The Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung has a long history of researching and monitoring political attitudes of the youth in Hungary, especially around parliamentary elections. This year, for the first time, we put the focus on the youngest age group who are eligible to vote: the first-time voters.
Commissioned by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, IDEA Institute conducted a survey into first time voter preferences in three waves in early February and March of 2022 along with a post-election survey in May, via a social media based questionnaire. We usually have little information about this voter group as the 17-22 age group is represented with quite a small sample size in youth studies. In this regard, IDEA Institute’s survey was completely unique as it specifically targeted these particular youth groups with its questionnaire.
The results of the pre-election survey showed a large support for the united opposition’s parties among first time voters, while the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party (MKKP) and the Our Homeland Movement also reached the 5% threshold among them.
According to the post-election data, the fundamental pro-opposition stance remained, but Fidesz-KDNP’s popularity also increased among first time voters during the last 1-2 weeks.
About the first time voter survey
In February 2022, Heinrich Böll Stiftung commissioned IDEA Institute to conduct a survey among Hungarian first time voters. For the purposes of this survey, first time voters are defined as citizens who have reached the age of 18 by April 3 2022, but were not of voting age as of April 8 2022, in other words, who are allowed to vote this year but were not allowed to do so 4 years ago. Thus the group includes four full age groups (18, 19, 20, 21 years of age) and some 17- and 22-year-old citizens. According to the data of the Central Statistical Office of Hungary, the group of 18–21-year-old citizens altogether comprise 399 051 people, to whom a smaller group of 17- and 22-year-old individuals is added. Based on this calculation, the number of first time voters is over 400 000, whose influx into the election sphere can single-handedly decide the outcome of the vote in a tight election race.
Over the past years, Hungary has seen the release of several important youth surveys investigating young people’s political attitudes in some age group breakout. Instead of first time voters however, these surveys analysed age groups between 15 and 35 in different age breakouts.
The research of Heinrich Böll Stiftung – IDEA Institute (hereinafter Böll–IDEA first time voter survey) is unique in the sense that the survey specifically targeted first time voters, reaching out to them in their most natural environment, i.e., the Internet, via social media based random ads (with different patterns and content). Taking no more than 5-7 minutes, the short survey used youthful language and phraseology, and contained emojis and other visual elements familiar for young users. Consequently, the so-called survey abandonment rate (drop rate) was reduced to a practically insignificant level.
Data were collected in three waves: early February and early March, and then in early May 2022. The three-wave data collection process generated a sample of 1070 that was representative in terms of education level and region but not in terms of the 17-22 age group, which we then weighted with a fourth factor: the frequency of political activity. The resulting sample’s margin of error is ±4.1% in terms of base distributions, which is higher than in the usual 1000-strong population samples. The third, post-election targeted data collection reached 300 first time voters.
Hungarian first time voters tended to vote for the opposition and consider the April 3, 2022 election as a good experience
Preferences of first time voters - preliminary expectations
17% of the voters in the pre-election sample would have cast their ballots for Fidesz–KDNP on April 3, but around one third (32%) of them would have voted for the united opposition’s list. However, the survey also showed that first time voters would have sent two non-parliamentary parties (Our Homeland Movement and the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party) to the National Assembly, while the rate of respondents with unknown preferences (undecided, secretive and passive) was outstandingly high. The February and March data also revealed a Fidesz lead among first time voter women, whereas the opposition had a pronounced lead among male voters. Budapest resident first timers had a significantly higher than average rate of voters for the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party (MKKP) and/or the opposition. However, settlement size demonstrated an inverse correlation with the rate of secretive and Fidesz voters, i.e., the smaller the settlement (city-town-village), the higher the rate of secretive or pro-Fidesz first time voters. All in all, Fidesz seemed to have more reserves.
First time voters tended to vote for the opposition on April 3, 2022
The results of the third data collection wave (May 2022) of the Böll-IDEA first time voter survey show that the analysed group indeed demonstrated a larger support for the united opposition parties than for Fidesz. The polled respondents reported that 23% of them voted for the incumbent party and 42% for the opposition. Even more importantly however, the two smaller parties, i.e., the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party and Our Homeland enjoyed a significant support among first time voters, in line with the predictions. Considering all the limiting and restricting factors inherent to every data collection process, the first time voters’ pre- and post-election responses remained quite consistent.
