- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
In the past year, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has championed a campaign to keep out refugees, led a crackdown on NGOs, and threatened to shutter a globally renowned university. Orban’s bashing of Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros and the European Union may be popular with some voters, but it’s not making most Hungarians believe that life is going to get better in their country, according to a new poll from the International Republican Institute.
After conducting 1,000 interviews across Hungary in early March, IRI concluded that 50 percent of Hungarians believe their country is headed in the wrong direction, while 74 percent do not believe today’s youth has a good future. Sixty-eight percent feel politicians don’t listen to the needs of young people.
As for what’s actually posing a threat to those young people: 34 percent feel it is “bankruptcy and [the] disappearance of health and social security systems” that is most likely to threaten Hungarians’ way of life and their children’s futures. By comparison, only 19 percent see migration and demographic change as the greatest threat, while only 3 percent would blame loss of culture and values.
And, asked to spontaneously answer what is the biggest problem facing Hungary today, 28 percent said poverty and social inequality; 15 percent said corruption; and 13 percent said unemployment and jobs. (Only four percent said immigration, but Hungary has refused to take in a single refugee.)
It might appear government-sponsored attacks on Soros and the institutions to which he’s directly or indirectly linked, and threatening the public with the specter of Islam, aren’t instilling optimism about the country’s future.
Yet 42 percent of decided voters said they would vote for the ruling party if elections were “this Sunday,” far more than any other party. “This survey shows that Hungarians are deeply dissatisfied with a host of economic indicators, and fear that they are not leaving a better future behind for their children,” IRI Europe Regional Director Jan Surotchak said in a statement. “On a range of issues, it is clear that many Hungarians haven’t felt an economic uptick since the crisis began in 2008.”
But the ruling party — Fidesz — has been in power since 2010, suggesting that voters aren’t sure where to turn for a better, brighter future.
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