In a year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, Europeans are generally supportive of tight lockdown rules, even if they have little trust in their political systems and deep suspicion towards minorities.
These are the findings of an eight-country poll carried out for HOPE not hate by YouGov and DataPraxis at the end of 2020. Over 12,000 people were polled in France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK.
FORTUNES OF THE FAR-RIGHT DURING THE PANDEMIC
The far right has had mixed fortunes politically during 2020, with those in Government having a sharp drop in support, while others have benefited from unpopular Government responses to Covid-19 or exploited non-Covid related issues.
In Italy, the far right Brothers of Italy is now at 12% in the polls, double the vote it obtained in the 2018 General Election, while in Sweden, where crime is above health in voters’ concerns, and immigration is the third most salient issue, the far right Swedish Democrats are now on 21%, compared to the 16% it polled in the 2018 election.
In France, our polling shows Marine Le Pen leading President Macron by 2.2% (17.4% v 15.2%), a reversal of the 2018 Presidential vote, when Macron took 18.2% in the first round to Le Pen’s 16.1%. Le Pen is doing especially well amongst those aged between 30 and 50 amongst whom she is polling above 20%, whilst Marcon trails in this age at 11.8%.
Clearly Le Pen is benefiting from the current unpopularity of Macron, both in his handling of the pandemic but also wider economic and political issues. Three out of six French adults think the country is going in the wrong direction, with just 14% believing it is going in the right direction. Two thirds of respondents think the political system is broken, compared to the 25% who think it is working “somewhat well” and just 2% who consider it working “very well”.
It is perhaps unsurprising to see the far right topping the polls in France, given that the first four issues of concern for voters are Terrorism, Health, Economy and Immigration.
The polling also suggests that Macron’s tough response to the recent Islamist attacks have returned little political benefit, and if anything is pushing some of his more liberal voters away.
Far right parties that are in Government however have suffered badly during the pandemic. The ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland is now polling.
18.4%, compared to the 32% it achieved in the 2019 General Election, though Andrzej Duda retained the presidency in July’s election.
Similarly, the Five Star Movement, which is more populist than traditional far right, has seen support slip from 28% in 2018 to just 12% now as a consequence of joining the Government and anger at the Government’s initial handling of the pandemic.
The more hard right Lega Nord has seen its support slip slightly from 19.3% in 2017 to 16% now, but clearly it remains a significant threat and, as an opposition party, could well gain from a post-Covid economic crisis and frustration at the Government. Interestingly, in contrast to Le Pen, support for the Lega is stronger amongst older people. It is polling 22% amongst 60-69 year olds and 20% for over 70s. Conversely, it has just a 7.8% share of support amongst 18-29 year olds.
Support for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany is at 10.6%, the same share of the vote it received in the last national elections in 2017. Interestingly though, only 61% of those who voted for the AfD in 2017 say that they plan to vote for the party in a new national election, with slightly more voters deserting to parties on the left than parties on the right. However, the new voters it is attracting are more likely to come from parties on the political right. The AfD receives 14% of the male vote, but just 7% of the female vote.
Most voters in our eight polled European countries have rallied around their Governments during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is perhaps understandable given the severity of the virus, the fear it has spread and the general political consensus the lockdowns have created. The one exception is probably with the AfD in Germany, which has aligned itself closer to the anti-lockdown movement than many other far right groups across the continent.
Most people have been supportive of the lockdown measures implemented in their respective countries, with 64% backing Government measures in Germany and just 13% opposing them.
Even in Italy, where the Government was widely criticised for its handling of the pandemic in the initial stages, 59% of people support the latest lockdown policies introduced by the Government and just 20% oppose them. The gap is even bigger in Sweden, where 72% approve of the Government’s lockdown measures, compared to just 12% who are in opposition.
Two thirds of Britons back the lockdown measures, though we know from other polling that almost the same number think the British Government has not handled the pandemic well.
The question though is, how long will this support continue and whether any decline corresponds with an upsurge in anti-Government sentiment.
this statement than those who vote for left wing or centre left parties. In Germany, 19% of AfD voters strongly agreed, while fewer than 2% of Green voters agreed. Conversely, only 14% of AfD strongly disagree, compared to 46% of Green voters.
Attitudes to conspiracy theories vary greatly from country to country, and often depend on whether the issue taps into existing concerns and prejudices. In Hungary, where President Orban has riled against EU interference and the dangers immigration pose to European identity, 45% agree that elites are encouraging immigration to weaken Europe. Likewise in Italy, where there has been political anger at the refusal of the EU to provide greater support for immigration issues, 39% agreed to the same statement.
