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Parties Spend More on Political Ads on Social Media Alone than Total Amount of Campaign Funding

Hungary Today 2022.02.16.

Although the campaign season for the upcoming parliamentary election officially only began last Saturday in Hungary, the citizens of the country have already been bombarded with campaign messages for months, especially on social media. Although the government categorically denies that it has a media dominance, claiming instead that left-liberal messages have more reach, publicly available data shows that the ruling Fidesz party has already spent several times more on campaign ads than their political opponents. So much so, that Fidesz, together with a few closely-tied organizations, spent more on social media ads alone before the start of the campaign season than the otherwise legally available amount of campaign funding.

The political inequality of power seems very apparent in Hungary when it comes to campaign spending. Although it is a common belief in the right-wing media that there is a left-liberal media dominance in the country, the data collected by liberal news site hvg.hu suggests quite the opposite.

The data collected by media insights and consultancy company, Kantar Media, which keeps track of the list-price advertising revenues of domestic media and advertising companies for 2021 (i.e. not reduced by price discounts), paints the picture of a strong Fidesz dominance, the site reports.

The Fidesz-affiliated Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF) alone, for example, spent a total of HUF 707 million on billboard advertising at list price last year.

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The Prime Minister’s office spent even more on campaigns: in total, HUF 8.1 billion were used to promote the government’s so-called national consultation survey and its new campaign slogan: “Hungary is going forward, not backward.”

The HUF 83 million spent directly by Fidesz seems almost like pocket change in comparison.

In contrast, according to HVG‘s calculations, the opposition side was able to use significantly less financial resources on campaigning.

The 99 Movement behind opposition Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony spent HUF 367.5 million, the Democratic Coalition HUF 72 million, and Momentum HUF 28 million on ads, according to the national advertising index, while LMP and MSZP allocated only a few million forints on advertising. Right-wing Jobbik spent even less.

Everybody’s Hungary Movement, which coordinates Péter Márki-Zay’s campaign, spent HUF 117 million by the end of last year, and this amount already includes some of the spending of the future campaign of the united opposition’s candidate for prime minister, according to hvg.hu

In addition, the majority of the opposition’s political ads were published during the opposition primaries last fall. So during this period, the opposition parties had to use their financial resources primarily to promote their own PM candidates against the other opposition parties’ politicians, rather than campaigning against Fidesz.

Social media has become the most important tool

The legal framework of Hungary’s campaign financing has long been considered outdated. Although the relevant legislation limits the amount of money that can be spent by parties during the campaign period of general elections and requires that these funds are accounted for, none of this applies to advertising on social media.

The State Audit Office of Hungary has already pointed out this problem to decision-makers, but Parliament, with its Fidesz-KDNP majority has yet to take any action. The situation would require attention especially so since, a significant part of political advertising is no longer appearing in the traditional media, but instead on social media and YouTube.

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In Hungary, Facebook is currently by far the most important social network platform. In an attempt to make political advertising more transparent, Facebook released its searchable database containing information on political ads in 2019, called Ad Library.

News site Index examined how much money sites and individuals associated with various Hungarian parties have spent on political advertising on the platform in the past three years.

Index found that the Hungarian government, Fidesz, and an organization linked to the party, Megafon, spent by far the most on ads.

These three sites alone have collectively spent 1.5 billion forints on the largest social media site in the past years.

Meanwhile opposition-linked EzaLényeg.hu spent almost HUF 300 million on Facebook. And the pages of the parties involved in the opposition alliance have spent more than HUF 550 million on political advertising in the last three years.

Social media flooded with Fidesz ads

The estimates of hvg suggest that even more money was spent on campaigning. According to the paper, since November 2021, Hungarian political actors (including politicians, parties government institutions, and media outlets) have spent HUF 1.1 billion on political advertising.

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Of this amount, HUF 942 million was spent by Fidesz, the government, or media outlets with Fidesz messages, which account for 82 percent of the total amount. One-third of the money, HUF 363 million, was spent by the harshly pro-government “influencers” of  Megafon Center, created to bring right-wing messages closer to younger audiences.

Meanwhile, the official campaign period just began on February 12th. According to the law, a party or nominating organization that is able to field a candidate in all constituencies can campaign using a total of HUF 995 million in state support from now on. Fidesz, “its satellite organizations,” and allies spent that much on Facebook alone a quarter before the campaign period, hvg notes.

Featured photo illustration via Pixabay

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