Left-right ideological divide remains relevant in Western Europe

EU flags in the European Parliament. [European Parliament]

Despite the rise of populist parties, the right-left division remains relevant, particularly on issues such as immigration and the role of the government, according to a study by the American think tank The Pew Research Centre. EURACTIV.fr reports.

The research centre conducted a public opinion study on six countries in Western Europe (France, Denmark, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) and interviewed more than 16.000 people from 30 October to 20 December 2017. It concluded that the left-right ideological division remains relevant in Western Europe.

Respondents had to place themselves on a left-right ideological scale and their ‘populist views’ were measured on the basis of their answers to two questions: “Ordinary people would do a better job solving the country’s problems than elected officials” and “Most elected officials don’t care what people like me think”.

“While populist views play a significant role in some key areas, the attitudinal differences between people who place themselves on the left and those who place themselves on the right tend to be larger across a range of major issues asked about,” stated the authors of the study.

The left-right divide is particularly important on the issue of migration and the question of the role of the government in the economy.

EU summit approves tortured conclusions on migration after sleepless night

EU leaders reached a much-needed deal on steps to tackle migration after resolving a bitter row with Italy’s inexperienced prime minister. Extended talks lasted through the night and only wrapped up on Friday morning (29 June). 

On the migration issue: “People’s left-right ideological positions shape their attitudes about immigration more than the fact that they hold, or don’t hold, populist views,” stated the authors of the study.

On party support as well, the left-right division is still blatant. Though respondents opposed to the elite are more sympathetic to populist parties than others “they have not yet abandoned traditional parties”.

“People on the left – whether or not they hold populist views – tend to prefer left-leaning political parties, while those on the right prefer right-leaning parties. This pattern reveals that respondents with populist sympathies are not supportive of populist parties irrespective of ideology, but are rather supportive of parties that are consistent with their own ideological leanings.”

Trust in institutions

According to the survey, those expressing populist opinions have a strong mistrust of traditional institutions. According to the think-tank, those institutions are: military institutions, national parliaments, news media and financial institutions.

In some countries, this mistrust is found at a larger scale than in people with populist views. Trust in news media, national parliaments and financial institutions are generally lower in France, Italy Spain and the United Kingdom.

Only 33% of French respondents and 16 % of Spanish and Italian respondents said they trust their national parliament. In the UK, only a third of respondents expressed trust in their national parliament and the news media.


Conte and Sánchez, the new kids on the EU bloc

Pedro Sánchez and Giuseppe Conte, the freshly appointed leaders from southern Europe, are two new kids on the bloc. But they could hardly be more different: Sánchez is a breath of fresh air in Spanish and European politics while Conte is a new headache for Brussels. Both made their first appearance at the European Council on Thursday (28 June).

Different views on the EU

According to the study, people with populist views are more likely to demand a return of EU powers to national governments.

However, the study shows opposing views of the EU: “the countries surveyed say membership in the European Union has been a good thing for their nation’s economy. Despite these views, majorities say some EU powers should be returned to the national government”.

This desire is more widespread in the UK, as well as Denmark and the Netherlands.  Although a large majority in Denmark and the Netherlands believe that EU membership has been beneficial for their national economy, “roughly two-thirds say some EU powers should be returned [to the national level]”.


Measure co-financed by the European Union

The content of this page and articles represents the views of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility. The European Parliament does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

Subscribe to our newsletters