Age is a key determiner. Half of Italian voters over 70 believe this (compared to 23% of 18-29 year olds), as do 38% of elderly Poles (as opposed to 22% amongst younger Poles). However, in Hungary views are fairly consistent across age groups, with 40% of those over 70 and 38% of 18-29 years believing this. In France, almost twice as many older people believe this compared to younger people, but in Sweden, the situation is reversed, with slightly more young people believing elites are encouraging immigration to weaken Europe than older people.
The vast majority of respondents in all eight countries dismiss the notion that the Covid-19 vaccine will be maliciously used to infect people
While there might be support for lockdown measures, there is a deep sense of unease in many countries about the state of their political system and the direction of their country is going in. This could point to trouble ahead, especially once the pandemic has been bought under control.
Two-thirds of people in France think that their political system is broken, whilst 59% think the country is going in the wrong direction, with just 14% thinking it is going in a good direction.
The Italians are even more pessimistic about the state of their country, with 79% believing that their political system is broken and only 2.2% thinking it works “very well” and a further 16% who think it works “somewhat well”. Three quarters of respondents in our Italian poll believe things are getting worse in their country, with just 7% thinking they are getting better. Young people are marginally more optimistic than those over 70.
By contrast, at the other end of the spectrum, only 6% of Dutch respondents believed that their political system was completely broken, with a further 20% believing it is “somewhat broken”. Two thirds of Dutch people think the political system works well, with 19% saying it works “very well” and 50% believing it works “fairly well”.
Germany is another country which appears to have a robust and resilient democracy. Seven out of ten voters think the political system works well, with only 26% thinking it is either “completely” or “somewhat” broken. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 60% of those who voted AfD in the last national elections believe that the political system is broken.
With key national elections due this Autumn in Germany, the strength of the country’s democracy means that the far right appears to have little room to really grow.
Attitudes in Poland follow political lines. While 42% of Law and Justice voters think the country is going in the right direction, two and a half times the national average, few who voted for opposition parties think likewise. Only 2% of those who voted for the Civil Coalition, 3% who voted for the Left and 4% who backed Coalition Poland, think the country is going in the right direction.
ATTITUDE TO MINORITIES
Attitudes towards minorities are poor across all eight countries surveyed. We asked respondents whether they had positive or negative attitudes towards immigrants, Roma and Muslims and the results were overwhelmingly negative.
Two-thirds of Italians (67%) and 62% of French respondents have negative views towards Roma people, followed by Hungary (49%) and Sweden (41%). Only 6% of French and Italian people have a positive attitude.
Respondents in Poland have the least hostile attitudes, with 19% having a positive view of Roma, but that is still some way behind the 33% who have negative views. Likewise, 17% of Dutch respondents have a positive attitude, while 30% have a negative attitude.
There are strongly negative attitudes towards Roma in Germany, with 40% having a negative attitude and just 7% having a positive attitude.
Almost one in five British respondents did not have a view, which probably reflects the relatively small Roma community in the country. However, of those who did elicit an opinion, 35% had negative views and only 10% positive.
When it comes to attitudes towards immigrants, Hungarians have the least positive views, with 61% having a negative view and only 4% holding positive attitudes. Only 13% of respondents in both France and Germany had positive attitudes to immigrants, with negative views at 47% and 33% respectively.
Sweden has the least hostile attitude to immigrants, with 29% having a negative view and 28% a positive view. Poland, with its relatively low levels of immigration, is also quite balanced, with 30% having negative views and 25% positive views.
When it comes to attitudes towards Muslims, the UK has the most positive and the least negative. Thirty per cent of Britons have a positive attitude compared to 26% who have a negative attitude. A further 40% have neither negative or positive attitudes.
Hungarians (52%) once again have the most negative attitudes, followed by Sweden (47%) and Poland (43%).
In Germany, 39% of people have a negative attitude, compared to just 12% who have a positive view. In Italy the attitudes are 38% and 14% respectively, while in France they are 34% and 19%. Over twice as many Dutch people have negative attitudes to positive attitudes.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
While attitudes towards minorities are poor, many people across our eight polled countries have sympathy with the Black Lives Matter protests in highlighting racism and discrimination experienced by minority communities. In Germany (52%), Sweden (51%) and the UK (51%), this sentiment shared by a majority of people, with just 17%, 25% and 30% having little or no sympathy respectively.
The country polled with the least sympathy was Hungary, where just 23% sympathised with the protests. However, 50% of people either did not have an opinion one way or another or didn’t know.