This consistency also manifested in such factors as the socio-demographic backgrounds of the different candidate lists. For example, Fidesz received a larger number of votes from first time voter women than the opposition, while the exact opposite happened with men – just as expected. Predictions were also validated in the sense that MKKP was overrepresented among women, while men demonstrated a higher support for Our Homeland.
Furthermore, the post-election data show that settlement size was in clear correlation with candidate list preferences: while half of the Budapest resident first time voters preferred the opposition, village resident first timers gave more votes to Fidesz.
Finally, Fidesz appears to have done best among first timers with only primary education, whereas the opposition collected the most votes among first timers with high school degrees. Notably, the latter group has a relatively high rate of current university or college students.
Over one fifth did actually decide in the last one-two weeks
First time voter preferences are not necessarily mature because, according to the relevant socio-political literature, Hungarian youngsters only start looking into politics to any extent at the age of 15-16. In other words, they have no more than a few years to form their political views before their first election. The Böll-IDEA pre-election first time voter study showed that half of the first timers already had a relatively established preference by 2021. 11% of them reported that they formed their preferences during the autumn primaries of 2021, while over one third of them said they would only make their decision during the campaign and even more likely in the last days of it. We also showed however that some of them were likely to make a last-minute decision not to vote at all.
The post-election data suggest processes that are not significantly different from the previous predictions. Over one fifth of the actual first time voters said they only made their decision in the last 1-2 weeks of the campaign or even on election day. 12% formed their preferences during the primaries. Nearly two thirds of them claimed in the post-election survey that they already had a preference before the primaries. These results may suggest that voter turnout was eventually higher among those who already had more established political views even as first timers, while those with less embedded political values may perhaps have decided to stay home in the end. This statement may be supported by the fact that, in their own admission, one sixth of them changed their opinions during the election campaign, whereas the overwhelming majority (86) voted the same way as they originally thought when the campaign started. By the way, the largest group within the opinion changers consisted of those who originally wanted to vote for the opposition but changed their minds and eventually decided to vote for the government in their first ever election. Only 1% of them reported a reverse scenario.
Participating at the national elections for the first time may also be considered as a rite of initiation, a milestone of coming of age.
The election was an important event in the lives of first time voters
Participation in the first election may also be considered as a rite of passage, when young people enter the world of “adults”, thus becoming a responsible citizen with voting rights. First time voters appear to share this opinion since many of them (42%) described the election as a good experience. Furthermore, nearly one fifth of them actually look very much forward to participating in the next election as well.
Contrary to all previous stereotypes, only 5% of them claimed they would not have shown up at the election booths without parental pressure. On the other hand, one fourth of them were undoubtedly sceptical and even disappointed with regard to the election. In light of the election results, it perhaps comes as no surprise that first time Fidesz voters rather reported positive experiences, while opposition first timers demonstrated a higher rate of disappointment. Nevertheless, six tenths of opposition voters, after carefully considering all circumstances, do not reject the institution of election eventually.
Peer pressure was stronger than parental pressure in the elections
The last question is how autonomous first time voters were in their preferences, i.e., what kind of pressure they were under from family members or peers when they cast their ballots. The data suggest that the autonomy factor was very high. 14% reported parental pressure or some form of influence on their decision. In the families where the first timer experienced parental pressure, the parents were much more likely to be pro-government than pro-opposition: pro-Fidesz mothers and fathers seem to have been more inclined to persuade their children to identify with the parents’ political views.
The picture is more complex when it comes to peers and close friends. One in five first time voters claimed they never talked about politics with their friends, while 45% of them reported to have occasionally discussed politics, but it was not the main topic in their conversations with peers. Conversely, over one third of them either talked about the election multiple times or even had huge debates and mutual attempts to convince each other in terms of election related issues. Notably, the group of first time voters extensively discussing the election was characterized by an over-representation of voters for the opposition and the two smaller parties, while Fidesz-KDNP voters were notably under-represented. Pro-government first time voters were highly represented in the group that do not discuss politics with their close friends.