Globalization Fears Weigh Heavily on European Voters

New survey examines what drives political attitudes in Europe today

GÜTERSLOH, GERMANY (November 30, 2016) - Globalization fears are dividing Europeans. While a majority of EU citizens (55 percent) see globalization as an opportunity, nearly half of them (45 percent) view it as a danger. The trend that emerged among respondents in the latest survey was that the less educated and the older people are, the likelier they are to view globalization as a threat. These fears of an increasingly interconnected world are also influencing political attitudes – the vast majority of respondents who sympathize with right-wing and populist parties regard globalization as a threat. These are the results of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s recent EU-wide opinion poll "eupinions," which regularly gauges citizens’ attitudes on European matters.

The opinion poll investigated what influences Europeans’ political attitudes most: their personal compass of values or fears of globalization and economic decline. Researcher found respondents’ assessment of globalization yielded the most compelling results. By categorizing Europeans as either globalization pessimists (those who fear it) or globalization optimists (those who see it as an opportunity), attitudes toward politics and society in the EU can be explained comparatively well.

Fears of globalization determine political attitudes

When asked about 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 globalization is a defining and common characteristic of their supporters. More than three-fourths of AFD (78 percent), Front National (76 percent) and FPO (69 percent) supporters see globalization as a threat. At least half of those who sympathize with right-leaning parties in the countries under consideration – from Forza Italia in Italy to UKIP in Great Britain – can invariably be classed as globalization pessimists. Therefore, fears of globalization seem to drive support for 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 globalization into their work,” said Aart De Geus, chairman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Fears of globalization also play a role for supporters of left-wing political parties, albeit not as decisively as for right-wing supporters. Only among supporters of the French Left Front (58 percent) and the German Die Linke (54 percent) does fear of globalization exceed 50 percent.

Factors shaping views on globalization

A glance at the map of Europe reveals where people are most fearful of, or open-minded about, globalization. While fears of globalization 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 globalization optimists. In all countries, one's income, level of education and age play a decisive role in their assessments. Of the respondents who identified themselves as middle-class, globalization optimists were in a clear majority across the EU (63 percent), while there was a 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 globalization as a positive. The most open-minded age group toward globalization is that of young Europeans between the ages of 18 and 25 (61 percent). “Europe has particularly benefited from globalization. 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 said.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s "eupinions" is an opinion poll tool that was developed together with Dalia Research. It regularly surveys citizens of all 28 EU member states on European matters. This latest poll took place in August 2016 and, with a sample size of 14,936 participants, is representative of the EU and its nine largest member states: Austria, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.

For more information about the survey click here:

To reach our experts or for additional information, contact Samia Yakub, Bertelsmann Foundation Communications Director in Washington, DC, at or +1.202.384.1996.