In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Opinion in Europe toward the European Union

  • Introduction
  • General Introductions and Review Articles
  • Public Opinion toward Specific EU Policies
  • Public Support for the EU in Candidate Countries and Other Nonmember States
  • Does Public Opinion Matter for Policymaking in the EU?
  • Referendums: Explaining the People’s Vote, Explaining Brexit
  • Data Sources

Political Science Public Opinion in Europe toward the European Union
by
Zuzana Ringlerova
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0319

Introduction

The European Union (EU) is a supranational political system that unites more than twenty-five European countries. European integration began to facilitate economic cooperation. Over time, it evolved into both an economic and political union. The progress in European integration accelerated in the 1980s and the 1990s. As a result, the European Union was established in 1993 and assumed more political power. The process of establishing the European Union was slowed by the results of a referendum in Denmark, which at first did not approve the treaty establishing the EU. This referendum made it clear that public support for European integration could no longer be taken for granted and that public attitudes toward the EU are crucial for the European Union’s future development. In other words, the era of permissive consensus ended and it became clear that public opinion has become a powerful force in the development of European integration. Since then, public opinion has had a clear influence on the direction of European integration in a number of ways. Examples of this influence include the rejection of the single European currency in Sweden, the failure of the Constitution for Europe, and, most notably, the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the EU. Public opinion has influenced European politics in other ways as well. For example, national political elites, acting at the European level, are constrained in their decisions by public opinion at home. The importance of understanding public opinion toward the EU has given rise to a lively research program. In their quest to understand citizens’ attitudes toward the EU, researchers first had to conceptualize the key concepts in this field, in particular the meaning of public support for the EU. Following this, scholars began to investigate why people support or oppose the European Union, which became the most widely studied topic in this field. In addition, studies have examined public support for specific European policies, determinants of voting in EU-related referendums, public support for EU membership in countries outside the EU, and the extent to which public opinion matters for policymaking in the EU. All these topics are included in this annotated bibliography. The section devoted to General Introductions and Review Articles lists review articles and textbook chapters that provide a quick overview of the topic as a whole. The next section, What Is Public Support for the EU and How Do We Explain It?, digs deeper into the concept of public support for the EU, asking how the concept is defined and what explains support for the EU. The following three sections deal with public opinion toward specific EU policies (Public Opinion toward Specific EU Policies), public support for the EU in nonmember states (Public Support for the EU in Candidate Countries and Other Nonmember States), and the question of public opinion’s influence on policymaking in the EU (Does Public Opinion Matter for Policymaking in the EU?). The second-to-last section is devoted to referendums on European matters (Referendums: Explaining the People’s Vote, Explaining Brexit). The last section (Data Sources) looks at data sources that can be used in the study of public attitudes toward the EU.

General Introductions and Review Articles

This section lists readings that will be useful for readers who are completely new to the topic of public attitudes toward the EU and who want to get a quick view of the field. McLarren and Guerra 2013 and Hix and Høyland 2011 provide succinct introductions to the topic while grounding it within larger theories of European integration and political behavior. McLarren and Guerra 2013 is the more approachable text of the two. Hix and Høyland 2011, however, is still an excellent and easy-to-digest introduction. Both chapters include empirical data on public attitudes to the EU, thereby allowing the reader to become easily familiar with basic empirical data. Loveless and Rohrschneider 2011 and Hobolt and de Vries 2016 are review articles that provide a more in-depth account of the field. Both of them are very good reviews. Nevertheless, given its date of publication, Hobolt and de Vries 2016 offers the most recent comprehensive account of the field.

  • Hix, Simon, and Bjørn Høyland. The Political System of the European Union. 3d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book as a whole is an excellent introduction to the political system of the EU, and chapter 5 provides an overview of public opinion in the EU. The chapter puts public attitudes toward the EU in the context of broader theories of political support. It presents the concept of permissive consensus and then discusses factors that influence individuals’ support for the EU. The chapter is rich in empirical data.

  • Hobolt, Sara B., and Catherine E. de Vries. “Public Support for European Integration.” Annual Review of Political Science 19 (2016): 413–432.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-042214-044157E-mail Citation »

    This review article provides a broad survey of the literature on public opinion toward the EU. It covers conceptual issues and causes of attitudes to the EU. It is the most recent of the main overviews.

  • Loveless, Matthew, and Robert Rohrschneider. “Public Perceptions of the EU as a System of Governance.” Living Reviews in European Governance 6 (2011): 2.

    DOI: 10.12942/lreg-2011-2E-mail Citation »

    This review article provides a good introduction to the state of field around the time of its publication.

  • McLarren, Lauren M., and Simona Guerra. “Public Opinion and the European Union.” In European Union Politics. 4th ed. Edited by Michelle Cini and Nieves Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, 355–366 (chapter 26). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter first grounds public support for the EU in the political system of the EU as a whole. Then it focuses on the basic concepts related to the topic of public support for the EU. It identifies three groups of explanations of public support for the EU (rational utilitarianism, domestic proxies, cognitive mobilization). It also presents some data on public support for EU membership in member states in 1991 and 2011.

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