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ESRA 2023 Glance Program

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Survey methods for studying the impact of multiple crises on attitudes towards the EU: findings and methodological challenges

Session Organisers Dr Simona Guglielmi (University of Milan)
Mr Gonzalo Franetovic (University of Milan)
TimeTuesday 18 July, 11:00 - 12:30
Room U6-22

EU seems to be trapped in a state of permanent crisis. Starting from the European Sovereign Debt Crisis in 2009, the EU has been faced with the Refugee crisis, Brexit, the Covid-19 Crisis and, more recently, the armed conflict in Ukraine and Energy Crisis. As a common feature of the different crises, European solidarity was called into question by numerous actors in respective domestic arenas. Divergent visions of what European integration is or should be aroused.
This session aims to collect papers focusing on the potential of survey research to investigate the impact of the protracted and complex crises on public attitudes toward the EU.
Survey research has been largely used to study changes in public support for the EU since the Beliefs in Government series in the 1990s. There have also been numerous studies using survey data to investigate the impact of the economic crisis, the Refugee crisis, and Brexit on political attitudes toward the EU. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was massive use of survey research.
Public opinion studies based on survey data have had the merit of pointing out that public support for EU and EU solidarity in turbulent times depend on many factors, both individual and crisis-related (e. g. nature of the crisis, kind of aid,...). Furthermore, through survey experiments, it was possible to investigate specific mechanisms underlying the formation of socio-political attitudes. However, little is known about the impact of multiple and protracted crises over time.
This session aims to collect papers that illustrate the potential of survey data for studying the impact of crises on public attitudes towards the EU, with particular reference to EU membership and EU member state solidarity. Especially welcome are papers based on survey experiments or panel data, focusing on single countries or comparative approaches.

Keywords: European integration, public opinion, multiple crises, survey experiments


How did Covid affect European legitimacy? A search for clues with ESS data

Dr Angelika Scheuer (GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences) - Presenting Author

The European Social Survey (ESS) is not especially rich in questions on attitudes towards the European Union but provides best data to describe the part of EU legitimacy that rests on satisfaction with and trust in national governments, the confederal tier of legitimacy. The coincidence of a democracy module and a covid module in ESS Round 10 (2021) extends the analytical possibilities even further. The evaluation of the covid response can be used to confirm previous knowledge that satisfaction with national policies in salient issues can have repercussions in people’s attitudes towards the EU, channeled through the legitimacy pathway. Most covid response policies were introduced by national governments, but the EU gave political support and assured the provision of vaccines. It can therefore be expected that vaccine willingness boost or tempers the effect of the satisfaction with the national covid response on European attitudes.

The paper to be presented starts with a short discussion of measuring European attitudes with ESS data, illustrated with timeseries. The main part firstly presents a structural equation model of the confederal tier of EU legitimacy, elaborating shortly on the latent variables included. Secondly, satisfaction with the national covid response will be introduced into model to test whether this increases the explained variance in attitudes towards Europe. Finally, a multigroup model will be estimated out to check whether vaccine willingness modifies the effect on European legitimacy. The discussion of results will focus on some differences between countries and provide some preliminary explanations.

The change within: How crises contexts influence EU support and its explanation of citizens.

Professor Alexia Katsanidou (GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences) - Presenting Author
Dr Ann-Kathrin Reinl (University of Gent)

Since the late 2000s the EU is in a permanent state of crisis, that covered a wide range of topics and increased the relevance in decision making and therefore the politicisation of the European Union. Research on EU support has demonstrated a direct positive effect between economic conditions and success of Eurosceptic parties, a positive relationship between critical attitudes toward immigrants and Euroscepticism, a connection between mentioning of national sovereignty and Euroscepticism, and policy failure (eg. in the case of vaccination deployment) and negative EU attitudes. Most studies fail to demonstrate the actual impact of the crisis on EU attitudes or on the independent variables related to the crises. In this paper we take a step further trying to understand how EU support changed during each of the crises, what individual level characteristics influenced change and if the explanation of EU support changes in each crisis period. To do so we use individual level panel data from Germany (GESIS Panel) and we test the impact of each of these crises from 2014 onwards on EU attitudes. We explore the potential of panel data and within person differences to understand the sensitivity and dynamics of EU support. We focus on two variables, the more stable one on affinity with Europe and more volatile one on trust on the EU. We expect that the crisis context changes not only the levels of trust and affinity, but also the variables that best explain them reflecting the content of each crisis.

