Between the tower blocks and family houses: what mapping election results taught me about Budapest

Socialist pensioners in high-rise estates. Far-right voters in other, less fortunate estates. Romanis in crumbling courtyards who don’t come out to vote. Upwardly mobile green voters in newly-built housing developments that have popped up in the suburbs. Prosperous Fidesz voters in the city’s wealthiest parts, doubtlessly doing well off the government’s business schemes. Fidesz voters who just get by, in modest family houses with small gardens.

It’s a big city, Budapest, and the mostly-working class Pest side extends far out from the bars and coffee shops that dot the districts ringed around downtown, with its pockets of hipsters and intellectuals who vote left or green.

(Based on results of the party list vote)

Trying to make a precinct-level election map is one more way to get to know it all. It’s a hell of an undertaking, it turned out when I started to map out results of the parliamentary, European and mayoral elections of 2014. It’s not like there is a conveniently pre-formatted map of precinct boundaries in Budapest somewhere that you can use as basis (see the methodological note at the end), or even a zip-file data download of the precinct-level election results themselves, which I copied manually into a spreadsheet from the Election Office website. I got as far as the city’s districts V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XIII, XIV, XIX and parts of IV, XV, XVIII, XX and XXI — all in Pest, never Buda — before I ran out of steam. Individual maps of one, two or three districts at a time, accompanied by some snap observations, are all below.

I’d been to all but one of those city districts (sorry, Rákospalota), but was still intrigued to learn about unusual particularities and striking deviations: an isolated settlement built for railway workers where the far right Jobbik did exceptionally well; an army housing estate that makes up two of the most staunchly socialist precincts of the city. Sometimes the map, like an X-ray of the city’s body, lights up its problem zones: turnout falls of a cliff in some streets at the back of the famous/notorious eighth district (Nyócker) and in the middle of post-industrial wastelands (e.g. Hős utca, Kén utca).

Even just looking at Pest, however unrepresentative it is of Hungary as a whole, suggests a couple of perhaps obvious broader lessons too, though:

1. Government party Fidesz relies on a complex electoral coalition

Fidesz first won a landslide victory in 2010 on the back of Socialist Party misgovernment and corruption; protests and riots; and the impact of the global economic crisis. It solidified its rule in ways that have been exhaustively documented by researchers, journalists and activists: bringing the country’s independent institutions, broadcasters and judiciary to heel; replacing anyone with a position of import who might resist with Fidesz loyalists; enriching not just friends and families (and the occasional gas-pipe fitter) but allied oligarchs as well, who made sure most of media and business would toe the government’s line; waging massive publicity campaigns which filled Hungary’s billboards, mailboxes and newspaper pages with increasingly apocalyptic warnings about the dangers of muslim migrants and meddling EU bureaucrats. Forcing utility companies to reduce their rates (and taking credit on each monthly bill) or just plain handing out free food helped too. So, of course, did an economic recovery with strongly rebounding wages.

Above and beyond all that, however, a detailed election map also shows a genuine organic electorate that’s not all that easy to pigeonhole. Belying the populist image it projects, the government party fares well among the haute bourgeoisie and business class. Most of those live in Buda, not Pest — three of the five city districts where Fidesz did best, all in Buda, reflect the popularity of Fidesz among the wealthy (I, II and XII). But it can be seen well in the residential, southern end of the downtown district V as well. Fidesz does well among a sizable segment of middle class voters, perhaps especially the petite bourgeoisie. Outlying district XVI is probably one of Budapest’s best examples, but on these maps it shows up in a place like Tisztviselőtelep. Fidesz does well among the lower middle class and skilled working class voters who populate the modest family houses with small gardens that fill the outer suburbs — in parts of Rákospalota, for example. It can do reasonably well in precincts with lower incomes and older, neglected courtyard housing as well, as district VIII mayor Máté Kocsis has demonstrated.

