In Europe, as in other regions, disillusionment, alienation and anti-establishment sentiment have been building over the past decade, culminating last year with the Brexit vote, Matteo Renzi’s referendum defeat in Italy and the rising popularity of populist parties.
What’s behind this anti-establishment backlash? The Pew Research Center looked into it and uncovered a few trends that explain recent developments.
Pessimism about Europe’s economic future
A survey across 40 nations, including 10 European countries, asked whether respondents thought the next generation would be better off financially than their parents. The US and Europe were the two most pessimistic regions in this regard. In Europe, nearly two-thirds expected their children to be worse off than them.
Over in Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America, the outlook couldn’t be more different. In Latin America, for example, nearly six in ten people felt the generation would be better off.
Fears of terrorism and refugees go together
In Davos, a panel on racism agreed that it was now impossible to speak about migration without speaking about terrorism, as the two had become one and the same.
The statistics from Pew Research bear this out.
Concerns about terrorism run high in Europe, with on average 76% of respondents saying ISIS is a major threat to their countries. Only Greeks thought economic instability and climate change posed a bigger threat. The majority of respondents in believe that refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism in their country. Fears run particularly high in Hungary and Poland, where 76% and 71% respectively believe there is a link between the influx of refugees and terrorism. The exceptions are Spain and France, where less than half subscribe to this view.
Diversity raises questions
Adding to the perceived threat of terrorism, many Europeans feel that ethnic and national diversity is a negative influence in their country.
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In Greece, more than six in ten people say it makes the country a worse place to live in. In Italy, over half feel that way, while around four in ten Hungarians and Poles see diversity as having a negative effect on their country.
Sweden has the greatest number of people who believe in the positive impact of growing diversity (36%).
The EU is not helping
Traditional political parties and institutions are losing support, as they appear to be ill-prepared to address the concerns of large swathes of the population. This has given a boost to populist parties across the region, from Alternative für Deutschland in Germany and UKIP in Britain, to the Freedom Party in the Netherlands and Syriza in Greece.
At an EU level, the trend is the same, with many people expressing a negative view of the regional institution.
Over seven in ten Poles are still happy with the EU, compared to only 27% of Greeks. For most countries, a short rebound in 2015 has been followed by a sharp downward trend, which may suggest disillusionment with the EU’s capacity to bring about change.