Research results of the Institute for Political Science in 2018

Hungarian Comparative Agendas Project (CAP)

The purpose of the NKFIH supported CAP research project is to prepare comparative analyses of the Hungarian public policy agendas in accordance with the methodology of an international network covering dozens of countries. In 2018 the researchers published their findings in leading journals, such as European Journal of Political Research, European Political Science Review and Policy Studies. In the framework of these articles the researchers of the Institute presented how the Central and Eastern European electoral reforms influenced the alteration in the voting rate of party lists. The analysis builds on a key concept of entry barriers in political markets. According to the study, there is a correlation between increasing entry barriers and the concentration of party market in Visegrad Countries. Another sub-study analysed the Hungarian budget data between 1868 and 2013. The article found that in the autocratic periods the expenditure data in thematic distribution showed higher volatility than after 1990. In a third study the analysis showed that – unlike international trends – the media only slightly influences the agenda of symbolic public policies. In recognition of the work of the Hungarian CAP research team the Institute will host the international Annual Conference of the Comparative Agendas Project in 2019.

Participation, representation and partisanship. Election research 2018.

The election panel survey sponsored by NKFIH uses a unique methodology, which is capable of examining individual opinion changes. During the course of the survey the same respondents are asked the same questions about the same subjects through three “waves”. In December 2017 and in January 2018 the first wave of the panel was completed with the sample size of 2000 people. The second wave took place between 9 March 2018 and 7 April 2018 while the third one was in May 2018. Based on the results of the three waves it turned out that panel members were more highly educated than the societal average and urban residents predominated. In the election campaign of 2018, when the voters voted for a party as the most important aspect, believed that a strong government should be created and weighed how much the government is sympathetic to their worldview. The three most important factors having an impact of electoral choice that emerged were health, wages and immigration. Responses also showed that the people who live in the capital are the most committed to democracy and the rate of the acceptance of a potential dictatorship is the highest in villages. Finally, the results clearly revealed that general societal morale was overall moderate, not very high, and not very bad during the campaign. As for economic expectations, they were more favourable for the incumbent government.

Political communication in Hungary, 1990-2015

The research project supported by OTKA/NKFIH since 2014 has revealed the history of twenty five years of political communication in Hungary between 1990 and 2015. By using network analysis and the tools of social semiotics the study demonstrates how the most important political actors and affairs have been constructed, which metaphors and discourse were invented and used, which channels were used for communication and which other semiotic resources, such as visualization and communication styles, were used by the communicators in politics. The studies from the soon-to-be-published volume about the project show that the political activity of citizens has increased since 2006 and in political communication street protests have become more valuable both until 2010 and after 2010 regardless of their pro-government or pro-opposition stance. The parties winning the 2010 election managed to create and maintain their power by means of communicational tools. The opposition could only agree on the common enemy but the metaphors, discourses, channels or the other modalities proved to be barriers for uniting their forces.

Return of the Weberian leaders: plebiscitary leader democracy as a means of cognition for contemporary political trends

In recent years the rise of populist leaders and the possibility of the deconsolidation of liberal democracies has become one of the most discussed topics in political science. The main aim of this research – which started in 2018 – is to explain this deconsolidation, taking into account the already established trends such as the decline of parties, parliaments and other institutes of representative democracy and the growing importance of political leaders. The researchers strive to create a realistic theory of democracy which is more suitable for describing the functioning of contemporary democracies than those known in Hungary and in international political science. The first result of the project is the creation of a theoretical model of plebiscitary leader democracy which explains the simultaneous presence of authoritarian rule and democratic legitimacy. The social utility of the outcomes of the analysis can be traced to the development of a more realistic, illusion-free picture of politics through the mechanisms of the mediation of higher education and popular science. The frustration that resulted from the perception of the gap between illusions and reality, which is the hotbed of political dissatisfaction and extremism, may thus decrease.

Quality of governance and public policy decisions

The project supported by NKFIH develops an objective measurement system which simultaneously builds on the concept of legal certainty and the theoretical literature of public policy success. The research applies these theoretical concepts to the examination of laws and government decrees after the regime change of 1990. The novelty of the research design is the usage of Big Data techniques that have not typically been utilized in Hungarian social sciences so far, such as a text mining solutions of large text corpora based on artificial intelligence. Within the framework of the project, researchers have produced a new and improved text corpus from the laws of the period 1990-2018 (4163 pieces) as well as html files for every law to improve the quality of web display (for example to display utf8 encoded files properly). In addition, control programs have been written to identify and fix errors in the table containing metadata (7939 records). The improved corpus and the metadata table were published on the CAP project website ( Building on these new databases, a network analysis of laws and decrees has been launched which is expected to be published in 2019.

