It’s probably pretty safe to say that Viktor Orbán hasn’t lost much sleep over having recently become the hate-figure de jour of the international left. But my guess is that he’s not overjoyed by what appears to be a steady slide in his personal approval rating among Hungarian voters.
The most jarring indication of Orbán’s ebbing popularity was offered by the recent regular poll by Ipsos. While the MTI-supplied wrap-up we published didn’t mention it, the survey found that Orbán’s personal popularity rating now trails that of his immediate predecessor, Gordon Bajnai, by a slim 28% to 27%.
Before anyone gets all huffy, yes, these numbers by themselves don’t say too much. Ipsos polls tend to favor the left, and, even if they didn’t, a one-point difference is probably within the margin of error. Moreover, former politicians tend to bounce back in popularity a while after they’ve left office, a phenomenon that in the US saw former President George W. Bush polling better than Barak Obama as early as late 2010.
Still, the gap does suggest that perhaps voters are starting to tire of the hyperkinetic, hyper-partisan Orbán’s approach to the job vis-à-vis that of Banjai, who, if not a genuine “technocrat” was certainly someone who tried to make it seem like he was trying to keep cool and above the fray. Interestingly, the most popular Fidesz MP in the poll was the state secretary in Orbán’s office (and former finance minister), Mihály Varga (32%), who, while also not a non-political type, at least sort of looks like one.
So you do have to wonder what might happen to Orbán’s numbers if he started looking and acting less like the guy always trying to start a fight in the company canteen and more like the bloodless manager-types currently on the march in Europe, among whom Bajnai fit in like the proverbial pea in a pod. If nothing else, it certainly doesn’t make any sense for Orbán to go out of his way to be the odd man out in Europe when he’s asking Europe for a bailout, and doing so offers diminishing political returns back home.
Moreover, Orbán himself back in 2008 said that, if returned to power, his government would initially be composed of technocrats rather than politicians.
Again, one shouldn’t read too much into these sort of popularity contests, and there is certainly a whole lot more going on with Orbán’s public image than mere style and packaging. And for sure, it’s pretty hard to “rebrand” any politician as “overbranded” as Orbán. So he’ll instead probably have to just keep being himself and wait for his approval numbers to find a floor and eventually bounce back – for his sake hopefully before he is once again a former prime minister.