“Since Brussels has failed in handling immigration, Hungary has to follow it’s own way in responding to the threat. We will not let economic migrants endanger Hungarian people’s jobs and livelihoods”.
“All in all, the National Consultation is not a public opinion poll. Although the Prime Minister’s invitation letter to citizens calls it a “consultation” that prepares the way for some policy decisions, all other appearances aim to reinforce the mistaken impression that the invitation is to a conventional public opinion survey. Yet the manipulative use of the tools and appearances of a public opinion poll by the National Consultation merely highlights the fact that genuine studies of public opinion that could help both decision makers and the public to find out public opinion about policy alternatives are in fact disappearing from the Hungarian public sphere.“
There are a number of reasons that motivate Fidesz to conduct this campaign:
- Fidesz used previous consultations to build a database of potential voters (which is otherwise strictly illegal for political parties). In the past they have gone as far as including a bar code on the letter to identify individuals. While they might not do that this time, responses can still be used to predict voting behavior on the basis of regional rates of return as people opposed to Fidesz will likely not return the letters.
- Fidesz is trying to attract Jobbik voters by positioning itself further along the right spectrum. Fidesz is well aware that the xenophobic and racist style of the ‘consultation’ will win Jobbik voters’ favors.
- The government is trying to legitimize its racist and xenophobic policies.
- By focusing on immigration, Orban is trying to distract the public’s attention from the government’s failures regarding urgent social issues, such as structural homelessness and deep poverty.
Questions are actually an excellent way of making a claim that people would be sceptical about if it was formulated as a statement. Asking someone a question in a certain way has the potential to change their mind. This has been impressively demonstrated in research on eyewitness testimony in courts: Witnesses would often remember events differently depending on the phrasing of the questions they were asked. This is why leading questions are not allowed in courtrooms. One word can be enough to change substantially what people remember or believe.
Orban’s ‘consultation’ makes use of this principle extensively and in various ways:
- Contentious claims and assumptions are implicitly presented as true e.g. question 7: “Would you support the Hungarian government in the introduction of stricter immigration laws as opposed to the permissive policies of Brussels?”
- This question creates the impression that it is not even worthy of doubt whether Brussels’ immigration policy is permissive. Instead, this has to be accepted as true for answering the question. In this way, even if one were to disagree with the introduction of stricter immigration laws in Hungary, but in the way the question is put will create the impression that EU immigration law is ‘permissive’. This, however, is at the very least a matter worthy of debate.
- The three-point scale used to collect answers provides two alternatives for agreement and one for disagreement. This in itself will suggest to people that (1) most people will agree and (2) that agreeing is the sensible thing to do. Still worse, the way one answers such questions can have a lasting effect on one’s opinions. People have an inherent motivation to appear consistent. And once someone sees herself acting (or answering) in a xenophobic way it becomes more likely that this person will be ready to justify xenophobia in the future, as has been illustrated in a study by Lars Hall and colleagues.
- Many of the questions are phrased in a way that suggests that there is a ‘morally correct’ answer (most obviously questions 10-12 but almost every question carries this flavor). This does not just pressure people into answering in a certain way but also potentially causes them to change their mind.
Question 11: “Do you agree that the best possible tool to fight against immigration is if the EU helps the development of those countries where the immigrants are coming from?”
Question 12: “Do you agree with the Hungarian government that instead of supporting immigrants, the support of Hungarian families and future babies is needed?”
- The way that the questions are ordered implies that there is a natural connection between the issues discussed (such as terrorism, ‘economic migration’, and immigration in general).
A lot more can be said about this alleged consultation. But for now it is most important to see it for the piece of shameless propaganda that it is. The government cannot be allowed to use methods like this to justify its institutionalized racism.
This is why we had over 1000 migrants and Hungarians (counted by police) joining our demonstration yesterday at Deák tér - thanks once again to all of you who show your support for a more inclusive Hungary!