How Multiple Crises Change Citizens' Attitudes on European Integration

Mr Lukas Lauener (FORS / University of Lausanne) - Presenting Author

This paper analyses changes in public opinion towards European integration and EU membership in Switzerland, a non-member state that is economically highly integrated with the European Union. We use data of a panel study that has been collected in the framework of the Swiss Election Study (Selects) since 2019 up until now. The different survey waves cover the “pre-crises” year of 2019 – the year of the federal elections – and track a large representative sample up until the next federal elections in 2023. The yearly waves of 2020, 2021 and 2022 thus cover the COVID-19 Crisis, the Russian war in Ukraine as well as the Energy Crisis. Our hypothesis is that, in times of crises like the beforementioned, citizens’ sense of belonging to Europe, their solidarity with other European countries and their common European identity are sharpened, no matter whether the country is EU member or not. According to this hypothesis, the different crises should lead to an increase in support for European integration projects and EU membership. Indeed, preliminary analyses of the panel data show a substantial overall growth in the importance the public opinion attributes to the existing bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland as well as to the need for further collaboration (through additional bilateral agreements) after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Comparing panel data collected in the “pre-crises period” (2019) with data from survey waves that were fielded during the Covid Crisis (2020, 2021), the Russian war in Ukraine (2022), and the Energy Crisis (2022), we additionally find slightly higher support levels for EU membership. The paper will identify which citizen groups were most prone to change their opinion towards EU integration and which of the crises had the greatest impact on attitudinal changes.

EU solidarity in troubling times: does cultural cleavage matter?

Dr Simona Guglielmi (University of Milan) - Presenting Author
Mr Gonzalo Franetovic (University of Milan)

EU member state solidarity has become a relevant issue in the political debate following the so-called “Euro crisis” and the “migrants-refugees crisis”. Covid-19 pandemic has reopened the discussion on the “boundaries” of EU solidarity, stressing the North-South-East divide.
While several studies have investigated the “public discourse” on EU solidarity, we know little about the mechanisms underlying the formation of citizens’ preferences. Previous studies have suggested that individual willingness to show EU solidarity depends on many factors, both individual (e.g age, education, political ideology,..) and contextual (e. g. causes of the crisis, kind of aid, …) Geographical proximity seems to matter to. In this regard, there are some pieces of evidence that European identity may contribute to public support for EU solidarity, by overcoming territorial cleavages. From a social identity perspective, these results are in line with Common Ingroup Model. However, some scholars have pointed out that some conditions – such as a pandemic in which uncertainty is high and intergroup comparisons are salient -are highly conducive to a dangerous emergence of “rivalrous cohesion” (Abrams, 2010). As result, European inclusive subordinate identity and solidarity among national subgroups could be questioned, according to Ingroup Projection Model.
The paper aims to contribute to the topic by focusing on the Italian case. Data come from the rotating module “European Solidarity” of ResPOnsE COVID-19, a Rolling Cross-Section survey carried out in Italy from April 6th, 2020 to December 31th, 2021 (ResPOnsE Covid-19 project, University of Milan, spsTREND Lab). It includes questions specifically devoted to testing to what extent the perceived cultural proximity between countries moderates the link between European identity and EU solidarity. Furthermore, we test to what extent this socio-psychological mechanism is conditional to political factors such as political ideology and Euroscepicism.

Subjects, cohorts, attainment or selection? Disentangling the effect of schooling on political beliefs in adulthood

Dr Nicole Martin (University of Manchester)
Dr Ralph Scott (Cardiff University)
Dr Roland Kappe (University College London) - Presenting Author

The causal role of educational experiences in shaping political behaviour has received extensive attention in recent years. However, measurement of education is often limited in political surveys, with little detail beyond the highest level of qualification achieved. Consequently, it is often still a “black box”, with few possibilities to understand precisely how people’s education shapes their views in later life. Moreover, education is studied in isolation from cohort and period effects. However, educational are likely to colour how young people in their formative years see crisis events. We use new administrative and survey data to address these questions. Specifically, we are able to link detailed administrative data on adults’ school records to their political views in a large-scale probability household panel survey, and analyse a succession of schooling reforms in England that affected the subjects offered to students in different schools. This allows us to understand whether it is the level of attainment, whole cohort and period effects, or rather the educational content and self-selection into different pathways that explain large effects of education on attitudes (including Euroscepticism) and electoral behaviour in England. Our results contribute to our understanding of the ways that educational expansion have shaped patterns of social and political conflict.