Chapter 5 Public opinion and political participation


  • For a long time, citizen attitudes on the EU were characterized by a permissive consensus that allowed political elites to proceed with integration in a relatively unrestrained manner.
  • Support for the EU can be explained by the benefits people derive from it, the beliefs they have about politics and identity and benchmarks. Citizens also take cues from political parties and politicians in making up their minds about the EU.
  • For a long time, elections for the European Parliament were characterized as second-order elections. Voters turned out in smaller numbers than at national elections and used these primarily to evaluate national politics. The 2019 elections reversed the steady decline in turnout and witnessed a stronger focus of voters on EU issues when casting their votes.
  • 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  • Developments in electoral behaviour show that the permissive consensus has been replaced by a constraining dissensus, with a larger group of voters becoming more critical about the European integration project.
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