Public attitudes to coronavirus in highly polarised Hungary

20 January, 2022
Balázs Böcskei's and Eszter Farkas's paper on The loop. ECPR's Political Science Blog

Balázs Böcskei and Eszter Farkas analyse the influence of partisan alignment on public health issues related to coronavirus. Their findings suggest that even in highly polarised Hungary, the significance of the pandemic over time is suppressing the influence of party alignment on Covid-related issues

Managing the pandemic in a partisan environment

Does partisan alignment influence public attitudes to public health issues during a pandemic? We investigated this question in Hungary, a country which has experienced strong partisan polarisation, and where one would therefore expect the positions of political parties to have a notable impact. Our survey analysed two Covid-related issues. First, we asked whether people are worried about a fourth wave of the pandemic. Second, we wanted to know whether they would take the third vaccine.

In the period since March 2020, the pandemic – despite its public health nature – has escalated into a politicised issue. Research in the US, for example, reveals strong partisan dynamics in perceptions of the threat and seriousness of coronavirus.

research in the US reveals strong partisan dynamics in perceptions of the threat and seriousness of coronavirus

In Hungary, the electorate is starkly polarised between supporters of Viktor Orbán's governing Fidesz party, and anti-Orbán opposition. Differences between these two factions have been growing for years. This polarisation has had a negative effect on Hungary's economic productivity, and on the stability of its democratic institutions.

The results of our recent online survey show that during the first wave of the pandemic, Hungarian people tended to follow the issue position of their preferred party on Covid-related matters. Since then, however, coronavirus has become more of a common public health issue, with less observable partisan polarisation.

So, after two years of the pandemic, does a link remain between Hungarians' partisanship, and Covid-related issues and policies?