It’s Complicated: Explaining Hungary’s Anti-Immigration Referendum

In a government-initiated referendum held on October 2nd, Hungarians voted almost unanimously (98%) to reject immigration quotas from the EU. One might assume that such a unified electorate reveals a strong national political sentiment, but this is not the whole picture. A number of opposition parties campaigned for people to boycott the referendum, and in the end, only 40% of the electorate turned up to vote, thus invalidating the results.



Anti-Immigrant sentiment in Hungary compared to the rest of the EU:

While the referendum suggests about 40% of Hungarians are anti-immigration due to their participation, the vote’s political boycott makes it difficult to measure how pervasive anti-immigration sentiment really is. For example, are those who didn’t vote also against immigration but chose to abstain for political reasons?


Data from Dalia’s “EuroPulse”, a regular EU-wide survey conducted in August 2016, confirms that Hungarians are in fact very worried about immigration. Among the 9 major countries surveyed with a nationally representative sample, Hungary has the highest share of people worried about immigration: 75% are worried, compared to 61% across Europe.


Interestingly, exactly 40% are reportedly “very worried” about immigration, the same number as those who went to vote in the referendum. Though our survey can’t identify that these are the same people who went to vote, it can provide some possible explanations for the political motivations behind this share of the electorate.



First, these Hungarians who are “very worried” about immigration are more pro-government: 25% say that they have a positive view of their national government, compared to only 9% among the rest of the population. Secondly, they are more anti-EU: 45% have a negative view of the European Union, compared to 19% among all other Hungarians. As complications rise over topics like immigration and Brexit, examining peoples’ motivations and concerns through survey data will be invaluable for understanding the nuanced political landscape in the EU.



(Image by Mstyslav Chernov. ‘Syrian refugees strike at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary’)