4 on all policy issues
- A new Hungarian government could lure opposition voters back home, while another victory by the governing parties could keep them away
Just a few weeks before parliamentary elections on April 3, the inclination of Hungarians abroad to cast a vote is an important issue because of the size of this group: even if many have returned home in recent years, there are still hundreds of thousands of Hungarians voters who have left the country to live abroad.
Their numbers are generally thought to be around half a million, while 21 Research Center makes a conservative estimate of 415,000. Even this amount makes up 4% of the Hungarian population, and their votes may have a decisive effect on the outcome of the elections.
Voting Rights of Hungarians Abroad – A Much-Debated Issue
The voting rights of Hungarians who have left the country to live abroad has been a subject of intense debate in recent years.
Despite this, it remains the case that Hungarian citizens who maintain a residence in Hungary but live and work abroad still have a harder time voting than ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, who do not have an official residence in Hungary. The former group can only vote in person at a polling station in one of Hungary’s 146 designated foreign diplomatic missions, while the latter are able to return their ballot by mail.
Moreover, voting in person at a diplomatic mission also comes with significant limitations. Ballot boxes are not mobile, which presents challenges to the elderly and people with disabilities.
Others may live hundreds of kilometers from polling stations located in a Hungarian embassy or consulate, or even in a country where there is no Hungarian diplomatic mission. For example, in the previous election there were only three polling locations in Australia and two in Canada despite the enormous size of these countries.
The non-partisan organization Freie Ungarische Botschaft has claimed that this situation discriminates against Hungarians who have chosen to work abroad, yet ruling party Fidesz has so far swept away any attempts to eliminate the discrimination between ethnic cross-border Hungarians and Hungarian émigrés.
The reason behind this discrimination, however, is obvious in the results of the 21 Research Center study, which clearly show the political preferences of each group.
Ethnic, cross-border Hungarians who have acquired Hungarian citizenship through the simplified naturalization procedure tend to vote for Fidesz-KDNP in overwhelming numbers: 95.3% of them gave their support to the Fidesz-KDNP list in the 2018 elections through mailed-in ballots.
By contrast, the 21 Research Center study shows that a majority of Hungarians who have emigrated abroad, mostly to places in Western Europe, are strongly government-critical and are planning to vote for the opposition list this spring.
[HVG][Photo: Embassy of Hungary in London / Google Street View]