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bigstock | JanPietruszka | How Nostalgia Shapes European Public Opinion

© bigstock | JanPietruszka | How Nostalgia Shapes European Public Opinion

Make Europe great again?

Europeans are longing for the past

It is popular to desire a supposedly better past: Donald Trump’s promise to lead the US back to the top again took him to the White House. Brexit supporters have mobilized voters with memories of a time when the UK ruled the seas of the world. The latest issue of eupinions has studied how receptive Europeans are overall to the siren song of the “good old days”.

Two thirds of Europeans (67 percent) believe that the world used to be a better place. Italians are especially nostalgic (77 percent). The smallest percentage of people believing this is found in Poland (59 percent). In Germany, 61 percent of the population says that the world used to be better. What is striking: Europeans with nostalgic feelings tend to place themselves more to the right of the political center than non-nostalgic Europeans. They are also generally much more critical of immigration. These are the results of the latest edition in the “eupinions” survey series, whereby we regularly polls citizens across Europe on political and social issues. With a sample of 10,885 respondents, the survey is representative of the EU and its five largest Member States.

The survey shows: The older the respondents, the more nostalgic they feel. Young people under the age of 25 are the least susceptible to nostalgic feelings (52 percent), while over two-thirds of polled 56 to 65-year-olds are (70 percent). Among young people, the Italians are also the nostalgia leaders: 64 percent of them see the past in a better light than the present. Young Poles look at the present in the most positive way: Only a third (35 percent) of them are nostalgic. Across all age groups, women (47 percent) are less likely than men (53 percent) to view the past through rose-colored glasses.

“When people glorify their own past over time, this is, above all, human. But when parties exploit fears and uncertainties for their electoral success to conjure up a never-existing golden past, that is reckless.” Aart De Geus, Chairman Executive Board of the Bertelsmann Stiftung

Nostalgia provides stability in moments of uncertainty

Respondents’ view of the past coincides with political attitudes. Nostalgic Europeans tend to place themselves to the right of the political center. 53 percent of Europeans with nostalgic feelings see themselves more to the right of the center, while 58 percent of those without nostalgic feelings place themselves more to the left. The differences that we see between the camps in terms of political self-identification are the most pronounced in Germany: Here, the percentage of nostalgic Germans who are on the right (51 percent) is 20 percentage points higher than those without nostalgic feelings (31 percent).

“Nostalgia is also an indication of a high level of uncertainty in society,” says Isabell Hoffmann, Europe expert at our Stiftung and co-author of the study. However, according to the authors, a glorified view of the past, often having negative connotations in public, plays an important role insomuch as it can offer stability and support. Individual parties also take  advantage of this in order to parlay references to the past, uncertainty and fears into votes:

“A glance at the US and Great Britain shows that, interestingly enough, it is precisely those who promise a return to old greatness and stability that have so far triggered unrest and conflict.” Isabell Hoffmann, Europe expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung and co-author of the study

Widespread skepticism about immigration among nostalgic Europeans

When asked about their attitudes towards individual topics, the results show that those who feel nostalgic are generally somewhat more critical of the EU and clearly opposed to immigration. A majority of nostalgic Europeans (53 percent) are convinced that immigrants “take jobs away” from citizens and only 45 percent of them are convinced that “immigration is good for the economy”. More than three-quarters of nostalgic Europeans (78 percent) even agree with the statement “immigrants do not want to integrate into society.” The numbers are exactly the opposite for those who do not feel nostalgic: Only a minority (30 percent) believe that immigration will cause citizens to lose jobs, and a majority (63 percent) believe that immigration is fundamentally good for the economy.

The two camps’ attitudes toward the European Union are not dissimilar. A clear majority, regardless of nostalgia, want more political and economic integration as well as a more active role for the EU on the world stage. The most significant differences are found in the results on whether their own country should remain in the EU: 82 percent of non-nostalgic Europeans support their country’s EU membership, while this figure still stands at 67 percent for those who feel nostalgic. 

Bertelsmann Stiftung (ed.) “The Power of the Past How Nostalgia Shapes European Public Opinion” | Nostalgia is a powerful political tool. References to a better past are skillfully employed by populist political entrepreneurs to fuel dissatisfaction with present-day politics and anxiety about the future. But we know little about who is most receptive to those messages evoking a halcyon, bygone era. What share of the European public is nostalgic about the past, and what kind of political solutions does it prefer? In this report, we provide an in-depth look into Europeans’ feelings of nostalgia and how they affect views about politics today.

Bertelsmann Stiftung

BertelsmannStiftung 2018

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