In the end, there’s still a fairly clear correlation in Budapest, on city district level, between income and Fidesz vote — the higher the income, the higher the Fidesz vote. Outside Budapest, however, the government party does just fine in many villages with low incomes (helped along by the lacking availability of independent news media there). Fidesz has gotten a two-thirds parliamentary majority twice by relying on, roughly speaking, the one-third of Hungarians who are solidly behind it while the other two-thirds splinter apart among opposition parties and the non-voting camp. But that third of Hungary’s electorate it draws from does have many moving parts.

2. A divided opposition will fail

Unless all the polls are very, very wrong, we will see this play out in today’s parliamentary election: nothing guarantees Fidesz dominance like the opposition’s fragmentation (with some help from a duly doctored electoral system). But we saw a preview of its impact in the 2014 European election, when the left-liberal opposition broke apart into four separate lists. The result: in most of Budapest’s city districts, there was not a single precinct where an opposition party came out on top in the party list vote. Instead, they were left to divide up second places among them.

In the system for European Parliament elections, that doesn’t matter much—but in national elections, in which voters get just one round to choose their constituency MP since the Fidesz government changed the law, it does.

3. The Jobbik vote — an angry bird

Less of a lesson than a question about what will happen to Jobbik’s vote today: what will happen with the bird?

Unlike far-right parties in much of Western Europe that do best with middle-aged voters, Jobbik is especially strong with the youth. It also tends to do best in small and medium-sized towns, far away from Budapest, not least in the North-East where its rabble-rousing against “Roma crime” played well. The party has repeatedly done very well in polls of university students, and past research suggested that it appeals in particular to people with vocational training or secondary school education, rather than the least-educated (though I suppose that might be a function of age), and that Jobbik support wasn’t correlated to income. Back then, András Kovács also observed more nuance, though: in Hungary’s west, where few Roma live, it was unemployed and low income voters who tended to support Jobbik, while in Hungary’s poorer regions with a higher Roma population it appealed more to the economically active and better-off.

Budapest seemed to fit more with the country’s west. In the 2014 parliamentary election, Jobbik mostly did better in a city district the lower the incomes were there — though it did do much better in outerlying low-income districts (XX, XXI, XXIII) than ones in inner Pest (VII, VIII). This shows up strongly on the precinct-level election map too. The Jobbik vote frankly looks like an angry bird, sweeping in towards the city center with wings and talons from the corners of the map.

The map turns deep purple with Jobbik support in some of the poorest, peripheric high-rise estates — in Újpalota, in the northeastern corner of the map, in Kőbánya, and in the visible bit of Csepel, which was the party’s second best city district. You can clearly see the “Havana” estate of district XVIII light up in the bottom-right corner as well. The map also turns purple in the back streets of Nyócker, where the relatively few people who voted were disproportionately likely to vote Jobbik, and in some of the more isolated residential pockets, where incomes are often low and a sense of insecurity high. That made the geographic spread of the Jobbik vote almost the opposite of that of a previous far-right party that made waves in Hungary, István Csurka’s MIÉP. Receiving almost 9% of the vote in Budapest in 1998, MIÉP did best in the leafy districts of prosperous Buda, and worst in working-class Csepel.

Four years later, Fidesz has stolen all of the far-right’s rhetoric on immigrants, and ever less subtly operationalizes dog-whistle antisemitism too. At the same time, Jobbik has been trying to cleanse and re-make its image, aiming to come across as a regular conservative party. What will that do with the geographic spread of its Budapest vote? Jobbik voters who were pulled in by its past appeals to racism have been able to find plenty of that in the Fidesz propaganda flooding their streets and airwaves in the past few years. Surely Orbán has won over Csurka’s old voters already. But Jobbik voters who were motivated by anti-establishment anger and resentment, by the desire for a protest vote against the whole rotten, corrupt system that Fidesz and Socialists alike are responsible for, seem unlikely to switch to the government party now. The polls suggest Jobbik will do almost as well today as last time — but will its map look the same?

