Chapter 5 Public Opinion and Political Behaviour


  • The EU does not figure prominently in citizens’ minds. Most are not opposed to European integration, but their opinion on the topic is not well developed and can be unstable. For a long time a permissive consensus allowed political elites to proceed with integration in a relatively unrestrained manner.
  • Over time support for the EU has risen and fallen and each country has varied in the timing of its upswings and downswings. There are large differences in the levels of support between citizens from different member states.
  • At the individual level the most important determinants of EU support are education, income, support for one’s national government and knowledge of and interest in the EU affairs.
  • Elections for the European Parliament can be characterized as second-order elections. Voters turn-out in smaller numbers than at national elections and use EP elections to evaluate their national governments. Turn-out for the EP elections has gone down over the years.
  • Citizens turn-out in higher rates for referendums than for EP-elections. While relatively few referendums have resulted in a ‘no’ to further integration, these no’s have generally been taken seriously by the governments affected.
  • Developments in electoral behaviour show that the permissive consensus has been replaced by a constraining dissensus. Political elites have been aware of this, but it is unclear to what extent this will seriously affect the pace of integration.
© 2011 Herman Lelieveldt and Sebastiaan Princen  & Cambridge University Press