17 October 2018

A new Eurobarometer poll published today presents a mixed picture of opinion across the EU28. The analysis shows some growing support for the Euro, especially in the currency zone for example. There’s also more awareness of European elections coming in May, and general agreement that EU membership brings benefits. But on the other hand it also shows widespread apathy. Over half of Croatians, Slovaks and Portuguese – for example – confirm that they are not likely to vote in May’s European elections. In reality even fewer right across Europe will vote.

There’s also some uncomfortable findings. The study finds 50% of respondents think the EU is “going in the wrong direction”. That’s up from 42% in April of this year. Just 28% of those surveyed believe that things in the EU are “going in the right direction”, down from 32% in April. Those are very troubling findings which should make for concerning reading in Brussels, Strasbourg, and European capitals.

The survey claims to find that a majority right across the EU28 would vote to remain in the EU in a hypothetical referendum on EU membership. But here (especially) it becomes important to take into account the survey’s methodology. The barometer is compiled off the back of face-to-face interviews – it’s not an anonymous online or telephone polls. And it’s unclear whether or how the results have been adjusted to reflect that. Equally the choice to include those aged 15,16 and 17 in a survey like this will naturally give a distorted answer (not least as they would be very unlikely to vote in a hypothetical referendum). That perhaps explains the finding that just 35% in the UK would support leaving the EU, which is not in line with the findings of opinion pollsters in the UK.

However, despite these methodological concerns there are more troubling findings. On the referendum question, Italy showed the lowest support for remaining in the EU – just 44%, with 32% unsure. Similarly, in the Czech Republic 47% of respondents backed remaining in the EU with 29% unsure. Those are not encouraging results. I don’t think there’s a serious prospect of Greece leaving the EU but 24% of Greeks would like to do so, 22% of Austrians and 26% of Cypriots.

The data doesn’t seem to be completely broken down by age. But a socio-demographic annex available on the website shows some interesting findings. There are marked differences in different age categories. For example, 35% of 15-24 year olds have a positive view of the European Parliament, compared with 29% of the 55 plus.  12% of 15-24 year olds have a negative view of the European Parliament, compared with 27% of the 55 plus. That’s little surprise perhaps.

The research is subtitled from (Silent) support to Actual Vote with the admirable aim of increasing turnout. It remains to be seen what the turnout will be like in next year’s European elections. But it’s unlikely that there will be a major jump in participation. What is more likely is that the elections will mark the continuation of the drawing of Europe’s political landscape – we expect the Socialists & Democrats to get knocked back further and more of the so-called populists to enter the European Parliament.