Budapest districts V-VII

Budapest districts 5, 6 and 7 make up the part of Pest you see as tourist: downtown Váci street, the parliament, Andrássy Boulevard, the Jewish neighbourhood, Keleti station.

Downtown’s V. kerület used to vote for socialists or liberals, but district mayor Antal Rogán made it a party fiefdom, and Fidesz got 45% of the party list vote in the district. The shopping and parliament areas show up in orange, but it’s the district’s residential southern end that has the deepest shade.

Districts VI and VII are more opposition-friendly turf. The opposition Unity alliance did best in Erzsébetváros within the ring boulevard or “Nagykörút” — the inner part of district VII where the Jewish neighborhood and the “party district” overlap — and along leafy Andrássy Boulevard.

Jobbik is exceedingly weak in downtown Budapest. The only exception in the 2014 elections was the area in district VII near Keleti station that was once (a long time ago) nicknamed “Csikágó” (Chicago) for its crime.

The green party “Politics Can Be Different” (LMP) was generally strong downtown, though perhaps surprisingly not especially so in the increasingly hipster inner-VIIth.

The turnout map of districts V-VII seem to make for a good approximation of income levels, though inner-Erzsébetváros seems to underperform, perhaps because of a younger resident population?

(Methodological note: “non-standard” precincts are those where people who wanted to vote away from their registered residence could vote, meaning that the number of votes cast there had no meaningful relation with the number of eligible voters in the precinct.)

With Hungary’s left-liberal opposition parties running separately in the European elections of 2014, Fidesz managed to take first place in every precinct in these three city districts. The liberal-green Együtt-PM alliance took most second places. (Nowadays Együtt is reduced to splinter status.)

One advantage of the center-left parties going their own ways in the 2014 European elections is that they got to demonstrate how their respective electorates differed, each with its own geographic concentrations. In districts 5–7, the socialists did relatively well in the poorer area near Keleti station. A top precinct for DK and Együtt-PM centred on the Madách Square arch, on the “Small Boulevard” (Kiskörút).

Budapest districts VIII and IX

Budapest districts VIII (the famed/notorious “Nyócker”) and IX range from gentrified central-Ferencváros and the Palace District of Józsefváros to the city’s poorest streets, and then out to post-industrial wastelands and Kádár-era high-rises. The political maps are correspondingly varied..

The most striking map of Budapest districts VIII / IX is about turnout — and indirectly, about poverty and the Roma minority. In Nyócker’s most dilapidated back streets and the residential pockets of post-industrial outer-Ferencváros, it dropped to as low as 16%.

Rule of thumb: if there are communist-era high-rises, the opposition “Unity” alliance likely did relatively well in 2014. That certainly holds true for the József Attila-lakótelep, somewhat so in district VIII as well.

Fidesz did well in inner-Ferencváros, but best in the “garden suburb” of Tisztviselőtelep. Intended as Pest’s more modest answer to the Rose Hill neighbourhood in Buda, this is where the managers of industrial behemoth MÁVAG once lived. Its history seems to have shifted it back and forth between a more haute bourgeoisie and more petite bourgeoisie population, though one of the three precincts here centres on the former “Ganz-Mávag Kolónia” that was built for the factory’s workers.

Note the Jobbik bulwark: the “MÁV-telep” in Ferencváros, built for railway workers. A not unpleasant-looking place: people tend to their flowers. But certainly not rich, and its location makes it an isolated place, with residents complaining about crime and vandalism. Jobbik also got over 20% in a few of Nyócker’s low-turnout, low-income, high-Roma population precincts.

The LMP got most of its best results in Pest in newly-hip central-Ferencváros, where it received up to 17–18% of the vote. It did badly in the impoverished parts of the VIII. kerület — but the map also illustrates that the line of where those start is moving east, as gentrification is pushing past the Nagykörút.

In these two city districts too, Fidesz took first place in every precinct in the 2014 European elections, as the left-liberal opposition parties went their separate ways. They were outpaced by Jobbik in some Nyócker precincts as well.