Regional development capacities on the European peripheries – Foreign investments and EU funds in Eastern and Southern Europe

This research project, sponsored by an MTA Premium postdoctoral research grant, focuses on three Eastern (Poland, Hungary, Romania) and two Southern European countries (Portugal, Spain). The research examines how regional development capacities affect the quality and amount of foreign investments and EU funds spent on R&D and training projects. In 2018 the correlation between foreign direct investment and EU funds was explored in the automotive industry sector, based on the example of two countries, Poland and Romania. The research design focuses on 2007-2013 tender data and a newly developed database, which contains the detailed financial data of the automotive companies of the two countries. The selection models ran on the data suggest that in both countries the national and the foreign owned automotive companies have similar chance to win EU funds. However, in Romania the distribution of EU funds of automotive companies is much more concentrated (proportionally fewer companies get on average more money) than in Poland, which can be explained by weaker state institutional capacities: it is easier to administer fewer large-scale projects than many smaller ones. Furthermore, in both countries 80% of the funds were spent on asset purchases by the companies and only a very small percent (10% in Poland and 6% in Romania) was applied to innovative R&D or human resource projects.

Institutional reforms in ageing societies: political and legal aspects

According to the starting point of the project supported by NKFIH one of the most difficult tasks for the political communities of developed societies is the institutional adaptation to the constant changes in age structure and the ageing process. The project examined the institutional adaptation strategies to ageing of Western and Eastern-Central European societies. One important result is that electoral reform efforts, which have been made so far and which seek to correct the unfair representation of the political interest of minors (for example, introducing family-based voting schemes), are fundamentally problematic from the perspective of democratic political functioning. Another important finding is that the strong survival ability of the pension system, which seems to be unsustainable from a macro-financial point of view, is in fact rooted in rational behavioural motives. In addition, the study showed that, due to the prominent role of pension systems, the redistribution of the modern welfare state should be considered as a life-long funding system. According to the results, contemporary welfare states primarily do not lead to a poverty reducing income redistribution. Finally, the analysis also refuted the gerontocracy thesis, claiming the resource expropriation of the elderly: the most visible redistribution logic between age groups is, in fact, redistribution according to career stages.

Hungarian administrative capacity and its development in a European comparison

According to the findings of the project, the Hungarian public administration shows a distinct development path in comparison with the European and regional patterns of public administration progression and development. Its remarkable features include the unusually high degree of centralisation and political-administrative control, the reduction of social participation and transparency and the placing of operational efficiency – the instrumental nature of bureaucracy – before all other aspects. Identifying the details of the process, its main causes and consequences are the main focus of the project.

Analysing the factors affecting political efficacy in international comparison

The project examined individual and contextual factors affecting the level of political efficacy in 19 European countries. According to the results, besides the traditional socio-demographic factors and the variables related to political behaviour, the level of political efficacy was influenced by non-political, lifestyle-related variables too. On the one hand, the level of external political efficacy is significantly lower in countries where the state is more extensive, people perceive a higher level of corruption and the media plays a greater role in the operation of politics. On the other hand, contextual factors have less impact on internal political efficacy.

Impact of EU membership on Hungarian public policy

The project sponsored by MTA Bolyai Research Grant investigates the impacts of EU membership on Hungarian public policy. In this, the project is the first empirical research on the Europeanization of Hungarian public policy. Our research shows how Hungarian governments have met the expectations and obligations of EU level laws and recommendations since the accession of Hungary in 2004 and in which area is EU public policy impact the strongest in Hungary. New databases of three aspects of the impact of EU membership on domestic public policy were prepared (law-making in the Hungarian Parliament, implementation of country-specific recommendations, infringement procedures). The first results compare EU legislation during the government cycles of 2006-2010 and 2010-2014. The comparison shows that the impact of EU regulation on domestic legislation has not been reduced after 2010: one third of all laws are considered to be of EU origin. The impact of the EU has not diminished in public policy areas where the EU has only supportive authority, i.e. the adaption of regulation is not mandatory. From the point of view of social impact, it should be emphasized that, thanks to the research, we can rely on an empirical analysis of Hungary’s integration into European public policy processes since 2004. As a result, this project will contribute to a more evidence-based public discourse about Hungary’s EU membership.

