Global Policy Forum

Europeans are Liberal, Anxious and Don’t Trust Politicians, Poll Reveals

A new poll by the Guardian has unearthed a surprising commitment to European institutions such as the Euro and free movement between EU states. The poll, which was carried out in Britain, France, Germany, Poland and Spain, reveals that hostility is mainly directed towards national politics and domestic economics but doesn't reflect a crisis of EU identity. This article highlights the main conclusions of the poll and what they mean for the future of European politics.


Julian Glover


March 13, 2011



Europe's hope of a better future is faltering, as the financial crisis and spending cuts bite, according to a Guardian/ICM poll of five leading EU countries. It finds trust in government at rock bottom and widespread fear of further economic decline. Few people are convinced that the present signs of recovery can be sustained.

The poll was carried out online using a representative sample of more than 5,000 people of working age in five leading EU states - Britain, France, Germany, Poland and Spain. It paints a picture of a continent confident in its liberal values and still mostly committed to EU institutions such as the euro and the free movement of people between states, but notably hostile to state spending and political leaders.

Carried out at the start of a month-long Guardian series examining Europe in the wake of recession, the poll makes it clear that few Europeans believe the worst of the economic crisis is over. A majority are also against immediate cuts in government spending.

The result is a crisis in European democracy. While people are divided on the need for state spending cuts and the speed with which they should take place, very few in the five states surveyed trust their politicians to deal with the problems facing their countries - or even their honesty.

Only 6% of people across Europe say they have a great deal of trust in their government, 46% say they have not very much and 32% none at all. Only 9% of Europeans think their politicians - in opposition or in power - act with honesty and integrity.

The lack of trust in government is greatest in Poland and France, where distrust outweighs trust by a net 82 percentage points. In France, the net negative score is 78 points and in Germany 80 points. Only Britain breaks the consensus somewhat, with a net negative score of 66 points.

Even fewer Europeans think their politicians are honest. In Poland, only 3% of those questioned agree; in Spain 8%; in Germany 10%; in France 11%; in Britain 12%. Overall, the percentage of those who think politicians are not at all, or not very, honest outweighs those who disagree by a massive 89 percentage points.

Political anxiety appears to be fuelled by deep economic worries. Overall, 40% of those polled think their economy will get worse over the next 12 months, against 20% who think it will improve. Only in Germany are more people optimistic than pessimistic. Economic anxiety is greatest in France, where pessimists outnumber optimists by a net difference of 46 points. In Britain, the difference is 40 points and in Poland 30 points. Spain is more optimistic, with a net difference of 18 points - which could be explained by few people in the country thinking things can get worse than they already are.

There are also signs of hope: except in Poland, people on balance are more likely to think things will get "a little worse" (26% of those polled) than "a lot worse" (21%). And others (31%) think things will simply stay the same. Europe is not in economic depression.

But on the other hand there is limited hope for the future expressed in the EU's traditional economic powerhouses of Germany and France. Almost three-quarters of the French questioned think they will be worse off in a decade than they are now. In Germany - despite its recovery - over half think the same.

In Britain, a majority think the next decade will either leave them poorer or, at best, no better off. Only a quarter think Britain will get richer over the next 10 years.

Only in the more recent EU entrants of Spain and Poland is there significant optimism. In Poland, almost half think they will end up better off in a decade; in Spain, a majority think this. Both countries have experienced rapid growth within recent memory as a result of EU entry.

The poll focused on national attitudes rather than those to the EU as a whole. But despite economic worries and the cost of bailing out Greece and Ireland, EU states already using the euro want to keep it. Overall, 68% questioned in the three euro countries - France, Spain and Germany - are in favour of retaining it. Spain (71%) is keenest, followed by France (60%). But a majority of Germans (59%) also want to keep the euro despite national concern about the Greek bailout.

However, a narrow plurality of Poles (48% to 40%) oppose their country joining the single currency as is planned.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 5,023 adults in five EU states aged 18-64 from its online panel between 24 February and 8 March, 2011. In order to achieve a nationally representative sample within each country, quotas were set by gender, age and region. At the data analysis stage, data were weighted to the profile of all adults aged 18-64 in each country


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