The liberal-green Együtt-PM list did relatively well in much of Ferencváros, which still elected a liberal MP in 2006, doing best in most of the same precincts as the LMP. The socialist MSzP, on the other hand, got over 20% of the vote in parts of the József Attila-lakótelep. The Kádár-era high-rises there are still relatively well sought-after — as opposed to those in, say, district XVIII’s “Havana”.

Budapest district XIII

Budapest’s “red” thirteenth elected Hungary’s only two socialist MPs in 2010, when Fidesz swept all before it throughout the rest of the country, even in Budapest. Not just has the XIII. kerület voted for Socialist Party candidates in every parliamentary election since 1994, the opposition “Unity” alliance topped the party list vote there in 2014 in a massive 95 out of 98 precincts, all the way from fashionable Újlipótváros to the high rises of Angyalföld.

The left’s hold on district XIII has two especially strong pillars. It does exceedingly well in culturally vibrant, increasingly expensive Újlipótváros at the southern end of the district. But it also does extremely well in the communist-era tower blocks in Angyalföld, home to many pensioners. Bolstering the left’s vote, those are also the places where turnout is healthiest.

Angyalföld, which somewhat misleadingly translates as “Land of Angels,” had a rough reputation in decades past, but mostly boasts fairly healthy incomes and real estate prices these days. Jobbik found pockets of support in the more isolated or run-down parts of Angyalföld, however, where turnout was low. Fidesz, on the other hand, was weak all across Budapest’s District XIII.

The “red XIIIth” provided a rare exception in the 2014 European elections: even with the left-liberal opposition splintering into four different camps, the Socialist Party actually took first place in nine precincts, while the Együtt-PM list topped the vote in another five.

The way those left-liberal strongholds divided up geographically reflects very long traditions. Going all the way back to the 1920s, Budapest’s bourgeois (and then partly Jewish) Újlipótváros leaned liberal, while working class Angyalföld voted socialist. 90 years on, the pattern largely held.

Budapest districts XIV and XV

Towards the northeast of the city, Budapest’s XIV. and XV. kerületek represent swing districts of quite different kinds. The margins were similar: the Unity alliance came out ahead of Fidesz in the party list vote in district XIV (39% to 37%), while Fidesz was a hair ahead in district XV (36.8% to 36.4%).

The mayor of middle-class district XIV (Zugló), Gergely Karácsony, heads Hungary’s main left-of-center opposition list, a coalition of the Socialist Party and his own, tiny “Dialogue for Hungary” group. But his victory in the 2014 mayoral election relied on a corruption scandal involving the previous Fidesz mayor, Ferenc Papcsak, and the socialist MP representing this district only won by 3.5% in 2014. Zugló does lean left most of the time, but it voted Fidesz on two past occasions, in 1998 and 2010.

Working class district XV (Rákospalota-Pestújhely-Újpalota), meanwhile, consistently voted socialist from 1994 to 2010, but has returned Fidesz MPs in the past two elections. It does have a mayor from Gyurcsány’s DK, however.

In these two districts, Fidesz did best in modest-family-house territory. The left-liberal Unity coalition, on the other hand, did relatively well in high-rise precincts in the south-eastern part of the XIVth. The neighbourhoods there used to have its own parliamentary constituency, centred on Rákosfalva, which consistently voted MSzP from 1994 to 2006.

The angry waving “man” on the top-right of this map of Jobbik results is Újpalota, a town-edge, Kádár-era “lakótelep” that’s seen better days. In Budapest’s inner districts, Jobbik does best in run-down courtyard housing and weakly in high-rise estates, but in the outer districts it soars among the tower blocks. It’s a contrast that reflects other differences between them that go back a long way, as a map which showed the percentage of residents with higher education by lakótelep in 1990 shows.

In much the opposite way, the LMP did well in Zugló but worst in the high-rise estates and outer suburbs of these districts — and of the city in general.

In the European elections of 2014, Fidesz took first place in every precinct mapped here. Predictably, Együtt-PM took most second places in Zugló while Gyurcsány’s DK and Jobbik did better in district XV.