More voters in France, the Netherlands, Poland and Italy sympathised with the BLM protests than did not, but in none of them this went above 50%. It should be noted though that in all countries there were high levels of people who did not have a firm view or said they did not know.
There are some interesting age and gender differences between countries. In Poland, where 42% of people have some degree of sympathy, young people and men are more sympathetic than older people and women. In Germany, there is little difference between age groups or gender, while in Italy, it is younger people and women who are more sympathetic.
GENDER AND FEMINISM
We also asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “It is feminism’s fault that some men feel at the margins of society and demonized.” The results varied dramatically across the eight countries. Italy was the country where fewest people agreed with this statement, with only 4% definitely agreeing and a further 9% tending to agree. By contrast, 45% of people strongly disagreeing and a further 20% somewhat disagreeing. Surprisingly, the country where more people agreed with this statement was Sweden, where 15% of respondents definitely agreed and a further 26% somewhat agreed. Only 22% of people disagreed with the statement.
What’s even more remarkable with the Swedish results are the attitudes of young people. Fifteen percent of 18-29 year olds definitely agreed with
the statement, whilst 14% of the same age group definitely did not. By contrast, only 6.2% of 18-29 year olds definitely agreed with the statement, while 38% definitely did not.
Once again, a large number of people in the polls neither agreed or disagreed, or did not know. In France 39% of people did not have a firm view one way or the other, while in Hungary this figure was 52%.
As a general rule, people who vote for far right and centre right parties are more likely to agree with with poison. However, 22% of Poles, 20% of Hungarians and 16% of Italians do believe this to be the case. Only 48% of Poles believe this claim to be “probably” or “definitely” false. In the UK, by contrast, only 7% believe poison will be infected via the Covid-19 vaccine.
The UK also has the highest proportion of people (79%) who do not believe that the vaccine will be maliciously infected with poison, followed by Sweden (71%) and Germany (68%). Fewer than 50% of people dismiss the notion of poison in both Hungary and Poland.
In most countries there is a clear age difference, with young people more likely to believe in the Covid-vaccine conspiracy theory compared to older people. Of course this is not really a surprise, given that older people are both more likely to be at serious risk from Covid-19 and engage with social media – where these conspiracies are spread – less than younger people.
There is also a clear political slant, with those who voted for far right parties much more likely to believe in the Covid-vaccine conspiracy. One in five AfD voters in Germany believe in the conspiracy, compared to 2% of Greens and 4% of Left voters.
In Sweden, 14% of Swedish Democrats buy into the conspiracy, compared to just 7% of Swedish Democrats. In Italy, where middle-aged people are more likely to believe in to the poison conspiracy than the young or old, the figure is 20% amongst Lega voters, compared to 7% amongst Democratic Party voters.
There is much larger support for the claim that ‘Hollywood’s elite, governments, media and other high officials are covertly involved in large-scale child smuggling and exploitation’, one of the key claims of QAnon followers. A third of respondents in Poland believe this claim to be definitely or probably true, while only 27% think it is false. In Germany, 21% believe this statement to be true, compared to 48% who think it is false.
The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed much of the normal political debate to the side-lines across Europe and as a result many far right parties are struggling to cut through on their traditionally strong issues such as immigration, multiculturalism and national identity. However, the negative attitudes towards minorities, coupled with the widespread pessimism and distrust at their political systems, shows that there remains strong potential for far right support once political normality returns.
With the economic consequences from the pandemic likely to see rises in unemployment and reduction in state spending in most European countries, opposition far right parties – with their populist, nationalist and anti-minority message – could well benefit.
A set of questions were asked for Hope Not Hate by Datapraxis and YouGov within a large public opinion poll within 8 European countries in late November and early December 2020. The poll was conducted online in the following countries: Great Britain (n = 2,031), France (n = 1,013), Germany (n = 2,060), Hungary (n=1,001), Italy (n=2,017), Netherlands (n = 1,005), Poland (n = 1,002), and Sweden (n = 1,010).
The samples were constructed to be politically and nationally representative samples. Polling occurred between the 20th of November and the 7th of December. The exact dates for each country are: Great Britain (24-25 Nov), France (25-26 Nov), Germany (25-27 Nov), Hungary
(24 Nov – 2 Dec), Italy (24 Nov – 3 Dec), Netherlands (24 Nov – 2 Dec), Poland (24 Nov – 7 Dec), and Sweden (24-27 Nov).
For Great Britain, the politically and nationally representative sample is representative of the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales. Northern Ireland was not surveyed as a part of the study.