Home alone with the media: The impact of government dominated media communications on voters in the 2022 Hungarian Parliamentary elections

Gabor Sarlos, Marianna Fekete, Miklos Sukosd

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The parliamentary elections in Hungary in April 2022 brought a compelling majority for the ruling party Fidesz and the incumbent Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. On election day (April 3, 2022) the voting process was closely scrutinized. In every polling district in the country, independent, voluntary, civic vote counters, mobilized primarily by the opposition parties, took part in the process of ballot counting, consequently confirming that the voting procedure abode to the rules, and direct interference to the results did not take place. The international observers of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, however, raised that ‘the process was marred by the pervasive overlapping of government and ruling coalition’s messaging that blurred the line between state and party, as well as by media bias and opaque campaign funding (OSCE report, 2022). According to our hypothesis, strict control over public service media and dominant indirect ownership of private media (Hermann, Chomsky, 1988) by the regime led to hegemonic government agenda setting (McCombs and Shaw, 1972) and framing (Entman, 1993) during the election campaign. Ultimately, dominant government influence on media played a fundamental role in the outcome of the elections. We argue that three sociodemographic variables of media users were key for the major impact and efficiency of regime propaganda. The elderly, less educated voters, living in rural villages and towns, faced unchallenged exposure to government and Fidesz party messaging. Many of these voters had lost their spouses, lacking the possibility to discuss electoral options at home. Also, most of them are not internet users. The intensity of government communications created a massive filter bubble (Pariser, 2011; Bozdag & Van den Hoven 2015), eliminating the possibility for alternative messages reaching these voters. We argue that dominant media ownership, hegemonic messaging and structural censorship regarding alternative messages, in combination with the unchallenged possibilities to agenda setting and issue framing led to a structurally dominant voice of Fidesz in the election campaign. Media dominance was a major factor in influencing voter behaviour and, consequently, securing a majority for the ruling party. Our research builds on an innovative triangulation of three research methods. First, we conduct a qualitative textual analysis of the memoirs summarising the personal observations of independent ballot counters. Two major Facebook pages systematically collect and publish hundreds of such memoirs. The focus is on the account of those who visited voters with health or mobility issues in their homes, providing mobile ballot box voting opportunity. These visits often included interaction with the voters and these accounts therefore serve as a massive database of participant observation . In the analysis, we focus on information concerning media use of the voters. Second, semi-structured online or personal interviews are made with selected mobile ballot box providers. The focus of the interviews is to determine patterns of media mechanisms and impact through identifying audio-visual, verbal or interpersonal clues about media presence and their impact. Third, we intend to explore voter motivation through semi-structured online or personal interviews with a small sample of elderly voters and identify the media patterns that had influenced their decision. With both groups, high standards of research ethics are ensured by conducting strictly anonymous interviews. Our research will contribute to a better understanding of the mechanism and impact of media communication based on securitisation, explore the impact of lack of objective and balanced information on making choices, and will scrutinise the conflict between government media control and democratic election principles.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2022
EventESA RN18 mid-term conference: COMMUNICATION, CAPITALISM AND CRITIQUE: CRITICAL MEDIA SOCIOLOGY IN THE 21ST CENTURY - Polytechnic of Turin, Italy, Turin, Italy
Duration: 1 Sept 20223 Sept 2022


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  • Manipulation
  • public service media
  • hegemony

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