* Ideology remains a powerful factor in how Europeans view key policy questions
In Western Europe, populist parties and movements have disrupted the region’s political landscape by making significant gains – from the Brexit referendum to national elections in Italy.
The anti-establishment sentiments helping to fuel the populist wave can be found on the left, center and right of the ideological spectrum, as a Pew Research Center survey highlights. People who hold these populist views are more frustrated with traditional institutions, such as their national parliament and the European Union, than are their mainstream counterparts. They are also more concerned about the economy and anxious about the impact of immigrants on their society.
- This dissatisfaction may in part be why they are more favorable toward populist parties; still, regardless of populist sentiments, people tend to favor parties that reflect their own ideological orientation.
- With regard to policy, too, ideology continues to matter. Left-right differences carry more weight than populist sympathies when it comes to how people view the government’s involvement in the economy, as well as the rights of gays and lesbians and women’s role in society.
These are among the findings of an in-depth Pew Research Center public opinion study that maps the political space in eight Western European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – based on a survey of 16,114 adults conducted from Oct. 30 to Dec. 20, 2017. Together, these eight European Union (EU) member states account for roughly 70% of the EU population and 75% of the EU economy.
The study’s purpose is to evaluate how the intersection of ideology and populist views within and across these publics shapes attitudes about policies, institutions, political parties and values.
In this report, survey respondents are categorized into groups based on their self-placement along the left-center-right ideological spectrum and on whether they express support for populist views. The measure of ideology is general and not specific to either economic or social values.
The measure of populist views primarily focuses on anti-establishment attitudes – whether respondents believe that ordinary people would do a better job than elected officials at solving the country’s problems, and whether most elected officials care what people like them think. Anti-establishment attitudes constitute a core component of many definitions of populism. In this analysis, the combination of ideology and anti-establishment attitudes leads to the identification of six political groups: Left Populists, Left Mainstream, Center Populists, Center Mainstream, Right Populists and Right Mainstream. (For more on how these groups are defined, please see the explanatory box and Appendix A.)
People who hold populist views are more unhappy with institutions, economy and immigration
Across the ideological spectrum, people with populist views share a deep distrust of traditional institutions. This dissatisfaction affects not just attitudes about the national parliament but a range of institutions across society, including the news media and banks, as well as the European Union (EU).
- In fact, when it comes to opinions of the EU, populist views are often a more significant dividing line than ideology. For example, in the Netherlands, roughly six-in-ten or fewer among the left, center and right populist groups say that membership in the Brussels-based organization has been good for their country’s economy, compared with three-quarters or more among those in the mainstream on the left, center and right.
- People with populist sympathies also express higher support for returning powers from the EU to their national government than those in the mainstream. (For more on Western European views of the news media, see “In Western Europe, Public Attitudes Toward News Media More Divided by Populist Views Than Left-Right Ideology”.)
Journalists and scholars have fiercely debated whether economic struggles underlie publics’ support for populist movements. By analyzing populist views across the ideological spectrum, this study finds that people who are critical of the establishment are somewhat more likely than those in the mainstream to have faced economic hardship, such as unemployment.
Perhaps in part because of this experience, Left, Center and Right Populists are much more dissatisfied with the national economy and, in half the countries surveyed, more likely than their mainstream ideological counterparts to support the government providing economic assistance to the public.
Additionally, anti-establishment sentiments and attitudes about immigration are linked, the study finds. Overall, left-right ideology is the most prominent divide in public attitudes about immigrants. Still, across the left-right spectrum, respondents with populist views are consistently more negative toward immigrants than those in the mainstream who share their ideological position.
For example, in the Netherlands, both Left Populist and Left Mainstream respondents are less likely than their counterparts on the right to say immigrants increase the risk of terrorism. At the same time, the Left Populist group (38%) still expresses higher levels of concern than the Left Mainstream (26%). Similarly, the Center and Right Populist groups in the Netherlands generally hold more negative attitudes about immigrants than the Center and Right Mainstream groups, respectively. Across a number of questions about immigrants, Right Populists tend to be the most negative group.
The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: pewglobal.org