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Globalisation fears weigh heavily on European voters

Protest voters and populist politicians are shaking up the long-established political majorities in Europe and the USA. But what prompts voters to back parties who claim that they alone represent the interests of the people and are challenging the so-called establishment? A representative EU opinion poll attempts to uncover the reasons.


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Globalisation fears are dividing Europeans. While a majority of EU citizens (55 percent) see globalisation as an opportunity, just below half of them (45 percent) view it as a danger. The trend that emerged here among the respondents was: the less educated and the older people are, the likelier they are to view globalisation as a danger. These fears of an increasingly ever-closer world are also influencing political attitudes: the vast majority of those respondents who sympathize with right-wing and populist parties regard globalisation as a threat. These are the results of the EU-wide opinion poll "eupinions", which is regularly used by the Bertelsmann Stiftung to ask citizens about EU matters. The opinion poll is representative of the EU and its nine largest member states.

Fears of globalisation determine political attitudes

When asked about their party preference, a trend emerged across the EU: supporters of right-wing and populist parties are particularly concerned about the consequences of international integration. Across all national borders, fear of globalisation is a defining and common characteristic of their supporters. According to the poll, over two thirds of AfD, Front National and FPÖ supporters see globalisation as a threat. At least half of those who sympathize with right-wing parties in the countries under consideration – from Forza Italia in Italy to UKIP in Great Britain – can invariably be classed as globalisation pessimists. Fears of globalisation therefore seem to be a driver for the success of right-wing parties in Europe.

"We cannot surrender to the populists in the bid to win over concerned citizens. The established parties need to incorporate this fear of globalisation into their work."

Aart De Geus, Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung

Fears of globalisation play a role for supporters of left-wing political parties too, though they do not play as decisive a role as they do for right-wing supporters. Only among the supporters of the French Front de gauche (58 percent) and the German Linkspartei (54 percent) fear of globalisation exceeds 50 percent. Among supporters of the major social democratic and Christian or conservative people's parties in the EU's nine largest countries, globalisation pessimists are consistently in the minority.

Age, education, income: the factors affecting views on globalisation

A glance at the map of Europe reveals where people are most fearful of, or open-minded about, globalisation. While fears of globalisation are most pronounced in Austria and France (55 and 54 percent respectively), the United Kingdom (64 percent), Italy and Spain (both 61 percent) are home to the most globalisation optimists.

In all countries, people's income, level of education and age play a decisive role in their assessments: of the respondents who categorized themselves as middle-class, globalisation optimists were in a clear majority across the EU (63 percent), while there was a much more even split among the working class (47 percent pessimists to 53 percent optimists). More highly skilled (63 percent) than low-skilled (53 percent) workers see globalisation as a positive. The most open-minded age group towards globalisation is that of young Europeans between 18 and 25 (61 percent). “Europe has particularly benefited from globalisation. Yet many people feel they have been left behind. We need to organize international integration in such a way that as many people as possible can benefit from it and not be harmed by it,” Aart De Geus, Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, said.

Distrust in politicians across the board

What is striking about the poll results is that fears of globalisation go hand in hand with a negative attitude towards politics and society.  Almost half of globalisation pessimists (47 percent) would vote to leave the EU. Less than one in ten of them (9 percent) trusts politicians in general and less than half (38 percent) are satisfied with democracy in their country. Among globalisation optimists, however, a vast majority (83 percent) are pro-EU and a narrow majority (53 percent) are satisfied with democracy.  Yet even among the optimists, there is not a particularly high level of trust in politicians: only one in five (20 percent) trusts those who represent their country and government.

When asked about the concrete threats of globalisation, marginalization and ignorance were recurring themes. The pessimists largely feel marginalized within their own societies (54 percent) and regard migration as a fundamental challenge to overcome in the coming years (53 percent). Interestingly, however, by their own admission more than half of them don't have any form of contact with foreigners (55 percent).