Not your typical angry young men

2012-02-07

After the surprising success of Jobbik at the European Parliament elections in 2009, gaining three seats, it seemed easy to conclude from the distribution of its votes countrywide that this party is the party of the poor, unemployed people: the losers of the transition from communism.

Jobbik gained most of its votes in the least developed eastern and northern Hungary, and had relatively low support in Budapest and the more developed western parts. In April 2010, at the national parliamentary election, we saw a similar landscape. Some surveys seemed to support the theory that Jobbik voters are less educated and have lower living standards than the average, some not, but the theory that Jobbik is the party of the “losers” remained pretty strong among journalists and analysts alike.

But new results seem to challenge this view. A Demos UK-Political Capital Hungary study that collected data from over 2,000 Facebook fans of the party, the largest study of its kind and based on an innovative methodology (in line with traditional representative Hungarian survey data from Tárki institute) challenges the general stereotype that simplistically depicts Jobbik supporters as the “losers of the transition”: the poor, unemployed, undereducated people.

Common interests

The results show Jobbik Facebook supporters are motivated in large part by a desire to protect identity, ideological and cultural considerations rather than economic ones. Therefore, the interpretation of Jobbik’s success as a mere political consequence of the economic crisis is a false simplification. The results also stress that Jobbik should not be grouped with other nationalist populist parties in Western Europe. While there are obvious similarities, the demographics, concerns and attitudes of Jobbik supporters – as well as the Hungarian context – differ in significant ways.

From the data it seems that Jobbik Facebook fans are predominantly young men and a significant proportion (22 per cent) have a university or college education. Further they are under 30 and are less likely to be unemployed than the national average.

They are keen voters (82 per cent voted for Jobbik at the last election) and demonstrators (35 per cent took part in a demonstration in the last six months) but not formal party members (just 14 per cent).

Violence justifiable

At the last party congress, leader Gábor Vona said Hungary should prepare for a war.  This message may resonate well with the attitudes of Jobbik Facebook fans because they are more likely to think that violence is justified if it leads to the right outcome than do Facebook fans of Western European populist parties and movements. It is important to stress that this does not imply that they are violent: more disagreed that violence was justified than agreed it was (41 per cent versus 39 per cent).

Anti-EU too

The anti-European Union line of the party does not contradict the views of its supporters: Jobbik Facebook fans are more likely to be negative towards the EU than their fellow Hungarians. Their most common response when asked what the EU meant to them was “the loss of cultural and national identity” (68 per cent; only 5 per cent of the national population responded in this way).

Jobbik Facebook fans are even more pessimistic about their own future and that of their country than the national average. The integration of Roma and crime are their top concerns. This is a significant difference from the Facebook fans of populist parties and movements in Western Europe, for whom immigration and Islam are the top concerns.

Jobbik online supporters have very low trust in all major social and political institutions, including the government, EU, police, the justice or legal system and the media. They have lower levels of institutional trust than either their fellow Hungarians or supporters of similar Western movements.

At the same time, surprisingly, they have slightly higher levels of trust in others than the national average. Twenty-six per cent say other people can be trusted, compared with 21 per cent nationally.

Not material motives

The protection of identity, identification with the party’s values and disillusionment with mainstream politics were the three most common reasons respondents gave for being Facebook fans of Jobbik. An interesting and slightly frightening data is that young supporters were more likely to cite anti-Roma and anti-Semitic sentiments as reasons for being online fans. Twenty per cent of 16- to 20-year-olds cited anti-Roma sentiments as their reason, compared with only 5 per cent of respondents aged over 50.

In sum, Jobbik-supporting youngsters are not absolutely typical youngsters: while younger people used to be more optimistic and less prejudiced, young Jobbik voters are more prejudiced and less optimistic than the average – while it cannot be explained on the basis of their social status.

About the study

The primary data source used in the study was a survey of 2,263 Facebook fans of the Jobbik party that was conducted by Demos UK. These data were compared to the dataset of Facebook fans of populist parties and movements in 11 Western European countries and traditional representative survey data on Jobbik voters. Facebook was selected because it is the most widespread and popular social-media website used by supporters of the Jobbik party. Jobbik has been particularly effective at mobilising young Hungarians, by using online communication to amplify its message, recruit members and organise. Indeed, its online social-media following on Facebook is greater than its official membership list. As of January 30 the party’s official Facebook profile has almost 39,000 fans while, according to statements of its leaders, the party has around 13,000 formal members. 

The whole report can be downloaded here.

 

This analysis was originally published on The Budapest Times.

 

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