Study: Most Europeans want ‘strong leaders’ to bring change

Widespread discontent is fuelling populism across Europe. [Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock]

Most Europeans believe their country needs a strong leader who is “prepared to change the rules of the game”. The Germans are the one notable exception. EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France reports.

A study published today (6 February) by Ipsos Global Advisor, focussing mainly on five European countries (France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom), revealed widespread mistrust of governments and international institutions.

Most French citizens (61%) are convinced that their generation has a lower quality of life than that of their parents. 80% of French respondents to the survey also said they would vote for “a leader that is prepared to change the rules of the game”.

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The majority of the Europeans questioned believe their country is in decline, an attitude that breeds mistrust in the traditional political parties and institutions and fuels the rise of populism, according to the study.

Crisis of confidence

In Italy, 73% of people surveyed said their country is in decline, compared to 69% in Spain, 67% in France, 57% in the United Kingdom and 47% in Germany. The study was carried out last October.

A majority of French (61%), Italian (60%), and Spanish (56%) citizens also believe that their generation has a less good life than their parents’ generation. This view is shared by 44% of Germans and 43% of Brits.

As a result, trust in national governments is extremely weak: 89% of Spanish respondents said they have little or no confidence in their national government. The figure was 80% in Italy, 77% in France, 70% in Germany and 66% in the UK.

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While mistrust of international institutions is strongest in Spain (77%), it is also significant in France (65%), Italy (64%) and Germany and the UK (59%).

Strong leaders wanted

This generalised discontent is fertile ground for populism. With the exception of Germany (34%), a majority of respondents said they believe their country needs a strong leader to set it back on the right track (72% in Spain, 70% in France, 67% in Italy and the UK).

To improve the situation, 80% of French respondents said they were ready to vote for “a leader that is prepared to change the rules of the game”. Sixty-eight percent of Italians and half of Brits share this view, compared to just one fifth of Germans.

In Spain, 62% of respondents said they would vote for a leader or party that is prepared to “radically change the status quo”.

And just over half of Spanish and French respondents (52% and 51%) said they would vote for a leader who is not afraid to say what they think, even if some people found it offensive.

Finally, the countries most recently affected by acts of terrorism are more willing to use any means necessary to protect themselves from such threats, even at the expense of civil liberties. This is a view shared by 59% of French and 55% of Belgian respondents, compared to just 35% of Italian and 31% of Spanish respondents.

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