ECFR: Europe’s Voters Fragmented Into Five “Crisis Tribes” In Run-Up To 2024 Elections

World » EU | Author: Diana Kavardzhikova |January 19, 2024, Friday // 11:27
Bulgaria: ECFR: Europe’s Voters Fragmented Into Five “Crisis Tribes” In Run-Up To 2024 Elections Photo: Stella Ivanova @novinite.com

The new study of The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is based on a survey of public opinion conducted by YouGov, Datapraxis, and Norstat in nine EU member states (Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Spain) and two non-EU states (the United Kingdom and Switzerland). The data, encompassing countries that represent 75% of the EU population, present the attitudes, concerns, and key issues that may influence this year's series of European and national elections.

The authors of the study, Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, claim that the traditional electoral divisions in Europe, previously defined by left and right and pro-European and anti-European sentiments, are now heavily fragmented due to five crises that have shaken the EU in recent years. According to them, the trauma caused by these upheavals is a result of climate change, COVID-19, immigration, rising living costs, and the war on Europe's eastern border. These factors are of exceptional importance for predicting behavior. Krastev and Leonard identify five distinct "tribes" that are best defined in relation to the five crises that have directly affected the citizens of the EU-27 over the past fifteen years.

The main conclusion from the research is that none of the five crises dominates the collective perception of Europeans. Climate change, the war in Ukraine, COVID-19, immigration and global economic turmoil - each of these issues has its own significant group who consider it a top priority. These groups are unevenly distributed among different generations and countries.

Referring to the answers to the question "Which of the following issues has, over the past decade, most changed the way you look at your future?"

The data shows the following results:”Within the EU27’s voting age population of 372 million people, this would lead to around 74 million people who cite climate, 74 million covid-19, and 71 million the economic crisis as their main worry. These are followed by 58 million EU citizens who are primarily concerned with immigration, and 50 million who are focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Around 47 million people struggle to associate with any of the five crises”.

Among the important findings from the research by Krastev and Leonard:

  • Climate change and immigration will be the primary factors mobilizing Europeans. Climate change is identified as the most transformative crisis by those surveyed in France (27%) and Switzerland (22%), with the highest result in Denmark (29%). This is the second most important issue for residents of the United Kingdom (22%), Italy (21%), Germany (20%), and Spain (19%). Meanwhile, immigration is a dominant issue in Germany (31%) and the second highest in Switzerland (19%).
  • These two "opposite tribes" will play a significant role in this year's elections. Krastev and Leonard point to the recent elections in the Netherlands, where anti-immigrant parties took the lead, followed by the pro-climate left alliance led by Frans Timmermans. The authors anticipate a clash between two "rebellions against extinction" in the political campaigns of 2024. The first group of "rebels" fears the extinction of human life on the planet, while the second group fears the disappearance of their nation and cultural identity.
  • Climate change takes the top spot on the agenda for young people. A significant portion (24%) of individuals in the 18-29 age group sees climate change as the most important issue. This ranks ahead of global economic upheavals (22%), the COVID-19 pandemic (19%), and Russia's war in Ukraine (12%). Concerns about immigration recorded the lowest result among the five crises, with only 9% of those aged 18-29 selecting it as the most transformative problem.
  • Climate change is also a prominent issue for highly educated individuals in all surveyed countries. 22% of respondents with higher education see climate change as the primary problem influencing their outlook on the future. This figure decreases to 18% and 16% among those in the "medium" and "low" education groups, respectively.
  • Immigration is the most crucial issue for voters in Germany, and it also resonates with older voters across Europe. In Germany, a significant number of people (31%) see immigration as the most important problem among the five presented transformative crises. Data from the ECFR also indicates that immigration is a current issue for older voters in Europe, with 13% of those in the age groups between 50-59 and 60-69 considering it essential. Furthermore, 16% of respondents aged 70 and above see immigration as the sole essential problem, compared to only 9% in the 18-29 age group and 11% in the age groups between 30-39 and 40-49.
  • Supporters of right-wing and far-right parties tend to see immigration as the most important issue influencing the way they perceive their future. Those who support parties such as “Reconquete” in France (76%), “AfD” in Germany (66%), and the British “Reform” (63%) overall view immigration as the problem that has most changed the way they look at their future over the past decade. These voters are also inclined to be Eurosceptic, with the majority of them (51%) expecting the EU to collapse in the next 20 years.
  • It's interesting to note that in countries where the political right holds power, immigration is less important as a political issue. In Italy, for instance, only 10% of citizens see immigration as a key issue. This is also true for supporters of leading parties. Only 17% of those who support Giorgia Meloni’s ruling party “Brothers of Italy”, consider immigration the most significant crisis faced by their country.
  • The dynamics are exactly the opposite when it comes to climate change. Data from the ECFR shows that in countries where Green parties are in power, citizens are more concerned about these issues. This is the case in Germany, where 20% of respondents and 48% of those supporting the ruling Greens party see the climate crisis as the most influential problem for their future.
  • Voters in Southern Europe are still affected by the 2008 crisis and the Eurozone debt crisis. ECFR data suggests that in Italy and Portugal—countries heavily affected by previous economic downturns—concerns about the state of the economy still dominate over all other issues. In both countries, a significant number (34% of respondents) point out that "global economic upheavals" are the problem that has most significantly changed the way they look at their future. In Estonia (29%), Romania (25%), and Spain (19%), concerns about the economic situation also dominate.
  • The Russia-Ukraine war, as a political issue is being overlooked and now is largely a concern for those close to the eastern borders of Europe. Respondents in Estonia, Poland, and Denmark are most likely to consider the war in Ukraine as the most important crisis, as a large number of them, 40%, 31% and 29%, respectively, share this point of view. This is in stark contrast to attitudes in Spain and the United Kingdom (where only 6% chose this response) or France and Italy (with 7%), where only negligible minorities see the war as the problem that has most significantly changed the way they look at their future. According to Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard a gap may have started to open between the European elites, who still say they will do whatever it takes to support Kyiv and their voters who are more focused on other crises.

European leaders will shape the future of the continent through their decisions on the various crises in the coming months. Member states must respond to questions about the accession of Ukraine to the EU, military aid, the budget for the European Green Deal, and the details of the common asylum policy. Each of the five crises will have a significant impact, and the European elections will be a power struggle between different crisis "tribes". The majority of voters will focus on preventing a recurrence of their own crisis.

Read the full report.

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