Representation and election results

The project has brought us closer to understanding how personal representation works in Hungary. Firstly, it was found that parliamentary activity positively influences re-selection chances when selectors decide on list nominations. Additionally, list-only MPs benefit from parliamentary work to a greater extent than future single-member district (SMD) candidates. At the same time, extra work in parliament does not bring MPs closer to SMD nominations. These results confirm that parties evaluate MPs along how well they carry out the tasks dedicated to their groups. Secondly, investigating if pork barrel politics affects MPs’ re-election prospects, the project found that an increasing value of Structural Funds arriving in the settlements improves government MPs’ electoral results, and that the effect size is conditional upon the mayor’s status. In settlements with government-affiliated mayors government MPs perform better than in settlements with an opposition mayor. Thirdly, the project asked the question whether or not MPs react to constituency profile in their work in parliament, and if yes, whether the magnitude of their reaction is dependent upon mandate type. Findings show that increasing agricultural population increases the frequency of agricultural questions, as well as the likelihood of membership in the Agricultural Committee. Importantly, in the case of high-profile activities no difference was found between SMD and list MPs indicating that the electoral incentive overwrites those created by the institutions.

Judicial constraints on legislation (JUDICON)

In recent years the confrontation between the parliamentary majority and the Constitutional Court in the Central European region has directed attention at the relationship between legislation and the Constitutional Court’s activity. However, in the literature of political or legal sciences so far there have not been systematic studies of the extent to which constitutional courts actually constrain the decisions of political actors. The JUDICON project aims to fill this gap by measuring the strength of constitutional court decisions in six countries (Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia) using an innovative methodology. Based on the institutional set-up and legal (descriptive) studies it was expected that the Hungarian and German Constitutional Courts would be the leaders in constraining the latitude of legislation. In contrast, results show that the Hungarian plenum (which, moreover, used the widest range of tools in its decision-making) made less restrictive decisions than the German or even the Slovak Constitutional Court. The first Slovak Constitutional Court (1993-2000) is considered the most active in terms of constraint, while the Romanian and Polish bodies made weaker restrictions.

The causes and effects of partisan polarization

Over the last few years political polarization has attracted more attention at an international level than ever before. Yet research focusing on European countries are still relatively rare. The project about the causes and effects of polarization contributes to filling this gap. As Hungary has become one of the most polarized countries in Europe in recent years, domestic research on this topic is particularly relevant. According to the results of the analysis covering over ten years of data and thirty countries in Europe, political divisions greatly reduce economic performance and its impact remain significant if we filter out the impact of key economic factors that play a crucial role in growth. Former projects focused on the role of polarization in terms of voter behaviour and political communication (for example, the impact of quality of public discourse, the effectiveness of argument-based disputes or the style of political campaigns). Compared to these, the results show that divisions also have concrete, tangible adverse effects, which deserve further attention in the case of an exceptionally polarized country.

The impact of Facebook campaigns on the election results of candidates

The project explores the role of Facebook in political communication. The results, published in 2018, revealed that the activity of Hungarian politicians on Facebook is low, yet it has a significant impact on their election results. This effect is manifested through a two-step mechanism: extra voters can come from members of the public who see the given politician’s posts shared by acquaintances. In addition, the project described the characteristics of social media usage during the campaign in 2018. Fidesz politicians were particularly successful in triggering reactions, but most of the candidates with the highest visibility came from the opposition.

Science and society

News of the research output of the Institute for Political Science have had a more pronounced impact on public discourse than in previous years. An edited volume about the 2018 parliamentary elections was deliberately targeted for the general public and the chapters of the book were covered in detail by various news outlets. The relevance of political science based on sound methodology is evidenced by the turnout at multiple events organized by PTI.

The international POLTEXT text mining network conference (see below) took place at the Institute and it garnered excellent media coverage by social science standards. PTI also organised a well-attended event for the Researchers’ Night series. Five researchers of the Institute held presentations and organised an interactive workshop. The Institute’s blog, launched in 2017, aims to present our research projects in a brief and accessible manner. According to our data, more than a few of our blog posts are followed by thousands of readers and are regularly featured in university courses.