Budapest district X

Budapest’s District X, named Kőbánya after the old stone quarries there and famed for its beer breweries, is a working class kerület with many high-rise estates, bits of modest family housing, and residential pockets in (post-)industrial areas. (I’m afraid I had to crop out Kőbánya-Kertváros in these maps, an outlying garden suburb settlement).

The district voted MSzP in 1994–2006 and narrowly elected a socialist MP in 2014. The party list vote mapped here was fairly evenly divided too: overall, the Unity coalition took 38% and Fidesz 35%.

Turnout was mixed in Kőbánya, weak on the periphery, and abysmal in a precinct that includes impoverished, high-Roma population Hős utca as well as another MÁV-telep built for railway workers.

The Unity alliance got well over 40% in some of Kőbánya high-rise estates, but two precincts stand out where it received 54–55% of the vote. I didn’t come across a single other precinct outside District XIII where it did this well. Apparently these precincts are in a housing complex for army employees — there’s gates all around. Maybe it houses army retirees as well, which might make its staunchly socialist electoral choices more intuitive. Less surprisingly, Fidesz got its best results in family-housing-with-modest-gardens territory.

Jobbik did well throughout most all of Kőbánya, receiving up to 21% of the vote in a couple of high-rise “lakótelep” precincts. Conversely, green party LMP did weakly almost everywhere. One precinct with newly-built design apartment blocks stands out as exception.

In District X, too, Hungary’s opposition parties were outpaced by Fidesz in almost every precinct when they ran on separate lists in the 2014 EU elections, with one exception — in the army housing estate.

Gyurcsány’s DK took most second places in Budapest X, in line with a general pattern: throughout Pest, its top precincts were almost uniformly in high-rise “lakótelepek”.

Budapest districts XIX and XX — plus “Havana”

The sound of the suburbs, or where the Jobbik voters are: the remaining maps below show Budapest’s XIX. kerület (Kispest) and most of XX (Pesterzsébet), plus the huge “Havanna” high-rise estate in District XVIII.

The most startling map of the 2014 results in these districts in the southern suburbs is the one that shows the Jobbik vote. The far-right party did better than its overall Budapest result in 128 of the 136 precincts mapped here. It got up to 25% in the tower blocks of the “Havanna” lakótelep.

The center-left, on the other hand, performed weakly. Before communism, working class Pesterzsébet was as left-wing as any place in Hungary: in the still-free 1945 election, 65% voted social-democrat or communist. In both Pesterzsébet and Kispest, the area’s left-wing sympathies persisted even after communism: up through 2006, the MSzP still got over 50% of the vote here. By 2014, not so much anymore.

Both Fidesz and the LMP fared badly in the high-rise estates of Kispest, Pesterzsébet and Havanna in 2014. The LMP did well exactly where Jobbik did worst: in elegant Wekerletelep and a newly-built “housing park” (lakópark) in Gubacs.

Turnout in the parliamentary elections was weak in Havanna, strong in Wekerletelep. Like everywhere, it was much lower still in the European elections that year, when Fidesz topped the vote in each precinct in this part of Budapest. Jobbik and the MSzP took relatively many second places, however. Intriguingly, they mostly split the “Havanna” estate among them, with the northern side going socialist and the southern side far-right.

On a methodological note, the idea of creating these maps the way I tried to do was a little overambitious, and not just because of my lack of GIS skills. Only some city districts published maps of precinct boundaries, while the maps of individual precincts that were published on the National Election Office website were highly unreliable — meaning I had to draw borders by hand on the basis of the site’s lists of addresses covered by each precinct. I also made things harder for myself by not wanting to include non-residential areas, which I tried to identify by using various city and district-wide land use maps and Google Maps.

Inevitably, I ran out of steam eventually.. so this is as far as I got trying to map the 2014 results for whole districts. The overall maps at the top of this piece also still include parts of districts IV (Újpest), XVI (Mátyásföld) and XXI (Csepel), though.